Musings About Music In Film

From The Archives: Heat

By Tony Sower appreciatingheat

One of the many distinctive facets of Michael Mann’s style of film-making is his use of music. Throughout his career, Mann has demonstrated his ability to use disparate music (either that composed and recorded for the film in question or pre-existing) from a variety of sources and blend them together in a cohesive way, both in terms of their use in the film itself and on their accompanying soundtrack album. A prime example of this is Heat (1995) in which Mann engaged Elliot Goldenthal to write a score, while also augmenting Goldenthal’s music with the work of numerous other musicians to score his epic Los Angeles crime film.

The album opens with the title track, written by Goldenthal and performed by the Kronos Quartet. This track features haunting strings, drums, vocals, textural sounds and electric guitars in way in which each component part brilliantly compliments each other and is certainly a unique way to score an armed robbery action sequence. Michael Brook’s track “Ultramarine” (originally from Brook’s 1992 album Cobalt Blue) begins with what sounds like dolphin-esque vocalisations. These soon make way for a delayed thumb-slap bass line and a crystal-clear, chiming electric guitar part that makes for an extremely pleasant listening experience and a much under-rated gem in my opinion.

Before Moby broke through to the mainstream with the success of his Play album in 1999, he covered the Joy Division song 'New Dawn Fades' for Heat. Only instrumental portions of the song feature in the film but the soundtrack includes the track in its entirety. Distorted electric guitars and what sound like programmed drums dominate the track, which makes its appearance in the film during the scene in which Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) decides to proactively confront the leader of the crew of professional thieves, Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro), that he and colleagues have under surveillance.

The celebrated bank robbery sequence in Heat is partially scored by Brian Eno’s 'Force Marker'. As far as I can ascertain, this track was composed and recorded specifically for Heat and remains one of my favourites, both in the film and on the album. 'Force Marker' is driven along by a relentless rhythm that tapers off momentarily on several occasions before returning to assault the listener. For me, this sequence in the film demonstrates not only Mann’s skill in the use of music but also his sense of when not to use music; when the firefight begins, Eno’s brilliant music makes way as the automatic gunfire that reverberates around the man-made canyon in downtown Los Angeles takes over the film’s audio in a truly memorable fashion.

The end sequence in Heat, in which Vincent Hanna chases Neil McCauley around the airfields of Los Angeles International Airport, is scored by another Moby track from his Everything is Wrong album, 'God Moving over the Face of the Waters' (There are not many crime films that conclude with a music cue with a title inspired by a Biblical quote). This is arguably the best known track from Heat, as it often used in film and TV trailers for other productions. An epic, emotional piece of music that features rippling piano and lush synthesised strings and keyboards, it is well-deserving of its renown (The film version of this track, different from that featured in Everything is Wrong, eventually appeared on Moby’s 1997 compilation album of his film work, I Like to Score. This album also contains the full version of the “New Dawn Fades” cover).

The end sequence was originally scored by Elliot Goldenthal with his brilliant cue 'Hand in Hand'. Distinct from Moby’s work, this cue was orchestral in nature and equally emotional. Shortly thereafter, Goldenthal reworked “Hand in Hand” into “Funeral/Coda” for Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (1996), providing a superb musical finale for that film.

What is remarkable is that all of the aforementioned tracks (as well as the others that appear in the film and/or soundtrack album) work together as a unified whole, and not once does the choice of music seem inappropriate or out of keeping with what we have already heard. This keen ear for the use of music is but one reason to look forward to each new film from Michael Mann.