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Music

Four times Pink Floyd made movies better

From their humble beginnings in mid-1960s Cambridge, Pink Floyd never ceased to bend the curve of rock music. Whether it was in their psychedelic phase led by Syd Barrett, or their 1970’s heyday of landmark prog-rock anthems and chart success, the band have always managed to produce some of the most fresh-sounding and influential music of the time. 

The group have shown their admiration for the world of film over the years with a number of films made to accompany the music they created; most notably, their 1982 rock opera ‘The Wall’ which showcased their 1979 hit concept album of the same name. This admiration appears to have been returned a little less than one might imagine given the scope of Pink Floyd’s public appeal and a back-catalogue boasting some of the most emotive and cinematic music to have blessed our ears. 

It’s not clear why Pink Floyd haven’t had more of their music featured in film soundtracks over the years, but one can imagine their price is somewhat dear. It is also safe to derive that the band may have had fairly high standards given that they reportedly turned down the mighty Stanley Kubrick when offered a deal to use ‘Atom Heart Mother Suite’ in the soundtrack to his 1971 film ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

We explore some of the rare moments Pink Floyd’s music was used to heighten the cinematic experience of popular films.

Four times Pink Floyd made movies better:

Doctor Strange ‘Astronomy Domine’

The release of Marvel’s 2016 film ‘Doctor Strange’ was met with mixed reviews. The story follows an arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange who is portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. After a serious car accident, the character’s hands are damaged irreparably. Unable to practice neurosurgery, he looks inwardly, confronting his ego. He sets off in search of a new life learning martial arts and entering the fight on the front line of the Marvel universe against all manner of mystical villainy.

The film is well worth a watch for any Marvel fans and those with a good imagination. Watching as a mere comic franchise civilian, my experience was pleasurable but by no means memorable. However, one moment that certainly did remain in my memory, was when ‘The Ancient One’ played by Tilda Swinton, punches Doctor Strange in the chest, sending him into the so-called astral dimension. He enters a dimension of psychedelic oddity with the extremely fitting soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s ‘Astronomy Domine’, the opening track from their 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. This song from Pink Floyd’s first and most psychedelic incarnation led by LSD enthusiast, Syd Barrett, was one of the greatest moments of the film and certainly added a strange and beautiful dimension.  

Boyhood – ‘Wish You Were Here

With filming spanning over eleven years between 2002 and 2013, ‘Boyhood’ follows the coming of age story of Mason, a fictional character played by Ellar Coltrane who performed scenes periodically over time as he grew up in the real world. The narrative moves seamlessly through time giving glimpses of key moments in Mason’s upbringing as he wrestles with life’s hurdles with the omnipresent shadow of his parent’s divorce looming overhead. The film is a sentimental and moving tale that allows the audience to relate to moments in their childhood with a captivating two hours and 45 minutes of nostalgia. It received glowing reviews from audiences and critics globally, with some describing it as one of the finest and most groundbreaking achievements in film history.

As the film traces key moments of Mason’s life from his early childhood through to adolescence; the soundtrack is used to reflect moments in time, from Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ in 2000 through to Arcade Fire’s ‘Deep Blue’ in 2010. But the musical moment that grabbed my attention the most during the film was when actress and singer, Savannah Welch, grabbed her guitar and played a beautiful rendition of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’. The song, as we all know, is a melancholy masterpiece that evokes feelings of yearning and separation through the imagery presented in the lyrics and the earthy acoustic guitar accompaniment. In her cover, Welch adds a personal touch to the song without overstepping the sentimental intent of the original. The song fits effortlessly into the weave of the film and proliferates the tone it presents throughout. 

The Squid and the Whale – ‘Hey You

This 2005 semi-autobiographical comedy-drama starring Laura Linney and Jesse Eisenberg presents two brothers plunged into turmoil by the split of their parents. The split wreaks havoc on the behaviour of the boys at school leading them to indulge in the more controversial of temptations in life, whether it’s one son’s underage drinking and unorthodox masturbation escapades, or the other son’s more understandable urge to convince his schoolmates that he penned a Pink Floyd classic.

Part of the plot was taken from when writer and director, Noah Baumbach’s charlatan school friend pretended to have written a song by The Who for a school talent show; this is reflected in the film, but instead of using one of The Who’s rock anthems, Baumbach chose for his character Walt Berkman to play ‘Hey You’ by his beloved Pink Floyd. First playing the song to his proud family, Walt lies that it was his song; he later plays the song on stage sat with the reserved posture of Nick Drake with an acoustic guitar on his lap in front of a gobsmacked audience. But Roger Waters needn’t worry, for his victory in the talent show was short-lived as the truth comes down upon Walt, his parents start to question the root causes of their son’s behaviour.

The Departed – ‘Comfortably Numb

Martin Scorsese’s 2006 blockbuster ‘The Departed’ was a fine example of a director with more money and respect than you can shake a stick at gathering a star-studded line-up and totally nailing it. The film unfolds the tale of an undercover Boston cop, Billy Costigan (Leonardo Dicaprio) who leaves a facade term in prison and infiltrates the mob-led underworld of the city. He unearths police corruption leading to a race against time to catch the mole in the police department as well as saving not only his place in the force but his life. 

In the midst of Leo’s crisis, he seeks comfort at the home of his parole psychiatrist Dr Madden (Vera Farmiga), who had been in a relationship with Sullivan (Matt Damon), the mole in the police department. If the plot couldn’t get much more entangled with deception and misplaced faith, the pair take it a step further by becoming romantically involved leading to a steamy scene as Leo and Vera canoodle with the air thick with angst and frustration. The accompanying music for this scene was – you guessed it – a Pink Floyd song. Instead of using the original recording of ‘Comfortably Numb’, a live recording performed by Roger Waters, Van Morrison and The Band was used. 

As a film that managed to break into the highest reaches of the IMDB rankings and sweep up four Academy Awards at the Oscars, it would perhaps be a little unfair to claim that the inclusion of this Pink Floyd song in the soundtrack made it better on the scale of carrying it a few rungs higher on the ladder to worldwide acclaim. However, the song was definitely a welcomed inclusion for any budding fans out there and fits the scene well to reflect the emotions of the characters.