Popular music is often used as a marker to evoke a certain time or underline an emotion
One of the main reasons to dash off to watch “Sucker Punch” was the lovely Led Zeppelin number ‘When the Levee Breaks' in the trailer. Remembering that director Zack Synder had used My Chemical Romance's incendiary rendition of Bob Dylan's surreal ‘Desolation Row' in his last movie, “Watchmen” (2009) was another plus. And the cherry on the cake was the fact that composer Marius de Vries, who had earlier worked on “Moulin Rouge!” (2001) was involved with the project.
And so I settled to watch the so-called “Alice in Wonderland with machine guns,” and while the soundtrack featured the cream of musicians from Bjork to Queen, there was no Zeppelin — it was used in the trailer and not in film!
Anthemic numbers have often been used as a kind of shorthand to evoke a particular period or mood. George Lucas' “American Graffiti” (1973) is the movie that is said to have kicked off the trend of using music as a marker for time. The movie used classics from the Fifties and Sixties to evoke the period.
The semi-autobiographical “Almost Famous” (2001) directed by Cameron Crowe tells the story of a young writer learning about love and loss on his travels with a rock group. Featuring over 50 songs by rock ‘n' roll royalty including Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, the soundtrack was the magic carpet to take us back in time.
Robert Zemeckis' “Forrest Gump” (1994) is another film that uses music to evoke zeitgeist. When Forrest (Tom Hanks) is in Vietnam or shaking hands with the President of the United States, there is Dylan, Elvis Presley or The Doors singing in the background.
The Doors, apart from being the subject of a bio pic in Oliver Stone's “The Doors” (1991) with Val Kilmer doing a fair job of front man, Jim Morrison, also featured in the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola's “Apocalypse Now” (1979). In the movie, the song, ‘The End' was used to symbolise the dread of the journey into the heart of darkness that is Walter Kurtz.
Evoking a mood
There is none better than Martin Scorsese to use music to underline a mood. So whether it is Henry Hill's backdoor entry into the swish club in the mother of all tracking shots to the sound of ‘Then He Kissed Me', in “Goodfellas” (1990) or the coda from ‘Layla' against the carnage in the same film or ‘Gimme Shelter' in “The Departed” (2006), the soundscape of his films add layers to the viewing experience.
Quentin Tarantino is not far behind mood-enhancing music for his films. “Pulp Fiction,” (1994) and “Kill Bill” (2003) have super soundtracks. There is an apocryphal tale of Tarantino fixing on ‘Bang Bang' (My Baby Shot Me Down) before writing the opening scene of the film.
And then there is Baz Luhrmann. His “Romeo + Juliet” (1996) and “Moulin Rouge” (2001) featured Prince, Radiohead and The Cardigans as well as remixed versions of ‘Like a Virgin', ‘Roxanne' and ‘Chamma Chamma' all adding hugely to the emotional quotient of the film.
Superhero films have some cool metal music including AC/DC in “Iron Man” and Ozzy in “Megamind” probably to give an additional rush in the face of all those superpowers while “Charlie's Angels” celebrated girl power with Prodigy among others.
Classic songs in a movie soundtrack either take you back to another time and space or introduce you to a rocking blockbuster or give you a chance to hear an iconic number in Dolby Digital Surround Sound. That is why I was so thrilled at the thought of hearing ‘When the Levee Breaks' in all its backward-echo glory. But it was not to be — truly a sucker punch.