A Brief History of Radiohead at the Movies – The Dissolve

A few months after the turn of the millennium, unrecognizable new Radiohead recordings were uploaded to Napster, the first songs from the band’s then-unreleased fourth album crackling across the crude peer-to-peer service like scattered transmissions from a distant alien planet. Around that same time, the band’s official website was reborn as a random series of white slides and black text, each of which contained its own uniquely cryptic message. Buried in the seemingly endless parade of pages was one that read:

“every bad act
is stored on a magnetic tape
which we retain. kept in a secret vault
and evaluated
repeated and repeated with your code name
at the top of the file.
to be reviewed at your departure
for the pearly gates.” 

In November of 2006, during a webcast recorded from England’s Maida Vale studios, Radiohead lead singer and dominant persona Thom Yorke sat at a piano and plunked out a spartan ballad called “Videotape,” which began with the lyrics, “When I’m at the pearly gates, this’ll be on my videotape.” The song would eventually find a home as the closing track on Radiohead’s 2007 album, In Rainbows, but neither in the seven years between its conception and its recording, nor in the seven years since, has Yorke confirmed that “Videotape” was inspired by After Life, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 humanistic masterpiece about a bureaucratic way station for the recently departed. In the spartan and serene rooms of the film’s heavenly office, the dead are instructed to select a single memory from their lives. At the end of one week’s time, the subjects each star in a filmed re-creation of their chosen moment, disappearing into that perfect scene for all eternity. 

Odds are that Yorke will never confirm the inspiration. The general affability of the band’s members is always subsumed by the mercurial genius of their frontman, and longtime Radiohead fans are keenly aware that you’d sooner get an original-sounding song out of Chris Martin than you would a straight answer out of Thom Yorke. The truth of the matter is ultimately irrelevant, but the possible connection between Kore-eda’s film and Radiohead’s song nevertheless hints at the answer to a different set of questions altogether: Why isn’t the band’s music used in movies very often, and why is it almost never used well?