From Quentin Tarantino to David Lynch: 7 times directors used David Bowie to make their film better
The power of David Bowie truly knows no bounds. The singer-songwriter transcended genre and even discipline when he jumped out from the musical spotlight and into the sets of Hollywood. Howeber, while his performances in plays and films are certainly more than credible, below we’ve got the best examples of when it was his music that made films just that little bit more complete.
As we all know, a killer soundtrack can sometimes make a film. The music, perfectly coupled with the right song reflecting the scene, can make normal films feel like classics. While in the below list we’d argue that many of them are classics anyway, the use of Bowie’s poignant and powerful music takes them to another level.
Bowie was always keen to make his songs cinematic. Whether that was using music videos to share his vision or acting out the said vision in his live performances. So we’re sure he would have been glad at every one of these inclusions. That’s because, in every case, the songs aren’t there just for clout.
No, these songs have been picked for the films because they work well together. In fact, we go so far as to say, that without Bowie’s inclusion on these films and scenes, they would fall rather flat. Instead, they are lifted to the same heights as his musical catalogue.
‘Helden’ in Jojo Rabbit
Heavily praised for its unique style, the musical score created by American composer Michael Giacchino proved pivotal in the overwhelming feel-good sense and, at times, euphoric atmosphere. Giacchino, who created 45 minutes of fairy-tale-style music at Abbey Road Studios in London with a 35-piece orchestra, also saw the inclusion of contemporary artists such as The Beatles, Tom Waits, Roy Orbison and, of course, David Bowie in Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winning film.
Closing out the film, Bowie’s song ‘Helden’ arrives to bring together the celebratory mood of a war coming to an end. The track, an alternative German version to Bowie’s iconic number ‘Heroes’, sees lead characters Jojo and Elsa break into dance while on the streets of Berlin. It is euphoric, it is startlingly joyful, it is a reminder that the greatest heroism is within us all, even just for one day.
‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ in Inglorious Basterds
One of our absolute favourite moments in any film, Bowie-adjacent or otherwise, comes from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds who employ the Starman with explosive effect and use ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ as part of the climactic scene. The track had been originally composed for the film of the same name but Tarantino’s use of it is far more impressive.
As our heroine, Shosanna Dreyfus (played by Melanie Laurent) readies her plan to enact a ball of fiery revenge on a large chunk of Nazi officers in her cinema as they sit to watch the premiere of the propaganda film, Nation’s Pride. Bowie’s handling of the sultry noir is always effortless and coupled with the violence in Dreyfus’ eyes, there’s an added element of danger that combusts like a chemical reaction.
‘Fashion’ in Clueless
If you’re honestly going to tell us that you didn’t enjoy watching Clueless when you were first shown it then we’d have to call you a liar. The film, as candy-coated and bubblegum-fragile as it is, is full of iconic moments of ’90s glory which sees the retelling of Emma be given a totally fabulous makeover by director Amy Heckerling—but that didn’t mean it didn’t borrow from the past in other ways.
The film’s opening scene may begin with ‘Kids In America’, but the real moment of pleasure comes when Bowie’s song ‘Fashion’ takes over the airwaves. Although the song’s subject matter was plainly aligned with the film’s direction, it is in the track’s comparative obscurity to ’90s America that made it fit so perfectly.
‘Heroes’ in Perks of Being a Wallflower
It’s difficult to look back at the things a pre-teen you loved most in the world. If you’re lucky they can be reduced to unshakable factions like sports teams, otherwise, they often have a habit of making you blush every time you remember them. Looking back at the 1999 novel Perks of Being a Wallflower may have your cheeks turning red but it’s still a fine piece of work.
The 2012 film version of the novel, directed by Stephen Chbosky, wouldn’t have done much to dissuade you from blushing but it does include one incredible scene. While avid readers will be able to detail the scene forever, the real point here is not who these people are or even what their story is, but just how connected they feel by music.
We’ve all done it, haven’t we? All heard a song that made our hairs stand one end, roll down the windows and start singing as loudly as we can. For these three kids, their first hearing of Bowie’s classic ‘Heroes’ provides every excuse they need to truly feel something with one another. It’s a beautiful moment.
‘Life on Mars’ – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
If rumours are to be believed, Wes Anderson was extremely keen on titling his 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with the byline, ‘Featuring Music by David Bowie’. That’s because the Starman has a hand in almost all of the most impressive and imposing scenes.
There are Bowie moments all over the film, with his songs ‘Starman’ and ‘Changes’ included in the film but in Portuguese, with Seu Jorge providing translation for these and some notable other tracks which end up closing the film. That said, none are quite as powerful as this inclusion of ‘Life On Mars’.
As Zissou, played handsomely by Bill Murray, is confronted by both his past and his future in the form of a son he never really knew he had, Bowie’s classic song plays in the background. The grand orchestral sound, the otherworldly notion and the sense of disbelief all accurately play out alongside Murray’s own performance. It’s expertly aligned.
‘I’m Deranged’ in Lost Highway
David Lynch and David Bowie are two artists that we wish had worked more closely with one another. While the two Davids have shared a few moments of artistic creativity, they are too few and too far between in our eyes—an appearance in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, is not enough!
They did, however, somewhat connect on Lynch’s 1997 film Lost Highway. Used for the opening scene of the film, Bowie’s electronic penchant present i the album Outsider can be clearly heard in this one. The fast pace and Bowie’s ethereal vocal allow for some classic Lynchian juxtaposition.
When added to Lynch’s undulating and hypnotic image of the incessant road ahead, things start to click into place. There’s a shroud of darkness over most of Lynch’s work and this one is punctured by Bowie in the most beautiful of ways.
‘Modern Love’ in Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach’s 2012 film Frances, Ha grabbed the director some rightly deserved attention and acclaim—for many, it launched his career in earnest. But we’d argue that while the film is certainly fantastic, without this scene it would have felt incomplete. This scene, effortlessly soundtracked by Bowie’s song ‘Modern Love’, is packed full of life-affirming joy and goosebump-inducing cheerfulness.
It’s a crucial moment in the film, too. Baumbach has his heroine, played by Gret Gerwig, moving through New York with a permanent smile on her face, a glint in her eye and a twinkle in her steps, she interplays with the very city itself. It works seamlessly with Bowie’s more guarded delivery, suggesting there’s a shared smirk between the two.
The track features once more at the end of the film but doesn’t share the same impact. It is when Frances and Bowie dance with one another on the streets of New York that cinematic magic happens. With one scene, Bowie and Baumbach tell the story of freedom and escaping those who try to prohibit it. Simply breathtaking.