This article originally ran in April 2016. We’re revisiting in celebration of a slew of Brian Eno’s best work getting re-released on vinyl this Friday.
Whether you know him as the godfather of electronica, Roxy Music and Bowie’s secret weapon, or that really cool beep boop guy with the cats, there is only one Brian Eno. Simply put, he is an experimental icon in the world of music — an avant auteur defined by his idiosyncratic interests and involvements. Eno’s career has been defined by his glorious glam rock, his beauteous digital techniques and tones, and his collaborations with great artists like David Byrne and U2 among many others.
In that spirit, Eno and films were always going to be a match made in heaven. A sonic, ethereal, peaceful, relaxing, chilled-out, becalming, good-vibe-inducing sort of heaven. Besides, the guy did release several albums under the title of Music for Films; for goodness sake, how was Eno not going to find his way to the silver screen? Today, we’re going to reflect (somberly, of course, with a soft pillow in a quiet room if possible) on some of the finest uses of Eno’s music in the movies.
However, before this spiritual journey begins, here are a few quick rules:
01. “Once in a Lifetime”, “Heroes”, U2 songs … all that stuff is out. The track in any respective movie’s got to be “by Brian Eno” in some form. And besides, as fantastic as Bowie and Byrne are, well, their songs are a little played out in popular films.
02. No original scores. Eno’s got 51 composer credits, and sometimes he’s listed as a composer even if he’s just using old tracks. Our list will look specifically at tunes that are either from Eno’s albums or made for a specific soundtrack. So, for example, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl might be on the list because it uses past tracks, even though Eno’s the film’s credited composer.
Eno’s songs all enhanced these films in some way. Whether it was a perfect cue or a tune that simply improved a film on rocky ground, these Eno tracks made movies a little better.
For the best and most blood pressure-lowering results, read this list while listening to Ambient 1.
Senior Staff Writer
Here we have the very first usage of Brian Eno’s music in a motion picture. “Slow Water” opens Derek Jarman’s cult classic about Queen Elizabeth I time traveling to 1970s London and experiencing all sorts of curious things. In a word, the film’s weird, but in that special, experimental, “only in the ‘70s” way. Punk visuals and Shakespearean pageantry collide in Jubilee, and it rides the line between absurdist trash and baffling mystery, but Eno’s elegant, rueful “Slow Water” prepares viewers right at the start for what will be an unforgettable, episodic ride. Eno’s music bonds Jarman’s unclear motivations very early, so while it may take viewers a moment to understand what the hell the film’s getting at, at least Eno becomes a through-line. His music often has a way of doing that.
Eno served as Jubilee’s composer, but the film utilizes existing Eno music from Music for Films. While one can easily argue that his music was ready-made for movies, it’s not just because of the sounds and style. Eno absolutely wanted to get into the biz. 1978’s Music for Films was a masterstroke on his part. Originally concocted as a limited-edition LP in ’76, Eno sent the album to film directors. One can only imagine directors scratching their heads at the elongated and seemingly aimless album. The album had no orchestra, no traditional themes, and sounded at the time decidedly anti-cinematic. The music didn’t elicit direct emotional cues, so much as explored the world of sounds possible within a film. Eno was playing, imagining things with the album. His analogue experimentation on Music for Films proved fruitful for years to come, appearing in several Jarman films, the Breathless remake, and John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, among many other films.
Good to see Eno’s music getting used exactly as he intended.
Bonus: It needs to be mentioned that “Slow Water” was used again in 1995’s [SAFE] from Todd Haynes. The track is used as reinforcement for main character Carol White’s (Julianne Moore) emotional landscape, and it’s divine.