5 Best Movie Soundtracks
by Philip Costache
Chaos Theory: A butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can cause a hurricane a China.
If you’re reading this, we may share similar proclivities for music and film; two of my favorite cultural items that unite us. Furthermore, it’s safe to say that books influence movies, movies influence relationships, relationships influence music, music influences fashion, fashion influences movies, movies influence books, and so on and so forth.
Our love for music does not stop at music. In this ceaseless cycle of cause and effect, we attempt to shed light upon some of the underlying implications. What does it all mean? It’s quite an important question, but such a seemingly simple question has an infinite amount of answers. Due to recent financial cutbacks and obvious time constraints, we were forced to reduce infinity to a viable scale. Below rests a list of just a handful of the countless soundtracks that have stood the test of time. Cry and worry not, ardent readers, we shall be back next year with Volume II.
5. Purple Rain
“Purple Rain” the album is undoubtedly one of the most singular creations of music ever designed. “Purple Rain” the movie is hardly worth mentioning outside its musical context. The movie, endurable only because of Prince and The Revolution’s absolutely killer music, is just a blatant promotional item containing less than mediocre cinematic elements: the acting/characterization borders on soft-porn, direction has a made for TV quality (2 a.m. showings), dialogues are contrived, and the drama and themes are presented in soap-operatic fashion.
In the movie, Prince scorns Apollonia for her desire to become successful. Ironically, he became one of the most successful and recognizable musicians ever to grace the Earth.
“Purple Rain” is a quintessential pop/rock album, and, with it, along with a few other indispensable albums he released in the early to late 80s (“Dirty Mind,” “1999,” “Parade,” “Sign ‘O’ The Times”), Prince substantially contributed to defining 80s aesthetics and simultaneously established himself as a multi-talented superstar musician. In 1985, Purple Rain clinched two Academy Awards (Best Original Song Score and Best Original Musical). To this day, I still get goosebumps and teary-eyed when listening to Purple Rain’s title track.
“Juice” is a classic hood movie with a dope soundtrack from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. 2Pac, who had just launched his first full-length album only two months prior to Juice’s release, stars as one of the three Harlem friends who are out to obtain the sought after juice (there’s a fourth dude, but his only goal is to eat and play arcade games).
On the street, juice means power and respect. Bishop’s (2Pac) violent, egomaniacal method of securing street cred is in stark opposition to Q’s (Omar Epps) sensible approach: 2Pac wants to live and die by the gun, while Q dreams of becoming a distinguished DJ. Their worlds collide, and mayhem ensues. Crime doesn’t pay, unless you got a big gat to scare the living daylights out of the liquor store clerk.
The Golden Age of Hip-Hop stretched from the late 80s to mid-90s. What made that period special was the innovation, quality and diversity. Juice’s soundtrack is mad stacked with hip-hop legends whose music should be minutely analyzed by anyone interested in the genre. I’m talking about Naughty By Nature, Erik B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Too $hort, Salt-N-Peppa, Cypress Hill and many, many others. This soundtrack is selling out faster than the iPhone. If you call in this lifetime, you could win one of the following props used in the film: the milk crates Q used for storing his album collection, fingerprint-smudged revolver, Samuel L. Jackson’s granny glasses and fake Kangol beret, Street Fighter arcade machine, a flattop wig, 2Pac’s crazy stare, 80s police cruiser with handcuffed perp, or an apartment in East Harlem.
3. The Commitments
Alan Parker is probably best known for directing “Midnight Express” and Pink Floyd’s musical masterpiece “The Wall.” Both are classic movies, but we can’t forget about “Birdie” – literally a stunning coming of age story. Peter Gabriel, who was responsible for crafting Birdy’s timeless soundtrack of evocative ambiance, should be remembered as the best front man Genesis ever had. Eat your hearts out, Phil Collin fans. On a lesser note, Mr. Parker also directed “Evita.” I haven’t seen the movie, so I cannot comment on how forgettable it is…or maybe I have seen it. Either way, I’m not going to watch it again just to refresh my memory. I didn’t stuff my garage to the brim with nootropics for nothing.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, and they couldn’t be more right when mentioning The Commitments. Although the internecine fighting, which gets more and more intense as the movie progresses, ultimately causes their disbandment, the 10-piece ensemble, ostensibly unaffected by the reality behind the scenes, under the stage and above the rafters, wholeheartedly replicate hits by Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, Sam Cooke, The Marvalettes, Aretha Franklin and a plethora of other recognizable artists. Through absolute determination to their craft (“The World’s Hardest Working Band”), The Commitments proved to be the most phenomenal soul cover band to have transiently existed.
2. Dead Man
When “Dead Man” was released in 1995, Neil Young, who is considered one of the most influential musicians of our time, was at the nadir of his once illustrious career. Renowned indie film director Jim Jarmusch, conversely, was at the zenith of his. Johnny Depp, our anti-hero and protagonist, had just established himself as a household name with the momentum gained from acclaimed films “Ed Wood,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Benny & Joon,” “Arizona Dream,” and “Edward Scissorhands.” The trios synergizing of strengths would prove mutually beneficial and produce one of the most iconic indie films of the 90s, if ever.
Neil Young’s minimalist guitar, piano and organ are seamlessly interwoven into the rich tapestry of monochromatic imagery. The instrumentation meditatively underscores the general bleakness: at times acting as an introduction, and immersing us further and further into the trip; occasionally, though, it offers relief by entering late into a segment and gently fading out with the visuals. There are moments of dark humor scattered throughout the film, which relieve us from what could have been monotony. When satire’s on full display we’re soundtrack bereft—”Benny Hill” this is not. All in all, the brooding instrumentation acts as an unspoken narrative structure without which the film’s spiritual, psychedelic essence would have been severely undercut.
1. Pulp Fiction
Film aficionados who grew up in the 90s may recall 1995 being an absolutely terrific year for movies. “Pulp Fiction,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Quiz Show,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Forrest Gump,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Red,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Legends of the Fall,” and “Ed Wood” were nominated in one category or another at The Oscars. “Pulp Fiction” won Best Original Screenplay, losing out in six other categories to films of equal greatness. Among the too-numerous-to-mention consequences of its success, Pulp Fiction spawned countless imitators, revitalized John Travolta’s career, and justly branded Samuel L. Jackson as the baddest mofo in Hollywood.
The beauty of “Pulp Fiction” resides in the simple yet deep interplay between its motley assortment of fatally seductive characters, whose actions, dialogues, monologues and awkward silences create scene after scene of sheer cinematic perfection. The music in the film is about as varied as the characters and their stories. When it flows through, acting as a guiding spirit, the eclectic mix of surf music, rock & roll, funk, pop, and soul adds valuable context, never cheapening the scenes or bludgeoning you over the head with an idea. On its own, it plays like a mixtape you strung together to impress the girl in your crosshairs.