As a film director, Martin Scorsese is known for many things: extreme violence, fantastic acting, excessive dramatic lighting (especially red), and brilliant editing (thanks to Thelma Schoonmaker). But his movies are also known for their soundtracks.
Throughout a career spanning over five decades, Scorsese has included rock and roll classics, operas, and even a few modern songs in his films. They all work masterfully with the images provided on the silver screen.
15. “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” (No Direction Home – Bob Dylan)
The song begins with the opening of the documentary. Pictures of Bob Dylan in concert, 1963, flash across the screen. The film cuts to footage of JFK arriving in Dallas, Texas and then freeze frames on a close up of the president smiling. The shot fades to black. Crowds of people are shown crying and in mourning. The famous footage of Oswald being brought out in handcuffs appears.
All this time “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” plays. Oswald is shot, and for a moment the music halts. Screams are heard and then the music starts up again. Dylan has said that the song means that some kind of “end” will happen. The song hauntingly fits the assassination of President Kennedy.
14. “House of the Rising Sun” (Casino)
The song signifies the end of it all. Everything comes crashing down for the mob’s involvement in the casino business in Vegas. “House of the Rising Sun” begins when Ace is shown a picture of his wife sleeping with his best friend.
Nicky’s voice over fades in as the mob goes to trial, and people are executed in bloody, gruesome fashions. Halfway through the montage, the voice over switches to Ace. Scorsese’s constantly moving camera captures all the blood and shadows. Ginger is also shown slowly dying of a drug overdose. The song ends with Ace getting in his car and the car exploding.
13. “Janie Jones” (Bringing out the Dead)
Frank has reached the end of his rope. He recklessly drives the ambulance through New York city, half crazed, half awake, while his partner, Sizemore watches with a mixture of amusement and nervousness. The viewer sees Frank’s point of view as the ambulance rushes downy the street.
It’s obvious Frank is unstable, and The Clash’s “Janie Jones” confirms this. It’s fast beat only intensifies the situation and fits the theme of the film perfectly. “I’m driving out of myself”, says Frank.
12. “Gimme Shelter” (The Departed)
The Departed begins with footage of Boston riots in the 1980s. Frank Costello’s voiceover starts in tandem with “Gimme Shelter”. The camera moves along with Costello in silhouette and then cuts to him shaking down a small grocery store, all the time being kept in mysterious dark.
“The storm is threatening” sings Mic Jagger; Costello is the storm. The song also plays over Costello murdering people with a smile on his face.
11. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” (The Departed)
“I’m Shipping Up to Boston” begins as “The Departed” title flashes across the screen. The camera glides from the left to right side of the screen as it follows the paths of Billy and Colin.
Billy is an undercover cop in prison to gain a criminal reputation, while Colin rises fast in the police force hierarchy. Billy eventually gets out and visits his criminal cousin, Jimmy. The song has Irish roots but is also about South Boston. The anger in the song is tangible.
10. “Mrs. Robinson” (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jordan Belfort has just been arrested for insider trading. “Mrs. Robinson” begins and the movie cuts to Donnie deleting files from his computer, the beat of the song matching how many times he presses the delete button on his keyboard. The FBI comes in to raid the office.
As the camera follows each arrest, the words to “Mrs. Robinson” begin. This is not the sweet classic version sung by Simon and Garfunkel; this is a cover version by The Lemonheads and it’s upbeat and unforgiving. “We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files” rings true. The song continues through Jordan’s trial and sentencing and ends with him playing tennis in jail.
9. “Mr. Postman” (Mean Streets)
“Mr. Postman” comes to life from the juke box and turns on when things become heated between Johnny Boy and Joey. Once the song comes on, Joey’s attitude changes and becomes hostile. After calling another guy a “mook”, fists begin flying and everyone gets involved. The hand held camera moves haphazardly, capturing the multiple fights taking place.
Johnny Boy gets up on the pool table and starts kicking at guys and swatting at them with a broken pool stick. It’s not until the cops come in and break up the fight that the music fades out.