How ‘Atomic Blonde’ Director David Leitch Used Music To Turn A Stuffy Cold War Film Into A Spy Thriller

07.17.17 2 weeks ago 2 Comments

What’s better than a ’80s thriller starring Charlize Theron as an undercover spy in Berlin? One with a killer soundtrack that highlights her epic fight scenes and sudden epiphanies with classics from New Order, Kanye West, and David Bowie. In case you haven’t been keeping up with the relentless enthusiasm for Atomic Blonde, it is one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the summer — but not just for the film itself.

The movie’s soundtrack, helmed by director David Leitch and composer/music supervisor Tyler Bates, is pushing the boundaries of how music can and should be used in the cinematic experience. For the film, which is set in Germany during the fall of the Berlin wall, Bates and Leitch pulled together an incredible tracklist that features songs from iconic artists like The Clash, Queen, and Public Enemy, but also includes newer artists like noise rock trio HEALTH, who covered New Order’s “Blue Monday” for one of the movie’s most revelatory scenes.

HEALTH’s John Famiglietti, who plays bass and contributes production for the trio, said that it was daunting to cover such an iconic song, but their version lasered-in on some era-specific qualities that help the music and the storytelling mesh together.

“At first we were a little anxious about it,” Famiglietti admitted. “Because Orgy has that very famous cover of ‘Blue Monday,’ and it’s one of the greatest songs ever written, so it’s very daunting. But we wanted to put our own spin on it, we thought it was cinematic to do the track in half time, and there’s a bunch of things we did in the song, like tempo and beat by beat, that were based on the 1988 single version from when ‘Blue Monday’ was pre-released.”

HEALTH’s version of “Blue Monday” has already been released to help direct viewers toward the impact of the soundtrack itself on the film, and you can hear it above. HEALTH began working on their contribution to Atomic Blonde through their relationship with Bates, and created the cover with specific knowledge of how it was connected to the film.

“That 1988 version was what we based our cover off, and then we left turned it to where we wanted to go,” Famiglietti explained. “We really loved how the track was used, and the music in general. We got to see the scene its in, and we were really into it; we’ve seen a handful of scenes, because they were trying to figure out where to place the song, and the action in the film is so awesome. We’re really hyped to be a part of it.”

When it comes to the evolution of the soundtrack and its curation, Bates played a big role, but director David Leitch was also heavily involved in the process; in fact, he was writing needle drops and song ideas into the script back when he first laid eyes on it. I sat down with Leitch to discuss why the soundtrack was such important part of his vision for the film, music and nonverbal storytelling in film, and how the film’s historical setting is a contextual fit for what’s going on in today’s political climate. Read the whole conversation below.

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