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10 times Lou Reed made movies better


If you don’t know Lou Reed, there’s a chance that you’ve been living under a rock for the last few decades of human history. Even if you aren’t directly familiar with his songs, you’ve probably come across covers, lyrics, and his work in the iconic band The Velvet Underground.

Lou Reed grew up in Long Island, New York, he was born into a family descending from Russian Jews. Reed’s father opted to change the Jewish family name from Rabinowitz to Reed in an attempt to feel more at home in his new nation. Reed would remain largely detached from his Jewish lineage as he grew up and once explained that, although he was Jewish, his “real God was Rock’ n’ roll”.

An avid listener to rock stations on the radio, he began to make moves to learn the guitar and sing; by the time he was in high school in the late 1950s, Reed had begun to play in various bands as a backing vocalist and rhythm guitarist. At around this time, Reed had begun experimenting with drugs, something that would have a major impact on his career over the coming years.

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The next two decades would see Reed hone his talent for songwriting and then establish himself as a vital part of the cultural revolution. With The Velvet Underground and later within his solo work, Reed would go on to be a shining beacon of expression, using his music and his lyrics to give a sensational view of real-life street culture.

When asked about his lyricism, Lou Reed had this to say: “If I went and defined it, there are listeners out there who would be very disturbed… I think people ought to be left alone to have fun with records.” And one of the best ways to have fun with a song or a record is experiencing it within another artistic collaboration—such as film.

One of the places in which Reed’s work shines throughout his career is its use in film. Whether you’re in the mood to watch a vintage-contemporary of Lou himself or a film that uses his music for a little bit of nostalgia, there are plenty of surprising places where you can find Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground in the film world.

The 10 best uses of Lou Reed songs in cinema:

10. ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ in The Lords of Salem (2012)

This song, straight from the album The Velvet Underground & Nico, is just about as haunting as it needs to be to hold a spot in this movie. Directed by Rob Zombie, this flick centres on a Salem radio DJ and highlights music as one of the many creepy elements that it has to offer.

This song is the perfect jam to add to your Halloween playlist, and I’m sure that Lou Reed and Rob Zombie would both agree.

9. ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

This slow and sombre Velvet Underground song is a melancholic fit for the Julian Schnabel film based on the book of the same title. The film is about a once-prolific editor who suffers a stroke, leaving him almost entirely paralysed.

Being only able to communicate by blinking, the choice of ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ fits in both tone and narrative, offering a lilting reminder of Reed’s impressive lyricism.

8. ‘Street Hassle’ in Squid & the Whale (2005)

Noah Baumbach is no stranger to artsy choices for film scores and soundtracks, and his 2005 film Squid & the Whale delivers on that expectation. Although giving away the exact context would spill spoilers, let’s just say that he closes out his movie with the song in an iconic sequence.

The opening string sequence of this 11-minute track is unforgettable, and they make more than enough sense in this twee indie drama. If there was one area of cinema that Reed effortlessly floats into it is the classic American indie, so here he becomes incredibly vital.

7. ‘Sweet Jane’ in Natural Born Killers (1994)

Although this one is a bit of a stretch, as this feature isn’t actually Lou Reed singing, I’ll make the call that it definitely still counts. Covered by Cowboy Junkies on the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers, ‘Sweet Jane’ finds a beat-poet-flavoured way to shine.

This chilled-out cover works for the film, but also for your playlists if you want to find a new way to enjoy Lou Reed’s songwriting. While Reed certainly had an ear for a tune, it was his lyric-writing that has always been the top of his CV.

6. ‘After Hours’ in The Science of Sleep (2006)

Although this is one of the songs by The Velvet Underground where Lou Reed isn’t on the mic, his songwriting is unmistakable. Its quirky, subtle, simple quality fits undeniably into this stylised, experimental 2006 film.

Quite frankly, this song could find a place in plenty of films, and it’s almost surprising that The Science of Sleep has been the primary film on the bandwagon of this one. The truth is, Reed’s words could fill almost every cinema it intended to.

5. ‘Satellite of Love’ in Adventureland (2009)

Featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in that innocent indie-budget-lowkey style of years gone by, Adventureland actually centres an entire symbolic plot point about messing up the lyrics to this classic track. Featuring on Reed’s iconic album Transformer, from 1972, the song is arguably one of Reed’s best.

This film actually brought this song to the attention of a younger generation, with plenty of people discovering it for the first time at this fictionalised amusement park.

4. ‘Perfect Day’ in Prozac Nation (2001)

Prozac Nation is pretty much the furthest thing from a lighthearted film imaginable—which is perhaps why ‘Perfect Day’ was an appropriate choice. The dramatic chorus and melancholy string features bring the proverbial clouds and rain with ironic lyrics.

Though this film is certainly not for the faint of heart, it goes to show just how versatile Lou Reed’s music really is in film. Largely, the reason Reed’s music works well in this film is that Reed had struggled with similar issues in his own life.

3. ‘I’m Sticking With You’ in Juno (2007)

Speaking of versatility, this movie is pretty much the definition of mid-2000s cutesy filmmaking. The soundtrack features all kinds of home runs with Mott the Hoople, Cat Power, Belle and Sebastian, and Kimya Dawson all providing the kind of American indie charm that could make Zach Braff smile.

This almost makes you wish that Juno tossed in one or two more Velvet Underground jams, but if it could only be one, ‘I’m Sticking With You’ still prevails, and provides a perfect sugary jaunt.

2. ‘Perfect Day’ in Trainspotting (1996)

Yet another use of ‘Perfect Day’, we all knew this one was coming. The heartbreaking scene that features the song is one of the most memorable in ’90s cinema history, as Renton almost dies of a drug overdose onscreen. The soundtrack for Danny Boyle’s iconic ode to heroin is one of the best ever made, but for some reason, the use of this track feels all the more poignant, especially given the fact that many regard it as Reed’s own homage to opiates.

The music is at the forefront of the scene, and although it might be hard to watch, it’s a moment of distinct sadness that’s captured so well through the song’s overarching tragedy.

1. ‘Stephanie Says’ in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Topping out the list, Wes Anderson takes the cake with his use of ‘Stephanie Says’ in The Royal Tenenbaums. Kicking off the somewhat awkward yet endearing scene of Gwyneth Paltrow walking in slow motion, even the short clip of this song makes an impression.

Everything about this film was specially curated, and it comes across in everything from the costumes to the soundtrack—and how beautifully it does. The soundtrack is arguably Anderson’s best work and has been rightly heralded as one of the greats of all time. But the use of Reed as Paltrow moves in slow motion feels potent and perfumed in equal measure.