In the films of English director Danny Boyle, music frequently emerges as an important (if unseen) character. The drug-addict drama Trainspotting was fueled by a jam-packed, manic soundtrack of songs by Iggy Pop, Brian Eno and the electronic duo Underworld. He teamed up with Indian composer A.R. Rahman for 127 Hours and the highly successful Slumdog Millionaire, for which Boyle won a Best Director Oscar.
His new movie Trance, starring James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson, pays homage to two beloved genres: the high-tech heist movie and shadowy film noir.
Boyle enlisted a frequent collaborator, Rick Smith of Underworld, to craft dance beats for action sequences, while using pre-existing jazz and French chanson for sequences involving hypnosis and dreams.
Known for using pre-existing songs, Boyle doesn't use a music supervisor and selects tracks himself. "It’s one of the deepest pleasures for me. It helps shape the film in so many ways, [beyond] just the music. It informs the film completely for me," he told Soundcheck's John Schaefer. "I’m very proud to be able to associate myself with these artists via film."
He talked with Soundcheck host John Schaefer about choosing music for Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
On using “Deep Blue Day” from Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois' album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, for the notorious Trainspotting scene involving “the worst toilet in Scotland”:
Danny Boyle: That album is, to me, one of the greatest atmospheric albums ever. It is just an extraordinary piece of work. I’ve used it multiple times. I used it in a TV series before I moved into films. And I used it so many times, in so many different ways, that eventually Brian Eno wrote to me and said, “I’ve done other things, you know.”
JS: Tell us about a song that you thought would be perfect for a scene, but couldn’t get permission to use.
DB: We tried to get Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” for 28 Days Later. There’s an amazing sequence where [Cillian Murphy's character, Jim] walks home. London is deserted, apparently apart from this threat, and he finds his way back to his old home where his parents lived. And he finds them in bed, passed away. They passed away peacefully and left a message for him. It’s very moving within this apocalyptic horror.
And her amazing song was [initially] on the soundtrack. And we approached her about it, and she said she didn’t want it to be associated with anything else because she wanted to do something else with it in the near future. So she declined, and I was really sad. [Theatrically] Really sad.
But her decision was a good one – and good things come out of it. And we used a hymn instead which actually had an even greater significance instead, especially for a British audience. You’re trying to suggest the past of the city, and hymns sonically do that. Something that we’re all familiar with through schooling, and so we used “Abide With Me.”
JS: Will there be a third film in the 28 Days Later zombie franchise?
DB: I wish we’d had shares in The Walking Dead, the TV show! There had been a whole zombie movement, and then I think we helped refresh it with 28 Days Later. […] I was very keen for it not to be known as a zombie movie. I had this idea that the threat is much more rage-filled. But it’s become absorbed in the zombie landscape and is referred to constantly as a zombie movie. I have to accept that. [laughs]
I'm lucky to be there. There is an idea for a third part, cause we did a 28 Weeks Later, and so the 28 Months Later or whatever it would be called -- the third one -- there is a plan for that. How realistic it is given the success of something like Walking Dead, I have no idea. Who knows? Fingers crossed.