Mix: Needle Drops

Ever since Mr. Blonde carved up that guy to the sound of Stealer Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You,” a certain brand of American “indie” cinema has been defined (and marketed) as much by its “needle drops” (the use of pre-existing music) as by its mode of production and distribution. Think “Sister Christian” in Boogie Nights, “Making Time” in Rushmore, and “The Seeker” in American Beauty. The practice hardly began with Quentin Tarantino and Zach Braff, of course. The American filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s were/are especially good at it. “The End” in Apocalypse Now. “Layla” in Goodfellas. Assemble a small group of even casual film watchers, give them ten minutes, and I bet they could put together a list of a hundred more examples.

This mix began with a single iTunes download. My all-time favorite needle drop accompanies my favorite sequence in what also happens to be my favorite film, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Midway through the film, Tarkovsky interjects a strange sequence in which a party of Spanish immigrants tell stories of the Civil War and bullfighting. (It’s all part of his on-going meditation on the meanings of nostalgia.) Tarkovsky augments their stories with found footage of Spaniards fleeing the war, building his montage to a crescendo with the sounds of frantic crowds and squealing trains and ending on a shot of a young, frightened girl who stares directly into the camera. And then silence. And a cut to more found footage — this time of early Soviet ballooners and a ticker-tape parade. I always cry at the precise moment Tarkovsky fades in the sound of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater, No 12: Quando corpus.”

So what we have here is a collection of some of my other favorite needle drops. Some are meaningful to me because of their placement in a film I adore (“The Rhythm of the Night” from Beau Travail, for example). Others are memorable only because they are unexpected surprises in an otherwise disappointing film (“You Know, You Know” is about the only thing I loved about Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies.) Regardless, each of these songs/pieces is now inextricably bound in my memory to a particular scene and the emotions it evokes.

  1. “Golden Hair” by Slowdive
    Mysterious Skin (2004) dir. Gregg Araki
  2. “Safeway Cart” by Neil Young
    Beau Travail (1999) dir. Claire Denis
  3. “Die Walkure: Orchestervorspiel” by Richard Wagner
    Birth (2004) dir. Jonathan Glazer
  4. “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
    Stranger than Paradise (1984) dir. Jim Jarmusch
  5. “You Know, You Know” by Mahavishnu Orchestra
    Where the Truth Lies (2005) dir. Atom Egoyan
  6. “Trouble” by Cat Stevens
    Harold and Maude (1971) dir. Hal Ashby
  7. “Gayane Ballet Suite” by Aram Khachaturyan
    2001 (1968) dir. Stanley Kubrick
  8. “Snow” by The Innocence Mission
    In the Bathtub of the World (2001) dir. Caveh Zahedi
  9. Tunic (Song for Karen)” by Sonic Youth
    Irma Vep (1996) dir. Olivier Assayas
  10. “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes
    Buffalo ’66 (1998) dir. Vincent Gallo
  11. “Once I Was” by Tim Buckley
    Coming Home (1978) dir. Hal Ashby
  12. “Coney Island Baby” by Lou Reed
    Vertical Ray of the Sun (2000) dir. Tran Anh Hung
  13. “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato
    Being There (1980) dir. Hal Ashby
  14. “Stabat Mater: Quando Corpus” by Giovanni Pergolesi
    Mirror (1975) dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
  15. “The Rhythm of the Night” by Corona
    Beau Travail (1999) dir. Claire Denis