If there is any musical artist that seems more perfectly suited to have their songs used in film than New Order, I’d like to know. Here is a band that has already put out music that sounds like the best James Bond theme song never written. The breadth of New Order’s sound is pitch perfect for use in scenes requiring a sinister sense of foreboding, an ironic expression of joyous capitulation and, of course, a high speed car chase. The perfect blending of New Order’s musical sensibilities with the rhythm of contemporary cinema makes it all the more tragic that this Manchester band has all too often been used by filmmakers to an effect far less deserving than is merited. Which isn’t to say that a few directors more attuned to those sensibilities have not made up for the lapses of others.
Pretty in Pink
The first filmmaker to recognize the emotional power of the music behind Bernard Sumner’s initially impassive vocal performances was John Hughes. Hughes did not direct this film, but his view that the soundtrack should be dominated by gloomy Britpop won out over the alternative of more recognizable mainstream American bands. . I know that “Pretty in Pink” is beloved by many, but frankly the only parts of the movie I have been willing to watch more than once are the parts that put New Order songs front and center. The purely instrumental “Eligia” and the instrumental B-side version of “Thieves Like Us” provide the emotional resonance that the frankly lame high school romance isn’t quite up to pulling off by itself.
The best part of “Marie Antoinette” is the music. And it is certainly a sign of the unreliable nature of director Sofia Coppola that New Order’s kinetic “Age of Consent” made the movie nearly a must-see courtesy of its use in the trailer only to wind up missing in action from the film itself. This oversight can almost be forgiven since Coppola does use “Ceremony” in the actual film. I say almost because Coppola makes no effort whatever to make any kind of significant connection between New Order’s song and the visuals they accompany. What I utterly fail to understand at all is why Coppola decided to open her love letter to the most iconic of all self-involved monarchs with Gang of Four’s brilliant Marxist manifesto “Natural’s Not In It.” But that’s a topic for another time.
The Wedding Singer
“The Wedding Singer” is an enjoyable movie that features plenty of great 80s music, but it also stands as one of the most pointless when it comes to incorporating New Order songs into its soundtrack. “Blue Monday” is my favorite song of all time and its status since 1983 as the best-selling 12-inch single ever put out by a single artist indicates I may not be alone in this view. This is a song that can’t get any respect in America: it was the one song played during the opening ceremonies of the London Olympics that NBC’s clueless commentators decided to talk all the way through. “Blue Monday” is such perfectly integrated piece of experimental electronically produced music that you would think at least one film director would have figured out a way to edit to its distinctive and highly influential sound in a way that would create one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Alas, we’re still waiting.
The first thing you see are black pointy toed shoes hustling across a hard floor and then a quick edit to a shot that tracks in line with the movement of three men seen walking briskly in profile. The editing of this short sequence in “Bronson” is not cut to keep pace with the beats of New Order’s “Your Silent Face.” In fact, there is a brief interlude in which the staccato pacing of Tom Hardy’s character in the visual is the polar opposite of the smooth fluidity of New Order’s orchestral combination of waves of keyboards, synthesized drums and melodica. The introduction of Peter Hook’s melodic bass line is completely ignored as an editing key. It shouldn’t work, but because there is something deceptively unsettling about the seemingly pretty music that connects with the sense of something deceptively unsettling about the comical tone of Bronson’s release from prison, it works as the single best use of New Order put on film to date.
For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo!’s first Writer of the Year, check out:
Top Ten Songs by New Order
Why New Order Should Write and Perform a James Bond Theme Song
Peter Hook’s Most Memorable Bass Lines That Transformed the Bass into a Melodic Instrument