DRIVE is, at this moment in time, my favourite film of the last ten years. Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir completely and utterly blew me away, and its superlative, moody electro soundtrack was a big part of why it worked so beautifully as a film, and why it had such a massive impact on me as a viewer. Last month, it was entirely rescored for its broadcast on British TV.
At a conceptual level, as a bold artistic statement, as an experiment, re-scoring an entire film is an interesting idea. Drive’s director Nicolas Winding Refn clearly thought so too, as he gave the project his full support. Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe has chosen to curate a new score made up of specially recorded contributions from his friends and associates working in the music industry. That’s fine, but why’d her have to choose to use a film with a soundtrack so integral to, so inseparable from, the film’s characters, emotions and themes?
Before it was broadcast on the BBC on 30 October 2014, Zane Lowe did a little piece to camera to talk us through the concept:
“The idea was to take an incredible film with an incredible soundtrack, to give it to bunch of new artists who had been inspired by it, and to reinterpret it [in order to] to share exciting music through film”.
An admiral aim, then, and as such I tried my utmost to approach Lowe’s rescored Drive with an open mind.
Things don’t start well. The opening sequence sorely lacks something without Cliff Martinez’s music, which provided the nameless Driver’s (Ryan Gosling) first job with not only an in-built time-check with its rhythm, but also with a palpable, creeping dread. In place of Martinez, we have a synthy dance beat about as subtle as the Driver’s scorpion bomber jacket, and it does absolutely nothing for the scene.
Over Drive’s opening credits against Los Angeles distinctive nighttime skyline, in the original film we had “Nightcall”, a haunting and modulated track by Kavinsky & Lovefoxx which established the story’s black tone straight away. In the rescore, instead of Kavinsky, we have generic chart-hit wailing and a dance club beat. It should be noted at this point that I don’t know enough about current music to identify by ear most of the artists who provided tracks for this rescore. The Radio 1 website tells us Chvrches, Bastille, The 1975 and Eric Prydz among others contributed to the soundtrack, but I’ll be damned if I can tell which is which.
In Refn’s Drive, every song was carefully selected not only for their retro feel, but for their lyrics that told us something about the Driver. He doesn’t say much, so we’ve got to form our opinion of his character through his actions and the reactions of others towards him. “Nightcall” talks about his enigmatic nature and darker side that he’s tried to hide:
“There’s something inside you, It’s hard to explain”.
“Under Your Spell” by Desire is used for the scene where Irene’s (Carey Mulligan) ex-con husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home, scuppering the Driver’s romantic intentions, and the song sums up falling quickly head-over-heals in love:
“I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I do nothing, But I think of you”.
Most importantly of all, “A Real Hero” by College & Electric Youth is used twice in the film to describe the main theme of the whole story – Gosling’s character’s journey from an being just an occupation (the driver) to a fully-functioning person (the Driver):
“I grow to be, A real human being, And a real hero”.
None of Lowe’s new selection of songs tell us anything about the characters, and rarely do they do anything beyond provoke the most basic of emotional reactions to what is occurring on screen.
Arguably one of the key scenes in Drive, the only sequence with obviously diegetic music (Standard’s coming home party) here just has a vague beat playing in the background. Irene even ends up apologising for the noise of her jamboree, which makes sense in the original film where the pop music is pounding through the Driver’s walls, but here, bafflingly, the scene is mostly silent by the time Standard steps out of the party to take out the trash (no euphemism). What kind of hipster party is Standard hosting where his guests are listening to an avant-garde rhythm one moment and then absolute silence the next? This crucial dramatic moment within the story and its characters has here been drained of almost all emotion and realism, and ends up looking more like footage from the dailies than an element in a finished movie.
Later, we see that Lowe or one of his collaborators clearly thought one of the film’s big shocks and dramatic high points needed the accompaniment of the musical sledgehammer that is the choral backing track. Just. Don’t.
Zane Lowe has seemingly just tried to select tracks/artists that (at least tangentially) belong to a similar musical genre as those those used in Refn’s film. Anything that sounds even vaguely 80s is fair game, though perhaps this general grand sweeping approach shouldn’t have been used, because it’s far too easy to draw negative comparisons if it sounds like Martinez’s score, only not as good.
In the end, Refn’s films still exists to be enjoyed by all, and what is great about it still is just that, but in this version it exists in a lesser form without the music from Martinez and associates that helped the film a great deal to reach the heights it did.
The original music that the various artists involved contributed for this very special endeavor could all be considered good in their own way, and I could even imagine myself listening happily enough to some of it on the radio, but very little works notably with the film, no matter how closely they manage to ape Martinez’s selection. The only musical addition that seems to gel is Laura Mvula’s eerie contribution that marries particularly well with the infamous and gruesome elevator scene.
If you’re going to undertake such a bold artistic experiment and avoid negative comparisons then you simply have to execute it better than this. I gave Zane Lowe’s musically manipulated version of Drive a chance. I really wanted to like it, for it to make a statement about the importance of music in film. In a sense it does make a statement, but that statement is not to mess with a film’s soundtrack. The final product needed to be memorable, but sadly the only memories I’ll retain are those of frustration, frustration that I wasn’t watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive with Cliff Martinez’s score. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, and I can’t claim any kind of entitlement or ownership of one of my favourite films, but I just can’t help but feel hurt at seeing something I love be spoilt. SSP