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 Emeritus Professor 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. Dixon’s book A Short History of Film, Third Edition (Rutgers University Press, 2018, co-authored with Gwendolyn Audrey Foster) is a required text in universities throughout the world. Dixon’s most recent book is Synthetic Cinema: The 21st Century Movie Machine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). Dixon is also an experimental filmmaker, whose 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 National Film Theatre (UK), LA Filmforum (Los Angeles), The Jewish Museum, Millennium Film Workshop, The San Francisco Cinématheque and elsewhere.

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