Movies and music have an important relationship. If used correctly, a film’s score can carry a cinematic work to higher artistic ground and capture viewer’s attention. Other times, a film’s aural accompaniment can just be, you know, some stock song from yesteryear that plays while Nicolas Cage boosts rare automobiles or some shit. Whatever end of the sonic spectrum a movie’s musical motivation is, filmmakers ever so occasionally look Milwaukee’s way to pair their visuals with some fitting sounds.
Few and far between as it occurs, we’ve rounded up 13+ times a Milwaukee band has found their work used in feature films. From M. Night Shymalan’s latest to Morgan Spurlock’s greatest…and a disappointing number of Rob Schneider vehicles, here are the 13 Milwaukee songs that went to the movies. (Editor’s note: Some of these also appear in a 2010 Milwaukee Magazine post I co-wrote.)
1. Sat. Nite Duets, “The Three Wisemen” — The Visit (2015)
The most recent instance of a Milwaukee-made song being used in a feature might be the most impressive. Sure, M. Night Shyamalan has churned out some serious dog shit after Unbreakable, but he’s appeared to return to form with The Visit. After Sat. Nite Duets’ label shopped their music around a bit, “The Three Wisemen” landed a sonic supporting role in Shyamalan’s just-released work of chilling octogenarian oddity. While the band’s inclusion in the film isn’t quite sending them to a higher tax bracket, they appreciate the opportunity have their music heard by a wider audience. Plus, now their parents have something nice to write about them in this year’s Christmas card.
2-4. New Sense, “What If I Get Sick,” “Sticks And Stones,” “Give A Smile” — Fifty Pills (2006)
Holy Shit, does Fifty Pills ever suck! This “comedy” about a student’s foray into drug dealing almost assuredly didn’t even come close to recouping its $250,000 budget. However, the predictable 83-minute abomination did feature Kristen Bell, small roles from Jane Lynch and the guy who played Finch on American Pie, as well as a decent musical score that featured a Milwaukee band. As Darren struggles to sell off his 50-pill stash, songs from a short-lived Citizen King and Decibully side project called New Sense play. At least there was some sweet sounds to accompany the dumb things the dozens of paying viewers were subjected to seeing.
5. Decibully, “Megan & Magill” — The Puffy Chair (2005)
A lesser known detail about writer, actor, and director Mark Duplass is that prior to starring in The League and refining the “mumblecore” movement in low-budget filmmaking with his brother Jay, he was in a marginally successful indie rock band called Volcano, I’m Still Excited! The Brooklyn (by way of Austin) band wound up on Polyvinyl Records near the end of its brief run, the same label Milwaukee’s own Decibully was on at the time. Naturally, when it came time for the Duplass brothers to make their breakout, 2005’s The Puffy Chair, Mark wanted to use his label mates’ and tour buddies’ rowdy “Megan & Magill” in the score. His character also directly references Decibully early on in the film.
6-7. The Promise Ring, “Say Goodbye Good” — All The Real Girls (2003); “Happy Hour” — White Oleander (2002)
Sometimes the method used to select music for use in film seems as basic as 1. Finding a good song. 2. Making sure that song has lyrics or a title that’s loosely related to that film’s plot. Case in point: The 2002 Michelle Pfeiffer and Renée Zellweger foster care drama White Oleander opting to include the disproportionately peppy “Happy Hour” in its final cut. With plot-specific lyrics like “Where are we living now?” it sort of made sense. The Promise Ring’s “Say Goodbye Good” also plays while the credits of All The Real Girls—an unheralded drama starring Zooey Deschanel and Paul Schneider (in his first of two roles in a movie with “Real Girl” in the title)—roll.
8. Citizen King, “Better Days (And The Bottom Drops Out)” — Gone In Sixty Seconds (2000)
Despite kicking around for a decade, genre-blending Milwaukee rap-rockers Citizen King only managed one top 40 blip in their lengthy run. Even if “Better Days (And The Bottom Drops Out)” is no longer privy to regular radio rotation, the song’s identifiable theme makes Citizen King’s single ideal for use in bad movies…particularly montages wherein the protagonist is struggling with life, for he/she has truly seen better days. It was part of Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie car-theft thriller Gone In Sixty Seconds, among other works of cinema where this doesn’t happen.
9. Coo Coo Cal, “My Projects” — The Animal (2000)
Maybe someone involved with selecting The Animal’s music spent some significant time in Milwaukee. In addition to Citizen King’s inclusion in one of Rob Schneider’s best efforts (that somehow still manages to be dreadful), our city’s biggest mainstream rapper to this point got some airplay in the process. Coo Coo Cal’s single semi-hit was also included on the film’s soundtrack.
10-13. Violent Femmes, “Color Me Once” — The Crow (1994); “Blister In The Sun” — Gross Point Blank (1997); “No More Heroes” — Mystery Men (1999); “Fat” — Super Size Me (2004)
As much as they debate their status as a Milwaukee band, the fact that Violent Femmes at least started in our city greatly increases the pedigree of Milwaukee’s movie music. The beloved trio had their dour “Color Me Once” on The Crow, and their beloved “Blister In The Sun” used in the John Cusack classic Grosse Point Blank. The Femmes have also had music featured in and/or on the soundtracks of subversive Ben Stiller hero comedy Mystery Men; Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me; South Park: Bigger, Longer, And Uncut (soundtrack only); a brief cameo in Benchwarmers; and a smattering of other low budget vehicles.