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Retro rules as vinyl records make comeback

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John Cusack in High Fidelity.

The way vinyl records keep on popping up in films, it is no wonder the technology just won’t quite die.

Sequences where characters interact with the vinyl records have become shorthand for slowing down and taking the time to engage with the music, and usually quality music at that.

Okay, so maybe Hollywood is going a bit overboard with the way it turns everything, including collecting LPs, into a fetish as its rather analogue take on the world is threatened by digitisation, but there is still something compelling about vinyl.

In Oblivion the main character creates a little lakeside retreat, complete with wind power, books retrieved from odd places and vinyl records. Lots and lots of them like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and a record player to play Procol Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale.

The Oblivion soundtrack is even receiving a limited release on vinyl to complement the CD release (the score was written by M83), but it is the vinyl as it is played in the film that would interest the serious music collector.

This year’s Warm Bodies did it too – the zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) collects vinyl records and when he drags the pretty young girl to his lair, he tries to make her feel at home by playing his collection of 1980s power ballads.

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Sydney Poitier in Death Proof.

Which is different from what Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) do in Shaun of the Dead (2004) when they argue about which records to throw at the zombies to distract them. They consider tossing Prince’s Purple Rain and Sign o’ the Times and a Stone Roses album, but don’t. They do however, toss New Order’s Blue Mondays, some CD by Sade, a Dire Straits record and a Batman soundtrack.

While we all know that Quentin Tarantino’s fetish is women’s feet, his second favourite thing to show seems to be vinyl records. Death Proof (2007) would be point in case when the camera lovingly lingers over the interior of a jukebox which uses 45s. In that same film one of the characters even gives a girl a mix tape as a gift and you just know that when Tarantino reverts to this century for his next film, there’ll be a turntable in there somewhere.

Pam Grier got us all nostalgic when she talked about how she’d never get into CDs in Jackie Brown (1997) and there’s a character in there somewhere who listens to cassettes in his car.

Denzel Washington also went old school with his cassette playing nostalgic trips in last year’s Flight which made me wonder what happened to my dad’s old Pioneer amp.

Almost Famous (2000) actually opens with a shot of a vinyl record turning on a turntable, and goodness knows, there are some film fans out there who love picking over the continuity gaffes created by art directors who don’t pay attention to their vinyl history – like Miles Davis’s 1986 Tutu popping up in the 1950s period piece The Talented Mr Ripley (filmed in 2000).

Darren Aronofsky turned a three-minute sequence featuring a drum ’n’ bass track being played into a perfect way to portray a three-hour long scene in Requiem for a Dream (2000) and there’s a key sequence in Brighton Rock (2010) where the lead character makes use of a “make a record of your voice” deal.

One of the ultimate film homages to all things vinyl though, is probably High Fidelity (2000). John Cusack’s music geek spends most of his time in his store Championship Vinyl where he and his assistants make top five lists, drawing on their encyclopedic knowledge of music which puts Google to shame.

It took the film-makers ages to pick the music for the film, eventually settling on 1970 music cues from over 2 000 song choices.

If it was just a CD store though, would it have worked as well? Probably not. Simply compare the way Cusack and his musical moron twins (his shop assistants played by Jack Black and Todd Louiso) rifle through the records, versus the way Chris Pine handles the CD store scene with the teenager in last year’s People Like Us. You don’t remember the Pine scene, do you?

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