"When I cut the chase in The French Connection... I used a track from Santana called Black Magic Woman. I cut that whole chase scene to Black Magic Woman. I didn't put any music in it in the picture. There's not a note of music in the chase. I just cut it to that tempo. There's like nice, sliding, long sort of guitar trills and licks and the thing sort of moved along nice to that and then there's some hard stuff and it slows down. But I had Black Magic Woman in mind when I shot that scene. The final cutting of it really happened out of a number of shots in that chase scene."
So says William Friedkin describing the editing process of the famous car chasing train scene in The French Connection. I was curious how the scene would play out with the song Black Magic Woman played underneath. I searched the tubes and came up empty so I grabbed the DVD, cued up Black Magic Woman, cut the two together and came up with the video below. I made no attempt at editing music cues to correspond with the action, I simply have the song playing underneath the scene. I begin the song and the scene as Gene Hackman descends the steps from the train platform as this is where the DVD begins the chapter for the chase. Interestingly, at about 4:36 an abrupt guitar chord directly accompanies the woman with the baby stroller suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
But this was more than just a simple music video experiment. I watched the scene about three times with the music and began to understand how Friedkin could have gotten a feel for the tempo and atmosphere provided by the song for the scene. As the song closes the guitar becomes more frenetic in synch with the chase in Friedkin's head. It develops a build-up that seems appropriate. But more than this, it underlines how the artistic process is a difficult thing to understand much less to explain. I myself have cut together film with tempos and rhythms in my head and had an exacting idea of how I wanted something to look and feel. When asked by someone during the process I invariably fail to explain it adequately and they shake their head and say they just don't see it. Then when the work is done and the results can be seen it looks obvious to everyone. "Now I see what you were talking about," is usually the response.
And outside of film how many times have people written or painted or crafted anything and everything to music? The music itself may not be a part of the finished product but it was there during the making, the creating, the crafting and thus becomes a part of the finished result if only indirectly. I myself don't usually play music while writing but I am constantly playing a song or a piece in my head during the process. That way, unlike listening to it, I can repeat a refrain or verse over and over in my head until the rhythm of the piece demands I move on.
Below is the video I put together from the movie. The only edit occurred due to the fact that the song in about 90 seconds shorter than the chase so I simply took the last ninety seconds of the song and repeated it for the last 90 seconds of the chase which provided a nice finale on the steps, cued to the music.
Part Two will explore how a soundtrack can make the mood, or destroy it.