Baby Driver – “Chained to The Rhythm”

Posted 26 July 2017 about Baby Driver.

baby driver

“Puts Baby Driver in the fast lane” was how The Guardian fittingly phrased it in 2014 when Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright named the car chase film as his next project. An all-American heist movie set in Atlanta, literally driven by an eclectically frenetic jukebox soundtrack (or more appropriately, an iPod playlist), Baby Driver is in many ways the purest expression of Wright’s idiosyncratic approach to filmmaking. The story of an adept young getaway driver called ‘Baby’, who soundtracks his heists to music as Busby Berkeley choreographed dance numbers in the 1930s, Baby Driver is a film where cinematic sound and vision are inextricably chained together. With Baby Driver, Wright has done something extraordinary: making a motion picture that lovingly plays the twelve-bar blues magic of cinematic images and sounds, whilst making you laugh and thrill to the grinding gears of the chase, all to the beat of The Damned.

Wright first described Baby Driver as a “homage” to the holy trinity of ‘90s heist flicks, these being Michael Mann’s Heat, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break. However, just as much can be said of Baby Driver as being a film infused with the energy of the great ‘90s “Road Movies” - Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and even Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, which in fact aren’t Road Movies at all in the classic sense. They are free-wheeling spiritual successors, famous for their music, often playing it in the background, with rock n’ roll structures and tempo. Like Kowalski on the Great American Road in Vanishing Point, these are films that rarely pause for reflection amidst all the excitement. Yet they do still stop occasionally. Baby Driver however, never stops. It only changes track.

There is rarely a silent moment in the film. In between the constant tunes from the likes of Focus, Simon and Garfunkel, T-Rex and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the audience is both hit and caressed by extraordinary degrees of sound. The blare of car horns, the screech of tyres, the clinking of glass, the shouts of pedestrians are all placed and timed by Wright with characteristic wit and precision. When Baby is occasionally deprived of his music - which he listens to constantly on earphones - Steven Price’s orchestral score enters the mix and even beneath that we can hear the high violin-whine of Baby’s tinnitus, the condition which causes him initially to listen to music in an attempt to drown it out. The sound of silence is music to Baby that he can never hear and thus, neither do we. One memorable sequence in which Baby - on the run, cast adrift and separated from his beloved iPod - is found checking his pulse, if only for some sort of pounding beat to move to, some rhythm to latch onto.

Baby is someone who is effectively experiencing a workplace nightmare: trapped in a world resplendent with people the likes of whom he wishes he could avoid and escape. He is a getaway driver driven by music, but à la Peter Parker he is also driven by guilt: seeing innocent people hurt on his watch by the criminals he shepherds out of danger. He is chained to the world he inhabits, with nowhere to run as the so-titled Martha and the Vandellas’ song reminds him, en route to even more shady, crooked dealings. This is part of the cleverness of Wright’s placement of songs in the movie - the way in which they subtly comment on the characters as well as scoring the physical action. Whilst watching the film, notice the second chase scene set to ‘Neat Neat Neat’ by The Damned, in particular the lyrics “Be a man, can a mystery man…” and see the masks the thieves are wearing. Who is that and which famous franchise did he lead? Or during the foot chase, note the use of ‘Hocus Pocus’ by Focus and the sense of explosive ill-fortune it creates. The presence of storm clouds and rain, Jon Hamm’s calling Baby “a f***ing Jinx!”, the same lens constantly getting knocked out of Baby’s trademark shades, knocking him off-balance, off-track. Or perhaps most appropriately, how Beck’s ‘Debra’ pre-empts the date Baby takes Deborah, the film’s love-interest on:

“I pick you up late at night after work,

I said lady, step inside my Hyundai.

I’m gonna take you up to Glendale,

gonna take you for a real good meal.”

Baby is, as his name suggests, a tabula rasa – a blank slate - defined and informed by the music and sensory input he receives from the world. As the film progresses, the more information he absorbs and the more he grows, making the move from rubber-burning id to responsible, accepting adult. This information takes the form of music and movies, paralleling the way Wright himself as creator was influenced by Walter Hill’s 1978 The Driver, Peter Yates’s seminal Bullitt of ’68 and John Landis’s The Blue Brothers (1980) when crafting his opus.

Many have described Baby Driver as an ‘action musical’ but that label fails to sum up sufficiently the movie’s fusion of image and sound. In a musical, emotions spontaneously erupt out in melody and verse, with characters unabashedly hijacking story to give form and voice to their personal narratives. In Baby Driver a different, more co-dependent relationship exists: neither sound nor visual exist without the other. Like strands of DNA joined at the hip, this final filmic helix is completely reflected in the characters, car chases, the hard-line editing, balletic choreography and reigning Americana slickness. Following in the footsteps of Peter Yates and John Boorman - great British directors who worked Stateside - it is apparent that Edgar Wright with his latest has truly come into his own as a filmmaker. From the youthful playfulness of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he has made a considered, serious addition to the canon of American car chase films whilst also being a potent celebration of the same and a love-letter to filmmaking in general. A car movie for the GTA and iTunes generation, Baby Driver leaves you all shook up in the dust, tapping your feet to the rhythm as you accelerate away from the cinema, truly putting the pedal to the metal.

Billy Barnell

Billy works as a CSA (customer service assistant) at the Showroom and has a passion for film!Read more posts by Billy Barnell

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