The Basement Vapes, Volume Nine: Spoiler Alert! Shadow Beats The Heat

Together again for the very first time, De Niro and Pacino get mixed up with DJ Shadow in the perfect movie trailer that never was. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers yells “Action!”

“I do what I do best. I take scores. You do what you do best. Try to stop guys like me.”

In tribute to the reunion of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Irishman, let’s recall the first time these two icons met face to face, cinematically. The year was 1995, the director was Michael Mann, and the movie was Heat. Yes, two decades earlier, both actors were in The Godfather Part II, but they were never onscreen at the same time. In Heat, however, the confrontation between these two outsized personas was precisely the point.

One cop. One robber. Not really that different from one another. Each with a backstory. Each with a team of macho minions. Both in fractured love relationships. Both totally consumed by their work. Two alpha dogs hurtling toward the inevitable collision of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. All of this is exemplified in the much-ballyhooed roadside diner scene where the duo trades lines mano a mano, sitting across the table from one another. Set in Los Angeles and based on a true story, the bank-heist film has a solid supporting cast including Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd and Jon Voight. If you’ve never seen Heat, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you how it ends. Hint: Two men enter, one man leaves.

What I will tell you is that in 1996, the year after Heat came out, DJ Shadow released Endtroducing….., his groundbreaking full-length debut. Shadow (Josh Davis) was an innovative hip-hop “bedroom composer” outside Sacramento who devised an astounding sonic experience entirely out of samples, mostly from old, forgotten vinyl. The entire LP is a headphone masterpiece and probably the first of its kind. Consider haunting album track “Stem/Long Stem/Transmission 2,” an elaborately constructed electro-chamber suite. The track stitches together obscure instrumental samples and urgent drum-machine flourishes with found dialogue interspersed. “Stem” presents an ominous synthetic world of sound with strong recurring motifs. It sustains a wide dramatic arc, demanding engagement and provoking an emotional response—kind of like a good movie.

Which brings us back to the cops and robbers. According to legend, back then DJ Shadow was in the U.K. when Mo’Wax label owner James Lavelle asked him to cough up a remix off of Endtroducing….. to help plug the record. Since Shadow was on the road and away from his immense record library, he had to make do with whatever source material was on hand, which apparently was the movie Heat. The net result, “Stem (Cops ‘N’ Robbers Mix)” takes the first movement of Shadow’s original track and transposes selected dialogue from Heat to highlight and embellish his dramatic vision.

As Shadow’s suspenseful soundclash unfolds, we’re introduced to the film’s two main protagonists and the inexorable fate that awaits them. Besides Al and Bobby’s frank exchange at the diner, there’s the set-up, the cop analysis and thwarted pursuit, the big bank heist and, of course, the climactic conclusion. Shorn of the film’s side-trips and entanglements, Shadow’s abridged take is tension-filled—anchored by sampled synthesizers, an elegiac violin and punctuated by gabber-paced drum beats unleashed in the guaranteed gunfire crescendo. This “Stem” remix serves as a worshipful reconstruction of Heat, as Shadow condenses the storyline and presents a concise, riveting audio cut just less than four minutes long.

Here’s the thing. After having listened to the “Cops ‘N’ Robber Mix” countless times and being convinced of Shadow’s dazzling auteur instincts, I stumbled upon a YouTube video where some savvy fan had edited Heat to conform with Shadow’s audio portrayal. And it’s freaking brilliant. Using Shadow’s dialogue samples to guide the visual cues and matching the DJ’s impossible beats with high-action explosions and machine-gun bursts timed down to the second, this film edit is a thrilling music video that also serves as a hyper-advanced, spoiler-alert, perfect movie trailer that never was. So, if you don’t have time to watch Heat in its entirety (which you really should), just check out this four-minute version. There’s a similar edit online with a sharper picture, but I prefer this one for its editorial choices and painstaking precision. This ain’t no director’s cut—but this ain’t no fooling around either.                                          

For the record, here’s the original theatrical trailer for Heat, so we can see how clichéd movie trailers were back in 1995. You’ll notice instances of the same scenes being used in Shadow’s mix—because these classic performances simply had to be showcased. Still, Heat is far better than this overdone studio trailer represents, and it proves that the movie really did deserve the crazy-visual remix it ultimately received.

When else has a film been remixed with a built-in soundtrack that then becomes an after-the-fact movie trailer and messes with the space-time continuum? We’ll have get back to you on that.