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From New Order to The Strokes: The 8 best music moments in Sofia Coppola films

“The unexpected connections we make might not last, yet stay with us forever.” – Sofia Coppola

Such a pertinent statement from the director of some of the most affecting films ever released. Sofia Coppola is an auteur that exists in a realm of her own. Coppola’s films explore the peculiarities of the human condition in such a nuanced way that scenes and lines from her films have been seared into our hearts and brains forever.

Initially regarded as the “dilettante daughter” of filmmakers Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia first dipped her toes into the big screen world when she appeared as an infant in her father’s magnum opus The Godfather in 1972. However, her acting career would be short-lived after her portrayal of Mary Corleone in The Godfather Part III was critically panned in 1990. 

Before too long, Sofia Coppola would turn her attention to life behind the camera action and she released her feature-length debut The Virgin Suicides in 1999. This was to be the first of many collaborations with the young Kirsten Dunst and was to be the actual introduction of her as a director of serious quality. She then released her own magnum opus, Lost in Translation, in 2003 to critical acclaim, marking the start of her career as a well-respected director. Her first two feature-length films displayed her penchant for matching gorgeous aesthetics with music.

It is this marriage of music and aesthetics that has marked her films out as some of the most emotionally affecting and significant within pop culture. Arriving as an established director via the modes of acting, modelling and design, all three elements are now critical to her trademark style. Across her eight feature-length films, Coppola has perfectly married sound and vision. 

Giving us iconic scenes such as the end of Lost in Translation, set to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Just Like Honey’, Coppola’s films have come to be regarded as “slow-moving portraits with bittersweet emotional palettes”. Her use of iconic music and dense, hazy aesthetics have marked her out as one of the directors of a generation. She has masterfully put one foot in the mainstream while cultivating love from critics, hipsters and the left-field alike.

As the esteemed director turned 50 last week, it is only fitting that we list the top musical moments in Sofia Coppola’s films.

The best music moments in Sofia Coppola movies:

‘Just Like Honey’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain (Lost in Translation, 2003)

The scene that sanctified Sofia Coppola. One of the most perfect endings to a film in history. The scene is centred around Bill Murray’s character Bob and Scarlet Johansson’s Charlotte embracing for one last time, slap bang in the centre of the shot, in the middle of a bustling Tokyo street.

The impact of the scene is felt by the inaudible last thing Bob says to Charlotte. Nobody has ever known what he says to her, adding to the transient, fleeting essence of the film. As the two lovers depart and go their separate weight, the track plays. The drums in ‘Just Like Honey’ are reminiscent of a heartbeat and in tandem with the melancholy feel of the song, this final scene is a highly bittersweet and iconic moment.

‘Sometimes’ by My Bloody Valentine (Lost in Translation, 2003)

After their big night out, Charlotte and Bob share a cab back to their Tokyo hotel. Then the film enters the realms of a music video. Stacked with Japanese iconography, as the taxi passes through the bright lights of Tokyo, the fuzzy wall of sound of Kevin Shields‘ guitar fades in. Coppola’s use of the track’s distortion to weave shots together is masterful, particularly when in used in conjunction with the background noise of the city.

The scene then cuts to the hotel where Bob is carrying an asleep Charlotte to her room. The song slowly fades out, representing that the hope of this blossoming relationship has to give way to reality. It is followed by the scene where Bob is in a fraught phone call with his wife, who is back in the US. ‘Sometimes’ perfectly conveys the eclectic mix of emotions felt by our protagonists, and the ensuing silence, a juxtaposition My Bloody Valentine’s masterpiece, captures the noiseless drone of adult life.

‘What Ever Happened’ by The Strokes (Marie Antoinette, 2006)

The use of The Strokes‘ lovelorn classic ‘What Ever Happened’ perfectly captures the feelings of our titular heroine. In the scene, Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, races through her imagination. She imagines her lover on horseback and then runs through the opulent halls of Versailles before lying like an infatuated rag doll on her chair. As the audience, we feel for the eponymous Queen as we know what ensued after her notorious “let them eat cake” speech. In the film – and in real life – she would have a very short life before meeting the guillotine.

The use of the song is impactful as it shows the Queen alone with her thoughts, a rarity amongst the hustle and bustle of palace life. As aided by Julian Casablancas’ lo-fi crooning, the scene is also sad, we know our heroine will never find comfort or the lover she is looking for. Unfortunately, all she can do is dream as her loveless husk of a marriage will soon end up in tragedy.

‘The State We’re In’ by The Chemical Brothers (Lost in Translation, 2003)

Although the final scene of Lost in Translation is the most iconic, the use of The Chemical Brothers 2002 chilled out classic captures the heady, optimistic period when you’ve first met someone and are falling in love. The relaxed euphoria of the beat and its twinkling keys are like a cerebral key into a beautiful future.

The song comes at a critical moment in the film and captures the moment Bob and Charlotte’s feelings are crystallised amongst happy party-goers in a Tokyo club. The ethereal female vocals sing, “There’s no escaping now / let me show you how / what it feels to be true”.

The climax of the song makes us feel like we are in the shoes of either character. They break free of their mundane, trapped existence and adventure through the city’s nightlife together. The song perfectly dissipates the inertia felt by both characters and catapults them and us into a scene that is dizzying our audio-visual receptacles. The light projected by the orbs in the club makes us feel as, well, we’re on ecstasy.

‘Playground Love’ by Air (The Virgin Suicides, 1999)

Just like Kirsten Dunst, French electronic duo Air have been frequent collaborators with Coppola. They have contributed music to Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides. However, it is on her feature-length debut where the French duo have the most significant effect. Additionally, teenage Coppola was given her first copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel by Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore.

Along with ed-Redd Kross drummer Brian Reitzell, The Virgin Suicides’ music supervisor, she collected ’70s teen songs. Regardless, a favourite group of hers at the time were Air. She subsequently asked the duo to score the film, which can be now viewed as a significant move. Their music colours the movie in a way that is so impactful that without their score it would not be the same. Air’s hazy ’70s inspired album drastically augments the film.

‘Playground Love’ acts as a motif in the film and is played at both the beginning and end. It perfectly captures all the film’s themes, summertime in suburbia, love, excitement and regret.

‘Ceremony’ by New Order (Marie Antoinette, 2006)

In 2006, Coppola told Entertainment Weekly: “My introduction to 18th-century France was from New Romantic music, from the imagery of Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant, and Vivienne Westwood, and the whole scene that was going on post-punk, when I was an adolescent.”

She and musical sidekick Reitzell teamed up once more and compiled a host of songs from across the annals of history. Sonically, the film has everything from Vivaldi to the Radio Dept. Undoubtedly one of the film’s most memorable scenes is the young Queen celebrating her 18th birthday, dancing away at an opulent party. The juxtaposition of enlightenment-era France with the bleak post-punk of New Order‘s debut single is effective and perhaps infers the sad demise our naive Queen will meet before too long.

‘Alone in Kyoto’ by Air (Lost in Translation, 2003)

The three-minute sequence in the middle of Lost in Translation can be seen as the interlude that separates part one from part two. Charlotte briefly exits the noise of the Japanese capital and gets a bullet train to the song’s titular city. On the speeding train, she watches a traditional wedding ceremony from the window. Before dusk, she ties a paper wish around the branch of a tree.

Air’s serene composition drives us straight into Charlotte’s mind just as the bullet train carts her into the peaceful countryside. The scene and song also convey that not all hope is lost. We can escape if we will it.

‘Crazy on You’ by Heart (The Virgin Suicides, 1999)

Town heart-throb Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) spends an awkward evening with the virgins and their family huddled around the TV, with Lux’s (Kirsten Dunst) parents cautiously chaperoning the hormonal pair.
Trip finally makes his leave, although the teenage pair remain unsatisfied. After they say their awkward goodbyes at the porch, our flared teenager makes his way back to his car.

There is a deafening silence. Suddenly, Lux appears out of nowhere jumps in the car and pounces on her crush. The classic Heart song then fades in. A perfect song to complement the rush of teenage emotions and the heady era of the ’70s.