By Jessie Owens
I grew up surrounded by people disinterested in film and music and, until I found Tumblr, I too struggled to develop my love for it. Tumblr was, and is, a place for teens all over the planet to come together and share their favourite cultural and artistic artefacts that were otherwise neglected by mainstream pop culture. Through Tumblr I found films that I would have never been exposed to outside these corners of the internet. Some were pure aesthetic hedonism; films like The Virgin Suicides created the kind of content that was ripe for reblogging and subsequently filled my Tumblr feed. I also found films that I’ve continually returned to over the years; Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River, though panned by critics, remains a favourite of mine. Most of all though, Tumblr introduced me to the compilation soundtrack. Even now I struggle to surpass the feeling of going onto someone’s Tumblr page and hearing the song they’d plucked from the The Breakfast Club soundtrack acting as a musical aid to their cluttered selection of pictures and GIFs. While there are films that you fall in love with in their entirety, Tumblr seemed to specialise in films whose power lay in not what was happening on screen but in their carefully curated musical accompaniments.
In just over two weeks the 2022 Oscar nominations will be revealed. While their “Best Original Song” and “Best Original Score” awards do acknowledge the musical aspect of mainstream cinema, the compilation soundtrack has been historically overlooked. The Grammys do have a “Best Compilation Soundtrack” award, but the films which make the shortlist don’t have the indie film credentials that seem to be a recipe for the perfect soundtrack. So, until the Grammys decides to expand their list of contenders to include some zany Michael Cera rom-coms or the Academy redefines their archaic idea of what constitutes a film soundtrack, it’s down to us to revisit some of the iconic compilation soundtracks that bled out of the screen and into the realities of so many viewers.
1. Juno (2007)
My love of American folk singer Kimya Dawson was born from the iconic 2007 film Juno.Juno took Tumblr by storm with it's not-so-manic-pixie-dream-girl lead - the eponymous Juno - played by Elliott Page. The soundtrack was a huge success and has since become a platinum record in the US, selling over 1,000,000 copies. It is near impossible to separate Juno from the twee, folk sound of Kimya Dawson, the desperate whispers of Sonic Youth, and the golden sound of Buddy Holly. When I find myself listening to “Dearest” by Buddy Holly, I am reminded of how soundtracks have the ability to find their way into the worlds of the audience and make those everyday moments a little more cinematic.
2. (500) Days of Summer (2009)
Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer is, too, heavily characterised by its soundtrack. It tapped into Tumblr’s sad-core love of The Smiths and was thrown into the early 2010’s zeitgeist as a result. The haunting voice of Regina Spektor will forever remind me of the crushing heartbreak that Tom Hanson experiences. 500 Days of Summer was the perfect teenage film for tweens who haven’t yet experienced the lure of a “bad boy”; experimental enough for us to fall in love with the art of filmmaking, but not too experimental that it left us confused or disturbed. And the soundtrack was a significant part of that. It’s no wonder that it’s still featured in clickbait articles that call it a “soundtrack that rocks”.
3. Drive (2011)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive contains the iconic, neon sounds of The Chromatics, an American electronic band that gracefully slot into my teenage daydreams. I used to spend so much time on trains and in cars as I went to visit friends in neighbouring towns and the Drive soundtrack transformed the mundane activity into something beautiful. It was made for dreaming in motion. The Drive soundtrack was initially labelled controversial - the heavy bass and the ode to the electronic 80s had not been done on a mainstream level. In this sense, the film blends the arthouse and mainstream; the choice of former rom-com star Ryan Gosling to lead, alongside the use of musicians likely unknown to crowds of Gosling fans in 2014, allows the dark story, and the music that accompanies it, to speak to a larger audience.
4. Romeo + Juliet (1997)
Though Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet came out in 1996, the Tumblr youth of the mid 2010’s ate it up. For most of us, with parents and friends who were disinterested in music, Lurhman introduced us to Radiohead. I’m sure I’m not the only person who sees a young, blonde Leo brooding by the beach every time “Talk Show Host” comes on. When I hear Kym Mazelle’s “Young Hearts Run Free” it’s hard not to picture Mercutio in drag popping a pill. Considering the music chosen for the soundtrack is from the time of the film’s release, it’s impressive that Lurhman managed to tap into the psyche of not only 90s adolescents, but those of the 2010s too. While adapting a Shakespearean play into a film that captured the zeitgeist of the 90s was controversial, Romeo + Juliet’s legacy, both in terms of the film and the iconic soundtrack, illustrates how Luhrman actually managed to create something quite timeless.
5. Drive: re-scored by Zane Lowe (2014)
While it’s definitely not one of my favourites, Zane Lowe’s rescore of Nicolas Winding Refn’s iconic film Drive deserves a place on this list through its pretty spectacular ability to convey just how important the right compilation soundtrack is. Drive was originally accompanied by a Cliff Martinez score. Although a little eccentric compared to the Hanz Zimmer-esque sounds that dominated at the time, it soon became a large part of the film’s charm and helped popularise the neon-lit, electropop film wave that hit the late 2010s. But in 2014, Zane Lowe swapped this, along with songs by Desire, Kavinsky, Electric Youth, and The Chromatics on the original soundtrack for music from contemporary artists like The 1975, BANKS, Bastille, Bring Me The Horizon, CHVRCHES, Foals, Jon Hopkins, Laura Mvula, The Neighbourhood and SBTRKT. While Nicolas Winding Refn supported the project in an interview with the BBC, likening the experience to “going through your drawers and finding the greatest pot […] so great again, except different”, critics have called the re-score “a valiant idea that ultimately falls flat”.
And I’d have to agree. While Lowe’s score is not unfitting to the ambience of the film, with the chosen songs clearly paying homage to the original soundtrack, it doesn’t quite harness the subtlety of Drive. The film’s unique mix of silence and violence, as well as the intricate characters and removed plot, can’t be accompanied by the instantly recognisable poppy vocals of the 1975’s Matty Healy or Bastille’s Dan Smith that plague mainstream radio. By weaving chart-topping musicians through a film that’s so far detached from the mundane activities that radio usually tends to soundtrack, Zane Lowe inadvertently changes the reality of Drive into one much closer to our own. While relatability in a film is important, the shocking nature of some of the scenes in Drive means the watcher should not be able to relate. If instances of violence are accompanied by the gentle tones of Bastille rather than the jarring notes of Kavinsky, the impact of the scene is marred by mundanity. To put it simply, something as iconic as the Drive soundtrack should not be messed with - not unless you want it to feel like a cheapened version of the original.