One day I put together a list of songs in my iTunes library. I labeled the playlist “Gun Fight” because it reminded me of a lot of actions movies and TV shows that I’ve seen the past few years. Some of these songs were used in action pieces, and some weren’t – but they should have been.
For example, Bawitdaba by Kid Rock, was used during the last few minutes of the pilot episode of The Shield (which I miss, btw; great show). Die by the Drop, released by The Dead Weather, on the other hand, hasn’t been seen in anything (that I’m aware of).
From what I gather from all of the behind-the-scenes features on the action movie DVDs that I have, filming a really good action sequence is very time consuming and difficult. For a car chase you’re often going to have more than one camera (sometimes more than ten) set up at various points on the stage to catch all the angles. Even then, you want all the close ups that you usually see in a car chase: the actor/actress, his/her hands on the steering wheel, glass being shot out, fenders getting bumped, stuff on the sidewalk getting taken out by the car, the wheels, etc. Now imagine taking all the gigabytes of digital video and then going into a room with your editor and then actually stringing all of your raw video into a coherent, logical sequence.
Now imagine picking a song that will harmonize with the whole sequence. No wonder you don’t normally see songs used in action sequences, it’s just usually the film composer writing the music around the sequence. Although, if handled right, an action sequence’s cool factor is multiplied by ten. Check out these examples: the car chase in The Bourne Identity featuring Ready, Steady, Go by Paul Oakenfold; watching Jason Statham take down a thug in Crank set to Loverboy’s Turn Me Loose; the club shoot-out scene in Collateral, also featuring Ready, Steady, Go by Oakenfold; the bar shoot-out in Desperado featuring Strange Face of Love by Tito & Tarantula; Spybreak! by the Propellerheads in the famous lobby shoot-out in The Matrix; Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two Tribes set over the end car chase in Doomsday; and the beat up / torture scene where Denzel Washington exacts justice from a member of the Mexican mob in Man on Fire featuring Oye Como Va by Santana (performed by Tito Puente). Oh, yeah: the entire soundtrack of Sucker Punch and their corresponding scenes.
And to be fair, given the atmosphere of the film, a song would just ruin a perfectly shot action sequence. I would never put a song over the shoot-outs in Heat, The Way of the Gun, The International, or Equilibrium. Nor would I put one over the the car chases in The French Connection, Deathproof, The Rock, Ronin, or The Transporter.
Here’s my list:
- Die by the Drop – The Dead Weather (every time I listen to this I picture the end shoot-out in The Way of the Gun for some reason. This song is suited for a slower, more brutal gun fight without all the choppy quick-edits and “shaky cam” effects you see in movies nowadays, like Battle: Los Angeles.)
- My Medicine – The Pretty Reckless (I picture this in a bar fight / shootout. It’s perfect. Starts out slow and then the drums come in. Reminds me of the bar shoot-out in Desperado. The Pretty Reckless is headed by a female singer, Taylor Momsen, and having a woman’s voice do an action-scene worthy song adds another layer, IMHO, to a sequence. Think Shitlist by L-7 over the opening massacre in Natural Born Killers.)
- Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine (the guitar riffs are amazing and the section where Zack de la Rocha just screams “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!!!” belongs into a tightly-shot action montage or sequence.)
- Bawitdaba – Kid Rock (if you saw the pilot episode of The Shield, you know how cool this song is when used in a sequence properly.)
- Cochise – Audioslave
- Break Stuff – Limp Bizket (this song is just aching to be put into an action flick. Surely someone’s done it and I just didn’t see it?)
- Hold On – Korn
- Show Me How to Live – Audioslave
- Them Bones – Alice in Chains
- Cryin’ Like a Bitch! – Godsmack
- Keep Away – Godsmack
- Sound of Madness – Shinedown
- The End of the Line – Metallica (especially from 5:30 mark onwards when Hetfield and Ulrich slow down a little bit and then slowly lead in with: “Drop the hour glass of time / spilling sand we will not find / as we gather here today / we bid farewell / the slave becomes the masterrrrrr” and then full drum and guitar explosion)
Honorable & Odd Mentions: Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima set to the intense, shot-in-a-single-take (or least made to look that way) battle sequence in Children of Men; Richard Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries used in Apocalypse Now‘s famous sequence where American air cavalry attack helicopters storm a Vietnamese village; Olivia Newton-John’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow during the shoot-out scenes in Face/Off (and Judy Garland’s for the short sequence in 9, the animated movie with Elijah Wood); and N.E.R.D.’s Truth or Dare used in the pilot episode of Nip/Tuck where Christian Troy gets tortured by a drug lord.
Can you think of any songs I missed? Till next time.