In my Digital Productions class, I had very little difficulty choosing songs for my first two projects. For some strange reason, there is an ocean of very unsettling, experimental music that are available as public domain. For each film, I have spent an hour (or less) in determining my soundtrack. Since my chief goal was to unnerve and frighten my fellow classmates, I simply had to choose the song that best unnerved and frightened me.
For my latest class project, I decided to script and shoot a short comedy. It is currently in the editing stage, and I have had some difficulty with song selection. The rules of the (song choosing) game have been more complicated for comedy than they were for my horror shorts. For instance, it is not a matter of choosing the funniest song (I can’t simply jam in my favorite Weird Al Yankovic songs and expect my film to be tonally coherent). The song(s) I choose need to 1) not distract from the story, 2) be light-hearted, and 3) be sensitive to the feelings of the characters. As I scrolled through the edgy-music-filled library, I could not find a song satisfying all three categories.
I may be thinking about soundtracks in the wrong way (Of course I am! I am a novice). Perhaps I should be more concerned about how the music adds to the movie, rather than how it can be inoffensively inserted. Imagine, for example, Marion’s driving scene in Psycho; without the chilling, intense orchestral piece, it would only be a minutes-long sequence of a woman staring forward and turning the wheels left and right. The music provides an urgency that the images, by themselves, might not fully provide.
Although the soundtrack to Psycho is a classic, I think that the songs in Trainspotting engage the audience in a more complex way (also, Trainspotting would be more helpful to my current situation because I’m working in the realm of comedy). From the very beginning, with Iggy Pop’s upbeat “Lust for Life,” the audience is introduced to the happy-go-lucky lives of heroin addicts. The enthusiastic drum beats and the reckless, raspy voice of Iggy Pop already complicates the idea that “all drugs are bad, bad, bad.” The seemingly happy, carefree music is in harmony with the thesis of the “Choose life” soliloquy: “I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. The reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reason when you’ve got heroin?”
Shortly after, when Renton tries to quit heroin using the “Lazy Boy Method,” the music hints to Renton’s eventual failure. Although “Habanera” from Carmen is, for some reason, an omnipresent piece in film, it serves a specific purpose in this film. It pokes fun at Renton’s attempt to overcome addiction, even though he appears hard-set on becoming free.
My favorite song selection of this movie may be Underworld’s “Dark and Long (Dark Train),” which is played during Renton’s withdrawal hallucinations. The techno trance, sustained by syncopated percussions and a forward-driving, hypnotic motif, is extremely unsettling for a song that is not horror. It is as though the song is teasing Renton. The emotionless song contradicts the horrors that Renton experiences, most notably being a dead baby climbing his ceiling. The song is disorienting in its inhumanity and (if I may indulge in some bad poetry) elucidates the idea that drugs do not care about the people who abuse them. What makes the song even more thematically important is that it continues beyond the hallucination scene. It serves as the undercurrent when he goes to the hospital, plays bingo with elderly people, and visits a friend. The effects of heroin linger, even after the worst parts.
Underworld’s “Born Slippy” may be the most popular song on the track list, and for good reason. Played during the last scenes of the movie, it is the only song in the soundtrack that communicates any semblance of sadness. The melody that undergirds the singer’s (seemingly) nonsensical lyrics carries a sense of longing and finality that later bleeds into a catchy drum beat when Renton steals the drug deal money from Begbie. It isn’t until the very end that the music resolves to its more emotional melody. Perhaps it is the sparseness of emotion in this song, as well as the sparseness of the emotion in the overall soundtrack that displaces the audience’s own emotional expectation. It seems as though the music doesn’t allow the audience to feel sad, at least in the traditional sense. Instead, it forces the audience to make sense of any perceived sadness while also making sense of the world of drug addicts.
How can I apply these lessons learned from this highly nuanced movie soundtrack to my own film? I’m not sure. But a lot of Trainspotting has to do with subverting the audience’s expectation (in both sounds and images), so I may borrow that attribute to forge some sort of new creative avenue. This might mean perusing through more edgy, experimental music.