Like most of the country, we in New Orleans are staying home to help prevent the spread of the corona virus. My industry is shut down. No cameras are rolling. L.A. has no traffic or smog. Hollywood South is also fairly silent. I already miss hearing live music all over the city. Until the festivals and buskers return and the bars reopen, here are some wonderful movies with great soundtracks.
The first time I ever remember noticing a movie’s soundtrack was when I saw George Lucas’ American Graffitti. Still one of my favorites, the movie follows a bunch of friends on their last night before going off to college or war or becoming an adult. The ensemble cast launched the careers of Richard Dreyfuss, Kathleen Quinlan, Mackenzie Phillips, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, and Candy Clark (who I worked with in Cold Moon) along with many others.
Richard and I have worked together 3 times and he wrote the foreword for my book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career. Asking, “Where were you in ’62?,” the soundtrack is a greatest hits of the 50’s-to-early-60’s featuring Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys and Fats Domino in its 2-disc set.
Dazed and Confused is another great soundtrack movie in the ensemble category and has basically the same plot but in the late 70’s with music by rockers like Kiss, War, Alice Cooper and ZZ Top. This fun dive into teen power struggles and cures for boredom started careers for Jason London (who I starred with in Zombie Shark AKA Shark Island), Matthew McConaughey (who I worked with in True Detective), Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, and Renée Zellweger.
A funeral brings the ensemble together in The Big Chill. With songs from The Temptations, The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Aretha Franklin and more, the music recalls the once-close friends’ college years. Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum (who I worked with on Mad Dog Time), William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, JoBeth Williams, and a young Meg Tilly star. But the most famous story about the cast is who was cut from the film – Kevin Costner as the friend who died (who I worked with in For Love of the Game).
Can’t Hardly Wait brings Ethan Embry (who I worked with in Convergence), Jennifer Love Hewitt, Charlie Korsmo, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, and Seth Green together at a graduation party full of teen angst. But the biggest names are the bit parts played by newcomers Jason Segel, Jaime Pressly, Jerry O’Connell, Jenna Elfman, Selma Blair, Clea DuVall, Melissa Joan Hart, Eric Balfour (who I worked with on Hell Ride), Breckin Meyer, Freddy Rodríguez and Donald Faison. The 80’s and 90’s music mix includes Third Eye Blind, Smash Mouth, Run-D.M.C., Blink-182, Busta Rhymes, Parliament, Guns N’ Roses and Missy Elliott with Lil’ Kim.
Those ensemble films also captured an era through music, wardrobe and other cultural touchstones, but these next films are truly generation defining. The Graduate stars Dustin Hoffman as a college graduate sorting out his identity while having an affair with a friend of his parents, Anne Bancroft. The Simon and Garfunkel laden soundtrack is the perfect accent to the sometimes hilarious, often bleak tone of the film.
Easy Rider‘s soundtrack is wonky and wild reflecting the thrill and confusion of the 60’s. Dennis Hopper directed the trippy, outsider film of coke-running bikers traveling through America and finding communal living and small-town bigotry. ACLU attorney Jack Nicholson joins Dennis and Peter Fonda on their trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras where they meet Karen Black and Toni Basil. The Band, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and more are featured on the soundtrack.
Shot by Lazlo Kovacs and released in 1969, Easy Rider inspired a wave of filmmakers in the 70’s. In 2008, it inspired our team to cast Dennis Hopper in Hell Ride, a movie I produced along with Quentin Tarantino. It was a thrill to get Dennis back on a bike wearing a fringe jacket and a blast to work with him.
Saturday Night Fever took the disco movement to the masses with John Travolta’s dancing, and the best selling soundtrack of all time. The Bee Gees dominate the tracks with hits like Stayin’ Alive, Jive Talkin’ and You Should Be Dancing.
I’m calling the next category super cool so, of course, Pulp Fiction is first. All of Quentin’s soundtracks are shades of great (notably Kill Bill – where I play Rocket in Vol. 2!), but Pulp Fiction is the perfect mix of his sock-pow collections of forgotten gems. Like the actors he cast – notably John Travolta after his career had careened into Look Who’s Talking 2 – these songs feel like found money in a jeans pocket as they punctuate or juxtapose with the antics of Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis and others as idiosyncratic gamblers, hit men and drug dealers.
Like Easy Rider, Pulp Fiction inspired a wave of filmmakers. Since watching the film 4 times when it came out in 1994, I’ve worked with Quentin on 4 films and Sam Jackson in 2 (and it’s as cool as you think it is).
Boogie Nights tracks the rise and fall of a 70’s porn star. Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds (who I worked with on Mad Dog Time), Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Heather Graham and Philip Seymour Hoffman star. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix including Marvin Gaye, Rick Springfield, and KC and the Sunshine Band. I also enjoy director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia featuring many of the same actors and Tom Cruise along with a mostly Aimee Mann soundtrack.
All of my New-Orleans-set Charlotte Reade Mysteries have soundtrack PLAYLISTS available on YouTube. But the best of the 5-book series is probably book 3, The Missing Ingredient, which includes Ann Peebles, Sly & The Family Stone, Isaac Hayes and more. Charlotte is cast as one of the 7 Sisters in Clarence Pool’s latest super-cool 70’s era film. So, there’s an actual 70’s-funk film soundtrack in the book – which has its own soundtrack of New Orleans musicians and moments.
Book 4, The Haunted Heirloom, reveals the final song in the 7 Sisters soundtrack as the end credits roll at the premiere. And no, you don’t have to read all the books to understand what’s happening even though they are meant to be read in order.
I have a few more categories of soundtrack films, but that’ll do it for now. Enjoy the photos – some from behind-the scenes! Stay tuned for more favorite movies including dramas, mind-benders, and girl power movies. HERE’s my post on classic comedies.