Pairing movies with folklore songs

This is absolutely nothing like the usual post I write, but ever since Taylor Swift released her surprise album folklore I have been so inspired by it, aesthetically, lyrically, and sonically. It’s one of those rare albums that makes you want to create more art inspired by it, and I love that! The perfect quarantine album release.

See, I even made a folklore-inspired wallpaper pattern

I had already made a playlist pairing each folklore song with another song it reminds me of, and as I’ve listened to the album in the car on repeat, the songs started to remind me of movies as well. So I thought it would be fun to do a movie recommendation list (since I’ve been on a major movie-watching kick this year) of films that I have really enjoyed that match the tone or story themes of each song. Like my own buzzfeed-esque listicle. Before we start, here’s the corresponding movie recommendation list and honorable mentions list on IMDb so you can easily check out any movie that piques your interest while you read, and believe me, this was all a labor of love and a couple months in the making.

Plus, I’m very excited to have my cousin Theresa as a guest writer on this article! There were a couple songs I was stuck on that I knew she’d have some great movie picks for, so I asked her if she would like to help me out and she definitely delivered. Thanks Tree! Her picks are noted at the beginning of their descriptions, and be sure to also check her out at healthtreeliving. Now, without further ado…

If you like the 1, try watching La La Land

La La Land (2016) is the perfect film to go with leading track “the 1,” as they share the theme of passionate relationships fated to burn bright for a time, then come to an inevitable end. The classic “one that got away” that will be looked back on fondly despite knowing it wasn’t meant to be. (Theresa and I both love this movie, so consider it doubly recommended if you still haven’t seen it!)

Lyric: In my defense, I have none / For digging up the grave another time / But it would’ve been fun / If you would’ve been the one

Movie Quote:I’m always gonna love you.” “I’m always gonna love you, too.

Honorable Mention: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

If you like cardigan, try watching Splendor in the Grass

I watched Splendor in the Grass (1961) the day after folklore was released, and I couldn’t help but think this movie fit some of the vibes of the album pretty well. The poem that the movie’s title comes from is by William Wordsworth, whom Taylor happens to reference with a play on words in the lyrics of “the lakes” so maybe I’m not far off with this classic recommendation. It’s a film about teenage first love in a culture of repressed emotions that drives the protagonists to heartbreak and mental breakdown.

Lyric: A friend to all is a friend to none / Chase two girls, lose the one / When you are young, they assume you know nothing

Movie Quote: “I saw the way you were looking at her.”

If you like the last great american dynasty, try watching It Happened One Night

Taylor’s storytelling in her lyrics is on point in this album especially. Several of these songs could practically be adapted into movies of their own, especially this one, which is heavily based on the true story of Rebekah Harkness, the previous owner of Taylor’s Holiday House in RI. But after recently rewatching It Happened One Night (1934), I thought it could make a good pairing for this song. Having just eloped with a fortune-hunting aviator, twenty-something heiress Ellie Andrews runs away from her controlling father, intent on traveling to New York to reunite with her new husband. After missing the bus and losing her luggage, however, she finds herself stuck with journalist Peter Warne, who agrees to help her get to New York in exchange for exclusive rights to report her story.

Lyric: And they said / There goes the last great American dynasty / Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been / There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen

Movie Quote: “He despises everything about me. He says that I’m spoiled and selfish and pampered and thoroughly insincere.”

If you like exile, try watching Merrily We Go to Hell

I randomly caught Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) on TCM as part of their “Women Make Film” feature series, and it immediately drew me in. The main characters are so sweet together in their private moments, but their relationship begins to deteriorate when one’s alcoholism and discontent drives a wedge between them, leading to desperate, mismatched attempts at communication before things begin to fall apart. Its ending is not all the way happy but not all the way sad, and the plot fits well with the lyrics of this song.

Lyric: I couldn’t turn things around (You never turned things around) / ‘Cause you never gave a warning sign (I gave so many signs)

Movie Quote: “If you love me, you’ll lock that door so that I can’t get out.” “I’m no jailer.”

If you like my tears ricochet, try watching Black Girl

I’m trying to include some lesser-known/unexpected film choices here and the lyrics of “my tears ricochet” reminded me of the main character’s inner dialogue in the film Black Girl (1966). Diouana is a young Senegalese woman who dreams of a better life in France, until she takes the opportunity to work for a French family as a maid/nanny and finds her freedom restricted, her pride wounded, and her spirit wilting in a new country away from her family and friends where she does not feel wanted or respected. The following lyric fits so specifically with the end of the film in my opinion, but I won’t spoil it.

Lyric: I didn’t have it in myself to go with grace / And you’re the hero flying around, saving face

Movie Quote:She’ll not lie to me again. Never will she lie to me again. She wanted to keep me here as her slave.

Honorable Mention: Vertigo, Laura

If you like mirrorball, try watching Clueless

I know older movies aren’t everyone’s favorite thing (why not though? 🙂 ), so I’ll throw in another more modern classic with Clueless (1995). Mirrorball might be my favorite song on folklore, or at least it made the strongest impression on first listen, and Clueless is a movie that makes a pretty endearing impression in my opinion. Plus the dreamy quality of the song just makes me think of throwbacks to ’90s teen movies. Teenager Cher Horowitz seems like she’s got it all figured out, but between trying to be a matchmaker, mentoring the new girl, learning how to drive, negotiating her grades, attempting to impress the new guy, annoying her ex-stepbrother…she realizes she’s been trying so hard at everything that she keeps missing the point, and has to admit to herself that she might actually be clueless.

Lyric: I’ve never been a natural, all I do is try, try, try / I’m still on that trapeze / I’m still trying everything to keep you looking at me

Movie Quote: “She’s a full-on Monet.” “What’s a Monet?” “It’s like the paintings, see? From far away it’s okay, but up close, it’s a big old mess.”

Honorable Mention: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Circus

If you like seven, try watching My Neighbor Totoro

Seven is such a bittersweet and wholesome song about a childhood friendship. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) is one of the sweetest films about childhood I’ve seen. Two sisters, Satsuki and Mei, move to a new house in the country with their father to be closer to their mother who is convalescing from an illness in a nearby hospital. The girls are eager to explore their new home, and eventually meet the friendly forest spirits that live in the woods near their house, Totoros, who come to the girls’ aid when Mei runs away one afternoon and gets lost.

Lyric: Please picture me in the trees / I hit my peak at seven

Movie Quote: “Well, I’m not sure, but I could’ve sworn that I saw both of the girls up in the treetop, laughing.”

Honorable Mention: When Marnie Was There, A Little Princess

If you like august, try watching 500 Days of Summer

For “august” it was only natural to think of 500 Days of Summer (2009). Both the song and the film recount relationships in which the protagonist is in love and only in hindsight realizes that the object of their affection was never really in love with them in return, only an on-again-off-again fling that they were initiating most of the time. Is that a spoiler? I haven’t watched this film in years but I’m pretty sure its plot trajectory is not exactly a secret, I mean the first line or so of the film is something like, “this is not a love story.”

Lyric: So much for summer love and saying “us” / ‘Cause you weren’t mine to lose

Movie Quote:I just woke up one day and I knew.” “Knew what?” “What I was never sure of with you.

If you like this is me trying, try watching Ordinary People

(THERESA’S PICK:) This is one of my favorite movies, and it pairs so beautifully with one of my favorite Taylor Swift songs. The film follows the life of a boy named Conrad, following his older brother Buck’s death. Conrad struggles with depression and attempts suicide, feeling the weight of guilt about not only his brother, but also not feeling good enough for his family. I love the raw emotions in this movie, you can’t help but put yourself into the family’s shoes because to some extent, we have all felt many of the emotions they are going through. The emotions that come with loss, not feeling understood, not being good enough, or just feeling broken. Be prepared to cry when you watch this movie, but in a very cathartic way.

Lyric: They told me all of my cages were mental / So I got wasted like all my potential / And my words shoot to kill when I’m mad / I have a lot of regrets about that

Movie Quote: “Why did you do it?” “Uh… I don’t know. It was like… falling into a hole. It keeps getting bigger and bigger and you can’t escape. All of a sudden, it’s inside… and you’re the hole. You’re trapped. And it’s all over. Something like that. It’s not really scary… except when you think back on it. ‘Cause you know what you were feeling.”

Honorable Mention: Dead Poets Society

If you like illicit affairs, try watching The Apartment

The Apartment (1960) is one of my top favorites and a natural pick for a song about “illicit affairs.” It concerns a NYC insurance company clerk, Bud Baxter, who begins lending his apartment to the executives for their extramarital affairs when he realizes it could help him climb the corporate ladder. However, things become complicated as his personal life starts to get stepped all over in the process, especially after a particularly eventful Christmas Eve. It may not sound like much, but it’s funny and heartbreaking in equal measures, and while this song isn’t necessarily one of my top favorites, this movie is one I highly recommend.

Lyric: And that’s the thing about illicit affairs / And clandestine meetings and stolen stares / They show their truth one single time / But they lie and they lie and they lie

Movie Quote: “The mirror… it’s broken.” “Yes, I know. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel.”

Honorable Mention: The Graduate, Love in the Afternoon

If you like invisible string, try watching Amélie

Invisible string is one of my favorites from folklore, so it’s only natural that it pairs well with my favorite movie, Amélie (2001). Amélie Poulain is a shy young woman who serendipitously discovers a hidden tin full of childhood treasures in her apartment wall and decides to track down its owner. The outcome of her good deed inspires her to devise ways to brighten the lives of all the people she knows, while trying to find the courage to pursue her own happiness when she stumbles upon her potential soulmate and begins to fall in love.

Lyric: And isn’t it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?

Movie Quote: “When Amélie lacked playmates, Nino had too many. Five miles apart, they both dreamed of having a brother and sister to be with all the time.

Honorable mention: Whisper of the Heart

If you like mad woman, try watching Revolutionary Road

(THERESA’S PICK:) This film shows the viewer the intimacies of a seemingly-normal 1950’s couple. Although from the outside they seem to have their life perfectly planned out, the reality is that they are struggling to cope with the ensuing breakdown of their marriage. April (Kate Winslet) embodies the “mad woman” role by sticking up for her desires of living a more eventful life like they had originally planned. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) is fine with their “ordinary” life and, given that it is the 1950s, gets the last say. The rest of the film shows how April responds to that, which from the outside, may seem “crazy” or “mad”. I love this film for its realism, and raw emotions that make you feel like you are a fly on the wall of an actual couple’s house in the 1950s.

Lyric: Every time you call me crazy / I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry / I get more angry / And there’s nothin’ like a mad woman / What a shame she went mad

Movie Quote: “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t mind being completely insane.”

Honorable Mention: Atonement, Hunger Games: Catching Fire

If you like epiphany, try watching 1917

I know this song is inspired by Taylor’s grandfather’s war experiences with parallels drawn to healthcare workers in the current pandemic, but I can’t help but think Taylor must have also seen the recent film 1917 (2019). This song immediately reminded me of that movie, which was inspired by the director Sam Mendes’ grandfather’s war stories. During WWI, two young British soldiers are ordered to deliver an urgent message to a nearby regiment to call off an attack planned for the next morning, in order to avoid a strategic ambush by the German army. The mission seems futile, and they have very little time to make the dangerous journey.

Lyric: Only twenty minutes to sleep / But you dream of some epiphany / Just one single glimpse of relief / To make some sense of what you’ve seen

Movie Quote:I hoped today would be a good day. Hope is a dangerous thing.

If you like betty, try watching Dogfight

This song has the perfect awkward, naive, and earnest tone of being a teenager and the drama that can come with first love before either person knows what it takes to make a relationship work. There are a lot of great coming of age films that address this type of story, but a particular new favorite of mine is Dogfight (1991). Eddie Birdlace, an 18-year-old about to ship off to Vietnam in 1963, spends his last evening in San Francisco looking for an unattractive girl for a game with his fellow Marines called a “dogfight,” in which the one who finds the ugliest date wins prize money. He winds up with a shy young waitress named Rose, who soon finds out the truth of the situation from another woman at the party. Eddie has already started to realize his mistake in misjudging Rose and resolves to spend the rest of the night trying to make it up to her.

Lyric: The only thing I wanna do / Is make it up to you

Movie Quote: “You and me, against the pricks. Are you with me?”

If you like peace, try watching They Live by Night

Okay, so you know the classic Rebel Without a Cause? Well, They Live by Night (1948) is the debut film from the same director, and while I see the appeal of James Dean’s tragic legacy, I think this one deserves to be just as much of a classic. Its stars feel more like real people than actors, and you can’t help but root for their happiness even though their romance seems doomed from the start due to being on the run from the law. I love the world-weary but earnest hopefulness of both the characters in the movie and the lyrics of this song; “peace” could’ve practically been written based on the plot of this film.

Lyric: I never had the courage of my convictions / As long as danger is near / And it’s just around the corner, darlin’ / ‘Cause it lives in me / No, I could never give you peace

Movie Quote: “Say something happened to me…they can’t pin a thing in this world on you. The only wrong you ever did was to marry me.”

Honorable Mention: The Bourne Identity, Chocolat, Spider-Man 2

If you like hoax, try watching Three Colors: Blue

Another great film/song matchup. I’m sure there’s another Taylor Swift fan out there who has seen more movies than I have and could find five other solid options for every song, but from my own limited repertoire it’s been fun managing to dig up some good films with surprising ease for most of these songs. Three Colors: Blue (1993) is a very poignant film dealing with the main character’s complicated process of grief when she loses her husband and young daughter in a tragic car accident and has to find a way to keep going afterwards, while people from her past keep interrupting her attempts to numb and forget.

Lyric: Stood on the cliffside screaming, ”Give me a reason” / Your faithless love’s the only hoax I believe in / Don’t want no other shade of blue but you / No other sadness in the world would do

Movie Quote: “Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

If you like the lakes, try watching Moonrise Kingdom or A Room With a View

This one was a little more complicated, as I couldn’t really think of one single film that fit this song as well as some of the others, so I’m offering two equal recommendations (a bonus rec for the bonus track). A Room With a View (1985) is a sentimental movie for me, it’s beautiful and romantic, and takes place partially in England set in the early 1900s so it kind of fits the historic Lake District vibe/inspiration of this song, but is more lighthearted. Moonrise Kingdom on the other hand fits more of the “running away from society together” vibe of the song and shares similar atmospheric beauty, but still doesn’t quite match up in tone, as again it’s a pretty light and funny film, though each have their solemn or melancholy moments. At any rate, these are both great movies well worth watching.

Lyric: Take me to the Lakes where all the poets went to die / I don’t belong and, my beloved, neither do you

Movie Quote: “He doesn’t want you to be real, and to think and to live. He doesn’t love you. But I love you. I want you to have your own thoughts and ideas and feelings, even when I hold you in my arms.” (A Room With a View)

“We’re in love. We just want to be together. What’s wrong with that?” (Moonrise Kingdom)

Feel free to comment with your own suggestions for any of the songs if you thought of any alternates or similar films I should check out! I would love to hear your ideas, and I hope you paid some attention to the honorable mentions we listed, a few of them were pretty close seconds! Did you add any of these films to your watchlist? I definitely added Theresa’s picks to mine…thanks again, Tree. 🙂