David Bowie: The Thin White Duke of Anachronism


A Knight’s Tale, starring the late Heath Ledger, is a love-it-or-hate it film. I fall in the “love” category–I thought it was well acted, clever, and, above all, charming beyond belief. Repeat viewings have only enhanced my appreciation.

One of the things those that fall into the “hate” category complain about is the film’s use of music. Rather than make some probably-futile attempt at recreating Medieval music, A Knight’s Tale instead sets its saga of action and romance to a soundtrack of 1970s (mostly) rock.

It is a bit jarring, upon first viewing, to see a crowd of rowdy peasants singing along with “We Will Rock You” as their favorite knights are about to joust. But it’s not a mere gimmick.

The scene that clues the audience in to what writer/director Brian Helgeland is up to is also perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie. To set the scene (very minor *spoiler*), the ill-born William (Ledger) is pretending to be a nobleman, and gets a chance to attend a dance with Lady Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon).

Not knowing how to dance, he has to fake it, with assistance from Jocelyn. As they begin to dance, the band strikes up period music. This music morphs into David Bowie’s “Golden Years” as the room takes up the dance.

The dancers aren’t hearing “Golden Years.” They’re hearing the period music, which would have had the same effect on their ears and feet as “Golden Years” has on ours. The jousting fans aren’t actually chanting “We Will Rock You,” but rather a fourteenth-century equivalent that we can never know.

(If the film clip gave you a hankering for the full-length version, you can listen to that here.)


Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Inglorious Basterds, also puts Bowie to memorable anachronistic use. The film’s soundtrack is mostly comprised of a score that references the period and Tarantino’s influences in making the film, but in one powerful, crucial sequence, he uses Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire.”

It’s a tremendously inspired creative choice. It will do to “Putting Out Fire” what some of Tarantino’s other films did to a number of obscure songs–be prepared to hear it a lot in the near future.

Why is David Bowie the go-to guy for anachronistic music? Was Tarantino inspired by A Knight’s Tale? I have no idea.


  • Technically, “Putting Out Fire” is “Cat People (Putting Out Fire).” It’s from the 1982 film Cat People starring Nastassja Kinski.
  • Bowie re-recorded “Putting Out Fire” for his hit 1983 album, Let’s Dance. It’s not nearly as good, but it does have Stevie Ray Vaughan on guitar for those of you who like Stevie Ray Vaughan. You can hear that version here.
  • My review of The Inglorious Bastards, the 1970s Italian war movie that inspired Inglorious Basterds, can be found here.

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