Few directors can cut a scene to a track more appropriately than Martin Scorsese. Although he mostly keeps his scenes dedicated to popular classic rock, there’s no stopping him from venturing into pop, rap, or classical territory. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, the name Scorsese is synonymous with the art of musical juxtaposition. Here are my 10 favorite examples as to why.
10. “Janie Jones” by The Clash from Bringing Out the Dead
The camera time lapses as an ambulance speeds down the streets of Manhattan, the film cuts once twice ten times, Nicolas Cage’s eyes blacken with insomnia and indifference, Tom Sizemore sits cautiously, the camera flips upside down (because why not?), and The Clash blasts effortlessly as we’re introduced to one of Marty’s most manic pictures. Bitchin’.
9. “Love is Strange” by Mickey and Sylvia from Casino
I’m hard pressed to think of a film that better encapsulates the notion of love at first sight better than Casino. As Sharon Stone makes a mess of Robert De Niro’s casino, playfully throwing chips in the air for anyone within arm’s reach, De Niro stares on amicably before he and Stone lock eyes, the frame freezes, and Mickey and Sylvia’s classic blares over. Perhaps better known for its memorable use in Dirty Dancing, “Love is Strange,” has never had more of an impact than in showcasing the love that would ruin it all.
8. “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals from Casino
Casino will always live in the shadow of GoodFellas. And, I suppose, the reasons as to why are fair. There are plenty of similarities between the two, chief among them is the exercise in killing off most of your cast in one sequence. Now, to help separate itself from GoodFellas, Scorsese picked a slightly more reserved track in “House of the Rising Sun,” but seriously upped the violence. The result is a series of calmly executed scenes of extreme physical mayhem. Batter up.
7. “Layla (Piano Exit)” by Derek and the Dominos from GoodFellas
Setting the stage for Casino’s “House of the Rising Sun” sequence was this excellent scene from GoodFellas, in which we either see or discover the demise of most of the ‘Fellas in question, while the piano portion of “Layla” blasts on and on. Bravado filmmaking at its most raw. As iconic as music in movies gets.
6. “Jump Into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson from GoodFellas
Popping up on the DVD special features for GoodFellas, Narc director Joe Carnahan says it best: “I’ve never been that high, but I’ve known people who have been that high, and they say that is exactly what it’s like.”
Up until Henry Hill’s downfall, GoodFellas covers nearly three decades in the life of the mafia. How can you possibly stop that speed of chronological pacing to focus on just one day? Easy, have your lead character do shitloads of blow while “Jump Into the Fire” blasts remorselessly. Sold. (Note: The clip below has been slightly reedited by the uploader. It isn't exactly right, but it's as close as I could find.)
5. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys from The Departed
Scorsese makes damn good use out of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in his Best Picture-winning pop mob drama, dropping the song a handful of times throughout the film. And although it is used rather effectively to foreshadow a showdown that offs many of the film’s secondary characters, I prefer the first time the song is used, nearly 20 minutes into the film. Damon pretends to be on the level, DiCaprio agrees to go under, cut to a dolly shot of a cold prison cell, cue title card. Perfection.
4. “And Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals from GoodFellas
One of the most famous scenes in film history (not to mention Scorsese’s career) is the epic, unbroken tracking of Henry Hill escorting his future wife through the trendy hallways of the Copacabana. Listen to The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” by itself, and it wouldn’t seem to fit that described sequence. But watching the scene, it is virtually impossible to imagine anything else. This is pop pulp cinema at its absolute finest, folks.
3. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones from Mean Streets
We’ve met Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy before, carelessly andpointlessly blowing up a post office box for the hell of it, but we don’t really get a sense of him until we watch his best friend watch him walk through a bar. Harvey Keitel’s Charlie watches as Johnny Boy strolls into a hellishly-lit club, as Charlie’s narration (which is voiced by Scorsese, incidentally) quietly suggests to God that, “We talk about penance, and you send this through the door. Well, we play by your rules, don’t we? Well, don’t we.” And BAM, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” pounds on as Johnny Boy makes his way down the bar in slow motion. Here comes trouble. You better believe it.
2. “Cavalleria Rusticana-Intermezzo” by Pietro Mascagni from Raging Bull
I learned a long time ago, that many people are responsible for the use (or lack thereof) of opening credits in films. Union contracts from the Producers Guild, Writers Guild, and so on, stipulate that if someone of moderate prominence that was involved in the film wishes that their name appear in opening credits, then the director must add credits. So, essentially, for a director to not include opening credits, about 30 people have to agree that the exclusion of credits is okay. If one person gets up a fuss, then the director must include them.
Now, that really has nothing to do with anything related to Raging Bull, but my point is, if you are required to include opening credits in the beginning of your film, there is simply no better way to do it than this. Period.
1. “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes from Mean Streets
Mean Streets was one of the last Scorsese films I saw. As a freshman in college, I had seen damn near every other Scorsese picture, but for whatever reason, Mean Streets was left outstanding. Now, before the film began, I had a basic understanding of what it was about, and I was rather curious to track back Scorsese’s mob-interested roots. The film began with a subtle bit of narration, Harvey Keitel was scared awake, and after pacing his bedroom for a few minutes, The Ronettes “Be My Baby” began blaring over the soundtrack.
I’ll never forget being completely puzzled by how oddly inappropriate the song felt in the movie. I was literally stunned, and then it clicked. This was Scorsese asserting himself as someone different. Someone who had a vision and would be damned to alter it for anyone. I already knew this to be true, mind you, GoodFellas, Casino, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver were all clear evidence of Scorsese’s unique methods of storytelling. But sitting there, watching Mean Streets for the first time, I realized that this was the one that started it all. My feelings of puzzlement switched to wonderment, and that is precisely where they’ve stayed since.
There are PLENTY more to choose from, feel free to share your favorite below!