Music in the movies: David Lynch

News Glen Chapman
31 May 2010 - 10:07

Glen's latest look into the best music in movies adds the films of David Lynch to his list of directors...

David Lynch has been involved with musical projects for a large part of his career. From assisting in scoring his films to writing and producing material for recording artists and collaborating with other artists on his own musical projects, Lynch has an impressive music career as well as a distinguished career directing movies.

David Lynch is a director whose films have proven to be interesting and challenging and the same could be said for the music that's used in his films.

Here is what I consider to be the films in his back catalogue that feature the best uses of music...


David Lynch's striking debut is accompanied by an equally striking soundtrack. Elements of surrealism and experimentation aren't purely limited to the images on screen. accompanied by sound designer Alan Splet, Lynch avoids conventional instruments and instead uses pieces of glass tubing and machinery to create a wholly unique, and brilliant wall of sound that is equal parts unsettling and amazing.

It shows a supreme level of confidence to put together something like this to accompany a debut feature film, especially when the sounds of Fats Waller and the sounds of the baby break through the wall of sound.

A testament to Lynch's unique vision and a fine addition to any record collection.

Blue Velvet

The soundtrack for Blue Velvet was the first of many collaborations between Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti and, given the quality of his work here, it's clear why Lynch has returned to him as much as he has over the years.

It's a less experimental offering than the soundtrack to Eraserhead, but it's still unsettling. Even in the more tender and beautiful moments in the score, there's an underlying sense of dread and menace, which is why it's such a perfect fit for the film.

Homage's to Bernard Herrmann, in the form of violent violin slashes, sit alongside renowned classics such as Roy Orbison's In Dreams and Bobby Vinton's title track.

Another brilliant soundtrack for a challenging and unique film. Essential listening.

Twin Peaks & Fire Walk With Me

Both the TV series and the divisive movie that followed it featured a score by Angelo Badalamenti. In his work here, he created arguably the finest score for a television series and used many of the themes for the movie.

Lynch's vision was beautifully executed for Twin Peaks, which is a masterpiece of storytelling. Equal parts sinister, unsettling, surrealistic and humorous Badalamenti's score captures the moods perfectly to underpin the emotion that runs through the series. Lynch also had a hand in some of the compositions for Fire Walk With Me.

Like with the world of Twin Peaks, nothing is quite as it seems on the score. Songs that lyrically seem to be straightforward love songs are backed with unnerving instrumentation.

Lost Highway

Lynch approached, Nine Inch Nails front man, Trent Reznor to produce and contribute in a similar manner to his work on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack. Reznor agreed and contributed new material, including the single, The Perfect Drug.

This Mortal Coil's cover of Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren features in the film, but not on the official soundtrack to accompany it. It's reported that Lynch had originally intended for it to be used in Blue Velvet, but the cost of sourcing the track proved to be prohibitive.

The soundtrack adopts a modern gothic feel, with Reznor including sourced tracks from Rammstein as well as getting Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson and Lou Reed to provide new material. Frequent collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti, also contributed new material to the soundtrack.

It's not the finest of Lynch's soundtracks, but it's a very strong collection of material that, in my view, works better as a standalone listen rather than as an accompaniment to the film.

The Straight Story

This is, by some way, the least surreal of Lynch's works, but by no means any less affecting. It's the story of a man's journey across two American states on a lawnmower to see his brother who has suffered a stroke.

Whilst Badalamenti's work here can at times be quite moody in tone, it's not unsettling like his previous collaborations with Lynch. Instead the score, like the film, is much more direct, with some wonderful guitar pieces used throughout.

The film and the score prove that both the director and composer can approach material outside of their surrealistic comfort zone and still create excellent work.

Mulholland Drive

Badalamenti took the role of composer and supervisor for the soundtrack to Mulholland Drive for his darkest and most sinister contribution to a Lynch soundtrack, which is quite an achievement considering his previous works for Lynch.

It's a film that I've watched many times, but it's not a film that I would claim to fully understand. It's clearly a bit too high brow for me.

Badalamenti's score helps to portray the moods of the characters and, as such, acts as an emotional guide for the film, with its hopeful start and then a gradual descent into darkness.

Badalamenti would reportedly provide Lynch with numerous long tracks which Lynch would then rearrange to his liking to provide a lot of the unsettling backing noise that's heard in the film.

The film features some great performances of well known songs (two of which are lip synced), but my favourite piece is Rebekah Del Rio's cover of Roy Orbison's Crying, which features in a scene in a cinema that's one of the most striking moments in the film, as lovers Betty and Rita look on, captivated by the performance.

Inland Empire

For his last theatrical release, Lynch took the role of composer and created a typically experimental and dark score to match his epic psychological thriller.

Assisted by The Mantovani Orchestra and the Polish National Symphony Orchestra, the score is one of the darkest to accompany any of Lynch's works. Using reverb distortion and altering voices, Lynch and his collaborators have created an eerie and experimental masterpiece. The soundtrack also includes Walkin' On The Sky, which is Lynch's first song in which he provides vocals.

Even though I love his collaborations with Badalamenti, if this is a sign of what he can create, I can't wait to hear more.

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