As his 10th film, Trance, gets a public release next month, Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle is on a worldwide press tour promoting his mind bending picture starring James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, and Vincent Cassel. Boyle, who just appeared at SXSW was in New York where he spoke with Logan Hill of Rolling Stone at 92YTribeca to talk about something that is just as important as a script, camera framing, and acting to Boyle's films -- his choice of music.
Boyle, who famously took the '90s Britpop phenomenon and managed to capture a musical moment in time with his soundtrack to his breakthrough film, Trainspotting, has managed to make a career as a director who loves music as much as he loves films and uses songs as wisely as he uses shots in an edit room. His choice of music has become synonymous with his memorable moments. From the bombastic opening of Trainspotting with Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" pounding as the films main characters are running from police to the film's closing sequence featuring Underworld's "Born Slippy." From the delicate nature of Moby's "Porcelain" playing as Leonardo DiCaprio finds the lost beach in The Beach to Slumdog Millionaire's unforgettable ode to Bollywood with "Jai Ho," to Godspeed You Black Emperor's stark and sinister sound as a confused Cillian Murphy walked around an empty London in 28 Days Later... And, in his Christmas tale, Millions, he opted for the music of Joe Strummer and Muse rather than the traditional holiday tunes. Boyle paints with sound as he does with his cinematographers lens.
While his choices of songs are unforgettable, he admits, many are found by accident. He said, "What you try and do is have something drop in your lap. When you seek out a soundtrack it doesn't work, so sometimes it just happens." He then recalled the story how he discovered a certain Andy Williams song to close his debut film, Shallow Grave. "I was looking for a way to close the film and we were getting in a cab in Glasgow one night when I heard Andy Williams' 'Happy Heart,' it was then I said, 'That is the song for the end of the film.'" A similar occurrence happened to him with Underworld's "Born Slippy," he recounted a story when he was in an HMV and found the unknown single and while being a fan of the electronic duo, decided to purchase it and the rest is history. The same luck also happened as he was scouting locations for 127 Hours, a producer's iPod began playing Free Blood's "Never Going to Hear Surf Music Again" as they were driving in Utah, the song would eventually be the opening number to the film. Boyle even admitted that some songs he loves never make it into his films, "For 10 films I have been trying to use The Clash's "White Man in Hammersmith Palais." It is the greatest song ever written. No argument. I just can't find a way to fit it in to any of my pictures," he said.
Early in his career Boyle was criticized for his films looking too much like music videos on MTV. "I took it as a compliment. MTV was something new and different, and that is what I wanted to do. Film has a certain rhythm and I try to bring that out in songs," he said. While his soundtracks have featured a slew of British artists like Underworld, New Order, Oasis, Blur, Leftfield, Unkle, Richard Ashcroft, The Chemical Brothers, Elastica, Faithless, Muse, The Clash, it is because he takes pride in modern English music. "I think we are brilliant at music. We are rubbish at films and everything else, but brilliant in music, it is in our DNA. That little island has poured out so much great music," he said. England has given us The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, so he does have a point.
While he has gone global with the music of A.R. Rahman, Edith Piaf, Sigur Ros, M.I.A., Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Bob Marley, and American artists like R.E.M., Andy Williams, Nina Simone, Beck, and Elvis, Boyle is connected to all the sounds of our universe, even the sounds from out of our universe.
For his 2007 sci-fi film, Sunshine, he had Underworld score the project, which was the third time he has used their music. Underworld and Boyle have gone hand-in-hand as the band has gone on to score his 2011 Frankenstein stage production, his 2012 Olympic opening ceremony concert and now, Trance. Underworld's Rick Smith came out to discuss working with Boyle at 92YTribeca. "Early on in our career people wanted to use our music for crazy clubs scenes, or violent films, or violent club scenes and we always said 'No,' because for us, the club was the safest place. Then Danny called and asked to use 'Born Slippy' and after screening a few minutes of Trainspotting we said, 'Yes!' It was the toilet scene that got us," Smith explained.
While movies are what make Danny Boyle's endless imagination grow and transcend to places many would never think of going, it is his love of music that fuels his passion for film. He said, "The songs mean so much to me. They are your lives, our lives. Some songs you love for decades. They are like photographs of family members that you keep around, so you have to respect that and your relationship with them."
"Trance" opens in select theaters April 5.