Classic Silent Films and the Musicians Who Should Soundtrack Them


There is something so pleasing about a great pop-culture pairing — Air’s just-released soundtrack to Georges Méliès’ newly restored silent classic Le Voyage Dans La Lune, for example. Who better to score a 100-year-old French sci-fi film than a pair of Méliès’ countrymen who make dreamy, ambient electronic music and already have an acclaimed soundtrack album (The Virgin Suicides) under their belts? The sublime match-up has us yearning to see some of our favorite contemporary musicians composing sounds to accompany classic silent films. We’ve compiled some suggestions after the jump; add yours in the comments.

The Passion of Joan of Arc Score by: Patti Smith

Some might say it’s sacrilege for the woman who helped invent punk with the lyric “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine” to score Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece about the trial of Joan of Arc. But Smith has always been obsessed with Catholic imagery, martyrs, weirdos, and poetic extremes of emotion — all of which are on full display in the film. It doesn’t hurt that she’s an unrepentant Francophile and as much of a gender outlaw as St. Joan was, either. When it comes down to it, there’s no one we’d rather see interpret the death of a saint than Patti Smith.

Metropolis Score by: Janelle Monáe

So, maybe this is cheating. Monáe did, after all, name her debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), and she’s been citing Fritz Lang’s German expressionist classic as an influence for years. But her music isn’t actually about the film; it’s the tale of her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather, an android messiah sent from the future to save humanity from their time-traveling overlords. We think that, given the chance to provide a true score for Metropolis, Monáe could use let her sci-fi dystopia imagination run wild — and just imagine what she’d do with the racy Robot Maria dance scene!

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Score by: The Caretaker

It was a scene from The Shining that first inspired James Kirby’s The Caretaker project, which has been producing dark, strange, high-concept, and decidedly cinematic electronic music ever since. Kirby’s last several albums have concerned themselves with the brain and memory, exploring such topics as amnesia and dreams. In 2011, he released An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, a collection of songs comprised of sampled 78s that riffs on a study about Alzheimer’s patients’ experiences of music. The result is as eerie and retro as you could hope for, making The Caretaker the perfect candidate for Robert Wiene’s surreal horror film about a sleepwalker in an insane asylum.

Un Chien Andalou Score by: Animal Collective

Speaking of surrealism, the soundtrack to Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s legendary experimental short film has to be psychedelic and disorienting. But, at least in parts, it’s also kind of beach-y. Our pick, then, is Animal Collective — a band whose recent music (and especially Panda Bear’s solo work) is sure to make you feel like you’re tripping out at the seashore.

The Battleship Potemkin Score by: Handsome Furs

Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin might just be the greatest propaganda film ever made, about an anti-Tsarist mutiny on a battleship. Employing the filmmaker’s fast-paced, emotionally resonant montage technique, it’s a hypnotic celebration of Soviet values. And this is where Handsome Furs — a band whose past two albums, 2011’s Sound Kapital and 2009’s Face Control, have been inspired by Eastern Europe — come in. We’d cross our fingers for a big, Odessa Steps-sequence dance song.

It Score by: Dean & Britta

Luna alums Dean & Britta have always had a flair for evoking the silver screen, a talent that was on full display in their 2010 project, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. We’re sure they’d be just as adept at creating a starstruck score for Clara Bow’s It, the film that coined the term “It girl” and set a new standard for Hollywood glamor.

City Lights Score by: Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian aren’t so different from Charlie Chaplin, when you think about it: Both are goofy, romantic, and a bit slyly subversive. So, we trust that Stuart Murdoch and co. would do a great job with this romantic comedy that doubles as commentary on economic inequality.

Birth of a Nation Score by: Public Enemy

It’s pretty unfortunate that one of the most important and influential films of all time, D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, could double as a Ku Klux Klan recruitment video. The movie deserves to be celebrated and torn to shreds at the same time, and we’re fairly sure Public Enemy still have enough righteous vitriol left in them to do the honors.