Elton John On Film

Our guest editor's greatest movie music moments…
Elton John in Tommy

With a discography of such quality and depth, it’s inevitable that Elton John’s music has been used in numerous classic movies. We look back at some of the highlights.

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FRIENDS (1971)
‘FRIENDS’

Elton John and Bernie Taupin earned their first Grammy nomination for this half-vocal, half-instrumental soundtrack to Lewis Gilbert’s controversial film. The title track provides the musical backdrop for the introduction of teenagers Paul and Michelle, whose blossoming relationship is challenged by their youthful naivety and society’s disapproval. The song itself captures the indelible hallmarks of early Elton, with the artful simplicity of the melody underlining the emotional pull of the lyrics. The soundtrack ultimately lost out to Isaac Hayes’ ‘Shaft’, while Alfie/You Only Live Twice director Gilbert would later score further cinematic hits with two further instalments of Bond as well as Shirley Valentine. Ben Hopkins

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TOMMY (1975)
‘PINBALL WIZARD’

John spits out lyrics, high-pitched and venomous. Clad in shimmering, high-waisted flares, spangly shirt and braces and sparkly, saucer-sized specs (still above), he sports an incongruous woolly hat and massive boots that hoist him high above everything that’s happening around him. He’s on stage – of course – and this is a scene in Tommy, Ken Russell’s 1975 theatrical adaptation of The Who’s rock opera. John’s pinball champ, grimacing through gappy teeth, furiously hits the piano keys with staccato thumps while Roger Daltrey’s pinball wizard deftly flips his pinball flippers. ‘Pinball Wizard’ was a commercial success and one of the most well known tracks from the opera, despite Pete Townshend once declaring it “the most clumsy piece of writing I’ve ever done”. Kim Francis

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DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975)
‘AMOREENA’

‘Amoreena’ opens Sidney Lumet’s flamboyant tale of a farcical bank robbery with an opening montage of everyday scenes from New York City. Echoing the Americana leanings of the song’s parent album ‘Tumbleweed Connection’ (1970), ‘Amoreena’ fades away to introduce Sonny (an electrifying Al Pacino) and his inept associates. Almost unbelievably based on a true story that had occurred in Brooklyn three years earlier, Sonny’s motivation is to finance a sex change for his lover. The incident was notably documented in Life magazine, which described the real robber, John Wojtowicz, as having “the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman”. BH

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THE LOST BOYS (1987)
‘DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME’

With not one but two Coreys, some terrible fashion and even worse haircuts, Joel Schumacher’s vampire flick The Lost Boys is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of the 1980s teen movie – especially so as it looks like an extended edit of one of the era’s more ambitious music videos. On this occasion, however, it’s Roger Daltrey’s take on the first single from Elton’s 1974 album ‘Caribou’. Daltrey comes close to matching the original’s dramatic climax, but the production by the era’s hair metal guru Beau Hill (Warrant, Winger et al) – quivering synths, thunderous drums and big riffs – lacks any sense of subtlety. BH

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MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991)
‘BLUE EYES’

With its dreamlike photography, Gus Van Sant’s drifting road movie casts a suitably hypnotic spell as narcoleptic street hustler Mike (the late River Phoenix) and fellow hustler Scott (Keanu Reeves) experience a maelstrom of emotions as their poetic road trip. The use of music is also deployed understatedly, notably with Elton’s ‘Blue Eyes’ – an almost Sinatra-like arrangement and one of his later collaborations with Gary Osborne. The connection with Van Sant was revived in 1992 when the director crafted a suitably sombre video for the single ‘The Last Song’. BH

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THE LION KING (1994)
‘THE CIRCLE OF LIFE’ / ‘CAN YOU FEEL THE LOVE TONIGHT’

These co-writes with Tim Rice provided two of the most memorable Disney music moments to accompany Simba’s heart-rending journey to adulthood. Although Elton’s recordings of the songs don’t feature in the main film (‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ provides the accompanying music for the end credits), they’re surely the best-loved versions. ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ earned the 1994 Oscar for Best Original Song – in fact, three of the five nominations that year came from the film (the others being ‘The Circle Of Life’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’). BH

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BREAKING THE WAVES (1996)
VARIOUS

As with this month’s Nymphomaniac, Lars von Trier split the gruelling Breaking The Waves into a series of chapters. Each chapter was introduced with a video sequence by Danish multimedia artist Per Kirkeby, which depicted a scene from the Scottish Highlands set to classic 1970s rock (Mott The Hoople, Deep Purple) to set the tone for the drama to come. By the time ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ introduced Chapter Six: Faith, the relationship between the brittle Bess and the injured oilrig worker Jan had progressed to increasingly disturbing places. The film also utilises ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ and ‘Your Song’. BH

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ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)
‘TINY DANCER’

The bittersweet finale of Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age tale is rendered in a near perfect coupling of song and screen. As the disillusioned and visibly broken ‘70s rock band take their last trip on the tour bus, ‘Tiny Dancer’ begins to play over the stereo. Previously distracted and introspective, each member of the crew begins to sing along in succession, with even the most dispirited members chiming in, reaching the chorus in a jubilant swell of intermingling voices. The lyrics, emotional delivery and irrepressible joy of the cast are a pleasure to behold. Positive, pertinent and unquestionably poignant. Anna Wilson

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MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)
‘YOUR SONG’

Of all the songs in Baz Luhrman’s award-winning musical, Ewan McGregor belting out an unforgettable cover of ‘Your Song’ is without a doubt the most captivating of them all. Not only is it a mesmerising ballad – whereby Bernie Taupin’s romantic lyrics perfectly set in motion Christian and Satine’s forbidden love affair – but it also perfectly embodies the film’s repeated bohemian mantra of “truth, beauty, freedom and love”. Real life and song overlap in a moment and as McGregor repeatedly declares that “his gift is his song”, you can’t help but think, my word, what a magnificent song it is. James Wright

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AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)
‘GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD’

The inclusion of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ in David O. Russell’s awards-honoured flick, American Hustle – a story loosely based on the Abscam scandal that rocked the US in the late-1970s – elevates one of its otherwise mediocre scenes to one of its most memorable. As a podgy, syrup-topped Christian Bale and a curly-permed Bradley Cooper walk with their over-coiffed female counterparts, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, the tune takes over. Its use here is a touch of near-genius, concentrating our gaze on the era’s more laughable trends at the same time as creating a shift in tone from light and farcical to altogether more heavy, adding a paradoxical mix of comedy and drama that crystallises the film’s aspirations. KF

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Elton John is guest editor for Clash’s latest issue – click here to find out more.

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