Movie Dialogue Samples, Taste, and Historical Reception Practices

Curator's Note

Sampling movie dialogue, particularly from science fiction and horror films, was once a common practice within the various interrelated genres of popular electronic music, including hardcore rave, stadium house, and especially post- (or electro-) industrial music. One of the most direct uses of such samples was simply to provide a kind of readymade MC, as in Messiah’s “Temple of Dreams,” where Richard Dawson’s host from The Running Man becomes a dancefloor hype man:  “Who loves you, and who do you love?” In other cases the practice may serve a more programmatic function, as it does in Skinny Puppy’s “Rivers,” where samples from A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Fearless Vampire Killers create a narrative within the song.

Such sampling may no longer carry the same meanings and functions. Part of this is economic, as labels may not wish to pay clearances, nor to risk a cease-and-desist letter, but what I am most struck by is a shift in taste around this sampling practice. In a July 2010 interview in Wire magazine, Daniel Lopatin of the electronic act Oneohtrix Point Never described dialogue sampling as an antiquated “Gen X” practice, saying that “I couldn’t tell you a good way to sample movies anymore.” I agree:  I can’t imagine taking seriously a sample-heavy song like “Rivers” made today. Some forms of popular deconstruction are incredibly long-lived. How should we think about those which have, or will, go into decline? 

With this shift in taste, I fear a loss in historical memory crucial to our understanding of the reception of both films and music. I loved “Rivers”; it seemed an engaging and successful piece of music to me, and still does. As a teenager I used the samples in industrial music to help me decide what movies to rent, guided by the “Top Sample List,” a lengthy, haphazardly researched mostly-text document of the type which used to contain most of the internet’s information, and which existed both as a website and as a frequently recirculated posting on Usenet newsgroups like (The latest archived version I could find is accessible through the Wayback Machine at Like many such projects from this era, the "Top Sample List" is dead, and sites like do not archive the evidence for how communities of fans interacted with both these songs and movies. Yet, as the fan video of “Rivers” by radi0n suggests, this work has not ceased, despite the impermanence of the archive of its history.  


I appreciate Doles' point regarding the waning use of movie dialogue in music, although I would have liked them to mention the way this structure is deployed in hip hop, a genre that is built on sampling and remixing. In my classes, we talk about how the dialogue from The Mack (1973) is used through Dr. Dre's The Chronic (1992) and how the album simultaneoulsy acknowledges the role of this movie in Black American culture while also introducing new audiences a generation later to the film. I agree that movie dialogue is used less frequently today than it was decades ago, however, I think that the musicians, especially hip hop artists, continue to sample and remix dialogue from other media. Beyoncé's use of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TEDx talk in her song "Flawless" reveals that dialogue samples come from a larger body of work these days than just films, especially given the curator's comments on copyright - alternative sources may have less stakeholders that must be convinced. 

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