There are so many moments in the cinema when pop music takes over the image on the screen that I can’t possibly confine myself to one, so here are just a few instances that linger in my memory. There’s Bruce Conner’s short film Cosmic Ray (1962), the first real precursor to the present day music video, celebrating sensuality and abandon to the beat of Ray Charles’ song “What’d I Say?” (1959) to create an explosion of raw erotic energy and power. James Brown and the Famous Flames tearing up the stage in Steve Binder’s T.A.M.I. Show (1964), a two hour live concert film which manages to cram performances by Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes and many other performers into a scream filled celebration of ‘60s teen power. A group of British teens – including Oliver Reed, Shirley Anne Field and Adam Faith – crammed into a cellar ecstatically dancing to the rock & roll sounds of the John Barry Seven in the opening scene of Edmond T. Gréville’s Beat Girl (1960). Anna Karina dancing The Madison in a French café in Godard’s Bande à part (1964) with Sami Frey and Claude Brasseur, transforming an ordinary moment into an unforgettable tableau of music and motion. A group of teens cruising down the highway at the end of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) to the sound of Foghat’s “Take A Slow Ride” as the world of adulthood opens up before them. Bill Murray taking over a karaoke session in night-time Tokyo with a belted out version of Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?” in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 romantic comedy Lost in Translation. Tom Tykwer’s pulsating trance music that repeatedly accompanies Franka Potente as she plunges down the stairs of her apartment building in Tykwer’s Lola rennt (1998), or Pee-wee Herman calming a sea of angry bikers in a rundown saloon by dancing on the bar to the tune of “Tequila”, a 1958 pop hit by The Champs, in Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – the list goes on. In every instance, pop music transforms these scenes from a sense of quotidian reality into something transcendent, a moment out of time that elevates our being and sharpens our senses to the everyday beauty of existence, with music as the energising, unceasing backbeat. Pop music in the cinema reminds us that of all the things one can do in life, and in the movies, one of the most pleasurable and deeply human activities is to dance to the beat of life.

About The Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon is the James Ryan Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and, with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, editor of the book series Quick Takes: Movies and Popular Culture for Rutgers University Press, which has to date published more than twenty volumes on various cultural topics. He is the author of more than thirty books on film history, theory, and criticism, as well as more than 100 articles in various academic journals. He is also an active experimental filmmaker, whose works are in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art. His recent video work is collected in the UCLA Film and Television Archive. He has also taught at The New School, Rutgers University, and the University of Amsterdam. His recent books include Synthetic Cinema: The 21st Century Movie Machine (2019), The Films of Terence Fisher: Hammer Horror and Beyond (2017), Black & White Cinema: A Short History (2015); Streaming: Movies, Media, and Instant Access (2013); Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood (2012); 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation (2011, co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster); and Film Noir and the Cinema of Paranoia (2009). Dixon’s second, expanded edition of his classic book A History of Horror (2010) was published in 2023. Dixon's book A Short History of Film (2008, co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster) was reprinted six times through 2012. A second, revised edition was published in 2013; a third, revised edition was published in 2018; and a fourth revised edition with a great deal of new material will be published in early 2025. The book is a required text in universities throughout the world. As an experimental filmmaker, his works have been screened at The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, Anthology Film Archives, Filmhuis Cavia (Amsterdam), Studio 44 (Stockholm), La lumière collective (Montréal), The BWA Katowice Museum (Poland), The Microscope Gallery, The National Film Theatre (UK), The Jewish Museum, The Millennium Film Workshop, The San Francisco Cinématheque, LA Filmforum (Los Angeles), The New Arts Lab, The Exploding Cinema (London), The Collective for Living Cinema, The Kitchen, The Filmmakers Cinématheque, Film Forum, The Amos Eno Gallery, Sla 307 Art Space, The Gallery of Modern Art, The Rice Museum, The Oberhausen Film Festival, Undercurrent, Experimental Response Cinema and other venues. In addition, Dixon’s films have been screened at numerous film festivals throughout the world, including presentations in London, New York, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Monterrey (Mexico), Urbino (Italy), Tehran (Iran), Naples (Italy), Athens (Greece), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rybinski (Russia), Palermo (Italy), Madrid (Spain), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Australia, Qatar, Amsterdam, Vienna, Moscow, Milan, Switzerland, Croatia, Stockholm (Sweden), Havana (Cuba) and elsewhere.

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