FLICKS. RIFFS. AND OTHER BITS.

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ROCK MUSIC AND MARTIN SCORSESE – PART ONE.

It was 1985. I was 13 years old and attending Wellington College. The popular films back then was ‘Back To The Future’ and ‘Beverley Hills Cop’. But the film that blew me away back then was about a loner sociopath who drove a taxi at night, watched porn films during the day, attempted to assassinate a presidential candidate and ended up shooting up a whorehouse, killing three people and saving the life of a 13 year old prostitute.

Yes. I am weird.

But this was ‘Taxi Driver’.
Starring Robert De Niro.
And directed by Martin Scorsese.

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This would be the first time I saw a movie that was directed by Marty Scorsese, and over the years I have watched and waited in anticipation to see his next big film. Last week I watched his latest work, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and for me, it’s his wildest and funniest film yet.

But in this blog post I’m not going to wax lyrical about his films – even though his films are some of the best films ever made, no – this is about how his films opened my ears (and eyes) to rock music.

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Martin Scorsese, when he can – doesn’t use a music score for his films. He uses rock music to enhance a scene in his movie. And for some reason he makes it work – the combination of a music track with a film scene he seems to marry effortlessly (in the most part the credit goes to his Editor the great Thelma Schoonmaker).

The music he chooses works for the scene. Most times it doesn’t even relate. But it’s the movement and the emotion that carries it. I don’t know what it is. I can’t pick it out. But my love of rock music comes from how he uses tracks for his films.

Here’s a few examples:

GOODFELLAS
A masterpiece of film-making, It’s also a great use of rock music in film.

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It was the film that first began my love-affair with the music of The Rolling Stones. When Scorsese uses the Stones, ‘Gimmie Shelter’ and ‘Monkey Man’ it’s set within a whirlwind of fast editing shots – interspersed with wild drug-taking and mindless violence. But the Stones have never sounded so good. Blues played at its downright dirtiest. And the violent images of the film rock against the music with just as much force. Keith Richards’ Telecaster shoots from the hip – firing riffs with Mick Jaggers howling vocal and at the same time you’re watching Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci killing gangsters and getting wildly coked up to the driving beat of Charlie Watts’ snare drum. It’s a beautiful thing.

Three other scenes in this film illustrate how Scorsese uses rock music so well:

1. When the camera lingers on a wide shot of Robert DeNiro’s face as he contemplates the idea of killing his crew – the opening riff of Creams, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ blasts out. Eric Claptons’ deviously funky riff is just as devious as DeNiro’s eyes as he considers the idea of how to wack his whole crew. So subtle. Incredible to watch.  And I’ve always loved the music of Cream…‘It’s getting near dawn/When lights close those tired eyes’…

2. When the camera slowly pans up to reveal how DeNiro wacked his whole crew  – Scorsese doesn’t use a bloodletting hard rock track – he goes the complete opposite – and uses one of the most beloved rock tracks, the piano section of ‘Layla’ by Derek & The Dominos. As you see the violent blood soaked montage of people DeNiro has ‘wacked’, these hellish images are shown against the heavenly sound of the piano and sweet slide guitar of Duane Allmann and Eric Clapton. It works so well – when it really shouldn’t. When I first saw that scene ‘Layla’ took on a whole other level. Now when I hear that track and that Piano section starts  – it just kills me. Literally. Thanks Marty.

3. The final section of GOODFELLAS, is the ‘Helicopter paranoia’ sequence – where we follow Ray Liotta on a day in the life of a drugged-up gangster – and the use of Rock music is just a wonder to listen. That’s if you can keep up with it. When I first saw it, the music cut so much into other music tracks it was such a blur, and the images and scenes were edited in such a fast pace, it was a whirlwind of music and image – you almost felt like Ray Liotta – who’s in the middle of all the chaos as he tries to sell his guns, smuggle drugs, flee from helicopter survelliance and cook an Italian dinner. Sounds ridiculous but it’s Scorsese running wild with the camera as well as with the music. And there are some great rock tracks in there – here’s the rundown of the tracks and the scenes that accompany it – and you get a sense of Scorseses’ music library and the pace –  as all these songs are edited within the seven minute sequence: (Source: Wikipedia):

  • Jump into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson – The beginning of the “May 11, 1980 – 6:55 AM” helicopter sequence; Delivering guns to Jimmy.
  • Memo from Turner” by Mick Jagger – Henry leaves Jimmy’s with the unwanted guns.
  • Magic Bus” by The Who (Live at Leeds version) – Frantic, intoxicated driving; Henry almost has a car accident.
  • “Jump into the Fire” by Harry Nilsson – (2nd time played) Henry drives his brother home from the hospital; Starting dinner; More helicopters.
  • Monkey Man” by The Rolling Stones – (2nd time played) More frantic driving; Henry and Karen hide the guns at Karen’s mother’s house.
  • What Is Life” by George Harrison – More frantic driving; Pick up guns again; Visit to the cocaine connection; Call from Sandy; Call to Lois; Lois calls from an inside line.
  • Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters – Last time at Sandy’s place, mixing the coke; Dinner at the Hill’s with children, Lois, and brother Michael.
  • Magic Bus” by The Who (Live at Leeds version, 2nd time played) – The drum solo of the song is played immediately before Henry is arrested in his driveway.
  • My Way” by Sid Vicious – End credits.
  • Layla (Piano Exit)” by Derek and The Dominos – (2nd time played) second song in the end credits.

Here’s a snippet of the middle section of this sequence where George Harrisons’ “What Is Life” and Muddy Waters’ ‘Mannish Boy’ is played:

I will talk about other Martin Scorsese films and his use of rock music in future blogs – but to me GOODFELLAS is the one that stands out for me in his use of rock music in film. And it made me really appreciate great classic rock. Cream, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, The Who, Muddy Waters, Derek & The Dominoes are still an itunes playlist favourite. So much better than listening to the crappy music of today. So keep watching this space. And keep listening…

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2014 by .
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