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10 Bob Dylan Songs That Made Films Better

on December 04, 2018, 1:00pm
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05. “The Man in Me” in The Big Lebowski (1998)


Every now and then a film pulls a forgotten song out of obscurity and shines a gaudy neon light on it. Has there ever been a more clear-cut case of this than “The Man in Me” rolling 10 frames during the opening credits of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski. Think of how many people had totally forgotten that song or were shocked to discover that was Dylan singing. Think of how many probably downloaded it or even checked out New Morning, an underrated album that started the slow chug towards Blood on the Tracks. Whether it’s the garish production, backing singers, or Dylan’s rough lounge delivery, something about the song dials the clock back to a time when neon lights made bowling alleys amusement parks for adults, polyester was fashionable, and the décor shared a hue with the goopy nacho cheese at the snacketeria. Consider those opening credits a long overdue music video for “The Man in Me” because those scratchy la la las will forever be playing from the speakers of that bowling alley. Let’s face it: They really tie those lanes together. Am I right?  –Matt Melis


04. “Hurricane in Dazed and Confused (1993)

Some songs just need to be cool. For Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, cool comes early with a little Aerosmith, but the film peaks later down the road when Pink (Jason London) and Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) step into the Emporium to the sounds of Dylan’s “Hurricane”. Now, it’s hard to define a point of view in the film, and it really depends on your age as you watch it over the years, but there’s no keener vantage point than Mitch’s (Wiley Wiggins), whose first-hand experience in the pool hall matches our own. The driving acoustics and strings behind Dylan’s barn burner sets the mood accordingly, suggesting that this is the upper echelon of teenage society, and that you should also feel cool and special for being there. The smoke and low lightning only cement that feeling, and as Dylan rages on and on, you slowly get acclimated to this mythical world, where the coolest walks of life get their jollies off either through drinking, schmoozing, or shooting pool. It’s a masterful scene that Linklater commands with ease — probably because he’s drawing from memory — and remains one of the best entrances committed to celluloid. Check ya later, Scorsese. –Michael Roffman


03. “Most of the Time” in High Fidelity (2000)

Like Alvy Singer before him, Rob Gordon sabotages every relationship he’s in because he never learns to recognize a good thing when he has it. For Rob, the grass is always greener, the records minter, and the lingerie sexier in someone else’s life. However, the ultimate difference between Woody Allen’s Singer and John Cusack’s Gordon comes down to the latter hitting rock bottom and finally understanding that he’s the one dooming his relationships by never committing. And as he sits on a bus bench in the pouring rain, breaking the fourth wall to tell us all about it, Dylan’s late ‘80s ballad “Most of the Time” drifts in like a storm cloud passing overhead. In most song-film pairings, Dylan’s music sets a tone, creates a mood, or locates a story in a time and place, but here his lyrics could be Rob’s own thoughts, desperately trying to convince himself that Laura isn’t the answer. Problem is, nobody, neither Dylan nor Rob, is buying it. –Matt Melis


02. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

A dusty trail diverged in the Old West, and old friends Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid chose different paths. Garrett (James Coburn) settled on a quiet retirement as a lawman for the politicians and cattle ranchers fixed on taming and consolidating the Wild West, and Billy (Kris Kristofferson) opted to remain reckless and free, making it impossible for Garrett to ride peacefully into the sunset. Dylan, of course, contributed an entire soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, but it’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, an international hit, that both Dylan fans and cinephiles recall best. The song can be considered a death coda of sorts but actually acts more as a musical trail of deeds leading to one final showdown, a struggle that turns out to not really be between Garrett and Billy at all. Can Garrett live with being the one to pull the trigger on an old friend? It’s fitting that gospel harmonies bookend Dylan’s song, because it feels like nothing less than Garrett’s soul hangs in the balance as he sits outside Billy’s hotel room and waits. –Matt Melis


01. “Things Have Changed” in Wonder Boys (2000)

It helps when Bobby D actually writes a song for your film. Such was the case for the late Curtis Hanson, whose 2000 adaptation of Michael Chabon’s exceptional novel, Wonder Boys, received a bump from the bard. As Hanson explained, “I learned that Dylan might be interested in contributing an original song … So when I came back from filming in Pittsburgh, Bob came by the editing room to see some rough-cut footage. I told him the story and introduced him to the characters. We talked about Grady Tripp and where he was in life, emotionally and creatively. Weeks later a CD arrived in the mail.” Given that Dylan is one of the strongest storytellers to ever write music, it’s not at all surprising that he was able to get under the skin of Chabon’s midlife-crisis novel and capture the feeling of the movie in a little under five minutes.

What’s shocking then is how “Things Have Changed” wound up being one of his strongest and most earnest compositions to date. It’s almost as if he found a little of himself in the troubled professor, Grady Tripp — and that’s not exactly a stretch. When the track won Best Original Song at the 73rd Academy Awards, Dylan, who performed the song via satellite (he was touring Australia at the time), announced: “I want to thank the members of the Academy who were bold enough to give me this award for this song, which obviously is a song that doesn’t pussyfoot around nor turn a blind eye to human nature.” Those are some choice words by a choice man, though, unlike Tripp, Dylan never needs rescuing. To paraphrase Tripp, he’s a junkie for the sung word, and lucky for him, he manufactures his drug of choice. –Michael Roffman

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