Dark Side of the Rainbow

By Dave Kopel

Relix magazine in 1997. More by Kopel on popular culture.

How many movies for which Pink Floyd wrote the soundtrack can you name? And don’t count movies actually made by Pink Floyd, such as The Wall. Until recently, only the most dedicated Floydians could name even one Floyd soundtrack on someone else’s movie. (Let’s All Make Love in London, The Committee, More, Zabriskie Point [on which the Grateful Dead also appear], and The Valley.) But now, two much more famous movies are being mentioned: 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Wizard of Oz.

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters said that his “greatest regret” was not having composed the soundtrack for 2001. The director of 2001, Stanley Kubrick, said that his main regret about the movie was not having Pink Floyd do the soundtrack.

But perhaps Waters did compose a soundtrack for 2001. Most of 2001is a normal, somewhat artsy, science fiction movie. But not the last 23 minutes, the segment titled “To Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.” Then, astronaut Dave Bowman finds the mysterious black monolith floating near Jupiter; his spacecraft is drawn into the monolith, and he spends the rest of the movie in a hallucinatory sequence with faster-than-light space travel, seeing himself as an old man, and his rebirth as a starchild. On Pink Floyd’s album Meddle, side 2, “Echoes”, runs 23 minutes, and works just about perfectly as a soundtrack for TJABTI.

To do this at home, pause 2001 when the screen is black, just before the title “To Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” appears. Start “Echoes” while unpausing the film, and enjoy the ride.

But the Pink Floyd soundtrack that’s been getting the most attention—including reports on National Public Radio, Good Morning America, and MTV, and articles in Entertainment Weekly and USA Today—is Dark Side of the Moon, which folks are playing as a soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. This odd combination has been around for many years, but broke into the mainstream when a Boston DJ began hyping it last spring.

Here’s how to do it: Start Dark Side of the Moon after the MGM lion has finished his third roar. (Some persons prefer to start after the first or the second roars.)

You’ll know that you got things right if you hit the first “synchronicity” (a term coined by the psychologist Carl Jung, for meaningful coincidence): as Dorothy balances precariously on the fence enclosing the pig sty, the vocals are “balanced on the biggest wave.” The next major synchronicity is the jangling bells from “Time” accompanying Elvira Gulch’s arrival on bicycle.

Some soundtrack matches are easy to spot. For example, when the scene shifts to show Dorothy headed down the road, running away from home, we hear, “no one told you where to run.”

Others are more subtle. While Dorothy gazes skyward during “Over the Rainbow,” airplanes fly over. During “Us and Them,” good witch Glinda holds her wand like a guitar, and her left hand looks like it’s playing the guitar lead.

Indeed, the coincidences for “Us and Them”, played during Dorothy’s first encounter with the Wicked Witch of the West, are especially strong: “Forward he cried,” as Dorothy turns to face forward; “Black, black, black” as the Wicked Witch arrives, and then “blue, blue, blue” for the reaction shot of Dorothy, who is wearing a checkered blue dress.

The Wicked Witch confronts Dorothy on a platform during “up, up, up,” and she turns and stalks down the stairs for “down, down, down.”

Good witch Glinda, having floated in with “Don’t give me any of that do-goody, good bullshit,” departs to “out, out, out.”

While the lyric matches are fun, most viewers find the musical accompaniment more powerful. The guitar jam of “Great Gig in the Sky” fits powerfully with tornado sequence; the woman wailing suddenly calms down, just as panicked Dorothy is hit on the head with a window frame and falls unconscious.

Characters sometimes dance to the Dark Side beat, and song changes or transitions match scene shifts, none more impressively than the move from part one of the movie (black and white, in Kansas), to part two (vivid color, in Oz). Just as the scene changes, “Money” (side 2 of the album), kicks in, and the camera begins to survey the surrealistic greenery of Munchkinland.

The cover of Dark Side, by the way, has a similar transition, with a prism changing a white line into a colorful rainbow. And the back side of the album changes the rainbow back to monochrome, just as the movie ends in black and white, with Dorothy’s return to Kansas. Wizard was the first film to use Technicolor, a heavily advertised fact at the time. The first three lines of "Money" are "Money, get away; Get a good job with more pay and you're O.K.; Money it's a gas." The first letter of these three lines is MGM, which happens to the be name of the studio that produced Wizard of Oz.

Some song titles fit the action, including “The Great Gig in the Sky” (the tornado), and “Brain Damage” (Dorothy meets the brainless scarecrow).

There’s much, much more, right up till the end of album, when Dorothy puts her ear to the Tin Man’s chest, while the album plays the sound of a loud beating heart. (For a full list of what people have noticed so far, visit one of the websites devoted to Dark Side of the Rainbow, such as:

Every time you watch, you see something new.

What to do next, now that you’ve got 60% of the movie left, and Dark Sides over? One school of thought says to just keep playing Dark Side(1.5 more times) until the movie ends. This yields some fun results, including “Home, home again,” with Dorothy back in her bedroom.

The other theory says to set up your CD changer so that Animals follows Dark Side. After that, play either side one of The Wall or side one of Meddle(start with the second song on side one), or Wish You Were Here.

Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright and Dark Side recording engineer Alan Parsons insist that the whole thing is a coincidence. Assuming that Wright and Parsons aren’t lying (and why would they lie?), the theory that all the matches are intentional depends on Roger Waters, Floyd’s creative genius, concealing everything from the rest of the band, and keeping it secret for the next three decades.

Even if Waters had been so inclined, it would have been impossible for him to do it alone. For instance, “The Great Gig in the Sky” was written entirely by Richard Wright; Waters could not have created the song for the tornado scene. Much of Dark Side evolved from jams during the 1972 tour, which precludes the possibility that the songs were created to fit the movie.

And here’s the final proof: Dark Side works great with Wizard in the CD version, but not on vinyl, which is the format in which Dark Side  was originally produced (CDs having not been invented yet). The CD version of Dark Side cuts 17 seconds from the fadeout of “Great Gig in the Sky,” and these 17 seconds make all the difference. With the 17 seconds from the vinyl added back in, “Money” wouldn’t start when Dorothy steps into Oz, and none of the amazing coincidences during “Us and Them” would take place.

Pink Floyd—like Yes, The Who, Phish, and the good old Grateful Dead—makes the kind of music that could match up with all kinds of visually rich movies, such as Alice in Wonderland, or nature films.

In the discussion threads on the Dark Side of the Rainbow websites, some folks report that rather than starting Dark Side at the beginning of the movie, they play it when the house lands on the witch; they say that these starts yield all kinds of coincidences. That so many beginning times appear to “work” reinforces the conclusion that Floydian albums create their own synchronicities.

Does the fact that Dark Side wasn't composed with an eye on Oz make the album any less enjoyable as a soundtrack for the movie? I don’t think so. The very definition of synchronicity is that the two events are meaningfully related even though there is no causal relationship between the two. The Wizard of Oz is the most popular film in the world, and Dark Side of the Moon is the most classic of classic rock (over 10 years on the Billboard top 100!). That a wonderful film from 1939 and a brilliant album from 1973 can enrich each other in 1997 shows just how powerful synchronicity can be. As Dark Side concludes, “Everything under the sun is in tune.”

Addendum from 2002: The more you watch, the more you see. If you let Dark Side of the Moon cycle for the whole movie, "you raise the blade" is sung precisely as a scythe is raised while the three men (Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion) wrestle with the Witch's guards. As Dorothy and the Wizard prepare to leave on the balloon, the ominous music from "Time" recurs; the first time, the music coincided with Elvira Gulch's taking of Toto; the recurrence of the music matches Toto leaping out of the balloon, once again leading Dorothy on a journey she never expected. The music from Dorothy's first meeting with Professor Marvel comes around again as she awakens, and Professor Marvel reappears.

Yet the real power of Dark Side of the Rainbow is the emotional tone of the music. Watching with some friends recently, I asked them why Judy Garland had become such a gay icon. "Desperation" was the answer. Throughout the movie, Dorothy's anxiety is underscored by the despair of Dark Side of the Moon.

One definition of Carl Jung's "synchronicity" is the "a causal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially." One might ascribe the beautiful mesh of Wizard and Dark Side to mere randomness. Skeptics are free to dismiss Dark Side of the Rainbow as merely another example of "the blind watchmaker" -- the thesis that the complexity of life has no independent, intentional cause. Personally, though, I see Dark Side of the Rainbow as another example of how art can transcend the artist's intentions, and of how immanence is all around us, if only we will take the time to notice.

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