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Bregovic’s soundtrack conceptualisation for Kusturica’s Balkanised American debut


The repercussions of Kusturica’s work with the Gypsies are obvious in his treatment of characters in various other environments (ie. Arizona Dream). Bregovic musically follows similar concepts in the related soundtracks.

Is it possible that Kusturica, gadjo dilo of the Yugoslav film, was prophetically sensitive to the disintegrating fate of his home country (post 1989) which would turn even the Yugoslav Gadje into a dislocated minority dispersed across the world? Or are there other more significant artistic and conceptual approaches that continuously reappear in Kusturica’s work?

Time of the Gypsies was followed by Kusturica’s American debut Arizona Dream and the Yugoslav production Underground. These three films share one strong conceptual connection – absence of an outside group. From Suto Orizari, the Gypsy ghetto in Time of the Gypsies, to the unusual characters whose lives in Arizona constitute the Arizona Dream to the Underground community of the Yugoslav World War II survivors in Underground, Kusturica always presents the internal turmoil through an inward portrayal of a particular group.

Although the films may not seem that inward, they are all built upon the principle of a second level ideology where there is no outside group to generate the conflict.

The Gypsies in Time of the Gypsies are torn by internal turmoil and so are the characters of Arizona Dream. The Underground-based World War II survivors in Underground are actually the victims of their own country’s political repression.

In Time of the Gypsies, we are instinctively prepared for the Gadje and their persecution of the Roma and in Arizona Dream we wait for the mainstream society to frame the outlandish minorities found in Arizona. Underground is a particularly interesting case as we think that all is revealed in the beginning and that this is a film about World War II.  Approximately three hours later, we find out that the Yugoslavs have really kept themselves in the Underground through self-inflicted repression and that the return to the upper world results in another war.

Kusturica even Balkanises his American debut and Bregovic’s musical metaphors become even more appealing as a result of such a conceptual approach.

But what are the roots of such creative outlook?

Kusturica and Bregovic are two of the greatest Sarajevan artistic imports from the “inward city of Sarajevo.” It is possible to suggest that some Sarajevan artists look inwardly at the city’s social and cultural “pluralism” and create metaphors for other such societies and cultures based on the same sense of the city being a microcosm of the world. “The inward Sarajevan principle” becomes a conceptual framework for the artists’ creative output.

Conflict is built upon the multiplicity of elements within the same group – this ideological support is made manifest in most of Kusturica’s films. Bregovic follows similar principles in his analogical soundtracks for both Kusturica and other international directors’ films.


Axle is young drifter caught between childhood dreams and fantasies and the bitter realities of adult life. He lives and works in New York, but news of his uncle Leo’s wedding lead him back to his hometown in Arizona where he stays and meets a wealthy widow Elaine and her stepdaughter Grace.

The plot thickens when Axle ends up in a love triangle with Grace and Elaine and decides, against his uncle’s wishes, to stop working at Leo’s Cadillac shop and to move in with the two women. Elaine and Axle spend most of their time building a flying machine for Elaine and thus fulfil her desire to fly. Although Axle is in love with Elaine from their very first meeting at Leo’s car shop, their relationship is shaky and becomes progressively difficult over time.

Axle’s growing alienation from Elaine after his uncle’s death slowly brings him closer to her stepdaughter Grace who has always secretly admired him.Their romance is short lived. Torn between her stepmother’s selfishness and jealousy and her own eccentricity and sensitivity, Grace accidentally kills herself shortly after promising Axle to leave Arizona with him.  Her death leaves Axle all alone once again – alone with the realisation that not everybody survives growing up, that bittersweet nightmare that separates children form adults.


The most important analytical aspects for both Arizona Dream film and its soundtrack address Kusturica’s dramatic techniques of exploring different ethno-cultural issues through the “inward Sarajevan principle” and Bregovic’s concurrent development of the relevant musical analogies.

The recontextualisation techniques accentuate the elasticity and flexibility of Bregovic’s compositional language based on folkloric analogies of the theatrical conflict and incorporations of old “ White Button” rock materials into new concepts and dramatic circumstances. Kusturica’s directorial signature style is exemplified through similar theatrical devices that reappear in a variety of geographic and dramatic settings. Following the “inward Sarajevan principle”, both artists always look inside the dynamics within one society whose “pluralism” supports the intricacies of the dramatic conflict. The multiplicity of the explored musical and dramatic subjects allows the creation of great theatrical tension without the necessary outside group – the conceptual splits can exist on an individual level just like they would between different groups. Just like Sarajevo was taken as a metaphor of the world during the time of its creation, its artists continue to bring concepts and conflicts to explore this internal, inward level in which one looks at oneself both, artistically and culturally before observing any outer or external societies. The stereotypical first level ideology outlook is not necessary in these “pluralistically” conceived concepts. The main premise of such conceptualisation (similar to the cultural premise in such society) is that multiplicity is the main cultural element in the dramaturgy and conflict is observed more internally, unlike it would be according to the outward “dialectic” principle

Visual recontextualisation – Balkan and Gypsies as a metaphor

Kusturica’s running conceptual and directorial framework is exemplified through linking similarities between the explored subjects and theatrical devices used to portray them in the American-based Arizona Dream and his other Yugoslav productions. One of Kusturica’s strongest visual and musical film features is the presence of live musicians. The Gypsies are his favourite Yugoslav solution for this idea. In Arizona Dream, he indulges in both the music and the presence of Mariachi bands in the Mexican-populated Arizona. Just like the Gypsies in the internally-Gypsy Time of the Gypsies (and later in the internally-Yugoslav Underground), the ensemble of colourful sombreros celebrates and suffers together with the outlandishly lovable characters of Arizona Dream.

This time Bregovic Balkanises the “American Dream”, thus musically reminding the world that outsiders exist on many levels, even within the same system and that the worst destruction can be created internally, without any external influences.

Kusturica presents the Mexican minority of Arizona through his Yugoslav conceptual framework from the Communist period films with Gypsy characters. Although they are minor characters, we witness the romantic idealisation of the Mexicans – the street musicians, the natural healers (witch doctors), which portrays them as the dominant ideology’s romanticised, exotic other. The portrayal of the Mexicans is not ideologically significant in the film; it is a conceptual backdrop that amplifies the more inward conflict of a specific group of characters. Just like in Underground where we firstly focus on the external German enemies or in Time of the Gypsies where we are to expect the conflict of the Roma and Gadje, here we may initially expect some conflict between the Mexicans and the American authorities. Kusturica is able to ridicule the Gypsies in the Yugoslav productions because this treatment metaphorically exposes the real disorders of the dominant regime. In Arizona Dream, we watch a few brief drunken Mexican street fights that illuminate the real conflicts of the small group of American characters – the real internal conflict.

Arizona Dream – the complex ingredients of a doubly ethnic soundtrack

The most important feature of the Arizona Dream soundtrack is its dual ethnicity. The soundtrack is a complex mixture of Bregovic’s original music, traditional Mexican Mariachi music and some early 1920s jazz style music.

The early jazz music is used very sparingly; it features in only two scenes and has no greater impact on the developed analysis.

The primary analytical focus is on Bregovic’s original work. The huge soundtrack section consisting of the traditional Mariachi repertoire is addressed more as Kusturica’s theatrical device that carries certain connotations related to his directorial style.

The story is set in a small town in the middle of Arizona and Kusturica makes continual references to the presence of the two cultures – Mexican and American.

The traditional Mexican music establishes the film’s ethno-geographic identity. Neyrinck’s concept suggests that traditional music or traditional musical elements are used to establish two possible mediums – geographic setting of the film and the conceptual basis of its dramaturgy. Both ideas are supported through acknowledgment of both musical components in this film – Bregovic’s writing and the Mariachi repertoire. Bregovic’s entire work on the Arizona Dream soundtrack is of a metaphorical and conceptual nature. Mexican music describes the location and the Balkan sounds create the conceptual basis of the depicted conflict.

This film is Kusturica’s Western debut about American life. Although the location of the setting is accompanied by the geographically appropriate traditional music, the conceptual world remains musically portrayed by the sounds of the director’s home culture.

Kusturica’s dramatic topics – inside the edges of the society

One of the greatest things about Emir’s movies is that they show life exactly as it is – full of holes, hesitations and unexpected events. It is this imperfect, unorganised side that I wanted to preserve above all.

                       (Bregovic, undated, Goran Bregovic’s music for movies, Available from: eng.htm)

In Arizona Dream, Kusturica gathers an eclectic bunch of characters. Elaine, a wealthy American widow, and her stepdaughter Grace live on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Arizona. Axle is a young drifter who after several years of living and working in New York returns to Arizona together with his wannabe-actor friend, Paul. Axle’s Uncle Leo is a Cadillac salesman who is getting married to a young Polish-American woman. 

How do these characters achieve autonomy in the mainstream society and where are they placed in relation to the dominant ideology?

In his quotation about Kusturica’s films, Bregovic explains the importance of the under-explored elements in different societies.

Arizona Dream exposes the living condition of a small group of characters. There is no presence of an outside group, so the viewer learns of the characters’ minority status through the portrayal of their internal dynamics and manners of interaction. Kusturica’s character treatment with its absence of an outside group also leaves the viewer wondering if this really is the inside of a minority group or if the mainstream society is actually based on a multitude of such minority groups?  Suddenly it seems that the society’s largest parts are its edges. “The holes, hesitations and unexpected events” that Bregovic mentions are personified through the Arizona Dream characters who seem to gain autonomy and freedom of expression only through isolation.

The second powerful component of Kusturica’s portrayal of the society is expressed through the fantasy principle. The characters, perhaps aware of the unusual nature of their isolation, dream of different fantasy-lands where their emotional and behavioural codes would be more acceptable. All these places suggest life in isolation.

So the characters’ autonomy is not expressed in comparison to the dominant culture and ideology: they live according to their internal individual laws and without much connection with the outside world. The previous case study exemplifies the same concept – the Gypsies in Time of the Gypsies are in their ghetto in Macedonia, just like Elaine, Grace and later on, Axle and Paul are all on a farm in the middle of Arizona, somewhere between the American and the Mexican border.

The composer’s conceptual and metaphoric musical choices widen in the Arizona Dream soundtrack with both the isolation component and the fantasy principle. Various musical analogies become appropriate in a soundtrack that supports metaphors of the perceptual and conceptual order. Kusturica’s disinterest in perfect characterisation allows for flexibilities of the musical form which then capture these imperfections in various, somewhat strangely-appealing creations. The entire soundtrack is recorded with very raw, unpolished mixing and audiences and listeners allow for Bregovic’s musical “holes, hesitations and unexpected events” to become the sound portrayal of the equally unorganised side of life expressed in Arizona Dream.

Traditional elements and folk music

The music for the Arizona Dream soundtrack contains both traditional music and different folk elements in original composition.

The most easily identified traditional examples are the Mexican Mariachi songs.

Bregovic’s arrangements of folk songs are more difficult to identify because they are incorporated in original compositions inspired by traditional Balkan music.

The soundtrack includes both more sophisticated collage compositions such as 7/8&11/8 and Death and some of Bregovic’s recycled ethno-rock numbers that are “Americanised White Button” pieces.

The very opening number, In the Deathcar, is a truly unique ethno-rock piece. Humming female vocals bring a quasi-Bulgarian flavour to the chorus section and support Iggy Pop’s dark and guttural vocal deliveries. A similar mixture of rock and traditional music is heard in Get the Money, which is played as bar music during Axle’s first meeting with his long lost friend Paul.

7/8 &11/8 and Death are two fairly similar versions of a piece that is heard in different film scenes. This composition consists of two distinctive sections. The first part is an original electro-acoustic work. It is evocative of traditional Balkan music through its elaborate use of folk instruments (recorder) and rhythmic and melodic configurations that derive from Southern Slavic folk. The second section is an arrangement of a traditional song in which Bregovic plays with his favourite vocal configuration – a female traditional ensemble.

In this instance, Bregovic is a real craftsman, placing this particular vocal element in wider compositional context. His arrangements are not simple transcriptions of traditional music – they are complex yet effortless creations in which the original and the traditional, the old and the new become inseparable. Both 7/8&11/8 and Death are modern and ancient at once – Bregovic’s work is simultaneously universal and highly personal, progressive and traditional.

Source and Background Music

Arizona Dream is a film full of source music. The characters on screen spend many occasions listening to the live Mariachi band – this is the music typical of their geographic surroundings. The bulk of Bregovic’s soundtrack role does not include the source music of these characters’ “reality”his task is clearly targeted more towards the musical outline of a conceptual order. “The fantasy principle”  (see later in the chapter) plays a very important role in such an analysis.

Only two of Bregovic’s compositions are in the source music category. Both pieces (TV Screen and Get the Money) are collaborative works featuring Iggy Pop and are heard in the bar scene during Axle’s reunion with his friend Paul. 

7/8&11/8, Death and In the Deathcar are Bregovic’s collage works that incorporate arrangements of traditional music and become the composer’s musical solutions for various needs of the background music.

In the Deathcar is slightly more difficult to categorise. Although heard as background music, it remains stylistically closer to the source compositions TV Screen and Get the Money. All three pieces are developed from recycled materials of Bregovic’s “ White Button” repertoire.

 I live abroad and when I give Iggy “On the Backseat Of My Car” he makes “In the Deathcar” as a result of it.

(Bregovic in Popovic, 1996)


Function I – Ethnic music as the composer’s source of inspiration

Nothing less easy to introduce and less civilized than Goran Bregovic’s fundamentally unpure art. Just a few bars filled with joyful melancholy, and here you are, shaken to the guts by a sound without equal; irreparably embarked in the wild farandole of a colossal and mad brass band with a delightfully tormented orchestration, from which suddenly arise, like coming from another age, the angelical purity of a kid’s voice; buttonholed by the baroque and poetic melting pot of a music alive to excess, both modern and archaic, illuminated by an intense grace under its underpolished appearances, committed in a crazy and rattling race, with this festive lightness in the pace, this unsound rhythm, both grave and volte-facing, constantly off unbalance , that finally leads you straight to the graveyard…

(“Songbook” 2000, notes from CD sleeve, unattributed)

As the analysis so far, has uncovered the continuous presence of traditional elements in Bregovic’s post-” White Button” film music, the quotation from the Songbook CD sleeve is a brief, poetic attempt to describe the full scope of complexities found in such writing.

The components of the Arizona Dream soundtrack are not different to those from his other film works. From the arrangements of traditional Balkan songs to the implicit folkloric codes in his rock writing, Bregovic recontextualises the music of his homeland into soundtrack analogies and “brightens the traditional nostalgia of the eternal Slavonic soul”(Grunberg, S. 1998, Les Cahiers du Cinema, notes from CD sleeve for Ederlezi)

Function II – traditional music as a tool of for establishing setting

As Bregovic’s work on the film music is mainly conceptual, his musical output is less significant for this function. This particular approach to soundtrack writing creates a subcategory that is more appropriate for analyses of the third function – “the subcategory of the conceptual setting.”

1. Geographical setting

Wider geographical location is established through the use of traditional Mexican music.

The configuration of the Mexican ensemble also frequently assists in portraying smaller specific locations of the scene or supports its dramatic need – the Mariachi play for Elaine’s birthday or for different national celebrations. These occasions are portrayed through musical analogies of the appropriate traditional sounds.

Iggy Pop’s collaborative contribution assists in the Americanisation of Bregovic’s Balkan ethno-rock sound. Bregovic and Pop’s collaborative work can be heard in numbers such as Get the Money and TV Screen, where these pieces establish the bar atmosphere and the appropriate scene location. Although used to support the smaller location specific setting, these compositions also assist Kusturica’s Balkanisation of the American Dream as a concept and are metaphorically significant in the given context.

Balkanisation of the Arizona Dream soundtrack in the bar scene is an immediate audio declaration of the proposed conceptual principle.

2. Historical Setting

This category is not really relevant in the given production. With its elements of “fantasy” and “reality” (the present day) as dramatic settings, the historical accuracy is much more visually rather than audio driven in this production.

3. Dramatic Setting

The thematic dramaturgy is largely explored through the notion of dreams and fantasy. This surrealism or perhaps magic realism allows for extremely outlandish ethnic musical choices to become strangely appealing under the given circumstances.

In the opening scene of the film, a young Eskimo man travels through the endless whiteness of Alaska and almost faces death while trying to cross the frozen lake with his dogs. Bregovic musically accompanies this moment with one of his signature-style compositions that combines an original work with an arrangement of a traditional Balkan song (see later analysis).

Function III – conceptual principles of the theatrical conflict expressed through the metaphoric use of traditional music and folk elements in soundtrack writing

Issues of Cultural Perspective in Analytical Terminology: Cultural Alignment cancelled out through Metaphor

The analysis up to this point clearly establishes that Bregovic’s conceptual formula for soundtrack writing utilises Balkan music as a metaphor of the presented theatrical conflict.

The metaphors are developed from the conceptual and cultural multiplicity of the Balkan traditions. Earlier, I have noted Bregovic’s reference to the Balkans as the meeting point of three cultures Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim.

Bregovic’s metaphoric approach helps him to create a conceptually relevant framework that follows conflicts of a specific situation even outside or not directly concerned with these cultures.

Arizona Dream is set many worlds away from Bregovic and Kusturica’s native former Yugoslavia, yet the thematic structure of the film is a natural non-Balkan extension of Kusturica’s perpetual work about the lives and conflicts within a minority group.

Here we see a double use of Balkans as a metaphor – from the director and the soundtrack composer.

Kusturica’s Balkanised American conceptualisation

Kusturica uses Elaine, Grace, Axle, Paul, Leo and his young bride Milly and even the waitress at the bar, Blanche, to portray a small group of characters who are supposably in the real world – mainstream society which creates the “Occidental” conceptual basis.

The nature of the characters’ fantasies is the conceptual “otherness.” Axle dreams of the endless whiteness of Alaska and an Eskimo named Dooey, Elaine of the wild jungles of Papua New Guinea, Grace of the land of smiling turtles and Paul’s theatrical world is framed by the scenes and monologues from the movies The Godfather, The Raging Bull and North by North-West.

There is no real portrayal of the outside society; it is communicated to the audience through the eyes of these unusual characters who achieve autonomy only through utter isolation.

Both levels of the conceptual basis are developed within this ideological group. “Occidentalism” does not refer to the outside mainstream society in this case but is developed through the characters’ isolated reality and their curious life-styles. “Orientalism” is actually their perceptual “otherness” that is constructed from dreams and fantasies. It is also possible to say that under such conceptual and dramatic circumstances, “Orientalism” can be perceived as a desired version of a more tolerant and different “Occidentalism” that, may sadly, only be possible in dreams and fantasies.

This creates a further metaphor even within the analytical framework where the “unknown” signifies a desired “proximity.”

Metaphorical duplicity – Balkanisation of both “Orientalism” and “Occidentalism”

Bregovic’s music for Arizona Dream can be divided into two groups:

  • ethno-rock collaborations with Iggy Pop;
  • arrangements of traditional music and folk influenced original compositions

Ethno-rock is mainly used as character music because of the similarities between these American characters and those from Time of the Gypsies.

Johnny Depp plays the lead character – a twenty-three year-old man from Arizona called Axle. Depp’s appeal is much more than simply aesthetic since his appearance creates a complex web of unanswered questions regarding his origins and nationality. Kusturica does not explore the “American Dream” by mesmerising the audience with a tall, blonde, blue eyed, well- proportioned lead character with good teeth. Rather, in this Arizona we are taken by a young, dark, possibly partly Native American Indian man who is not afraid to cry, to laugh and to seize his lover (played by Faye Dunaway) by the hair.

The meeting place of two friends (Axle and Paul) is equally unusual and appealing. From the very first moment, the bar appears to be the favourite hangout place for the minorities. Get the Money and TV Screen feature as two bar-music compositions. This place is a simultaneously Balkanised New York and Americanised Balkan.

Its visitors include Kusturica himself, as one of the customers sitting at the bar. Bregovic’s Get the Money is heard in the background, interrupted by an angry telephone fight between some American guy and his Yugoslav girlfriend/lover whose surname he can’t even pronounce. Axle and Paul’s conversation is musically accompanied by a more intimate sounding instrumental section from TV Screen.

The bar owner is not a regular American girl either. With her bleached blonde hair, thick dark eyebrows, shiny tight outfit and a very indefinite foreign accent, which could well be Yugoslav, Blanche appears as a character transported into this scene from a Yugoslav popular folk music video clip. Her manner of interaction with Axle and Paul suggests that both of them are regulars in the bar.

Although it is possible to say that the bar staff and customers across the world have many similarities, the metaphor becomes visually active in combination with the accompanying soundtrack.

The film was made during the very beginning of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. This scene in combination with Bregovic’s music can also allude to the integration issues of the refugees – Kusturica takes us into the bar of American ethnics and misfits and exposes the real situation of global refugees that exist on many levels. The whole atmosphere is factually American with a slight exotic twist, achieved largely through the unique appeal of the Bregovic’s composition and Iggy Pop’s interpretative skills. Even the conceptual proximity is musically conceived through metaphors from a different culture. Axle and Paul, unlike so many of their equivalents from popular culture, both find refuge in the meeting places of ethnics and misfits (the bar) or in isolation from the every day world (in the middle of nowhere in Arizona). The music is also metaphorically popular with its roots in the Balkan rock.

“Orientalism” according to the “fantasy principle”

In the Deathcar – a musical transition between ““Orientalism”” and “Occidentalism”

Kusturica’s entire production conceptually follows the “inward Sarajevan principle” through its absence of the outside group. The ideological split is personal here, brought to the individual character rather than to a group. The conflicting natures within one character are not violently opposed; Kusturica actually portrays them through the child-like frame in which we face an imperfect reality and a faultless fantasy. The frame itself develops further throughout the film, and becomes more adult-like when we face “holes, hesitations and unexpected events” even in the fantasy world. Its only difference from reality springs from the characters’ idolisation of this imaginary location.

In the Deathcar is a transitional composition between “Occidentalism” and “Orientalism”. Although the piece is closer to the style of Get the Money and TV Screen than anything else in the soundtrack, the conceptual principles that it portrays separate it from other Bregovic/Pop collaborations.

In the Deathcar is a hybrid developed from two melodies. The first one is recycled from Bregovic’s old “ White Button” song Na zadnjem sjedistu moga auta (On the Backseat of My Car) while the second is a new musical fragment with bolder traditional references in its melodic outline. This second melody is mainly heard as an instrumental interlude between verses, but also as a counter-melody to the first (sung) theme.

The most interesting feature of these recycled materials is Bregovic’s ability to find thematically relevant materials among both his pre-existing “ White Button” repertoire and the traditional Balkan music. These subjects are linked directly to the explored dramatic problematic of the film. Bregovic discusses the importance of the mother tongue in the works of text based artists.

In any case, I am left without homeland. That is a disability for those who write songs, because I can no longer write songs, can no longer write in my language. That is why I only recycle songs now.

(Bregovic in Popovic, 1996)

The significance of text and language is equally important in these conceptually based soundtracks. Bregovic’s collaboration with Iggy Pop is based on Pop’s Americanisation of Bregovic’s ethno-rock, just like Depp, Gallo, Dunaway, Thompson and Lewis Americanise Kusturica’s Balkan vision. Iggy Pop is Bregovic’s musical translator in this American production just like Bregovic brought the Roma culture closer to the Yugoslav and world Gadje through his work on the Time of the Gypsies soundtrack.

Away from its language implications on a purely conceptual level, In the Deathcar becomes more than just a quirky number with an interesting text since it forms a musical bridge between the reality in which the characters have to survive and the fantasy of which they dream. This is the music of Axle’s first moment of falling asleep and the music of the first few moments of his awakening. Importantly, it is music about cars and Axle’s Uncle Leo sells cars and wants Axle to do the same. This is the life of routine and adulthood, the world of lack of freedom and survival, the world that Axle continuously tries to escape.

Iggy Pop expresses this contradiction beautifully in the chorus line of the song

In the deathcar, we’re alive…” thus, commenting on the adult compromise between the desired world of creativity and the necessary functional world. Bregovic’s Na zadnjem sjedistu moga auta (On the Backseat of My Car) becomes Bregovic and Pop’s In the Deathcar talking about Leo’s cars, Axle’s cars and Kusturica’s favourite theatrical devices –cars in vast landscapes, vehicles which are more than transport tools, visual metaphors for economic, cultural and class identification.

In the Deathcar is heard in the opening and closing credits of the film. This music is suggestive of Axle’s journeys in the first scene, supporting him waking up in the back of an old truck, and is heard as background music during the final scene in which Axle returns to his Eskimo dreamland together with his uncle Leo.

The “Oriental fantasy” portrayed through the traditional Balkan sound

“Orientalism” and its expression through dreamland and fantasy concepts musically begin after In the Deathcar. The dual role of the traditional music and folk elements suggests that they musically portray both “Occidental” and “Oriental” conceptual bases.

The opening scene in which a young Eskimo man travels through Alaska and almost dies trying to cross a frozen lake is also the scenery of Axle’s dreamland and is musically accompanied by traditional Balkan sounds. The composition is a powerful combination of original music mixed with an arrangement of a traditional song. The outlandish quality of this folk choice is a perfect metaphor for its unique fantasy aspect.

As Bregovic’s use of traditional elements in rock writing establishes the metaphoric principle according to which the characters are already in the “Occidental” musical basis, the next conceptual level rests on stylistically different treatment of traditional music which gives it even deeper metaphorical dimension.

The traditional choices and folk references become even bolder in “Orientalism”. Eskimo Dooey’s journeys are musically supported by distinctive Balkan music flavours, using meters such as 7/8 and 11/8 and ethnic instruments (ie. recorder). The work finishes with an arrangement of a traditional Balkan song.

The piece titled Dreams is an example of Bregovic’s favourite configuration for the musical representation of fantasy – the large (frequently unaccompanied) choir with prominent vocal solo writing. Bregovic uses his signature concepts once again – references to the sacred Orthodox music are heard in the vocal parts. Vocal chanting of the Belgrade State Choir becomes the silent voice of Kusturica’s silver fish that seductively wanders through the Arizona landscape in one of the dream scenes.

Thematic Connections between Kusturica’s Film Topics and Bregovic’s Traditional Musical Choices – Jana’s House as Grace’s House

In the Deathcar exemplifies Bregovic’s capacity to find thematically relevant music for Kusturica’s film topics in his pre-existing rock repertoire. His capacity to also find thematic relevance between the explored dramatic topics and traditional Balkan music is even more interesting.

In the opening scene of Arizona Dream, an Eskimo man almost dies on his way home. Roughly an hour and a half later Grace, one of the four main characters dies shortly after promising Axle that they will run away together as soon as she gets rid of her house. Part of the background composition is an arrangement of a traditional Yugoslav song Ajde Jano (Come Jana).

Interestingly enough the text of this song is:

“’Ajde Jano kucu da prodamo,

Ajde Jano, ‘ajde duso kucu da prodamo,

 ‘Ajde Jano, ‘ajde duso kucu da prodamo…”

This text translates to:

“Come Jana, let us sell the house,

Come Jana, come sweetheart let us sell the house,

Come Jana, come sweetheart let us sell the house…”


‘Ajde Jano (Come Jana), traditional, translated by the author, the Serbo-Croatian text available from:

Kusturica’s characters, regardless of their reality or fantasy appearance in this film all seem to have more than a slight aversion to the ideas of house, home, responsibilities and adulthood.

The fish with both eyes on the same side of the head symbolises the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Grace does not survive this transitional nightmare and does not achieve an adult level where things are addressed rationally. In Grace’s nightmare, “the house is tied around her neck with a rope that catches fire and the flames climb up the rope but she wakes up before they burn her neck.”

The one eyed fish disappears into the sky several moments after Grace’s death. The transition from childhood to adulthood is lethal for Grace – her accidental death actually symbolises the fall under the heavy burden of her house.

In the traditional Yugoslav song, we never really find out whether Jana sells the house or not. We know that she’s invited to do so, actually in the full version of the song which is not entirely heard in this soundtrack, Jana is encouraged to sell most of her property which ties her down and to “just dance.”

“..da prodamo samo da igramo,                            “…to sell, just to dance, come Jana,

hajde Jano, hajde duso kucu da prodamo”        come sweetheart let us sell the house”


                                                            (‘Ajde Jano (Come Jana), traditional)

The fantasy principle of Kusturica’s dramaturgy in Arizona Dream is musically supported by the fantasy or the idyllic life-styles that are frequently described in traditional music. The visual ideas of Axle’s Eskimo land are musically underpinned in similar folkloric concepts – the imaginary land of singing, dancing and celebrating.

Similarly to Kusturica’s Gypsies from Time of the Gypsies, the characters of Arizona Dream are searching for ultimate freedom. One of the main obstacles in the mentality of the Gypsies, the drifters from Arizona Dream and characters from Yugoslav traditional songs is the symbol of the house. The house is tied around Grace’s neck, Jana is continuously urged to sell the house and a house is suspended on a rope in mid-air twice in the film Time of the Gypsies.

Internal-external conflict perspective

The portrayal of internal dynamics inside a complex small group of outsiders in a foreign debut of his compatriot director Kusturica enables Bregovic to recontextualise the analogical approach to Balkan traditional music in film composition. This recontextualisation also establishes a framework for analysis of any such internally based conflict regardless of the historic or geographic setting of the film subject.

 for further information return to Karahasan’s descriptions of Sarajevo (Chapter I)

 Referring back to Bregovic’s quote about the greatest things from Kusturica’s movies (see the section titled “Kusturica’s dramatic topics – inside the edges of the society” for further information access: eng.htm

 see the section titled “Thematic connection between Kusturica’s film topics and Bregovic’s traditional music choices – Jana’s house as Grace’s house”

 Referring back to Bregovic’s quote about the greatest things from Kusturica’s movies (see the section titled “Kusturica’s dramatic topics – inside the edges of the society” for further information access:. eng.htm.

 Johnny Depp, Vincent Gallo, Faye Dunaway, Lily Taylor and Jerry Lewis – the cast of Arizona Dream

 Iggy Pop, 1991 In the Deathcar, collected by the author as heard in the closing credits of Arizona Dream. Kusturica, E., (1992) Arizona Dream, video recording, Constellation-UGC-Hachette Premiere.

 Arizona Dream (1992), screenplay by David Atkins, story by Emir Kusturica & David Atkins, spoken by the character of Grace (Lily Taylor), paraphrased by the author  (for further information see the reference list)

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short film archive
Ducumentary / Dokumentarni video zapisi
Theatre - video archive

Virtual Cultural Centre of WA

Fine Literature Re-Published

Alexandria - Acting on the brighter future for the professional arts in Australia