Tag Archives: life on mars

Life on Mars–Pop in Film

I recently got my first draft of the screenplay back from Peter, and his last comment was “why the songs?”

As a writer, I always want to know how the script plays in my head, and sometimes I hear certain songs, always pop, for MFTA, it’s “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon for example. It helps me connect to the time and place of the script and honestly, I feel a better writer for it. I don’t think I could immediately enter the moods of my characters without these musical cues.

Of course, there are certain songs that are just too big to accompany anything. For example, “Life on Mars” is so filmic already that it will totally change the character of the movie. The lyrics describe a story big as any Hollywood screenplay. Little girl, stood up by friends, finds solace in the theater, from there Bowie describes depression-era life in England, and the movie-song ends with a giant climax. Basically, it’s a song with baggage. However appropriate, it overwhelms the movie’s structure.

Other songs are perfect for a movie. To continue with the Bowie theme, “Eight Line Poem” would work perfectly for me in any screenplay. While it has its own story and mood, I feel the music is malleable enough to work with as background, probably in a more down-key scene, but nevertheless important. I would not say this about many Bowie songs, most are too theatric to work, but this one doesn’t bark like “Life on Mars.”

Of course sometimes well known pop songs, when done well in a movie, add another story to the screenplay. I like this scene from About a Boy:

In this scene, Marcus uses Killing Me Softly to reach his often distant mother, and Will finally picks up a guitar and in the process does something to help somebody, all in the course of  four minutes. Roberta Flack’s song is about heartbreak but through Marcus it’s also about finding a connection with his mother. But the song’s sorrow is still evident, Marcus’ mother has been killing him softly for years and only now is he beginning to understand that.

Plus it sets up an amazingly funny quote from Will: “So there I was, killing them softly with my song or rather being killed, and not that softly, either.”

Comments are welcomed about this.