During yesterday's discussion of great musical moments in film, several readers cited examples from the Coen brothers' oeuvre, which surprised me--because I don't think the Coens are generally associated with having a strong ear--but pleased me, because I think they ought to be. In particular, their collaborations with Carter Burwell--the delirious yodelling of Raising Arizona, the severe Scandinavian fiddle of Fargo--have been near-perfect marriages of story and score. My favorite though, is the plaintive oboe of the Miller's Crossing theme, so rich and evocative that it was borrowed for the trailers of at least two other films, the atrocious 1992 Melanie Griffith vehicle Shining Through (trailer here), and the 1995 telepathic-albino movie Powder (I couldn't find the trailer for this one). I remember watching the Shining Through trailer, which promises, as Burwell's strings rise, "They used to make movies this memorable," and thinking "Yes, two years ago, and I remember it well."
A few readers also suggested examples from Martin Scorcese--who I think is widely (and justifiably) considered to have an exceptional aptitude for matching scene and song. In Goodfellas, for instance, there are perhaps a dozen scenes in which I remember the music ("Rags to Riches," "And Then He Kissed Me," "Leader of the Pack," "Pretend You Don't See Her," "Gimme Shelter," "Monkey Man," and on and on) as well or better than other details. Which is why I was fascinated when I first ran into this piece, by TNR contributor David Thomson, dissecting what is lost in such "jukebox" movies--even ones as accomplished as Goodfellas:
I could go on - and really I could, for the lover of pure cinema in me knows and re-runs these scenes over and over again. I do the same with Casino. And I think it's important to see that both these films break apart as coherent dramas and turn into an anthology of MTV scenes. Yes, the gangsters get it in the end. But they never really get Scorsese's or our anger. Rather, they are made to seem like happy figures in their endless dance. We want to be gangsters, too....
[T]here's a huge lesson here: that music can be so much more than a plausible background to film action. It can be the nervous system of the characters. That's what [Bernard] Herrmann did for Taxi Driver. And I'll predict that Scorsese won't make another film as great until he trusts another composer as good.
The whole thing is well worth reading.