By Scott Neustadter
Editor's note: Screenwriter Scott Neustadter struck gold in 2009 with his script for (500) Days of Summer, which he co-wrote with Michael H. Weber. The film, shot in downtown Los Angeles, stars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and viewers watch the rise and fall of the pair's relationship through a series of flashbacks. As in most relationships, music plays a vital role in the narrative. West Coast Sound is happy to have Neustadter sitting in the blogging chair for the week. He'll be offering thoughts on the interaction between music and film.
I've never taken a music class. I can't play an instrument. I don't have “decks.” I've never “spun records.” I am, by no means, an expert on these matters. My only credential to write this column is one that I'm sure you all share: I love music like nobody's business. Relationships ended because of it, friendships formed on account of it, entire paychecks have been unwisely spent on it. You're reading this so you know the drill. It's an addiction, a sickness, a vice — but as vices go, hell, you could do a lot worse.
Anyway, the reason I'm here (as opposed to someone with, you know, authority) is that I wrote this movie called “(500) Days of Summer.” It's based on something that happened to me and therefore there's a ton of music in it. I wrote a lot of that music into the script, something real screenwriters never do. But I couldn't help myself. You see, for me, the only thing I love more than music is how music is used in the movies.
So that's what I think we should talk about here — music in movies. Songs that enhance certain scenes, moments forever associated with the music they feature, filmmakers who kill it every time. I have my list. I'm sure you have yours. Let's get this party started.
After the jump … My Five Favorite Uses of Pop Music in Movies
5. “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees/Saturday Night Fever
You've seen it a million times. The hero, feeling good, looking good, walks — no, struts! — down the street, ready to take on the world. Can you imagine any other song in its place? I can't. There's no other track that says “Let's do this!” in quite the same way. Which explains why it's been parodied in everything from “Airplane” to “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” Yeah, it's just that awesome.
4. “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel/ Reservoir Dogs
The true test of a perfect movie track is how inextricable the song becomes from the scene in which it appears. I'll bet you (lead singer) Joe Egan himself thinks about ears when he hears this now. Quentin is just awesome. More on him later…
3. “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus/ Silence of the Lambs
There's a kidnapped girl in the basement, masks made of human flesh, and a dude dancing around with his hog between his legs. It would be creepy with nothing on the soundtrack but the creepiness is multiplied exponentially by the choice of song here. I'm listening to it now and my roommates are looking at me funny. That's how perfect it is. Lock your doors, roommates!
2. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel/ Say Anything
I know, I know — a likely choice. But how great is this scene?! And can you imagine it with a Billy Idol song — cause that's what it almost was. “Say Anything” is 20 years old now and I'm 33 (way too old to have roommates, I know) so the first time I saw this I was 13. Let's just say it left an impression. Come to think of it, our movie (500) Days of Summer is essentially 95 minutes of holding a boombox over your head playing Peter Gabriel, only to realize in the end that, you know, it's kinda stalker-y and also the girl you're doing it for doesn't even really like Peter Gabriel so, you know what, fuck her. Find someone who gets it.
1. “Sounds of Silence”/ “April Come She Will” by Simon and Garfunkel/The Graduate
If you know me, you saw this coming. The Graduate is my favorite movie. Nothing really comes close. And while I could write fifteen more blog entries articulating why, the pertinent one right now is the way in which it uses music. This is 1967, we're talking about. Movies had scores, they didn't have songs or soundtracks unless they were musicals. But the way in which MIke Nichols uses Paul Simon's music inspired countless filmmakers (Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, etc.) to do the same. And the montage in which Benjamin Braddock drifts from the pool raft to Mrs. Robinson's arms is unforgettable, the perfect amalgam of acting, editing, musicianship. In my humble opinion, it'll never be topped.
So there you go. That's my five. Honorable mentions: Everybody's Talking/ Midnight Cowboy; Oh Yeah/ Ferris Bueller; Tiny Dancer/ Almost Famous; You're the Best Around/ Karate Kid. What are some of your favorites?