As readers of this site are no doubt aware due to the wonderfully thorough and extensive coverage of Radiohead provided by Angela Davis, they are currently on tour and is blowing goddamned doors down. Your humble author saw them inSeattle just days ago, and can confirm that Oxfordshire’s most popular export is still playing at a level of technical and musical efficiency unmatched in the industry. Unburdened by the strictures of a record contract, Radiohead only went on tour this year because they felt like it: the band’s willing eagerness to get on the road and perform as evident on stage as it is through the fruits of their combined labors. Audiences watching the band in 2012 have the opportunity to see a truly special thing, for it is rare that a band gets the chance to frequent the world’s largest venues without all the hassles commonly associated with high-end tours. The fact that Radiohead isn’t simply going through the motions of a record promotion so as to satisfy contractual obligations makes the experience of seeing the world’s most popular band something altogether special, for it is rare that a band this popular is this generous. Shit, these guys don’t even charge for their albums any longer!
If only to duly honor a band that has given so much and asked little in return, Lost In Reviews asked if I’d be willing to present a list recognizing the best uses of Radiohead in film, a request this author was only too happy to oblige. To make it into a slot below, the film had to have been a theatrically released motion picture (no television offerings, sorry) non-musical in nature. As delightful as they are, the list excluded all concert or music documentaries to keep things limited to traditional motion pictures. Indeed, the purpose of today’s ranking was to judge and rate the keenest, most clever, and fitting uses of Radiohead’s work in film, giving extra consideration to those pictures that seized upon a lyrical, tonal or melodic component of a song to further enhance the impact of a scene(s). A socially relevant band that’s been in the public eye for about 18 years now, one would think that Radiohead’s music would have populated quite a few films by now; surprisingly, there was a somewhat meager crop of offerings to pick through, and of those, very few worth mentioning (most of you probably haven’t even heard of Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, and that’s a good thing). A few close-calls that weren’t quite up to par included Whip It, Life As a House, …And They Lived Happily Ever After, The Business of Being Born, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Incendies. There Will Be Blood was excluded from consideration because it was a Jonny Greenwood effort that didn’t involve the band as a whole, so all you P.T.A. fanatics out there can cool the hell off. Anyway, shall we?
Were a person to place a twenty-four carat diamond gingerly atop a rotten pile of pig shit, it would devalue the stone no less than, say, a song hijacked and thrown into a motion picture just as putrid as the aforementioned excrement. Leaving a discussion pertaining to the quality (or lack thereof) of the Twilight franchise for another day, it should content most to at least submit to the fact that “15 Step” was an amazing song off Radiohead’s 2007 ‘In Rainbows’ album, itself a masterful return to form after the somewhat scattershot ‘Hail to the Thief’ offering from 2003. The first track off of ‘In Rainbows,’ “15 Steps,” had an excited, built-in urgency fueled by the rhythmic click of the opening beat, which was itself cooled down by the appearance of a slick guitar riff after about two dozen seconds of restrained madness. There’s an infectious energy to the song that is undeniable, and was clearly something Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke tried to tap into when looking to pair some source music with her final credits. It worked up to a point, in that the song, like the pig-shit-covered diamond, retained its value whilst doing nothing for its setting except to dress it up a bit. Still, for hopping right on top of ‘In Rainbows’ to get some of it into her movie not long after its release, Hardwicke and Twilight earned a #10-level nod here today.
Though this one claimed to take place in Seattle, with the exception of a few establishing shots here and there, any keen-eyed resident of the EmeraldCitycould tell you that 50/50 absolutely reeked of Canada. But that’s okay. For as the 10rant’s ‘Top 10 Seattle-Based Films’ list explained, there are desperately few films out there that can claim to be genuine Seattle-pictures (“genuine” meaning that it was filmed here in Seattle, and not in the tax-friendly confines of British Columbia). Truly, just because a movie claimed to take place in one spot, yet was clearly shot somewhere else, it wouldn’t make it bad, it would just piss off most Seattle folk: your humble author included. This was a hurdle your author had to contend with when trying, like REALLY trying, to enjoy 50/50, a decent enough movie about a guy trying to cope with a very intense cancer diagnosis. In doing so, “Adam” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had to overcome his own fears, along with those of his fabulously irrational mother (Anjelica Huston at her best), and his bitch girlfriend, who cheated on the poor bastard. In the midst of all this despair came one of Radiohead’s earliest and best tunes, “High and Dry.” Wonderfully appropriate if only because of the name, the song’s simple beat and melody structure played up the emotional depth of the film beautifully, as Adam’s world seemed to forever close further in upon him without any sign of hope on the horizon. A better movie than this next one, 50/50 missed out on the #8 spot, if only because I’m fonder of the Radiohead song used in…
A decent enough movie who’s only failing was its inability to live up to author Chuck Palahniuk’s phenomenal novel of the same name, Choke still had a lot of fun moments. Both the novel and the motion picture examined notions of familial responsibility in conjunction with themes regarding guilt, wish-fulfillment, and the growing pains of young-adulthood. In the film, Sam Rockwell played protagonist “Vincent Mancini,” an early thirty-something American with a shitty job, unhinged sex addiction, and institutionalized mother. This last detail inspired the name of the book/movie, for Vincent had a habit of eating at very public/expensive places just so he could choke, be saved, then endeared to the man/woman who saved him. Vincent did this in an effort to inspire fiduciary support from his “saviors,” whose donations helped fund his mother’s medical care. The movie built to much the same crescendo as the book, yet never quite found the same emotional footing its literary predecessor enjoyed. Where the film did not err was in its selection of music for the final credits, as “Reckoner” set the perfect tone for a film with an odd, tepidly upbeat finale. The cadence of the drums during the song’s opening led effortlessly into the building harmonies formed by Thom Yorke as the piece gradually unfolded, massaging an audience back into comfortable consciousness once again.
According to imdb.com, 1994’s S.F.W. (So Fucking What) was the first full length feature film to use Radiohead on its soundtrack, as it featured the band’s early-90’s radio-favorite, “Creep.” Stephen Dorff played “Cliff” in the film, an average young adult who got embroiled in a very public hostage situation that transformed the uninspired slacker into a media icon. Cliff had simply gone out to get some beer one night when a publicity-hungry band of gunmen took the customers of a convenient store hostage. Cliff was among the group held, and his safety was conditional on the authorities giving the gunmen all the television air time they desired. For over a month, the ordeal was broadcast 24/7 on live T.V. as Cliff slowly transformed into a social icon: his defeated “so fucking what?” statement an overnight catchphrase. After everything was over and Cliff returned to his life, the small-time nobody discovered that he’d become a definite somebody, as even the most mundane or thoughtless words or actions inspired a motley array of emotions from a captivated, T.V.-addicted world. As he pondered the ludicrous nature of his fame, and what it meant to his perception of self, “Creep” began to play, the lyrics of which complimented the scene wonderfully. Though for a long time Radiohead lamented that they’d ever put this song out (it became an albatross that took years to shake), there was a time when “Creep” and its lyrics were fresh, and S.F.W. was lucky enough to grab it when that was still the case.
Though it wasn’t the first film to showcase some of Radiohead’s work, Clueless was probably the most enthusiastic of the mid-90’s offerings in its level of support, for this movie offered up not one, but two of the band’s songs. As an extra bonus, neither of these musical offerings were “Creep,” something that no doubt shocked legions of brain dead teenagers, a majority of whom thought “Creep” was the band’s only song. In Clueless, Alicia Silverstone played “Cher,” a spoiledBeverly Hills high school brat that struggled to develop and nurture a healthy conscience. Her slightly older step-brother, “Josh” (Paul Rudd), drifted in and out of the film as something of moral compass, for the young man was a scholar, and what was more, the man knew good music. Radiohead’s music acted as something of a soundtrack to Rudd’s character, whose aged wisdom and worldly sophistication would have brought him into contact with so splendid a band. In a film stocked with the likes of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Counting Crows, Radiohead’s double-appearance was like a pair of life-saving breaths of oxygen. Indeed, like this next film, when things seemed to falter, Radiohead arrived to save the day…
Like Clueless, the appearance of Radiohead in Romeo + Juliet probably signaled one of the first times teenagers and young adults heard the English band outside of “Creep” replays on the radio. “Talk Show Host” came on during Romeo’s introduction, near the beginning of the film, when the sensitive lothario sat atop a small wall composing poetry. An ethereal, almost translucent tune, “Talk Show Host” seemed to animate the universally-familiar Romeo in a way that Shakespeare could have never imagined possible. The coy, sensitive plodding of the song through its paces drew a very delicate picture of a character that still underscored the fiery intensity bubbling just beneath the surface of the young man. A somewhat dated film that tried to capture the frantic, kinetic energy of Hollywood’s post-Tarantino fast-cut mid-90’s movement, Romeo + Juliet at least held true to its universe, and committed to it completely. Like this next picture, Radiohead’s music brought another layer of depth to the film’s foundation, one that was only further augmented by a perfectly-placed song…
A truly magnificent film from top to bottom, start to finish, Children of Men didn’t need Radiohead’s music to kick as much ass as it did (though it also didn’t hurt the picture, either). Children of Men took place in a dystopian, not-too-distant future where humanity had become sterile. Unable to conceive due to female infertility, the world descended into chaos, withEngland the only solvent nation left standing due to the enforcement of a brutal and oppressive police state. Clive Owen played the main character, “Theo,” who was enlisted by his terrorist ex-wife to help the rebellion smuggle the world’s only pregnant woman out of the country. Along the way, whilst running from British authorities and his ex-wife’s evil cohorts, Theo hid out at his hippie friend’s secluded compound, where the two smoked grass and talked of happier times. Theo’s friend, Michael Caine’s “Jasper,” enjoyed classic rock (which in 2027, meant Radiohead), thus the two puffed away on a giggle-stick while the melodic and soothing sounds of “Life in a Glass House” washed over them. The scene came at a point in the film where it allowed its heroes a moment of respite between dangerous encounters, something the song, with its calm melody juxtaposed against invasive rhythm, foretold perfectly.
Though Vanilla Sky is probably one of director Cameron Crowe’s most uninspired offerings, one can’t deny that the man knows his music, and has always succeeded in giving even his shittiest movies a decent soundtrack. Crowe adapted the Spanish film Obre Los Ojos into his American remake, Vanilla Sky, and once again proved the timeless axiom that if something isn’t broken, one ought not attempt to fix it. Where the Spanish picture offered flawed, curious, and textured characters brought to life by modest and discreet performances, Crowe’s American monstrosity burdened its audiences with heavy-handed turns offered up by scene-chewing cowboys like Tom Cruise and Kurt Russell. With the exception of Penelope Cruz (who reprised her role from Obre Los Ojos) and the soundtrack of Vanilla Sky, the updated American version not only failed to bring anything new to the original, but may have discouraged people from seeing the Spanish version due to their (understandable) aversion to Crowe’s picture.
And that’s a shame, for their were flashes of brilliance in this one. Early in the film, as Cruise’s character woke from a dream, the other-worldly electronic resonance from Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” began to hum its unmistakable rhythm. Something about the song elicits a disembodied, almost cataleptic emotion entirely appropriate for a movie that toys with several different states of consciousness. Though the rest of the film may have been a half-assed attempt to capture the magic of a truly special story, the picture’s opening adequately set the mood for a dizzying plunge into the darkest corners of a man’s mind. For that, and due to the fact that Vanilla Sky will almost certainly never enjoy another mention in so positive a light, Crowe’s remake slid in at #3.
This film, populated by numerous Radiohead tracks, developed in such a way as to perfectly marry its thematic pulse with the songs paired with the chosen scenes. A dark and ominous picture about a man peeling back the layers of a culture he didn’t quite understand, I Come With the Rain stumbled over itself at times, yet never gave in to the despair that seemed to permeate the picture. In the film, Josh Hartnett’s “Kline” was a private detective hired to track down the son of some big-shit pharmaceutical boss. The search took him to the jungles of thePhilippines, then to the dense urban sprawl of Hong Kong, where Kline got mixed up in a nasty war raging between the local cops and the mob. As a whole, the film was a mess, however; director Anh Tran seemed so fantastically out of his depth that on numerous occasions (and I’m not alone here) I wondered if he’d had handed over his directing duties to a blind toddler.
The visual texture and composition of the film inexplicably jumped from scene to scene, as a well-developed close-up would often jump to a grainy, half-assed rip-job of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice (which is funny, because people usually rip off GOOD movies). The movie’s pacing and dialogue did nothing to help move the convoluted story along, a truly troubling development since Anh Tran wrote as well as directed the picture. About the only things Tran got right was the casting of Hartnett as his lead, and in the use of various Radiohead songs throughout the picture, songs that often gave more of a sense of what was going on than the events on-screen. From the ghostly “Climbing Up the Walls,” to the more effervescent and dream-like “Nude,” Radiohead’s songs gave the picture a backbone which would have been otherwise non-existent without the auditory compliment. A sub-par movie made somewhat watchable because of its music (which is not exclusively Radiohead), I Come With the Rain jumped to the runner-up position of today’s list both for quantity and quality of its Radiohead use, which brings us to…
Like Cameron Crowe, director Richard Linklater is famous for pairing his films with fresh source music, and his use of Radiohead in A Scanner Darkly only perpetuated this general assumption. An unapologetically atmospheric film that relied on the ambiance created by its sounds and visuals, the movie took an honest-to-goodness stab at capturing the feel of Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name. Once every decade or so, a role comes along that Keanu Reeves can actually handle, something his turn as “Arctor/Fred” proved beyond a shadow of a doubt. The duality of this character was plastered all over the man, inside and out, for he was an undercover cop living a fabricated life amidst drug addicts. As the story developed and Arctor became more and more addicted to the dreaded “Substance-D,” the lines between what was real and what wasn’t began to blur terribly, something the radiant rotoscope visuals of A Scanner Darkly only further enhanced.
Though composer Graham Reynolds wrote a large chunk of music for the film’s score, it was the use of songs like “Skttrbrain” and “The Amazing Sounds of Orgy” that truly developed the dizzying effects of Arctor’s increasing instability. As the cop slipped further into the substance-shrouded labyrinth of his own mind, Radiohead’s “Fog” crept in, and added more atmosphere to the moment (along with a subtle inside joke for any audience members who were aware of the song’s name). Unfortunately, the film never seemed to be able to untangle the thick strands of its plot, for the woozy composition and reflexive nature of the story’s various threads developed much clearer on paper than on the big screen. Often weighed down by the lengthy dialogue scenes, A Scanner Darkly seemed to be a bit of a slave to its source material, as the picture tried to get every emotional punch included in the book in a way that sacrificed the development of the film. Still, Radiohead fans had plenty to be happy about with this one, for the band’s music played often and well throughout the movie, one that might have done better for itself had it dedicated as much time to practical pacing considerations as it did to its superb musical choices.
By Warren Cantrell
Check out more from Warren at 10rant.com