10 Brian Eno Songs That Made Films Better

The experimental music icon and the silver screen have been a perfect pairing


    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.


    eno music for films label 10 Brian Eno Songs That Made Films Better

    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.

    –Blake Goble
    Senior Staff Writer

    “Slow Water”

    Jubilee (1978)

    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.

    “Lizard Point”

    Shutter Island (2010)

    If we’re being real here, Shutter Island is pretty much one of Martin Scorsese’s lamest efforts. A more upfront title would have been, Red Herrings! The Movie. Before The Revenant, this was Leo’s apex of agony porn, complete with dead wife clichés and lead plot points like lobotomies. Fun times all around. The 2010 film was an ill fit for the star and the punk director, but at the very least, the thing had a gothic castle of gloomy tunes that certainly helped. Long-term Scorsese bud and former Band frontman Robbie Robertson served as music supervisor and assembled a moody mélange consisting of John Adam, Gyorgy Ligeti, and sure enough, Brian Eno.

    Eno’s “Lizard Point” from Ambient 4 / On Land gave Shutter Island a moody neo-noir vibe. The track was used twice, faintly, but it’s so undeniably Eno in its spacey, near existential style. The song’s a patient, cyclical piece and arguably a strong audio metaphor for Shutter Island’s dead ends and elongated journey. The song doesn’t play as much as it drips, drones, and slowly uncoils itself, adding an eerie quality to Leo’s odyssey through the bowels of a lonely asylum.


    Good choice, Robbie Robertson.

    “The Big Ship”

    Tie: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) and The End of the Tour (2015)

    Witness the Sundance twins. Eno’s epic “The Big Ship” showed up in two 2015 Sundance darlings, literally two days apart. And understandably so. “The Big Ship” was arguably the finest, most elegiac and readily emotional track off of Another Green World. The way the song’s sounds and gradual rise and fade represent a sense of finality and parting ways, it seems less like dumb luck when contemplating the track’s timbre. Really, this was just a funny timing, and better yet, great usage.


    James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour examined the aura of legendary author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). The film treated Wallace like a Midwestern beatnik and guru — a gee-shucks lunk with a dark side who emanated greatness in utterly unpretentious ways. The infinite jester was depicted through the eyes and words of David Lipsky’s (Jesse Eisenberg) memoir about Wallace. The film’s long-term interview narrative is an ephemeral friendship of admiration and envy that obviously, albeit unfortunately, ends with a lovingly placed use of “The Big Ship”. Spoilers are likely here, given that the film’s new:

    Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s awkward farce of film and first loves, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, was blasted with Eno. The musician was listed as the film’s composer, which is curious given the film’s heavy use of old tracks by him, mixed with classical, often Criterion-influenced score choices, like The 400 Blows soundtrack. The film showed a selfish teen taking baby steps toward empathy through making “bad movies” and learning to consider other people’s problems. It’s edgy YA, to say the least, but it doesn’t undercut the film’s magnificent use of “The Big Ship” as the main hero boy, Greg, presents his final gift of a film to the dying girl of the title. Spoilers ahead:


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