Radiohead on film: The 9 best uses of their songs on screen

As movie-music marriages go, Radiohead and Paul Thomas Anderson is one hell of a holy matrimony.

The There Will Be Blood director has just shot the Oxford group’s new video, as revealed this week by a Californian podcast host with a slippery grasp of the phrase “non-disclosure agreement”. It’s an exciting development, if not totally surprising. Anderson, one of American cinema’s most lauded filmmakers, has had a working relationship with guitarist Jonny Greenwood for almost a decade, while Radiohead’s influence has long spilled into film and TV, and vice versa.

For every pop culture reference in Thom Yorke’s songwriting – the ‘Paranoid Android’ nabbed from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy series; the “You’re not living…” lyrics cribbed from François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 in ‘True Love Waits’; the Franco Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet that inspired ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ – there are countless screen moments that use Radiohead music.

We’ve picked nine of the best.


Radiohead - A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly
(Richard Linklater, 2006)
Songs used: ‘Fog’, ‘Amazing Sounds of Orgy’, ‘Skttrbrain (Four Tet Remix)’, ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors’, ‘Reckoner’

Richard Linklater’s unusual rotoscoped adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece A Scanner Darkly was more successful than anyone thought possible, given Dick’s knottier-than-usual text. The unsettling animation – hand-drawn over original film footage – adds to the film’s tension, unease and narcotic throb, and who better than Radiohead to provide the accompaniment?

An early test screening of the movie featured an all-Radiohead soundtrack, but even in the finished version we’re treated to snippets of five of the band’s songs and one Thom Yorke solo joint (the then-brand new ‘Black Swan’). Unsurprisingly, the band’s maudlin warbles melt into the vivid visuals like half-seen hallucinations.


Radiohead - Children of Men

Children of Men
(Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
Song used: ‘Life in a Glasshouse’

Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian thriller Children of Men isn’t always successful, but with powerful, stark visuals and one particularly inspired action sequence, it’s one of those movies that sticks in the memory long after you walk out of the theater.

Cuarón can thank Radiohead for buoying one particularly memorable scene which features a jovial Michael Caine as retired political cartoonist and weed dealer Jasper Palmer. As Clive Owen’s protagonist hides from the terrifying outside world in Palmer’s secluded retreat, ‘Life in a Glasshouse’ plays quietly in the background. There’s a joke in there somewhere, right?


Radiohead - Choke

Choke
(Clark Gregg, 2008)
Song used: ‘Reckoner’

Chuck Palahniuk’s dark, cynical tale of sex addiction and absurdity was never going to film quite as well as Fight Club, but Clark Gregg (best known for playing S.H.I.E.L.D. director Phil Coulson in the Marvel cinematic universe) gives it a damn good go. Leads Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Houston are convincing, certainly, but it’s Radiohead who tie everything together yet again with ‘Reckoner’ from In Rainbows.

Before the film was released, Chuck Palahniuk informed BBC 6Music that Radiohead had composed the entire score (“most of the ambient music throughout it”), and while this statement was later denied by a spokesman for the band, we can’t help but wonder what the film might have been like had this actually happened.


Radiohead - Clueless

Clueless
(Amy Heckerling, 1995)
Songs used: ‘My Iron Lung’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees (Acoustic)’

It’s likely that the soundtrack of Clueless, Amy Heckerling’s pop take on Jane Austen’s Emma, was the Radiohead gateway drug for plenty of Americans. Early in the movie, Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher Horowitz has to contend with her ex-stepbrother Josh and his goatee (played by the ageless Paul Rudd) holing up in their Beverly Hills home playing the “maudlin music” of the college station.

“What is it about college students and cry-baby music?” Cher asks about the acoustic version of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. But with such a rich catalogue already under their belt by 1996, perhaps the question should have been, “What is it about non-college students and their failure to get with the program before some Grammy nods for OK Computer?”


Radiohead - Father Ted

Father Ted
(Various, 1995-1998)
Song used: ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’

Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan’s beloved ecclesiastical sitcom Father Ted is bloody marvelous with or without a sprinkle of your favorite joyless Oxford five-piece, but the way they’re used is simply inspired.

The series’ final episode is focused on the titular character’s efforts to cure fellow priest Father Kevin from depression, which he does by playing a cover of Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme from Shaft‘. So what’s the antidote to this musical high, sending the dejected preacher back into a spiral of sadness? You guessed it – Radiohead.


Radiohead - Person of Interest

Person of Interest
(Various, 2011-)
Songs used: ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’, ‘I Might Be Wrong’

Jonathan Nolan might be best known for assisting his brother Christopher on screenplays for Memento, Interstellar and The Dark Knight, but he also created popular tech thriller Person Of Interest.

At the end of the show’s third season, the group of hackers, assassins, agents and operatives go into hiding to avoid the threat of artificial super-intelligence Samaritan (a corrupt counterpart to the protagonists’ Machine), and you can probably guess what plays in the background. Yep, ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’.


Radiohead - Romeo and Juliet

Romeo + Juliet
(Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
Songs used: ‘Exit Music (For A Film), ‘Talk Show Host’

Thom Yorke’s analysis of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 British-Italian spin on Shakespeare’s romance is almost as brilliant as the song it inspired, later featured in Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaption. “I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13 and I cried my eyes out,” he once explained. “I couldn’t understand why the morning after they shagged, they didn’t run away.” The track inspired by the tale, ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’, is “written for two people who should run away before all the bad stuff.”

The band also contributed the trip-hoppy ‘Talk Show Host’, the B-side to ‘Street Spirit’. Its appearance in the Moulin Rouge man’s zesty 1996 retelling is one of the musical highlights of a film packed with pop culture, and we bite our thumb at anyone who says otherwise.


Radiohead - Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under
(Various, 2001-2005)
Song used: ‘Lucky’

There’s no shortage of love for Radiohead from HBO, but it’s the beloved Six Feet Under that did it best. In the show’s fourth season, as matriarch Ruth Fisher comes to term with the death of her husband, the family holds an unsuccessful yard sale to shift some of his belongings.

“Let’s burn it. Let’s burn it all,” she exclaims, and the family gather around a bonfire to dispose of the remaining items. Claire Fisher has the bright idea to position her stereo (remember those?) on a window sill, and what should burst out? ‘Lucky’.


Radiohead - Vanilla Sky

Vanilla Sky
(Cameron Crowe, 2001)
Song used: ‘Everything in its Right Place’

Cameron Crowe’s twisty psychological drama wasn’t a patch on the Spanish original that inspired it, 1997’s Abre Los Ojos (also starring Penelope Cruz). But it did have one thing over its predecessor: an introductory scene featuring Radiohead’s suitably dream-like opening track to Kid A.

The clash of the song’s reassuring message (“Everything in its right place, right place…”) and twitchy anxiety with Tom Cruise’s David Aames as he goes leisurely about his perfect New York life foreshadows cleverly the way reality will soon unspool for the spoilt mogul.

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