Music as a plot element in movies

Close Encounters posterThere are plenty of films about music or musicians (the UC Berkeley Media Resource Center has a fairly comprehensive list). Less common are films that use music as a key plot element, even though the subject is not music. Music has a background but structurally important role in these movies, underscoring a key point. Listed below are some examples (I’m sure there are significant films I’ve missed) which I’ll add to over time.

Bagdad Cafe — A stranded German tourist transforms a dysfunctional desert community into a lively, thriving place; the change is epitomized by the young pianist whose listless stumbling through Bach fugues becomes spirited and masterly.

Barbarella — Evil scientist Duran Duran imprisons space adventuress Barbarella in the Orgasmatron, a musical organ designed to kill its victims with an overdose of ecstasy when played.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind — Aliens communicate by means of a short melodic motive that ultimately brings everyone together in a universal symphony.

Frankenstein — The monster is calmed by the sound of a blind man playing a melancholy tune on the violin.

Hairspray — White and black teenagers in 1962 Baltimore share a love for music and dance, and struggle to break down segregation and prejudice in the community.

Kiss of the Vampire — a cult of vampires uses strange, bewitching music to seduce new disciples.

The Mission — 18th century Jesuit missionaries opposed to slavery in South America establish a choir of Guarani Indians who can sing Baroque music as beautifully as any European choir, but powerful interests in the church remain unconvinced.

The Phantom of the Opera — A disfigured organist who haunts the Paris Opera House falls hopelessly in love with the protégé that he secretly tutors.

Play Misty for Me — The obsessed female fan of a radio d.j. repeatedly phones in her request to play the classic ballad “Misty.”

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? — An old-fashioned song from another era, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy,” symbolizes the ambitions of a faded child star who is out of touch with reality and dreams of reviving her career. The song is also woven into the movie soundtrack, becoming increasingly ominous as she loses her grip on reality.

For additional posts that provide interesting music lists, see About Music and This Site.

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