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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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Arts + CultureMovies4 songs Sofia Coppola dropped with startling cinematic precision

4 songs Sofia Coppola dropped with startling cinematic precision

From Lost in Translation's pink panties background notes to the Kiss guitar wank that sidelined Stephen Dorff, here's the director's greatest track deployments.

It’s never a bad time to pay tribute to Sofia Coppola’s movie music magic. (Especially if you’re looking for something to watch over the next two SIP weeks.)

Anyway, given the general chaos in which we are ensconced, you may have missed the fact that Coppola released On The Rocks at the end of October. The film features Bill Murray and Rashida Jones as a father-daughter team, and is currently streaming on Apple TV. 

Incidentally: On the Rocks is cool … for a 90-minute snuggle session on the couch. Not hating, just stating. “#blackAF” and “Parks and Rec”’s Jones plays Laura, an author struggling with juggling motherhood, work, and marriage in a luxe, Bernie sticker adorned Manhattan apartment. A mid-life crisis ensues when she begins to suspect her husband Dean, played by a reserved Marlon Wayans, may be cheating. This feeling is magnified by her Boomer-aged art-dealer father Felix a.k.a. Bill Murray with whom she races around NYC in a $250,000 red vintage Alpha Romero, discussing male-female relationships. Murray eats up white privilege with snickery deadpan, Jones frets over her dissipating hotness (you’re fine Rashida, just take off the mom jeans), and cute Jenny Slate appears as the insecure, pain-in-the-ass friend. 

“It’s sort of a ridiculous idea that I tried to approach with some realism,” Coppola told the press.

But practically speaking, the film’s release does serves as somewhat of an excuse for us to revisit Coppola’s most insular needle drops.

Ava Duvernay, Ryan Coogler, Damien Chapelle, Kenya Barris, Olivia Wilde, Lena Waithe, Sean Baker, Jordan Peele, and Barry Jenkins (and yes at some point there will be a Medicine for Melancholy revisit on this platform, soon) have collectively mushroomed by telling stories via culture featuring needle drops and non-conformist ledes. Bro, don’t celebrate Wes Anderson and then sweep Coppola under some Architectural Design Catalog from 2000: She won an Academy Award for Lost In Translation, her second film (HER SECOND FILM), and netted Bill Murray a nomination.

For those not up on film nerd speak, needle drop is slang used in the film industry to describe when a pre-existing song is used in a movie. The bulk of Coppola’s musical elections perform the function of an additional character, or a sneaky Pete way of adding unspoken dialogue to a scene. She may not be the first, but she definitely has to be considered one of the best, to employ the technique.


In this film, very much inspired by Bill Owens’ classic 1973 photo book Suburbia, Coppola spearheaded a new wave of storytelling. Her productions championed other types of ways to see the world. Viewers are afforded VIP access to The Virgin Suicides’ five Lisbon sisters. We observe young girl magic, while the rest of the world—including their parents, portrayed beautifully by a stern Kathleen Turner and a befuddled James Woods—are on the outside, tripping over thoughts and lost opportunities.

Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” sets the uncertainty of being a teenager, regardless of gender. Coppola lets the declaration play through the chorus, then hangs up. The Lisbon sisters, in seclusion, call boys back with Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).”  The boys and girls speak to one another over the course of an afternoon, trying to flirt. The Bee Gees’ “Run to Me” is employed, as is Carole King’s “So Far Away.” It’s a gentle, innocent scene that features the wonders of AM Gold radio, and a new director making waves.


The peach-pink panties opening of “Lost In Translation” flipped the cinematic world on its ear. Coppola, who supposedly modeled the drawers for Scarlett Johansson to underline their importance, announces with silk whose perspective we will be seeing things from. I’m not reinventing the wheel here, this has all been said and theorized before. (Go ahead, bust out your personal Google machine.) What’s incredible, especially in 2020, is how many people still MISS such a hard flex from a director quietly coming into her own. The use of the female form in the opening of this film—mapped to perfection with Kevin Shields’ “City Girl”—is a declaration; women will be determining what is beautiful about women.

It’s such a quiet coup. Large son, large. It almost eclipses the closing moment between emotional care partners, who whisper in each other’s ears over “Just like Honey” by The Jesus and Mary Chain.


Marie Antoinette was way too young to be in charge of global politics. This film sees Coppola rely on her most trusted on-screen avatar, Kirsten Dunst, to give a poor little rich girl performance that feels lived in, not put on. Coppola cashed in all her Academy Award cool points with the movie studio to create a $40 million costume drama filmed mostly at Paris’ Place de la Concorde. Unless Marvel characters are involved, films like this are done these days. The spiky post-punk, New Wave soundtrack, was thought odd at the time. But it was a clever way to present the immaturity of all these befuddled dignitaries who weren’t quite grown enough to fit their attire. Coppola blasts the guitars of “Natural’s Not in It” by Gang of Four from the jump, watching Dunst dip her finger in cake, being fawned over by servants, five pages of script delivered within ten seconds. This year’s “Lovecraft Country” produced by Jordan Peele on HBO, pulled a similar move several times over, using non-time specific needle drops during depictions of the predominately Black 1950s South Side of Chicago.


In Somewhere. Stephen Dorff’s character Johnny Marco is an actor who is going through a thing—a privileged thing, but a thing none the less. He’s shacked up at the Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills at a party he didn’t throw—but ultimately, he’s powerless over his own space. He gets drunk hearing others spout hot air and pose. 

A random woman is seen drinking a pink can of Sofia, a sparkling wine made by Francis Ford Coppola named after his daughter dearest, and Johnny Marco toasts her while he scans the room full of people he could do without. His character’s presence is just as minuscule as the product placement. 

Pills and whiskey eventually lead to the not-so-smart actor passing out while supposedly pleasuring a blonde at the party. Dorff’s performance is believable, cementing the idea of being so insulated and isolated that you become a prop in your own life.

Used as background, the country-fied rock guitar wank, “Love Theme From Kiss” plays in the party’s background 23 minutes into film. It’s a deep cut, a rare track from Kiss. I only knew about it from weekly journeys to Community Thrift, taken years before “Somewhere” came out. I always took that whiney guitar part as a perfect sample. Sophia beat me to the damn punch by using it to track her creative pursuits. Game recognize game, girl.

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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