Readers and staffers recommend the most memorable use of songs in movie scenes. To submit your own, with a brief explanation of why it’s so effective and why you love it so much, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So I’m going to step out on an unpopular limb with Cliff Martinez’s sublime composition and arrangement for Traffic. His film work is prolific and selections impeccable. Traffic would be a completely different film without Martinez’s score. Even “Helicopter” as an ambient track takes on an almost lyrical quality. Each of the tracks convey a distinct idea and emotion.
But I think his use of Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” at the end of the film is the best of the best [full version above]:
You’d be forgiven at this point in the film if you mistake this for Martinez’s work. But it’s a testament to the rest of the original score and getting melody (almost pop) out of three-minute ambient music. Using Eno here is no coincidence; the score is Eno’s progeny. Martinez’s selection elevates the scene and the brutal and violent cynicism that came before it, but he also pays tribute to Eno’s influence.
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Danny Boyle selected some great tracks for Trainspotting. You mentioned Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” playing when Renton shoots up and survives an overdose. Yet Boyle makes an arguably better pairing when he plays Underworld’s “Born Slippy .NUXX” in the final scene, both for how the song draws you into the scene and how the lyrics reflect the protagonist’s story:
Begbie sleeps, passed out from drinking the night before, hugging the bag containing the profits from a heroin deal. Renton wakes early with “Born Slippy”playing quietly at first. He walks over to the bed, and as he begins to gently move Begbie’s arms off the bag, the drumbeat kicks in. It quickens and syncs with your heartbeat as you watch, building the suspense, as the song and the beat grow louder. Will Begbie wake? Will Spud raise the alarm? Will Renton rip off his friends and escape with the cash?
The song continues as he walks out of the hotel with the money into the open fresh air. Darkness pervades most of the movie, but now we are in the light. Renton speaks his soliloquy promising to grow up and clean up. He promises to achieve a bright, boring, middle-class life. Yet the lyrics do not match Renton’s uplifting statements.
Karl Hyde, who wrote the song, told The Guardian he was recreating how “a drunk sees the world in fragments” and described it as a cry for help when he “was still deep into alcoholism.” Although written about alcohol, the manic lyrics stand in for heroin abuse in Trainspotting. And the song’s refrain of “boy” echoes Renton’s nickname “Rent Boy,” making it sound as if the song is speaking to Renton about his struggles with heroin. It leaves you wondering whether Renton will make a clean break or whether the addiction, like the lyrics, will continue to follow him.
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
Might I suggest the use of the song “Mad World,” originally composed and performed by Tears for Fears [embedded above] but covered by Gary Jules in the film Donnie Darko. The pathos it evokes, while the camera shows faces stricken with grief and confusion, is almost unbearable. I thought the movie was good, but this scene is exceptional:
(The song ends here at the 3:00 mark, and beyond that the dialogue is in French. It’s the only video I could find that shows the scene with the music as it is in the film.)
Thanks for the Track of the Day feature, plus everything the Atlantic does.
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Adam Feiges has a stellar selection for the new reader series on the best use of songs in cinema:
If you are willing to expand the definition to television, I nominate the scene from the pilot episode of Miami Vice that used Genesis’ “In the Air Tonight” to set the mood for the lead-up to the climax of the episode. [CB note: The pilot episode is feature length, so it counts I think.] The song starts about 45 seconds into this scene and it’s really haunting:
The scene has lingered in my memory for over 30 years because it was the first time (in my experience at least) that a popular song was used effectively in the plot of a television show. The mood building, the timing (Tubbs checking the loads in the shotgun and then snapping the breech closed in time with the music), and the fact that Genesis was one of the most popular bands of the era made a visceral impression that this show was something new and different. It has become a cliché to use popular music to advance the plot of a TV show, but in 1984 it was astonishing.
I had never watched that pilot episode until Adam’s email inspired me to, so when he suggested “In the Air Tonight,” I first thought of this scandalous scene from Risky Business, which came out a year before Miami Vice:
Somehow that song works exceptionally well juxtaposed with two very different themes: betrayal and imminent danger in Miami Vice, and sultry subway sex in Risky Business.
I don’t know what this song is about. When I was writing this I was going through a divorce. And the only thing I can say about it is that it's obviously in anger. It’s the angry side, or the bitter side of a separation.
In that sense, the song is closer to Crockett’s mindset in Miami Vice, who’s going through a marital separation and who just discovered his close colleague is a corrupt cop. And the refrain I can feel it coming in the air tonight / oh Lord / I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life is something you could be thinking if you suspect you might be driving to your death. To watch that perilous scene, the one that immediately follows the one above, start at the 31:20 mark here.
The scene that immediately springs to mind is the one in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels when Eddy loses all of his and his mate’s money to gangsters in a rigged card game. As the enormity of this loss sinks into a numbed Eddy, the droning guitar strains that kick off Iggy and the Stooges’ “I Wanna be Your Dog”match up perfectly with the disoriented camera perspective that stumbles out the door with him.
What Eddy feels might not be exactly what Iggy feels, but they share a bleak desperation that makes you really feel the gut-punch of his situation.
Have fun with this new sub-series, cheers!
(Track of the Day archive here. Access it through Spotify here. Submit via hello@)
The second known visitor to our cosmic neighborhood from another star is making quite an entrance.
No one knows where it came from, but it’s here now. And the chase is on.
Astronomers around the world are monitoring an interstellar comet hurtling through the solar system, known for the moment as C/2019 Q4. It’s the second time in less than two years that they’ve seen an object from another star swing through our cosmic neighborhood. The first time around, the discovery kicked off a worldwide sprint to inspect the object before it got away. It was mysterious enough that some astronomers even began to consider whether it was dispatched by an advanced alien civilization.
This second interstellar object was spotted in late August by Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea. Borisov has a reputation for catching never-before-seen comets with his telescopes, but they’re from around here; like everything else in the solar system—the planets, the moons, a sea of asteroids—they trace an orbit around the sun. And over the past few weeks, it’s become very clear that this comet does not.
Two journalists detail the results of their reporting on the Supreme Court justice’s past.
Years ago, when she was practicing her closing arguments at the family dinner table, Martha Kavanaugh often returned to her signature line as a state prosecutor. “Use your common sense,” she’d say. “What rings true? What rings false?”
Those words made a strong impression on her young son, Brett. They also made a strong impression on us, as we embarked on our 10-month investigation of the Supreme Court justice. We conducted hundreds of interviews with principal players in Kavanaugh’s education, career, and confirmation. We read thousands of documents. We reviewed hours of television interviews, along with reams of newspaper, magazine, and digital coverage. We studied maps of Montgomery Country, Maryland, as well as housing-renovation plans and court records. We watched Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings multiple times.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
Scientists taught rats to play hide-and-seek in order to study natural animal behavior—but it was also fun, for both the researchers and the animals.
Annika Reinhold says that she likes playing with animals (she has two cats) and “doing unconventional things that no one has done before.” When the chance came up to teach rats to play hide-and-seek, she was a natural candidate.
One might question the wisdom of training rats to hide, but there’s a good reason to do so. In neuroscience, animal research is traditionally about control and conditioning—training animals, in carefully regulated settings, to do specific tasks using food rewards. But those techniques aren’t very useful for studying the neuroscience of play, which is universal to humans, widespread among animals, and the antithesis of control and conditioning. Playing is about freedom and fun. How do you duplicate those qualities in a lab?
The senator from Massachusetts, they argue, is proffering a gentler version of progressivism that is simple to understand and compelling enough to attract a broad swath of voters.
Updated on September 18 at 3:10 p.m. ET
In 2016, Bernie Sanders described the Working Families Party (WFP), a grassroots progressive organization, as “the closest thing there is” to his “vision of democratic socialism.” The group endorsed him in his primary race against Hillary Clinton, and it’s grown more powerful in the past three years, as it has sought to build a multiracial populist movement nationwide. But this time around, with Sanders taking another shot for the White House, the group is throwing its weight behind someone else: Elizabeth Warren. The group’s surprising decision could be an early indicator of how progressives—including those who backed Sanders in the past—are planning to organize and vote next year.
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
The people of pre-colonial Puerto Rico did not disappear entirely—a new study shows that the island’s residents still carry bits of their DNA.
In the 15th century, when Europeans first reached the island now named Puerto Rico, it was home to between 30,000 and 70,000 people, sometimes known collectively as Taíno. They came from various ethnic groups descended from several waves of ancestors who came to the island in succession, beginning as early as 3,000 B.C. But a century after the colonizers arrived, official traces of these indigenous peoples were all but impossible to find.
Under a regime of forced relocations, starvation, disease, and slavery, their numbers plummeted. At the same time, colonial officials elided their existence, removing them as a distinct group from the census and recategorizing many—from Christian converts to wives of colonists—as Spanish or “other.”
The small village of Kivalina is threatened on several fronts by a warming Arctic climate, as the ground it sits on erodes, and the animals the villagers rely on become more difficult to hunt.
Along Alaska’s west coast, about 80 miles above the Arctic circle, sits the village of Kivalina, situated on a narrow strip of land between a lagoon and the Chukchi Sea—one of several native coastal villages dealing with problems due to the warming of the Arctic. Joe Raedle, a photographer for Getty, recently flew to Kivalina to spend some time with the villagers and photograph their lives and surroundings. The warming climate has led to troubles such as the accelerated erosion of the land the village sits on, which used to be mitigated by sea ice (which is vanishing), and permafrost (which is melting). Fish and wildlife that villagers rely on for food have been forced to change their migration patterns—and poor hunting means more food must be bought from a store, further increasing the cost of living. Raedle: “The residents of Kivalina are hoping to stay on their ancestral lands, where they can preserve their culture, rather than dispersing due to their island being swallowed by the rising waters of the ocean.”
The pursuit of money from wealthy donors distorts the research process—and yields flashy projects that don’t help and don’t work.
The MIT Media Lab has an integrity problem. It’s not just that the lab took donations from Jeffrey Epstein and tried to conceal their source. As that news was breaking, Business Insiderreported that the lab’s much-hyped “food computer” didn’t work and that staff had tried to mislead funders into thinking it did. These stories are two sides of the same problem: sugar-daddy science—the distortion of the research process by the pursuit of money from ultra-wealthy donors, no matter how shady.
Historically, research has been funded by grants. Government agencies and foundations announce that they want to fund X, and you, the scientist, write a proposal about why you’ll be awesome at X. If they agree, they give you money to do X.
After 20 years, has the author’s formula at last been exhausted?
It’s a bit embarrassing to finish a book by Malcolm Gladwell—master of the let me take you by the hand prose style, dealer in the simple and unmistakable thesis—and realize you don’t quite know what he’s driving at.
Gladwell’s method is well established and, you would think, fail-safe. It’s one of the reasons his books have sold millions of copies. Among his other talents, he’s one of those “professional communicators” that public-speaking coaches always say we should emulate: First he tells his audience what he’s about to tell them, then he tells them, and then he tells them what he just told them. He should be impossible to misunderstand. I must be an idiot.
Another possibility is that nearly 20 years after The Tipping Point, his best-selling debut, the Gladwell formula is at last exhausted.