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Angelo Badalamenti Retrospective

Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema looked back at the career of the late film composer Angelo Badalamenti.

Angelo Badalamenti was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1937. He attended the Eastman School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music and then worked for five years as a music teacher while performing as a pianist. Badalamenti established himself as a songwriter and orchestrator for many popular performers and he collaborated with David Bowie, Paul McCartney, The Pet Shop Boys, Michael Jackson, Nina Simone, Marianne Faithfull, and Liza Minelli among many others. He also composed the fanfare for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Badalamenti died in December 2022.

Badalamenti’s film music is interesting in that his body of work possesses a distinct sound but he employed various techniques with some music performed on an electronic keyboard and others written for a full orchestra. With a few exceptions, Badalamenti’s music often accompanied dark or violent subject matter. His music complemented the visuals but the ethereal qualities also suggested mystery.

Badalamenti’s most significant working relationship was with David Lynch. Their first collaboration was on one of Lynch’s signature films, 1986’s Blue Velvet. The film starred Kyle MacLachlan as a naïve young suburbanite who finds a severed human ear which leads him into a seedy underworld. The film’s signature song is “Mysteries of Love.” Badalamenti wrote the music and Lynch wrote the lyrics. The song was performed by Julee Cruise. “Mysteries of Love” was such a success that Badalamenti, Lynch, and Cruise collaborated on the 1989 album Floating into the Night and songs from that album would be used in some of Lynch’s later projects.

Another of Angelo Badalamenti’s major collaborations with David Lynch was the television series Twin Peaks which ran for two seasons on ABC starting in 1989. The show was one of the early instances of serialized storytelling on primetime television and Twin Peaks inspired an intense fan following that continues to this day. The feature film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released in 1992. Twin Peaks was revived for a third season that aired on Showtime in 2017. Angelo Badalamenti scored the television series and the film and the music from Twin Peaks is one of the enduring television scores.

Another notable Angelo Badalamenti-David Lynch collaboration was 1997’s Lost Highway. This film may be David Lynch’s most inscrutable project (and that is saying something) but like a lot of the director’s work it has attracted a passionate following. Lost Highway had one of the most remarkable soundtrack albums of the 1990s. Angelo Badalamenti took the lead with an original score. Other music was provided by Barry Adamson, Trent Reznor, The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, and David Bowie.

One of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s most unusual collaborations, insofar as it is out of character with the rest of their shared filmography, is 1999’s The Straight Story. Based on true events, Richard Farnsworth plays a farmer who drove a John Deere lawn tractor from Iowa to Wisconsin in an effort to reach his ailing brother. The film is realistically styled and emotionally warm and Lynch and Badalamenti adjusted their techniques to fit the material.

One of David Lynch’s most celebrated films is 2001’s Mulholland Drive and Angelo Badalamenti again provided the music. The film is a surreal noir story of an aspiring actress who arrives in Los Angles and investigates a car collision. Mulholland Drive was named the best film of the decade by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Cahiers du cinéma, IndieWire, Slant Magazine, and Reverse Shot and the 2022 Sight and Sound poll placed Mulholland Drive among the top ten films ever made.

Angelo Badalamenti’s film career is most distinguished by his work with David Lynch but he scored other notable films as well. Among them, Badalamenti created the music for Danny Boyle’s 2000 film The Beach, 2002’s Secretary, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, 2013’s Stalingrad, and the theme for the television show Behind the Actor’s Studio.  

Badalamenti also created the original score for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. It was a fitting assignment. Dream Warriors transitioned the Nightmare on Elm Street series away from the slasher genre and toward surreal fantasy and Badalamenti’s score complemented the new approach.

Angelo Badalamenti collaborated with French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet on a couple of films. The first was 1995’s The City of Lost Children, a sci-fi fantasy about a scientist who kidnaps children to steal their dreams in the hope of slowing the aging process. Badalamenti and Jenuet collaborated again on 2004’s A Very Long Engagement, a romantic film about a woman’s search for her husband who disappeared on the battlefield during World War I.