When Danny Boyle first started out in England, his movies were often criticized for their sleek MTV-era construction with accusations that the films weren’t films at all, but rather just music videos stitched together by flashy editing at a breakneck pace. Boyle’s reaction wasn’t what the British press was expecting. “I was quite proud of that,” he said at a recent 92Y conversation in New York, addressing the use of music in his films. Boyle didn’t mind the criticism for several reasons (for one, he thought it was a compliment at first), but chief among them, Boyle thinks music is integral to every part of our lives.
“I always believed music is with just with us all the time,” he said. “It’s just part of us, so why shouldn’t they be in the films? So that’s why my movies have a lot of tracks in them.” (It’s a topic he also addressed during his panel at South By Southwest this year).
And it’s the emotional texture, complexity and meaning — that dazzling juxtaposition — that Boyle loves to play with. “Songs are amazing things to use because they bring baggage with them,” he continued. “You know them from your own experience, from long ago or they may have painful associations and so its really interesting when [songs] interbreed with the material you’re using.”
That’s what Boyle has done, time and time again — he’s either introduced the world to new songs (like he did with Underworld in “Trainspotting”) or used the preexisting history of a song to gleefully counterbalance what’s on screen (something like “Beyond the Sea” in “A Life Less Ordinary”) or sometimes he just chooses a song that will pump up the emotional context of a sequence and make it take flight (the Sigur Ros track in “127 Hours”). Boyle always seems to be digging through the record crate in his mind, and, more often than not, he chooses the perfect song to go along with the perfect scene.
And with Boyle’s latest electronically fueled thriller “Trance” (once again finding him paired with Underworld member Rick Smith, who provides some great score cuts) hitting theaters this weekend, we figured it was a good opportunity to revisit the best movie music moments from the director. And with those three aforementioned examples in mind and featured below, here’s our ten favorites across Boyle’s filmography so far.
01. Underworld “Born Slippy” and Brian Eno “Deep Blue Day” from “Trainspotting”
It’s easily the most iconic song in any Danny Boyle film. It made the movie, it made the band, and lifted both of them into superstardom. But if you’ll recall, Boyle uses “Born Slippy” in the climax of the film, but very atypically. “What I love about the use of [‘Born Slippy’] is that at the most delicate moment – where if you were scoring that conventionally, you wouldn’t hear a pin drop when Renton takes the bag from the sleeping Begbie – but instead you’ve got this pounding beat, which is like what his heart is doing at that moment. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. I love scoring like that,” the director said.
Boyle came across the track circuitously because at the time it was a way lesser-known B-side. The filmmaker was using songs from Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman as a temp track to the film. Boyle then went into HMV one night, started browsing, saw the single with the track he’d never heard on, put it on and knew immediately he had made a discovery. “It sounds like a deliberately created PR moment, but it’s true, I knew that was the end of the film,” he said.
The movie, up until this point, was a decidedly raucous account of the lives of a handful of English heroin addicts (it was based on a similarly scuzzy novel by Irvine Welsh), one that definitely had its moments of whimsy and humor, but was largely defined by darkness – desperation, sweatiness, filthy living conditions, a ghostly dead baby, and a trip down a lavatory that was staged with all the baroque underwater beauty of a Busby Berkley musical number. “The truth is, I’m a bad person, but I’m going to change…” Ewan McGregor narrates, as the beat pulses rhythmically away. McGregor walks towards the camera, a grin on his face, carrying a large sum of money in a bag slung over his shoulder. He then goes on his “Choose life” monologue (again), saying things like “Christmas presents,” “the family,” “the fucking big television,” “good health,” “dental insurance,” etc… “I’m going to be just like you,” he says (or warns). The music sours. So does your heart. It’s one of those perfect marriages of song and visuals that takes you to another plane. It’s euphoric, but not sugary or happy. There’s still a chance he’d fuck up big time. But at least he’s got a cool soundtrack for doing it.
After the movie became a big hit, a version of the song with dialogue from the movie came out, which makes a perverse kind of sense. Lots of kids, in a rave, jacked up on god knows what, singing along to lyrics from a movie about the ruinous consequences of heroin addiction. Yeah. That works.
Perhaps more hilarious is the use of Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day” from the aforementioned “Worst toilet in Scotland” sequence. You only hear a brief snippet of the lovely and pacific music, taken from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks — an album also featuring Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno — but the abrupt juxtaposition of utterly disgusting scene to something dream-like and serene is pretty quintessential Boyle. Here’s the track in full because when you watch the quick scene you’re gonna want to listen to it in its entirety. Boyle would revisit Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks again using Eno’s gorgeously celestial “An Ending (Ascent)” in a brief moment of reprieve in “28 Days Later.”