5. “The Times They Are A Changin'” – Watchmen
Watchmen takes place in alternate 1980s time, where a group of outcast superheroes must discover who is killing them off one at a time. Based on the best selling graphic novel, the film opened successfully at the box office.
Three of Bob Dylan’s songs are used in the film; “All Along the Watchtower (cover by Jimi Hendrix), “Desolation Row” (cover by My Chemical Romance), and “The Times They Are A Changin'” (by Dylan himself). Although the film has received much criticism for straying too far from the graphic novel, everyone adored the opening title sequence with “The Times They Are A Changin” playing in the background.
Edward Blake/The Comedian has just been murdered and the scene fades to black. Once the film fades in again the audience is taken through the opening title sequence, where the history of the Watchmen is shown in slow motion. All this time Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin” plays.
The song works because the times are in fact changing for the Watchmen. They go from praised super heroes in the 1940s to disgraced outcasts in the 1980s. “The Times They Are A Changin'” was a popular protest song in the 1960s with its theme for change and hope for the future and in Watchmen’s opening title sequence it proves just as powerful.
4. “Girl from the North Country” – Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook tells the story of Pat and Tiffany, two dysfunctional people who find each while suffering through their own mental illness. The movie was nominated for Best Picture, and Jennifer Lawrence took home the Oscar for Best Actress. Many of the scenes revolve around Tiffany and Pat rehearsing for a dance competition, in which a variety of music is played, but the most noticeable is Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country”
“Girl from the North Country” plays during a montage sequence where Tiffany teaches Pat how to dance in small studio. The camera is constantly moving with them as they dance, laugh, and get to know each other. They watch dance clips from Singing in the Rain and try to imitate them, even though they are nowhere near as good. “Girl from the North Country” is sung by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash from Dylan’s album Nashville Skyline.
The harmony between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash on the song mirrors the connection that is growing between Pat and Tiffany. Dylan originally recorded the song on an earlier album by himself, but that version would not have the same effect as the latter one did in the scene.
3. “The Man in Me” – The Big Lebowski
Critics were a bit taken aback by The Big Lebowski. Perhaps they had thought that after making the critically acclaimed Fargo, the Coen Brothers had grown up a bit and would now only make serious movies. How wrong they were. The Big Lewboski is a laugh out comedy that is constantly quoted and contains many memorable characters and scenes. And one scene is particular uses Dylan’s song, “The Man in Me”, extremely well.
Dylan’s “The Man in Me” actually appears twice in the film. The first is over the opening credits, where a bunch of people are bowling. The second is the more memorable one: The Dude is lying comfortably on his stolen rug (which really ties the room together), when suddenly he is punched in the face and knocked out completely.
Sparks fly and Dylan’s song begins to play as the viewer enters the Dude’s subconscious. He flies above the city of LA at night, chasing an unknown woman ahead of him, who has stolen his rug. Suddenly he realizes he is holding a bowling ball, which drags him down until he becomes stuck in one of the holes of a giant bowling ball and is rolled down a lane.
The song fits perfectly with the character of The Dude. Only the character Maude, the one who took his rug, can find the best in a lazy character like the Dude.
2. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – Don’t Look Back
By 1965 Bob Dylan had already established himself a folk/protest singer and was already beginning to explore other forms of music and stray away from topical material. His tour of England that year was documented by D.A. Pennebaker and was tiled Don’t Look Back.
In the film, Pennebaker captures Dylan playing to sold out concerts, talking with fans and reporters, and playing his own songs in the company of friends. But probably the most memorable part of the film is the beginning, where “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is played.
As the film fades in, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” begins to play. The camera starts in on a brick wall and zooms out to reveal Bob Dylan in an alley way holding a bunch of large flashcards, each with one or three words from the song on them. As the song progresses, Dylan throws the cards on the ground. Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg can be seen in the corner talking with someone.
This short film-within-a-film has been imitated countless times over the years and has come to symbolize the beginning of the rock’n roll documentary. Some have even described it as the “first music video”. The song itself is one of Dylan’s best. Energetic, electric and cleverly written, it’s impossible to imagine the scene without “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.
1. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
In 1973 director Sam Peckinpah released Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, a western which told the story of an aging Pat Garrett tracking down and killing the outlaw Billy the Kid, an old friend of his.
The film opened to mostly criticism from critics and audiences. Over the years however, it has gained the reputation of being one of the finest westerns in cinema. And one thing that the movie is always remembered for is its score, composed almost entirely by Bob Dylan.
The song that is always remembered from the film is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. Pat Garrett and Sheriff Baker are engaged in a shootout with a few from Billy the Kid’s gang. Baker gets shot and knowing he’s near death, staggers away to the nearby river bed. As he stumbles away, the music portion of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” slowly fades in. Seeing her husband injured, Baker’s wife drops her gun and follows him.
As Dylan begins to sing, she watches her husband with tears in her eyes. Baker sits on a log near the river, holding his would. He gives a small smile to his wife and then looks out to the river, knowing it will all be over soon. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” gives the scene a magical, haunting quality that without it would have just been another mediocre death scene in western cinema.