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.
Gary in Saskatchewan, our serial contributor to the cinema series, delivers another solid track: Danny Elfman’s orchestral “Ice Dance” in Edward Scissorhands. (Full instrumental version here.) As Gary puts it, “This scene captures a brief moment of magic before everything falls apart.”
Once, on a flight from Australia, I watched three Wes Anderson films back-to-back and gave myself a bad migraine. But can you blame me? Clever and whimsical, Wes Anderson’s music choices are as colorful and precisely-exacted as his cinematography. One of my favorite examples is the scene in Royal Tenenbaums where Richie meets his adopted sister Margot at a bus station (also, he’s secretly in love with her).
“These Days” has a strange story behind it. Although the song was first released in 1967 by singer Nico, she didn’t write it. Instead, it was plucked from a demo that 16-year old Jackson Browne recorded and sent in to the same publishing label. Browne went on to release his own version of it, six years later. Nico’s cover, with its addition of strings, has an lush urgency to it that Browne’s version doesn’t convey, but nevertheless, it’s his lyrics that make the heart of the song.
Maybe it’s the slow-motion of Margot Tenenbaum stepping down from that funny green bus in her fur coat, or Browne’s young lyrics, or Nico’s deep croon. Whatever it is, in this film, the song drops us right in the middle of an indie romance. It’s a tribute to capturing that gut-punch, unable-to-breath moment—you know, the one when you really see someone you love for the first time.
Another reader, Noam, adds: “The fragility of the music and characters matches perfectly. It’s a perfect scene.”
Speaking of the fragility of those two characters, Margot and Richie, a subsequent scene shows Richie shaving his head and beard and then calmly slitting his wrists. It’s a dark complement to the scene above because Richie is in psychological turmoil over his love for Margot and discovers that she’s been sleeping with his best friend and a string of other men. The wrist-cutting scene is all the more macabre because Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” is playing in the background. Smith died in 2003—two years after the release of Royal Tenebaums—from knife wounds to the chest that were likely self-inflicted. But even without that tragic irony, the song selection for Richie’s scene was fitting given Smith’s long, well-known struggle with depression.
Update from reader Tim, who cheers things up a bit:
When I saw your “These Days” headline, I immediately thought it referred to this gem by English singer-writer-artist Ron Sexsmith (no, for real, that’s his name). Same title, different song, but it would have worked at least as well as the Nico in Tenenbaums.
Even better, here’s reader Nathan:
A nice rejoinder to the darkness of Nico’s “These Days” is Drake’s surprisingly lighthearted cover of the song, an under-the-radar pre-Views leak. Drake’s take borders on silly, but its wistfulness actually ends up capturing his Views-era M.O. in a way that much of his actual album does not. “I had a lover / It’s so hard to risk another these days” just works better than “Wonder if they’re second guessin' their decisions / I hate the number 2, that shit is unforgiven.”
(Track of the Day archive here. Earlier archive here. Submit via hello@)
A reader, Christian, keeps our cinema series alive with The Righteous Brothers closing out Top Gun:
You can crack jokes all day about this movie’s comic-book politics and repressed sexuality, but if you can sit through it and not feel something as the freeze-frame end titles begin, I don’t understand you:
(Track of the Day archive here. Earlier archive here. Submit via hello@.)
I was looking at some of your recent “Track of the Day” movie scenes. Thanks for these nuggets of beauty and inspiration. I was reminded of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film about the former editor at French Vogue who suffered a massive stroke and ended up suffering from Locked-in Syndrome, where he could hear and understand all that was going on around him but unable to communicate in any way except by blinking his eye.
There is a scene in the film where he is remembering back to a trip he took to the city of Lourdes with his mistress. They are driving in a convertible and her hair is flailing in the wind while the opening guitar riffs of U2’s “Ultraviolet (Light my Way)” is playing and the camera is positioned as if the viewer is in the back seat.
I will never forget that scene. It’s such a powerful combination of image and sound that elicit freedom and movement from a man trapped in his own body. It is one of the most visually stunning moments in cinema for me and also an awesome song.
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@.)
The movie Billy Elliot (UK, 2000) is about a boy in a coal-mining town in northern England who wants to become a professional ballet dancer. (The movie was adapted into a musical.) His goal does not go over well with his family or in his town, especially given the setting during the bitter coal miners’ strike of 1984-85. Billy’s frustrations come to a head in a dance scene:
The song is The Jam’s Town called Malice, itself a hard-hitting expression of frustration. (It was #1 on the British charts when it was released in 1982.) It’s a wonderful scene, even out of context. The volume is a bit low in the video, so crank it up.
Billy Elliot is played by Jamie Bell, and the only other film I’ve seen him in—and I coincidentally just saw it a few weeks ago—is Nymphomaniac, the deeply dark 2013 psychosexual study from Lars von Trier. Bell plays a baby-faced professional sadist known as K, and he lets out his aggression with a riding crop rather than tap shoes. The film is pretty forgettable, but the casting choice is canny.
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
A reader, Joseph, calls the soundtrack to Antonia Bird’s Ravenous “one of the most under-appreciated scores of all time, not surprising for a gory dark comedy about cannibalism in the American west”:
The film itself deserves more credit than is generally warranted for its bitter, bloody takedown of 19th century American imperialism and manifest destiny, but honestly the music is some of the most dramatic and hilarious that I think has ever been set to moving image. Yes, the music itself is funny. It is also bone-chillingly suspenseful in other moments, seamlessly blending both Americana and horror-film idioms.
In this clip you get a sense of just how good it is at building the tension of the scene, followed by a desperately needed catharsis that is delivered by an amazing fiddle and banjo-fueled chase, only briefly glimpsed here.
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
The latest reader entry for our cinema series comes from Al Berg:
From the movie The Doctor, Laurie Anderson singing “Strange Angels” perfectly captures the heightened sensibility and wonder of life as death approaches:
If, like me, you haven’t seen the movie yet, here’s part of the synopsis to better understand the scene:
Dr Jack MacKee is a successful surgeon at a leading hospital. He and his wife have all the trappings of success, although Jack works such long hours that he rarely has time to see their son and has become somewhat emotionally dead to his wife. His “bedside manner” with his patients, in many cases seriously ill, is also quite lacking. [...]
Returning home from a dinner party, Jack has a coughing fit. His wife Anne is shocked when he coughs up blood all over her and the car. In an examination, Jack has a sample of a growth removed from his throat. The biopsy comes back positive for cancer. [...] As Jack experiences life as a patient, there comes a clearer understanding of the emotionally void hospitals, some doctors, and his own colleagues can display. He befriends June Ellis, a fellow cancer patient who has an inoperable brain tumor.
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
Adèle (Vanessa Paradis) is a 22-year-old woman whose life seems to have been a long series of miscalculations; she’s never had much luck with love, life, or career, and is standing on a bridge overlooking the Seine one night, contemplating suicide, when she’s approached by a man named Gabor (Daniel Auteuil). Gabor announces he’s a knife-thrower who needs a new human target for his act. Would Adèle be interested?
Gary points to an incredibly tense, sensual scene from the film:
Here’s another song [Marianne Faithfull’s “Who Will Take My Dreams Away?] that is now inseparable in my head from the scene it accompanied—and that’s exactly what should happen with a good film editor:
The sensuality and sadness of the song enhances those elements in this scene of two damaged people: a woman who had nothing left to live for, and a man who wants just one more shot at redemption. Both are helping each other to move on.
If you have a favorite scene from a film that entwines a song in a really artful way—even if you’ve already submitted one—please send it our way, along with any thoughts you may have on its meaning: email@example.com. Update from reader Al Berg:
Gary’s great pick of a Marianne Faithfull song reminds me of one of my favorites: Marianne singing “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan,” which perfectly fit the tale of the heroine, played wonderfully by Susan Anspach in the quirky film Montenegro. The story is about a bored housewife who ditches her mundane world and cuts loose with a free-loving band of characters. The song was also appropriately used in Thelma and Louise.
A reader brilliantly blends our cover-song series and our cinema series by noting an emotionally complex and devastating scene from director Tomas Alfredson:
I can’t think of a cinematic cover song better-deployed than Julio Iglesias’s disco-fied version of Charles Trenet’s “La Mer” at the end of 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Those who have read the book or seen the film or the classic BBC/Alec Guinness series will understand the tortured love-hate, self-or-country dynamics at work in the scene. Those who haven’t … will need to in order to fully appreciate it! The scene is way too layered and complex to summarize. Suffice it to say that the wistful, nostalgic lyrics, contrasted with Iglesias’s jauntily triumphant treatment of the tune, perfectly match that complex dynamic, as well as the larger story arc: the downfall, redemption, and return of loyal English spymaster George Smiley to his beloved Circus (MI6), seen at the very end.
And in every way, led by the music but extending to the coloration and the wide shots, the scene breaks cleanly with the beautifully brooding, dark, discordant, claustrophobic film that preceded it. If you’ve ever wondered just how much “design” contributes to the emotional feel and weight of a great film, this engaging look at TTSS's palette and patterning is a fascinating primer.
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
No series on the artful use of songs in cinema would be complete without the haunting violin of composer Clint Mansell, performed by the Kronos Quartet, which stalks the tragic characters of Requiem For a Dream throughout the film and culminates in this closing montage:
In this sequence from Magnolia, everyone is reaching their tipping point, with their fates in the balance. It’s almost like the director set up the whole movie just to bring all the disparate characters together with this one song.
Aimee Mann dominates the soundtrack as a whole and is inextricable from the film, directed by the genius Paul Thomas Anderson (whose Boogie Nights will definitely see an entry or three for this cinema series).
Update from reader Marc:
Just wanted to say: I love Aimee Mann, love “Wise Up,” love Magnolia, and double-special love that scene from Magnolia with that song.
I am also a horrible person, so I can’t stop re-imagining “Wise Up” as Elmer Fudd leading a protest: “Wise up, evwybody! Wise up and fwow off youah oppwessahs!”
That is all ...
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
Reader Margaret makes a brilliant choice from a brilliant soundtrack (one I listened to on repeat during a summer in Seattle):
I just stumbled upon your series on music in movies. There are so many choices from Wes Anderson’s films, but I think Rushmore’s closing sequence is my favorite. It always hits me in the guts, reminding me that this movie that I've been laughing at for a few hours is ultimately bittersweet. This cuts off, but here is a youtube of it:
(Track of the Day archive here. Submit via hello@)
Staffers and aides to party leadership say they love her enthusiasm. But they’re worried her approach will threaten caucus unity.
She came into Washington like a wrecking ball.
Just on Saturday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced that she will be working with progressive activists to bring primary challenges against some of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, her own soon-to-be colleagues.
This was after she joined a protest in the office of Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and after she’d spent a week doggedly documenting congressional orientation on Instagram for her followers and clapping back at her many critics on Twitter.
There are, in other words, several early indications that Ocasio-Cortez will do things differently from the typical legislator, acting as a bomb-thrower and agitator in the People’s House. It’s something her supporters want very much—and something many of her Democratic colleagues aren’t sure how to feel about. According to interviews with a dozen House staffers and aides to members of party leadership, veteran Democrats are happy about the youth and enthusiasm Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive cohort bring to the caucus. But at the same time, these Democrats are worried that their approach might sometimes prove counterproductive.
When it comes to dealing with her opponents inside the Capitol’s marble walls, no one in her party even comes close.
A few years ago, the Brookings Institution scholar Thomas Mann said that during her time running the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi had proved to be the “strongest and most effective speaker of modern times.” To understand why, just look at the way Pelosi has engineered her likely return to the job over the past week.
In August, NBC asked Democrats running for the House whether they supported making Pelosi speaker again. A whopping 58 refused to endorse her. Even more ominous, the abstainers hailed from every wing of the party. They included many of the moderate Democrats with the best chances of winning in Republican-leaning districts: Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania; Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey; Jared Golden in Maine; Gil Cisneros in Orange County, California; and Max Rose in Staten Island, New York. But some of the party’s rising progressive stars—Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—snubbed Pelosi, too. It appeared to be one of the few points of consensus among Democrats of all stripes. “There is widespread agreement,” Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky toldVox in July, “that we need a rejuvenation of leadership.”
How to navigate tricky holiday conversations in 2018. Also: Black Friday ideas!
How do you eat a meal with loved ones? Each Thanksgiving, the U.S. media answer that question, distinguishing us from countries without a free press, where people don’t dare celebrate the holiday.1 Everything you need to know is explained in this numbered list of easily shareable tips!
Many families say a predinner prayer. But what if heathens are present? To include them, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, too, replacing “one nation, under God” with “… under Trump” so that everyone feels welcome.
Do you freeze up when it’s time to say what you’re thankful for? Pre-write your list on a phone app and read from the screen when your turn comes. Members of oppressor groups will want to begin by noting, “I’m thankful for my white-male privilege,” especially when sharing a table with blue-collar kin, who may not have read Peggy McIntosh’s seminal essay in their cultural-competency training.
Nowadays young people wait longer to get married. And the birth rate is falling, endangering attendance at future Thanksgiving dinners. This is due largely to the failure of laid-back, Baby Boomer grandparents to encourage and cajole their grandsons and granddaughters with pointed questions about their reproductive planning. It’s never too soon to talk to your kids about stopping birth control.
Not all traditions deserve to survive. For example, letting Grandpa or Dad carve the turkey every year reeks of patriarchy. The task ought to be assigned to the youngest female present, no exceptions.
Politics is the indispensable holiday topic, and the religious separatists who celebrated the first Thanksgiving serve as a reminder that politics need not be secular in nature. In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, a Catholic family might want to debate the merits of breaking with Rome, while Muslims might probe whether Shia or Sunnis have it right. In discussions of U.S. politics, most families will be divided between members who hate America and want to destroy what’s great about this country, and members who are irredeemably racist and sexist. Still, converts can be won if folks offer evidence for their claims. Phrases to keep handy include “according to science,” “Sean Hannity reported,” and “because America is and has always been a patriarchal, white-supremacist rape culture.”
Every family has a patriotic duty to debate the most important unsettled political question of our era: Is President Donald Trump a sexually predatory Nazi who praises murderous tyrants while normalizing a Margaret Atwood dystopia? Or is he a latter-day Midas who beds porn stars only with their consent … with the same manly hands he used to romance North Korea’s leader out of his nukes? At my house, each faction will nominate a champion to argue its position, those of us who remembered to bring IDs will vote on who won, and absent unanimity, we’ll settle the matter by combat.
White women are unusually controversial this year. If you’ve already made the mistake of inviting one, just ignore her.
If talk of politics starts to ruin the meal because of your failure to take the foregoing advice, don’t be afraid to bring up something else––there are a few other topics that can lead to engaging conversation. Sex is among the most popular––according to the Huffington Post, “Porn websites account for more monthly traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined,” so folks around your table are almost certainly partaking. Money is another national obsession. How much does everyone make? Do they save enough or spend too much? And are there any outstanding debts owed to people at the table?
Then there’s child-rearing. Not everyone present will be the parent of young children. But if nothing else, everyone will have been a child before. And that means they have deep insight into how others should raise their children. Indeed, family therapy is so expensive these days that many have never had an open conversation with their kids about their family’s rules and disciplinary strategies. A trusted cousin or aunt willing to raise the subject is likely to elicit memorable comments from Mom, Dad, and Junior.
Other subjects are hugely important but seldom discussed because of a perception that they’re boring. Why not get creative? Take land-use policy. Zoning rules aren’t likely to hold anyone’s attention for long. But what if you researched the land on which your gathering was being held, ascertained the indigenous tribe with the most viable claim to it, and asked the property owner whether he or she would be willing to deed it over in a magnanimous Thanksgiving Day gesture?
It is your moral obligation to discuss climate change, as all life on earth is doomed unless everyone leaves your table convinced of the need to ban the use of fossil fuels. Don’t serve dessert until you’ve reached consensus.
Per The Globe and Mail, “Sugar is the new tobacco.” In lieu of pumpkin pie, put Demerara sugar in empty tea pouches and instruct everyone to “pinch” or “dip” them between their lower lip and gums. (In California, this must be done outdoors at least 20 feet from any door or window and may require a Proposition 65 placard.)
While it may be tempting to linger at the table, especially if you’ve followed all of my tips, the savvy Thanksgiving participant will depart early to get in line at a nearby Best Buy, Target, or Walmart. If your goodbyes are taking longer than you’d like, borrow a trick from the Academy Awards: Put “Black Friday” by Steely Dan on the home stereo and gradually turn the volume louder and louder until everyone stops talking. Then take your exit and pat yourself on the back as you settle into your zero-degree sleeping bag––you’ve successfully pulled off the best Thanksgiving of your life.
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.
Louisa Muskovits appeared to be having a panic attack. It was March of 2016, and Louisa, a 33-year-old with a history of alcohol abuse, was having a regular weekly session with her chemical-dependency counselor in Tacoma, Washington.
Louisa had recently separated from her husband, Steven. When the counselor asked about her marriage, she said she wasn’t ready to talk about it. The counselor pressed, and again Louisa demurred. Eventually the conversation grew tense, and Louisa started to hyperventilate, a common symptom of a panic attack.
The counselor rushed down the hall to get Louisa’s therapist, Amy Harp. Together they moved Louisa to Harp’s office, where they felt they could better calm her. But once Louisa was there, Harp recalls, her demeanor transformed. Normally friendly and open, she started screaming and pulling out clumps of her hair. She growled and glared. Her head flailed from side to side, cocking back at odd angles. In jumbled bursts, she muttered about good and evil, God and the devil. She told the counselors that no one there could save “Louisa.”
The space agency has reportedly decided to review workplace culture at SpaceX and Boeing after Elon Musk smoked marijuana on a podcast.
The story of NASA’s efforts to restore the country’s ability to launch American astronauts into space from U.S. soil has just gained a rather interesting new chapter.
NASA has decided to conduct reviews of SpaceX and Boeing, the two companies the agency hired to develop astronaut-transportation systems that would allow the United States to fly crewed missions from its own launchpads for the first time since the space shuttle was retired in 2011.
The reviews, scheduled to begin next year, will assess not the companies’ technical development or their progress, but rather their workplace safety culture. Why? Reportedly, because SpaceX CEO Elon Musk smoked some weed and drank whiskey on a podcast two months ago.
During a moment of crisis in the 2016 campaign, the future vice president appeared ready to turn on Trump. Some of the president’s allies worry it could happen again.
Is Mike Pence loyal to Donald Trump?
It’s a question that’s apparently been on the president’s mind of late. Last week, The New York Timesreported that Trump has been privately asking aides whether they think the vice president’s loyalty can be counted on—repeating the question so many times that “he has alarmed some of his advisers.”
What’s behind this line of inquiry? Speculation abounds, both inside the White House and outside. Is Trump thinking of dropping Pence from the 2020 ticket? Is he worried about Pence’s role in the Mueller investigation? Or is he just asking because, as the Times notes, he’s been thinking about replacing his own chief of staff with Pence’s, and wants to make sure they’re all on the same page?
He identifies as African American, but it’s a constant struggle to get his peers and teachers to see him that way.
I recently confessed to my son that I would have to miss back-to-school night for a work trip. Most parents can expect one of two reactions from their children to this news: relief or a guilt trip. My son’s response was of the second variety, but with a particular twist. “You can’t miss back-to-school night!” he said. “How else will my new teachers know I’m black?”
For my husband and me, back-to-school night is not only about establishing what kind of parents we will be for the coming school year—it is also about establishing our son’s racial identity and sense of belonging.
I am a black woman married to a white man. Our 13-year-old son looks white—blond-haired, blue-eyed, straight-nosed, thin-lipped, fair-skinned white—but he identifies as black. Our daughter is much lighter than I am, and is often mistaken for Middle Eastern or Latina, but I cannot help but see traces of my paternal grandmother’s high cheekbones and wide nose in her round face.
The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.
Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage.
So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too. She lives on 120th Street, where 40 feet underground Elon Musk’s Boring Company is building a 14-foot-wide, mile-long tunnel to pilot a futuristic transit system untested anywhere in the world. When it’s finished in December, the tunnel will start at the nearby headquarters of SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, and end a few blocks past Warren’s apartment. “We’re just sandwiched in between so much already,” Warren told me, shaking her head.
President Trump sent troops to the border even though they’re prohibited by law from stopping immigrants. He still hasn’t visited U.S. troops in a combat zone.
Nearly four years ago, my colleague James Fallows wrote a cover story in The Atlantic labeling the United States a “chickenhawk nation.” Americans today “love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them,” he wrote. “The American military is exotic territory to most of the American public. As a comparison: A handful of Americans live on farms, but there are many more of them than serve in all branches of the military.”
If those trends were apparent at the start of 2015, they are visible in crisp, high-definition detail in the Trump era.
Nearly two years into his term as president, Donald Trump has yetto visit American troops in a combat zone, thoughthe president is reportedlynow consideringa visit as public pressure intensifies. Trump’s vexed relationship with the military exemplifies and amplifies the vexed relationship that Fallows described: Trump never served, but he is more than happy to use the military as atool—both to solve real problems, and as a political prop for bogus ones. He frequently speaks about the need to keep the military strong. But he is unwilling to actually visit soldiers who are in the field, and often takes shots at those who have served honorably. Trump is the perfect chickenhawk president for a chickenhawk nation.