Sandi Tan

10 Soundtracks

I've collected soundtracks ever since I was five when my mother got me a copy of the (original 1977) Pete's Dragon soundtrack on cassette and I figured out how to record my own voice over the dragon's singing voice in the chorus of that Boo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too) song, and I did it. And my mother thought there was a flaw with the tape and took me back to the large department store where she bought it (with me in tow this time). And the store insisted that "somebody" had tampered with the tape and played it over the entire store's system so EVERYBODY IN THE STORE heard my goofy voice singing the chorus “boo bop bopbop bop" as the "dragon" and I was mortified, and the store clerks were all laughing, and my mother was increasingly irate, and they wouldn't give her her money back, so — in order to feel that she hadn't made a wasted trip to the store — she got me the The Muppet Movie soundtrack too. And I got obsessed with that soundtrack (and Saskatchewan!) and there it began. I would get a hold of every soundtrack I could — Sixteen Candles, Back to the Future — and because this was Singapore, often the pirated versions of the soundtracks would get there before the actual movie came to theaters. Eventually as I got a bit older, I preferred scores. I was square enough to like John Barry's score for Out of Africa and Richard Robbins' score for A Room with a View (though there was a bunch of opera on that soundtrack too). I don't have a huge amount of soundtracks but maybe a few hundred — and I damaged my CD collection by doing that awful habit people succumbed to in the mid-aughts: removing CDs from jewel cases and packing them all into zippered, soulless Case Logic cases in an effort to "consolidate" and "save space." I barely revisit my discs now. They're all sealed up in their tomb. But when I do unzip those cases, here are the ones I most often reach for (in no real order, despite my numbering).

1. An Angel at My Table
(Jane Campion, 1990)

This soundtrack is a mix of original score (really haunting by Don McGlashan for this early Jane Campion masterwork, a "biopic" of New Zealand writer Janet Frame) and super flesh-tingly piano pieces and songs from the milieu of Janet Frame's childhood.

2. The Portrait of a Lady
(Jane Campion, 1996)

Another Jane Campion movie soundtrack, with score by Wojciech Kilar. This is also Campion's second-best movie, after An Angel at My Table. It is electric!

3. In The Mood For Love 
(Wong Kar Wai, 2000)

I picked up an edition in Asia that comes in a cardboard box. It's got that haunting theme ("Yumeji's Theme" by Shigeru Umebayashi, that's actually composed for a 1991 Seijun Sujuki movie) plus a bunch of Nat King Cole's. I could live in that world, but I only listen to it because I can't get (maybe it does not even exist) the soundtrack to my favorite WKW movie, Days of Being Wild, a film which has that GREAT GREAT song by Los Indios Tabajaras and a bunch of Xavier Cugat.

4. There Will Be Blood
(Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Score by Jonny Greenwood. Best music to write to I can think of, next to Alexander Desplat’s score for Birth and Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin.

5. Under the Skin
(Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

Score by Mica Levi. Yes, a cliché choice; I have nothing to add beyond what you probably already know/think. If your partner is a nice/normal type who listens to the Rolling Stones for fun, as mine is, you probably won't get to play it out loud as often as you need/want.

6. The Double Life of Veronique
(Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1991)

Score by Zbigniew Preisner (I was so obsessed with this one and would listen to it twice a day).

7. The Tenant
(Roman Polanski, 1976)
Score by Philippe Sarde.

8. Heaven's Gate
(Michael Cimino, 1980)

Score by David Mansfield — Oh man, this score! This movie! I have this on vinyl.

9. Blue Velvet
(David Lynch, 1986)

Score by Angelo Badalamenti.

10. Exotica
(Atom Egoyan, 1994)

Score by Mychael Danna that is 101% primo 90s art-skank.

P.S., The soundtracks I played the most in the early 90s were probably those from the Jeunet/Caro films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children — the latter is by Angelo Badalamenti and is gorgeous!!!! The theme song sung by a raggedy-voiced Marianne Faithfull is one for the ages.

Sandi Tan is a filmmaker and novelist based in Los Angeles. She made the autobiographical film Shirkers (Netflix), wrote the non-autobiographical novel Lurkers (Soho), and can be found on IG as @_sanditan_ mostly posting pictures of cats.