The world continues to grieve the death of David Bowie. While his contributions to music and style cannot be overstated, it’s also worth noting how much his work has helped shape film as well. While he dabbled in acting in addition to his other pop culture gifts, one of his greater legacies is how his music is used in film to evoke emotional reactions in audiences. From Paul Schrader’s Cat People in 1982 to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou to last year’s The Martian by Ridley Scott, Bowie’s songs help propel the narrative and the emotional momentum of the film and end up married with some memorable scenes that will stay with moviegoers and music lovers for many years to come.
A new series of videos by Fernando Andrés examines five scenes from different films that used Bowie’s songs to convey a greater depth to the scene. As Andrés writes, “Next to the Stones, he may have the discography that cinema has pulled from the most and the best.” And so he presents these scenes, each with a bit of a write-up to explain how the song adds to the film and informs audiences of the emotions they should be feeling while watching these moments unfold.
The first example comes from 2012’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, of which Andrés writes:
In the original book, the “tunnel song” that the young protagonists play and dance to in the night is left unnamed—but we are hinted to that it is a powerful, breathtaking anthem of youth. Choosing the face of this song must have been difficult for Chbosky, adapting from his own story, but he could not have picked anything other than Bowie’s “Heroes,” from the album of the same name. “We can be lovers,” he sings, “forever and ever.” Charlie in the film utters that he feels infinite. This is a scene that brought me to tears and continues to as I revisit it, a perfect marriage of song and moment—and yet any other track could have left it limp, lame, irrelevant. Instead, it’s life-affirming. An immortal moment of modern film.
Part two focuses on the “Cat People” sequence from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, transforming it from an oddly sexual ode to manimals into a theme for getting ready to battle, perhaps for the final time
Acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino, while working at the Video Archives, was always pretty pissed that Bowie’s amazing song, tailor-made for Schrader’s erotic re-make of the 1942 classic “Cat People,” was thrown away into the end credits. He and his friends agreed, if they got that song for their film, they’d make a twenty-minute sequence built around it. So in his 2009 Nazi-scalping, bold and loudly brilliant masterpiece, Tarantino did.
The rest of the series is just as interesting: the third video examines the fairly ironic use of “Young Americans” in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville; the fourth highlights how The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty proves that the right marriage between a song (in this case “Space Oddity”) and a scene can elevate any work, even just for a moment; and the final entry shows 2012’s The Imposter using Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” to great effect. The entire series can be viewed by going to Andrés’ Vimeo page.
These scenes, mostly pulled from the last decade or so, all feature the many ways that Bowie’s chameleon approach to persona also worked in filmmakers’ favors as they incorporated his songs into their movies. Suddenly the undercurrent of sarcasm in “Young Americans” comes more into focus when coupled with Von Trier’s direction, or the savagery at the heart of “Cat People” is used to much greater effect in the hands of Tarantino than its original filmic purpose. It’s a great tour of another aspect of Bowie’s legacy, demonstrating the transcendent power of the right song in the right moment.