For any film, a soundtrack is integral; utterly intrinsic to both mood and tone. For a film such as Drive, in which the meaning conveyed is so reliant on the atmosphere created through its music choices, the soundtrack is more important than most. Thus, it seems even more questionable that Zane Lowe, on behalf of Radio One, deemed it necessary to offer a rescored alternative version of the film.
Supporters of Lowe’s idea have repeatedly reiterated that this version, shown on BBC3 last night and currently available on iPlayer, is not supposed to be an improvement on the original, but rather is an ‘interesting experiment’. Being an admirer of the original film, it was fair to say that I was not particularly enthused by Lowe’s offering but still attempted to approach the idea with a relatively open mind. Needless to say, despite my fairly low expectations, I was not prepared for just how terrible this alternative soundtrack would be.
Within the opening few minutes it was rapidly apparent just how little Zane Lowe actually understands about film. It is clear from his music choices that rather than engaging with a film about an isolated, detached figure who struggles to fulfil the archetypal heroic role, Lowe’s engagement extends as far as ‘this film is cool’.
The opening scene, in which the repetition of the piece by Chromatics successfully and expertly creates tension through the very lack of musical cues and shift changes (with the audience ever expecting the music to change and its failure to change creating trepidation) is butchered, replaced by an overly-loud pulsing soundtrack that lacks any sense of subtlety, instead trying to tell the audience how and when to feel. If this wasn’t bad enough, the mixing is so terrible that the sound on the radio (in which it is revealed that the driver has, through his expertise, managed to time his five minutes with the ending of a basketball game to evade suspicion) is entirely lost: we have no idea why he has driven to the stadium.
Later in the film, Lowe replaces the fantastic Desire’s ‘Under Your Spell’ with a dull alternative that does little to enlighten us as to Irene’s feelings towards the driver, nor his feelings towards her. The original selection, through its repetition, helps us to understand Irene’s increasing feelings of claustrophobia; she manages to escape the apartment itself for a moment, but cannot escape the sound of the music reminding her of her husband’s return. Similarly, the diegetic music (a term Lowe seems to be unfamiliar with) pulses through the walls of the driver’s apartment, drawing him to Irene.
I could go through every soundtrack choice to highlight just how wrong Lowe’s version was but I’ll limit it to a final two key moments.
When Irene’s husband, Standard, is shot (to the surprise of the audience) Refn chose to only highlight the natural sounds of the location; there is no music. This lack of music helps to create a feeling of utmost unease, the sounds of Christina Hendricks’ character walking across the carpark is amplified, as is the sound of a suspect car pulling up alongside the driver. Lowe chose to blast music over this scene, ending any sense of atmosphere. Similarly, the subsequent car chase sequence in which the revving engine originally served as our soundtrack is replaced with a pulsing drum beat denying our understanding of how fast the driver and his pursuers are accelerating.
Finally, the moment when the driver arrives to wreck revenge upon Nino after realising that he can never truly be with Irene, originally showcased a ‘torch song’, a sentimental love song in which a singer will typically lament an unrequited or lost love; utterly perfect to the moment. Instead, we are treated to Bastille alluding to literary references that have absolutely nothing to do with the film, be it tonally or in terms of subject.
Refn’s direction purposefully riffed on the John Hughes 80s aesthetic, presenting Gosling’s driver as the man struggling to fulfil his role as a hero. I’m not sure what Lowe was trying to present; there is no thematic quality to the song choices, with no understanding of how meaning is conveyed to an audience.