Monday, November 26, 2012

Top 10 Song Moments in Martin Scorsese Films


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!

28 comments:

  1. Ha just finished Casino and I was thinking about the music use as well. Great list. However, I cannot help but think of Gimme Shelter when I think of Scorsese.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Yep, "Gimmie Shelter" and Scorsese are damn near one and the same. He's used it in... four flicks, I believe. I couldn't bring myself to pick just one!

      Delete
  2. Scorsese is a master when it comes to using music in film. For me, it's the use of George Harrison's "What is Life?" in that scene in Goodfellas when Henry is being paranoid about the helicopters.

    That is an inspired use of "Love is Strange" but whenever I hear that song, I think of Badlands.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That entire sequence when Henry is paranoid and flipping out is really excellent in every way possible. The editing, the music, the acting - it's just solid fuckin' filmmaking.

      "Love is Strange" is used so well in Badlands. Shit man, that's just a good damn song.

      Delete
  3. I swear he uses it in every film, but Scorsese knows how to use Gimmie Shelter perfectly. I especially love it in the Departed over Nicholson's brilliant opening monologue. I can't think how many times I've seen that opening monologue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That scene was literally number 11 on this list. Such a classic intro right there. I read an interview with Marty when The Departed came out, and the interviewer asked him why he uses "Gimmie Shelter" so much in his movies, and Marty said: "I use the song that works best, and that song often works best." Fair enough.

      Delete
  4. Great choices! Love the songs in Casino, especially as "House of the Rising Sun" plays when Ginger stumbles in the hallway, grasping walls and "Love is strange". I adore "I'm shipping up to Boston", I also love how he used "Comfortably numb" in the love scene.

    The only movie by Scorsese where I didn't like the music was Shutter Island, it sounded more chaotic than inspired.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I LOVE that moment when Ginger stumbles out, hazy eyed and halfway to dead. Poor girl. "Comfortably Numb" was used so well in that Departed scene. Really dug it.

      Honestly, the more time that passes, Shutter Island does next to nothing for me. I think I gave it a B when it came out, but it'd be closer to a C now. I really want to like it, but it's just so... plain to me. Oh well.

      Delete
    2. Stone really should get more recognition for that work. Just like with Cage and Leaving Las Vegas, I'll always respect her for Casino no matter what she does.

      I gave Shutter Island 6/10 - it was well shot and it had many talented performaners, but it was messy as well. And Michelle Williams looked as if she was reading lines from the cards camera guy was holding up.

      Delete
    3. Completely agree about Stone - her Casino works grants her a career pass from me. Also completely agree about Shutter Island, I'd give it a 6/10 as well.

      Delete
  5. Great choices! Even though Bringing Out the Dead is probably my least-favorite/pick for weirdest Scrosese movie, it definitely has a good soundtrack and I especially liked the use of Stand by R.E.M. in that flick as well. Shipping Up to Boston was good for The Departed the first time it was used, but after the 4th time, I got a little annoyed. Still, Marty knows his music, just as well as he knows his films.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks man! Bringing Out the Dead is batshit nuts, isn't it? I wasn't a fan of that movie the first few times I saw it, but I kinda dig it now. And I agree, "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" was a tad bit over saturated in The Departed. But oh well, still a bitchin' track.

      Delete
  6. Crap, I need to catch up on my Scorsese. I've only watched Goodfellas, The Aviator and parts of The Departed (bad quality, fell asleep, long story). However, all the songs you selected from Goodfellas are indeed brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice man, glad you're a fan of the 'Fellas. Scorsese is a God... cannot recommend his films highly enough.

      Delete
  7. Love these picks man. My favorites on here are "Cavalleria Rusticana-Intermezzo" from Raging Bull and "And Then He Kissed Me" from Goodfellas.

    The most memorable for me is "On the Nature of Daylight" from Shutter Island. I know you're not a fan of the film, but that moment just kills me when Michelle Williams turns to ash in DiCaprio's hands with that song playing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks dude. Although I'm not the biggest admirer of Shutter Island, that scene you mentioned is really well done. Acting in that movie is flawless, no doubt.

      Glad you like the list!

      Delete
  8. Fantastic list. Glad “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” is on here. The opening music from Cape Fear also came to mind - http://youtu.be/xoO0ZsQ7tBg. I think that music is actually from the original? I haven't seen it so I'm not sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ohh yeah, Saul Bass rocked that out. That is a fine piece of music. I didn't want to use score for this list (although, because that track is old, I guess it could be considered a "real" song, not score... who knows). Either way, great great pick.

      Delete
  9. Yeah, that scene in Goodfellas with Layla playing in the background is just pure cinematic gold, it's what first made me sit up and take notice of the genius that is Scorsese. I would've put the intro to Raging Bull in at number one, completely sells you the film from frame one, all the people listed should've paid him to be in that sequence. One of the many problems with Shutter Island was that the score was far too overbearing and bombastic, especially strange for a Scorsese film as he is such a maestro with music. Loving these Scorsese lists.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you dig the list man. That "Layla" scene is forever iconic, no doubt. I was really damn tempted to throw the Raging Bull intro to number one, for all the reasons you mentioned.

      And I also agree about the score with Shutter Island - little to much for me. But, again, oh well, the man is still a master.

      Delete
  10. It's funny. I immediately thought that Layla should be #1, but as I read through #5, #4, and #3, I realized that all those were great choices too. I'm also a big fan of Gimme Shelter at the opening of The Departed, but it does probably pale in comparison to I'm Shipping Up to Boston for that movie. Excellent choices, Alex.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Dan, really glad you like the choices! "Gimmie Shelter" is a Scorsese staple, definitely could've given two or three slots on this list to that song.

      Delete
  11. Good job here,Alex.I think you nailed the top 3,when I saw the title,it is exactly the same 3 I first thought about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice! Really cool that we're right in line there. Scorsese rocks!

      Delete
  12. Good list as always, I also love the "Sunshine of your love" by Cream while Jimmy decides he's gonna whack Morrie in Goodfellas. His stare, the way he doesn't blow out any smoke. Great scene.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh man, that's a classic fucking shot/musical cue right there. Love that moment. Thanks for reading/commenting!

      Delete
  13. awesome moments

    ReplyDelete