My Top 10 Favorite Uses of Diegetic Needledrops

What is diegetic music? That’s music that’s happening within the movie. Like John Cusack’s character bringing a boombox to play In Your Eyes in Say Anything…

What is a needledrop? That’s when the moviemaker tries to elicit a reaction from the audience by using an existing song within a movie.

Sometimes these are combined, like in these ten great examples.

Some of these might be relatively obscure…

I thought about finding clips, but that turned out to be pretty futile, as the music is often muted on YouTube from these scenes, so… yeah. That was a failure. You’ll have to imagine these yourself. I mean, some of these are great movies, but some are actually kind of just fine with a nice scene which just happens to fit into this category. So, the emphasis is on music, not the movie, even if the movie does have a role in this. None of these are actually bad movies.

8 MM – Come to Daddy by Aphex Twin

Our hero has finally identified the killer and is now entering the house, where this song begins to blare. It’s an uncomfortable track in the best possible way. Just find the video. The bad guy is using it to mask his movements and disconcert the intruder and it has a great effect.

Irma Vep – Bonnie & Clyde by Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg

Maggie Cheung, a wuxia legend, is in Paris, starring as the titular Irma Vep in a remake of Les Vampires, an early French movie serial from mid-1910s. Irma Vep being an anagram of Vampire. Anyhow, Cheung feels isolated in an environment where everyone around her speaks a language she doesn’t know, so she starts to get into the character a bit too much and starts to go out at night, running around in the rooftops. This song was featured in an early party scene, where Cheung begins to understand how alone she is going to be in an environment full of people (the worst kind of loneliness, if you ask my introvert self).

Jackie Brown – Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) by The Delfonics

There’s a throughline here and it’s not just a single scene. Jackie sells the idea of The Delfonics to Max and this track plays multiple times when we are in his car as he listens to it. We even see him buying the album on cassette walking through lines of CDs to tell us all how out of touch he is. It’s a sign of his affection to Jackie, but it’s also risky as Ordell also hears it in Max’s car, which might blow the whole thing.

Tarantino had other moments like this in his early career, but over the years my affection for this movie has grown quite a bit, so I chose this to put on here.

Shaun of the Dead – Don’t Stop Me Now by The Queen

Another director with a great history of diegetic music: Edgar Wright. Here, it fits the scene, but it’s also for comedic effect, as they are fighting for their lives as the jukebox in the pub plays this.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Ford – The Ballad of Jesse James by Nick Cave

This is a traditional song performed by Nick Cave within the movie as a murder ballad, which is a song that was basically spreading news regarding various tragedies. As the name implies, they were often about violent acts, but sometimes they were about other fatal situations, like the many songs about Casey Jones, a train engineer, who died in a crash with another train.

High Fidelity – Dry the Rain by The Beta Band

At one point, the main character declares that he’ll sell some 3 EPs by The Beta Band. Of course, this can feel a bit weird, if you aren’t aware that there exists a compilation called 3 EPs by a band called The Beta Band. It definitely confused me, when I first saw the movie. Despite this, the track does get a reaction from the customers as everyone begins to bob their heads along with the music.

Do the Right Thing – Fight the Power by Public Enemy

Radio Raheem is a character that is known for the boombox he carries everywhere with him. This becomes a focus of riot after a local pizza place owner bashes the boombox while it’s playing this song.

All of Us Strangers – Death of a Party by Blur

A newer movie. There’s a club scene, where this song blares while the main character is tripping on illicit substances. The songs works on multiple levels with the themes of the movie (and it’s not the only song with importance in regards to the story).

Der Himmel Ûber Berlin aka Wings of Desire – The Carny and From Her to Eternity by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Wim Wenders decided that in order to show the real West Berlin, they needed to add this Australian musician and his multinational band (with American, German, Australian and Swiss members at the time). So, our former angel / newly minted human tries to experience the world and stumbles upon their gig.

Kuolleet lehdet aka Fallen Leaves – Syntynyt suruun ja puettu pettymyksiin by Maustetytöt

I don’t think this duo ever expected any kind of international recognition, but apparently that’s what they got from this movie. The name of the band in English would be Spice Girls and the song would be Born to Sandess and Clad in Disappointment. Maybe a little too on the nose for the movie, but the movie doesn’t shy away from being obvious either.

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