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Soundtracking: "Atomic Blonde"

Chris looks back at one of the best soundtracks of the year, Atomic Blonde...

There’s no other film I wanted to musically take up residence inside this year more than Atomic Blonde. The film is loaded with techno pseudo-political new age and best played at full volume, featuring the likes of The Clash to A Flock of Seagulls. It’s a film that gifts us with the glory of Til Tuesday’s glorious “Voices Carry” not once, but twice!

While some might reduce its endless stream of songs to added set dressing (cue Daniel Walber’s Atomic Blonde installment of The Funiture here) or just another fabulous costume, it actually does some heavy lifting to both immerse us into a specific world of its the Cold War setting and distinguish the era apart from the cinematic cliches of the subgenre. The electric glamor and brutality has been some of the film’s major discussion points for how the film looks unlike your average Cold War film, but it’s equally crucial that it doesn’t sound like one either... 

This spy brooder is a banger, but it’s meant to recall a recent past when dance music carried the an political edge to its bass lines.

And naturally it should also be a little subversive as well. There is especially a lot of layers to what is happening in the apartment battle set to George Michael’s “Father Figure”. For starters, the imagery of Charlize Theron decimating an horde of men while tossing around a rubber hose that is undeniably gay. Second, the cooing of Michael asserting his daddy prospects overlaying the pain Broughton inflicts cheekily suggests some sexual gratification in the act. But most crucially, the sequence allows for giddy delight in her female empowerment over a stream of men, set to a song of a man performing a specific gender role.

Added with the crisp sex of the song, it’s a match for the smooth execution she enacts. Notice also how it also suggests her ease with her task when contrasted with the film’s other signature fight sequence: in that fraught, bravura faux-one-take stairwell battle the music doesn’t return until it seems she might actually escape. And that it’s the silliness of “I Ran” that pipes in allows for some levity in a grueling sequence, without deceiving the very specific musical world of the film. One that can't contain its violence even with its neon beauty, as even "Voices Carry" turns cruel.

The film is maybe lucky to have such a compelling lead actress as Theron considering how relatively little of Broughton’s inner life we’re permitted. However just as the actress reveals tiny cracks in her veneer throughout that hint at who the woman is, there is also some suggestion of soul underneath. But maybe it helps that the film bookends her journey with the neon soul of David Bowie: introducing her as an overthrower with “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” and beginning her on her own rebirth, getting her life back, with Queen collaboration “Under Pressure”.

Musically, it begins with breaking out down and ends with the promise of hopeful uprising. It’s an appropriate musical narrative for the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the suggestion is that Broughton is ready to leave behind the violence and start anew. Ending on a less percussive and industrial sounding rhythm relents her own machine-like survivalist tendencies. We never know her all that well, because now is when she gets to be her real self. True, these two are some of Atomic’s more cliched song choices and the sentiment is a bit precious. But that’s the magic of the two tracks, it can hide the obvious in turns because of sheer badassery and undeniable moving sentiment.

READERS' CHOICE! Tell us some of your favorite soundtracks of 2017 in the comments! I will be doing aninstallment of Soundtracking in January based on suggestions (and yes, Call Me By Your Name is in the works), so tell us your picks!!

Previous Soundtracking Favorites:
Lady Bird
The Lure
Stop Making Sense
Young Adult

...all installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (7)

As much as ending on what I'm about to suggest would have been slightly anachronistic and less "cool", but they probably should have either: A, ended on Ice Ice Baby (bonus: Ironic joke on the colour palette) and not Under Pressure or B: Cut the TV on the background mentioning the debate of "is sampling art". If you bring up the sampling debate, that means you need to follow through on that and use a song that USES samples somewhere, y'know?

December 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Fav Soundtracks: Say what you will of it as an overall movie, but Guardians 2's soundtrack? Even the original cheesy gag track, Guardians Inferno, is a fantastic cheesy gag track that I would LOVE to see as an Original Song nominee.

December 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Critics Choice made no choices. They basically nominated everyone in contention. The only surprise to me is that Phantom Thread has not been getting best picture notices. Is it a divisive film?

December 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Wow, that went nowhere fast.

December 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I like this series on the technical skills in "Atomic Blonde". It's such a well-crafted movie, and it seems like everyone involved thought really carefully about all the parts and how they would work together. To make something so lively and fun!

December 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Still haven't seen this, but am amped to see Charlize kicking some ass. This soundtrack has some of the best songs from my college days. I Ran will always hold a special place in my heart.

December 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I LOVE this movie and the music was amazing. I had to get the DVD.

December 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBia

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