This week in Exploring Soundtracks, we’ll be looking at a film that I probably should have started this series with: Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver”. This is an example of an entire film that is built around the music.
Written and directed by Wright, Baby Driver casts Ansel Elgort as “Baby”, the incredibly gifted getaway driver who uses a constant stream of music to drown out his tinnitus, and keep his head on the job. In a chance serendipitous encounter, he meets the girl of his dreams, and for the first time tries to get out of his life of crime.
The movie takes its name from a Simon & Garfunkel song of the same name, off the album “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. The song is played over the end credits of the film. But there’s more to the rest of the soundtrack than a few shared words. The music is built into the very fabric of the film.
Syncing It Up
Perhaps the most apparent and noticeable difference between Baby Driver and other films, is the careful blend of music, action, and sound effects in each scene. The opening sequence highlights this immediately. From the get-go, you understand what kind of movie you’re watching.
This opening sequence is the first bank robbery we see the character of Baby partake in. Set to the music of “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the entire chase sticks to the tempo of the song, beat by beat.
In an interview with Digital Trends, the film’s sound designer and supervising sound editor, Julian Slater, shed some light on the process.
“it was a constant trial and error of putting things in, pitch-correcting them to the music, time-stretching them to make them fit, mapping them to the tempo of that particular point, then having a listen to it and occasionally deciding that it didn’t work because it sounded too musical or not musical enough, or it didn’t sound realistic. Then you take the sound out and try a new sound and go through the whole process again.”
Their hard work really paid off. I’ve personally found that on each successive viewing, I’ll notice another nice little touch of synchronization. Whether that’s graffiti matching lyrics being sung, or the shifting of gears in time.
Keeping Character in the Forefront
Of course, the achievements of syncing sound to action would only be a gimmick if it wasn’t inherently connected to the film’s protagonist. A lot of the songs we hear are songs that Baby himself is listening to on his headphones. In the few scenes where we hear no music, you can make out the slight whine of his tinnitus, which I thought was a nice touch. This is also an aspect of the film that Slater draws attention to.
“Sometimes it’s a high-pitched whistle, sometimes it’s held strings in the score. And the more stress Baby is feeling, the louder the tinnitus. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s in your face. That tinnitus effect was designed to put you on edge. That’s an important story point, after all.”
The syncing of music to action also reflects Baby’s state of mind during the film, and the events surrounding him. For example, when his last job goes awry, Baby gets chased by the cops, the sounds get more detuned, to reflect what’s happening around him.
The “Killer Track”
Early on in the film, Jon Hamm’s “Buddy” asks Baby what his “killer track” is – the one that he plays when he really needs to “turn it on”. Baby’s response is a bit surprising when he answers with Queen’s “Brighton Rock”. The two share earbuds and listen to the song in this scene, a nice moment with an almost-father-figure. At the film’s climax, when Buddy turns on Baby, guess what song comes screaming through the speakers? Yup.
While this drive/fight sequence isn’t quite as stylized as some of the earlier scenes, the song’s placement is spot on. Mostly, because it works on a character level. This is the song the two shared and bonded over, and now the song that plays as they fight to the death. I don’t know if Edgar Wright is a fan of puns, but there’s more than one reason why this song is the “killer track” of the film.
There are so many great tracks on this album, and we only have so much time. So do yourself a favor and check out the soundtrack for yourself. You can get the double vinyl LP pressing at the LemonWire Store here.
- “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
- “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl.
- “Egyptian Reggae” by Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers.
- “Smokey Joe’s La La” by Googie Rene.
- “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” by The Beach Boys.
- “B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas.
- “Kashmere” by Kashmere Stage Band.
- “Unsquare Dance” by Dave Brubeck.
- “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned.
- “Easy” by The Commodores.
- “Debora” by T. Rex.
- “Debra” by Beck.
- “Bongolia” by Incredible Bongo Band.
- “Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms)” by The Detroit Emeralds.
- “Early in the Morning” by Alexis Korner.
- “The Edge” by David McCallum.
- “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas.
- “Tequila” by The Button Down Brass.
- “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” by Sam & Dave.
- “Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway.
- “Intermission” by Blur.
- “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.
- “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.
- “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” by Barry White.
- “Know How” by Young MC.
- “Brighton Rock” by Queen.
- “Easy” by Sky Ferreira.
- “Baby Driver” by Simon & Garfunkel.
- “Was He Slow?” by Kid Koala.
- “Chase Me” by Danger Mouse ft. Run the Jewels and Big Boi.