Music That Moves Me (Movies)

When this post extended past a few pages on movies alone, I realised it was the first of a two part series. This one is for the movies. The second installment will be for video games.

I am an annoying person to watch movies with. I don’t chatter and spoil the surprise, but I will make a comment now and then, usually along the lines of:

“Check out the composition of this scene.”

“This is directed by <name>. They did <film>. Remember that one?”

“Oh, wow, check the cinematography here.”

“Wasn’t this actor in <film> and <film>?”

and, more often than not:

“Have you been listening to the soundtrack? I wonder if it’s <artist/composer>.”

I nearly always notice the soundtrack, and it’s one of the reasons I love to watch movies at home. There I can sit with my phone in hand, IMDb app open, so I can look up the other films for that particular actor, check out the director and find out who was responsible for and/or composed the music. I’ve discovered some of my favourite artists and composers through film.

Music has been an important part of the movie experience for the entirety of my lifetime. When I think back to some of my earliest movie experiences, the soundtrack, or just the theme immediately comes to mind. It’s as indelibly planted in my memory as the name of the film and the actor(s) who starred. Who directed. 2001:A Space Odyssey, Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Star Trek, Chariots of Fire, The Mission. Even if you haven’t seen Deliverance, you know about the dueling banjos.

The first movie soundtrack I ever purchased was The Mission. I was pretty blown away by Ennio Morricone’s haunting pan flute melodies. I love the movie, but I’m not sure it would have the same impact without Morricone’s music. One of my favourite renditions of “Gabriel’s Oboe” is by John Williams on classical guitar. It’s from the album John Williams Plays the Movies and I own that too.

Morricone’s score for all three films in The Dollars trilogy is the very definition of iconic…and I’m going to move on before I digress into a blog post on Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone and the Spaghetti Western. 😉

Another series I adore are the Star Tracks albums featuring the most beloved science fiction TV and movie themes of the last century. The first CD came with a bass level warning. It’s…awesome.

An exciting moment in movie music for me was the soundtrack to Sunshine. I adore this movie. It combines so many of my favourite things: a director I avidly follow, a writer I favour, actors I love and a completely transformative soundtrack. Sunshine is an apocalyptic tale, which is totally my thing. It’s tense and frightening. The story asks the big questions. But the film is also full of hope, which is another of my things. I don’t mind if I’ve used a box of tissues by the end as long as I feel hope in my heart.

The soundtrack for Sunshine played an important part in my understanding and enjoyment of the film. It’s one of the most wonderful movie scores I’ve stumbled across and I love it dearly—especially as it introduced me to John Murphy. As soon as I looked him up, I fell quickly into the black hole of OMG, he did the music for this! And this! He has in fact done the music for many notable Danny Boyle films, most recognisably 28 Days Later (also written by Alex Garland and starring Cillian Murphy!).

When I discovered that John Murphy worked in collaboration with one of my favourite bands, Underworld, on a number of these projects (Underworld has a solid history of scoring Danny Boyle’s films too), my black hole got pretty geeky. I lost a couple of otherwise productive weeks immersed in movies and music as I rewatched and listened to everything I could get my hands on.

As you can imagine, I also enjoy movies about musicians and music. I cannot watch the scene in Immortal Beloved featuring the excerpt of Beethoven’s 9th, Ode to Joy, without weeping. The part where he is floating in the pond of stars (5:15)? Forever imprinted in my brain.

At another end of the spectrum, I enjoyed The Doors so much I often used to put it on just to listen to the soundtrack. It’s rare that you get a selection of greatest hits in chronological order! As an aside, I often did the same with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d put the movie on, close my eyes and just listen. It’s a completely different movie experience.

Recently, I watched Begin Again, starring Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. What a pleasant surprise! I bought the soundtrack before the credits rolled…and constantly question the fact I am actually listening to Keira Knightly sing.

I don’t just get off on movie music. Sometimes it’s the sound effects. The swish of doors opening in any science fiction film? I grin every time. It’s like they have a button on every mixing console marked “SciFi Door”. The tricycle wheels in The Shining. The hum over hard flooring punctuated by the silence of carpet. It’s just so damned creepy. The aforementioned Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who doesn’t know that sequence of notes by heart? Next time you watch it, listen for the echoes throughout the film. Then we have The Revenant. I actually popped out of suspension once or twice just to lean back in my theatre seat and let go of a silent “wow”—not for the music, but for the crackle and groan of ice. The sound of air. Leonardo DiCaprio breathing. I was pretty blown away, especially when I did my customary research after the film and learned that director Alejandro González Iñárritu used ambient sound throughout. Moviegoers were actually listening to the ice crackle and DiCaprio breathing. The air moving, the wind through the trees, and so on. I could devote another blog post just to this film. Instead, I’m going to drop the trailer right here, which takes full and bloody amazing advantage of both the musical score and Iñárritu’s innovative direction.

So, I’ve got a category missing. Several, probably. Movies and music are inextricably linked. For this post, however, I’m going to wrap up with genre that combines both—the musical. I’m not a huge fan of live theatre. Shock, horror, I know. Call me low brow, but I just prefer movies. I find it easier to be swept away when I’m in the theatre—also, I can pause, rewind and rewatch my favourites, over and over and over. Oh, and movie tickets generally only cost twelve bucks.

I do like movie musicals, though! I rewatch The Sound of Music every year, and absolutely adore Mary Poppins. I love Disney movies. The Lion King is an absolute fave. The scene where Simba climbs Pride Rock? “It is time.” I sing every time my cats climb out on the rock overlooking the creek at the back of our garden. Yeah, you all knew I was weird.

While we’re talking animated films, the music for Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films is always well considered, and the sound effects for The Wind Rises are very cool.

I wish I could ramble on forever, but I will show some restraint and leave you with one last video, which is from Curious George. Going to see this movie with my daughter resulted in another immediate soundtrack purchase. In my defense, I was already a Jack Johnson fan going in.

For a good list of movies with unforgettable music, visit: The 50 greatest film soundtracks


Character Theme Songs: Zander

Zander—or Zed, as we like to call him—is our white knight, our hero. But, like all heroes, that’s not all he is. The man is self-sacrificing to an annoying degree. He wants to SAVE THE WORLD, and everyone in it. His career has a soldier has taught him that he can’t. But, like all of us, Zed sometimes ignores that lesson and tries anyway. It’s who he is.

Zander Anatolius (portrait by Tami Santarossa)
Zander Anatolius (portrait by Tami Santarossa)

He’s still very human, though. He has wants and desires, and they can blind him to his ambitions on occasion. That’s a fancy way of saying he’s gloriously flawed. In Chaos Station, his initial attempts to save everyone meant slipping away and hiding from the world. Following a path to oblivion alone. He ignored and broke promises. Got a little selfish—and why not? He’d been cast adrift by the Allied Earth Forces. Put in a life raft with a puncture in one side, and his supplies did not include a roll of duct tape.

But, when called to action—first to find Emma, then to help her—Zed doesn’t hesitate. In fact, the only reticence he shows in Chaos Station is in rekindling his affair with Felix. And that’s another of those annoyingly self-sacrificing acts. He knows he’s not going to be able to be who or what Felix needs. But love conquers all, right? Or beats our protests into pulped submission. Or just makes us stupid enough to ignore all the other stuff.

So, Zed’s songs need to cover all of these things. It’s a tough call! A song I like for Zed is “The Pretender”, by Foo Fighters. The sound, the lyrics. I think all heroes are pretenders, on some level. They’re the last person to believe in themselves. Jenn and I also really love “Come Alive”. This song. It’s impossible to listen to it and NOT think about our guys and that moment Zed steps aboard the Chaos, and discovers Felix is alive. In that instant, everything he thinks and feels changes.

“You saved me the day you came alive.”

(Being saved isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, which is another theme we explore over and over in these books)

What does Jenn like for her character? I know she has sorted through many tracks on the way to finding Zander Gold. Here’s what she had to say on the subject:

Often when I start working on a new character, I like to find a song that fits some aspect of their personality or journey. Something that I can attach to them in my head so I can easily pull them to the forefront just by listening to it—which definitely helps when the character is new. (Sometimes the song precedes the character, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

When I started coming up with the concept for Zed—rich boy with some grit, a broken super soldier, a guy who has a well-developed martyr complex, and one who regrets losing the love of his life very, very deeply—one song in particular looped around in my brain: “Do I Wanna Know?” by the Arctic Monkeys.

There are so many parts of this song that just scream ZED! to me.

Listening to a song on repeat because it makes him think of Felix—this lyric actually inspired Zed’s musical talent, but beyond that, I could definitely see him doing this after he and Felix parted ways following graduation from the Academy.

Wanting to know if he’s alone in feeling the way he does about Flick—particularly after their reunion in Chaos Station.

Wondering if Felix’s heart is still open, if he still has a chance, and desperately wanting to kiss him, always.

Hiding himself and his feelings, but still wanting, still looking for the courage to say what he wants in the daylight.

Admitting that he’s never moved on, that he’s always belonged to Felix.

Not to mention, the song has that strong, slow beat and bass riff that just gives it a dark, steamy feel—which fits with the darkness in Zed’s personality. Also, it’s sexy. And these guys are nothing if not sexy.

Next challenge is to choose songs for the rest of the crew, individually and together. We should probably get them some art too. Elias wants art. Nessa’s indifferent to the idea and Qek is curious. Very, very curious. ♥

Character Theme Songs: Felix

I don’t listen to music as I write. I find it distracting. I do think about my characters when I am listening to music, though, and sometimes a lyric or melody will separate from the whole, and one character in particular will stand up to claim it. Then, every time that song plays, I will think of just that character. Their story and their relationships. It can be a very moving experience, particularly if the song is connected to an emotional aspect of one of my characters. Or a specific event.

Back when I was writing fan fiction (Dragon Age: Origins), I made the mistake of connecting a song to the death of my most beloved character, my Warden, Aedan Cousland. The song, ironically, is called “To Heal” by Underworld. “To Heal” was always destined to be a favourite. My relationship with Underworld has been long and fruitful, and the song (there are no lyrics, it’s all melody) is from the soundtrack to one of my favourite films, Sunshine. Long story short, it suits the moment in the film, and it suits the moment of Aedan’s death—which is not written from his point of view, but that of his wife, who feels him go through the magic of an amulet. To this day, I cannot listen to the song without getting misty-eyed.

I role-played a character called Andrew Banvard for about three years. I adored Andy. I sobbed almost disconsolately when I had to write his last post (I didn’t kill him, I retired him). But his music never fails to cheer me up, particularly his theme song, which is “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson.

Before I share the playlist for every character I’ve written, let me introduce you to Felix Ingesson.

Felix Ingesson (portrait by Tami Santarossa)
Felix Ingesson (portrait by Tami Santarossa)

Felix (Flick/Fixer) is the character I write for the Chaos Station series (co-written with Jenn Burke). His name is a deliberate choice. It means “lucky”, “favoured by luck” or “lucky one”. Felix survives almost four years as a prisoner of war, escapes, learns his family was killed in the war, and his lover—whom he hasn’t seen in five years—is buried so deep in secure military files, he may as well be dead. Still, Felix manages to survive. He lives on. In Chaos Station, he is reunited with Zander Anatolius (Zed), the love of his life, and over the course of the next year (five books), their love and loyalty is tested. Their ability as survivors will be tested. I figured he could use a little luck. 😉

When I first started writing Felix, a tune would nip at me now and again. Carolina Liar’s “Tell Me What I’m Looking For” describes many aspects of Felix’s journey through life. “Who We Are” by Switchfoot evokes Felix’s shared childhood with Zed. But it wasn’t until Jenn sent me a link to “Something from Nothing” that Felix stood up and started waving his arms around. Singing, yelling:

“Fuck it all, I came from nothing.”

And you know what? He did. Several times over. Felix is an angry guy, and in his situation, who wouldn’t be? He’s not ashamed of his parents and his humble origins, but he knows that without the help of Zed’s family, he’d never have been more than a station rat. His talent for mechanical engineering might have got him a job in the massive ship yards attached to Pontus Station. It was more likely he’d have used his wits to hack and steal, however, as he was already doing at age eight. He stole Zander’s wallet, after all. That’s how they met.

He came from nothing when he won a scholarship and graduated near the top of his class from the prestigious Shepard Academy. He came from nowhere when he escaped stin custody, and from nothing once again after the Allied Earth Forces discharged him, leaving him without family—the one he’d been born to, the one who had turned him into a soldier. Luckily, his mate Elias was there to catch him before he fell too far, to adopt him, give him something to live for again.

Felix named their ship Chaos because he is very well aware of what comes from nothing. Not just something, but everything. He lives his life by that law and often in defiance of every other one.

So, yeah, the Foo Fighters really capture Felix for me with this song—it’s almost like they wrote it just for him. And, as often happens, when I listened to my other favourite Foo Fighters songs, I pretty much decided they’d written them all just for our boys. Also, look at the album art for “Sonic Highways” (“Something from Nothing” is the first track), it’s all futuristic and stuff!

"Sonic Highways" Foo Fighters
“Sonic Highways” Foo Fighters

Does Zed have a song from the same band? Why, yes, he does (according to me). Next week, I’ll reveal which one it is and let Jenn talk about her favourites, too.


Character Theme Songs: Reg

A friend of mine, Jenn Burke, has a series of posts called ‘Audibly Inspiring’. I find her choices interesting and, well, inspiring. We have similar tastes in music, but differ enough to find new musical crushes in one another’s playlists. After reading back through a few of her posts, I decided to start my own collection of musical musings.

(This ramble may or may not be related to the fact I recently figured out how to link YouTube videos to my posts.)

A lot of writers find music inspiring. I know I do. Oddly, though, I don’t often listen to music while I’m writing. I used to. Back in the fan fiction days (I say that as if they were sooo long ago, when really, they’re not; I posted a story just last month), I listened to a lot of music while I wrote. It seemed a natural part of the process and I often chose artists and songs that inspired the character I planned to write that day.

I did not write Less Than Perfect under any musical inspiration. But, afterwards, when asked if Reg had a theme song, I felt really bad that he didn’t! And it seemed as if I’d done one of my characters a great disservice by not loving him enough to give him one, to have even thought about giving him one. I put a lot of thought into what he looked like, after all.

Want a peek? You know you do.

Model Ben Hill served as inspiration for Reg. Lovely, isn’t he? (If you’re not attracted to men, you need not answer that. I’ll understand.)

I chose Mr. Hill to represent Reg because he had the sort of face I imagined Reg might have: good looking, but not so absolutely stunning he seemed unreal. He needed to be ‘less than perfect’. To me, this is the face of a man who looks like, well, a man. He might care about what colour his shirt is, but he’s not going to spend all day dithering in his closet. He’s forgotten to shave for a week or more, but it’s the apocalypse. There are more important things to think about than personal grooming. Still,  he has an over all clean-cut sort of look about him. And he smells nice. All forest-y.

So, when choosing a theme song for Reg, I took his looks into account. This gave me an excuse to scroll through my (not creepy) collection of photos references. I also thought about what sort of man he is and here is where I got my first hint of what his song might be. He’s a reluctant hero.

I love writing reluctant heroes. I agree that some of us are born heroes. We have a driving need to serve and protect. I say that as if I’m one of the few, the proud… I think when push came to shove, I’d stand up and fight, okay? Anyway, back to my reluctant heroes. We have those who are born, and then, we have those who are made. The folks who who will stand up and fight, not because they have to, or not necessarily because they believe in a cause, but because it’s the right thing to do. Because they want to protect something important to them. It might be something small and selfish, but more usually it’s an ideal, one they might not even be able to articulate. Am I making sense? They fight because they have to. But lack of choice does not mean lack of conscience. Once involved, they become invested.

Reg is one of these men and he shares this trait with a lot of my heroes. So when it came to choosing a song for him, I picked the same one I use for my Warden, Aedan Cousland: “Superman (It’s not Easy)” by Five for Fighting.

This is a beautiful song. Listening to it has reduced me to tears on several occasions. It’s annoying when I’m driving. But, I think that regardless of reference–mine, yours or the artist’s–this is a song many of us can relate to.

The story does not end there, though. Characters should be mutable, in my opinion. Even after you set them down on paper you can discover new facets. I recently stumbled across another song that I thought suited Reg very well. It’s a more cynical take than I had imagined for him, but the earnest soulfulness of the melody really seemed to speak for him.

Ironically, it’s the theme song for the video game Borderlands 2: “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy.

Okay, that’s it for Reg, so far, but the search for music that inspires the voices in my head is an ongoing thing. Even characters who no longer get written still pluck at my thoughts and, now and again, I collect a new song for them. I have playlists over on YouTube devoted to each one. Yes, this means I’ll be writing more Musical Muse posts 😀 Enjoy!