Martin Scorsese is one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers. Part of his genius is how he marries music with the moving image, be it the moody orchestral sounds of Bernard Herrmann’s score in Taxi Driver or the tunes of the Rolling Stones. Here we check out three films where he excelled in his rock n roll choices.
The fact the moody beauty of Bernard Herrmann’s orchestral backdrop is broken only once by the dreamy rock sounds of Jackson Browne’s “Late for the Sky” gives the song a particularly appealing resonance. Of course, it takes nothing away from Herrmann’s unforgettable score, supplementing scenes by helping to produce a range of emotions from sleaze to unsettling nightmare. The director himself has said that the film’s success is in part due to the composer’s work which takes on a greater sense of historical importance given that Herrmann would pass away shortly after completing it. But it’s the perfect timing of Browne’s song that beautifully underpins the protagonist’s sense of isolated loneliness; a curious precursor to the film’s alienation-fuelled bloodshed. It’s perhaps a musical beat only the great Martin Scorsese could think of.
As the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” plays as Nicky tells us in voice-over about his brother and the new Las Vegas crew, you know you’re witnessing Scorsese at his musically-inspired best. Inspired by the non-fiction book by Nicholas Pileggi, it’s a film that has topped a number of lists about the best gambling movies ever made thanks to the authenticity of scenes which, for example, feature the gambler’s fallacy in a sequence about a jackpot-winning slots player. It’s this level of detail that makes the film so compelling. This scene causes Robert De Niro’s casino boss consternation, disbelieving the winner’s lucky streak. But as anyone who has played slot machines, which is increasingly likely thanks to the popularity of online casinos and the great offers you can get (like the free spin deals and bonus prizes available here: free-spins.org/en-ie/), three jackpot wins in 20 minutes might be unlikely but not impossible. Complemented by a number of other rock n rolls classics, often adding melodic crescendo to scenes of a dark subject matter, Casino boasts a wonderful sense of irony to add to its fascinating story of the rise and fall of a casino kingpin.
Arguably Martin Scorsese’s greatest film, Goodfellas’ music, like the similarly themed crime-drama Casino, utilises popular music to both convey the themes present in the narrative and, with the director’s shrewd imagination, ironically counter the murder, drugs, deception and avarice on show. “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals is a stand out moment when, as the director tracks them in one single continuous shot, Henry and Karen enjoy their first date. You could also pick as favourites the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” as the backdrop to Henry’s lesson in the dangers of cocaine from Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) or the psychedelic rock of “Sunshine of Your Love” as another sumptuous tracking shot reveals many shades of character as Jimmy sits smoking at a bar.
Three films that perfectly encapsulate the genius of Martin Scorsese and his ability to make music a seamless part of the narrative. Perfectly bringing melody to the moving image, these films are just a small snapshot of the director’s penchant for complementing drama, character and plot progression with music.