Danny Boyle music feature

When Danny Boyle first started out in England, his movies were often criticized for their sleek MTV-era construction with accusations that the films weren’t films at all, but rather just music videos stitched together by flashy editing at a breakneck pace. Boyle's reaction wasn't what the British press was expecting. "I was quite proud of that," he said at a recent 92Y conversation in New York, addressing the use of music in his films. Boyle didn't mind the criticism for several reasons (for one, he thought it was a compliment at first), but chief among them, Boyle thinks music is integral to every part of our lives.

"I always believed music is with just with us all the time," he said. "It's just part of us, so why shouldn't they be in the films? So that's why my movies have a lot of tracks in them." (It's a topic he also addressed during his panel at South By Southwest this year).

And it's the emotional texture, complexity and meaning -- that dazzling juxtaposition -- that Boyle loves to play with. "Songs are amazing things to use because they bring baggage with them," he continued. "You know them from your own experience, from long ago or they may have painful associations and so its really interesting when [songs] interbreed with the material you’re using."

That’s what Boyle has done, time and time again -- he’s either introduced the world to new songs (like he did with Underworld in “Trainspotting”) or used the preexisting history of a song to gleefully counterbalance what’s on screen (something like “Beyond the Sea” in “A Life Less Ordinary”) or sometimes he just chooses a song that will pump up the emotional context of a sequence and make it take flight (the Sigur Ros track in “127 Hours”). Boyle always seems to be digging through the record crate in his mind, and, more often than not, he chooses the perfect song to go along with the perfect scene. 

And with Boyle's latest electronically fueled thriller "Trance" (once again finding him paired with Underworld member Rick Smith, who provides some great score cuts) hitting theaters this weekend, we figured it was a good opportunity to revisit the best movie music moments from the director. And with those three aforementioned examples in mind and featured below, here's our ten favorites across Boyle's filmography so far.

Miramax "Trainspotting"
01. Underworld "Born Slippy" and Brian Eno "Deep Blue Day" from "Trainspotting"
It’s easily the most iconic song in any Danny Boyle film. It made the movie, it made the band, and lifted both of them into superstardom. But if you’ll recall, Boyle uses "Born Slippy" in the climax of the film, but very atypically. “What I love about the use of ['Born Slippy'] is that at the most delicate moment – where if you were scoring that conventionally, you wouldn’t hear a pin drop when Renton takes the bag from the sleeping Begbie – but instead you’ve got this pounding beat, which is like what his heart is doing at that moment. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. I love scoring like that,” the director said.

Boyle came across the track circuitously because at the time it was a way lesser-known B-side. The filmmaker was using songs from Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman as a temp track to the film. Boyle then went into HMV one night, started browsing, saw the single with the track he’d never heard on, put it on and knew immediately he had made a discovery. “It sounds like a deliberately created PR moment, but it’s true, I knew that was the end of the film,” he said.

The movie, up until this point, was a decidedly raucous account of the lives of a handful of English heroin addicts (it was based on a similarly scuzzy novel by Irvine Welsh), one that definitely had its moments of whimsy and humor, but was largely defined by darkness – desperation, sweatiness, filthy living conditions, a ghostly dead baby, and a trip down a lavatory that was staged with all the baroque underwater beauty of a Busby Berkley musical number. "The truth is, I'm a bad person, but I'm going to change…" Ewan McGregor narrates, as the beat pulses rhythmically away. McGregor walks towards the camera, a grin on his face, carrying a large sum of money in a bag slung over his shoulder. He then goes on his "Choose life" monologue (again), saying things like "Christmas presents," "the family," "the fucking big television," "good health," "dental insurance," etc… "I'm going to be just like you," he says (or warns). The music sours. So does your heart. It's one of those perfect marriages of song and visuals that takes you to another plane. It's euphoric, but not sugary or happy. There's still a chance he'd fuck up big time. But at least he's got a cool soundtrack for doing it.

After the movie became a big hit, a version of the song with dialogue from the movie came out, which makes a perverse kind of sense. Lots of kids, in a rave, jacked up on god knows what, singing along to lyrics from a movie about the ruinous consequences of heroin addiction. Yeah. That works.

Perhaps more hilarious is the use of Brian Eno’s “Deep Blue Day” from the aforementioned “Worst toilet in Scotland” sequence. You only hear a brief snippet of the lovely and pacific music, taken from Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks -- an album also featuring Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno -- but the abrupt juxtaposition of utterly disgusting scene to something dream-like and serene is pretty quintessential Boyle. Here’s the track in full because when you watch the quick scene you’re gonna want to listen to it in its entirety. Boyle would revisit Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks again using Eno’s gorgeously celestial “An Ending (Ascent)” in a brief moment of reprieve in “28 Days Later.”

"28 Days Later"
"28 Days Later"

02. Grandaddy "A.M 180" & John Murphy “In the House - In a Heartbeat” Theme from "28 Days Later"
It’s no secret that Danny Boyle wanted orchestral rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s doomsday-laden apocalyptic music for his end-of-times virus/outbreak/zombie thriller “28 Days Later.” Boyle wanted to use their tracks throughout the entire film, “For me, the soundtrack to ‘28 Days Later’ was Godspeed. The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head,” he said in a 2002 interview. It quickly became clear to Boyle after he contacted the anti-commercial, deeply anti-corporate band that using their music in the film was going to be out of the question. “They were helpful, and very clear about how unlikely it was that they would give us permission to use [their music.]” Instead, Boyle got composer to create a score, that when you think about it hews very close to the crescendoing Godspeed sound. Perhaps Godspeed turning them down was a blessing (though the band eventually relented and let Boyle use one track, “East Hastings”) as Murphy’s score is now iconic and "In the House - In a Heartbeat" has been appropriated in various trailers ("I Know Who Killed Me," "Death Sentence," “Beowulf”) and even other films ("Kick-Ass"). It's also been covered by British Death Metal band The Rotted, used in trailers for post-apocalyptic videos games and it's become the theme to express the end is nigh. True to form, Godspeed wouldn’t allow Boyle or Fox Searchlight to include their song on the eventual “28 Days Later” official soundtrack.

However, much more lighthearted and a complete 180 contrast to all the gloomy, fiery apocalypse music in the film is the goofy yet sublime track “AM 180” by the indie rock band Grandaddy, greeting a sequence where our survivors are rummaging through an abandoned supermarket. It’s a moment of levity in a movie defined by oppressive gloominess and apocalyptic despair, highlighting Boyle’s ability to change the meaning of a scene (and a song) by its contextual placement. With the Granddaddy song, Boyle taps into that sliver of possibility that accompanies any end of the world scenario - the thought of, wouldn’t it be cool to have everything to yourself? This sequence is also placed strategically before the second half of the movie gets going, which is an almost oppressively bleak descent into the darkness of the zombie apocalypse (and maybe, more frighteningly even, the human soul).

Shallow Grave

03. Nina Simone "My Baby Just Cares For Me" & Andy Williams “Happy Heart” from "Shallow Grave"
Boyle is a big fan of serendipitous luck and this applies to many of his music choices, especially in his debut feature “Shallow Grave,” a kind of what-would-you-do update on Hitchcock-ian tropes that introduced art house audiences to a young actor named Ewan McGregor. “The best songs are the ones that drop in your lap, they sorta find you,” Boyle explained. “When you go out looking for songs and material -- which is what happens with a lot of movies these days, they go out 'seeking' a soundtrack -- whereas if you let them find you, it sounds naïve, but they sort of just emerge in the film." For the end of "Shallow Grave," Boyle says they didn't know what piece of music to use for the end credits. Serendipitously on one of the last nights of filming, Boyle and his producers jumped into a Glasgow black cab and on the radio was playing Andy Williams' "Happy Heart" that he would end up closing out the film with. "My dad used to play that song, he loved Andy Williams and crooners," and he knew the instant he heard it, "that's the end of the film. When they fall in your lap like that, you mustn't turn them away."

"That song is incredibly ironic because she thinks she's got the money, and she thinks she's used these guys cause they've fallen in love with her,” he said of the grand Andy Williams tune and the way it fits in with the backstabbing that goes on between three young London twenty-somethings whose flatmate ends up dead, alone, and with a pile of cash (that they all unscrupulously divvy amongst themselves). “So when he sings, ‘And it's all because you're near me, my love ...Let me love you night and day In your arms I want to stay, oh my love,’ it's meant to be deeply ironic."

The use of another old classic, the Nina Simone song “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” is included over a montage that shows how each one of the flatmates is spending their share of the money and how their relationships and motives might be altered by the process. It’s a great, economical little sequence and the use of “My Baby Just Cares For Me” over a montage of people only caring about themselves adds to the movie’s darkly humorous, deeply ironic edge. There was a reason that when “Shallow Grave” burst onto the scene, people took notice.