How Movies Inspired Album ‘A Beginner’s Mind’


Photo Credit: Daniel Anum Jasper

Anna Salinas, OwlFeed Editor-in-Chief

There are billions of movies out in the world, good and bad. But out of billions of films, popular indie singer-songwriters Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine have managed to write and create 14 songs loosely based on 14 (kinda problematic) films. 

Released September 24, 2021, ‘A Beginner’s Mind’ consists of songs based on different movies, ranging from Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992) to Bring it On Again (2004) to even Silence of the Lambs (1991). 

Every artist has their own way of writing music and finding inspiration, but this might be the most interesting creative process I’ve ever seen in my life. Stevens and Augustine first came across this idea for an album when Stevens was helping Augustine write a song. They then decided to write a song together. 

“And then we were able to write a song, and it went well,” Augustine said in an interview with GQ. “The movie thing really came accidentally. We realized that as we were watching these movies and then working the next day that some of the themes from the movies were creeping into the songs, so we decided to embrace that because I welcome happy accidents. I think that’s where magic can come from, and take you somewhere new.” 

And that’s how ‘A Beginner’s Mind’ was born. Interestingly, Stevens added, “And I really don’t think these songs are about the films. I think they use the films as a catalyst, but create a new cinematic experience, just through song and through language that we’ve constructed and that is almost entirely our own.”

Of course, with there being 14 songs in this album, it’s pretty difficult to talk about the background of all of them but there are so many that have so much to them I can’t just not write about them. But if you are interested here are the songs and what movies lightly influenced them:

  1. Reach Out- Wings of Desire (1987) 
  2. Lady Macbeth In Chains- All About Eve (1950)
  3. Back To Oz- Return to Oz (1985)
  4. The Pillar of Souls- Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992)
  5. You Give Death a Bad Name- Night of the Living Dead (1968) (also based on “The Runaround” from the Aporia album by Sufjan and his step-father)
  6. Beginner’s Mind- Point Break (1991) (from the POV of Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi)
  7. Olympus- Clash of the Titans (1981)
  8. Murder and Crime- Mad Max (1979)
  9. (This Is) The Thing- The Thing (1982)
  10. It’s Your Own Body and Mind- She’s Gotta Have It (1982)
  11. Lost in the World- Last Wave (1977)
  12. Fictional California- Bring it On Again (2004)
  13. Cimmerian Shade- Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  14. Lacrimae- Lacrimae Rerum (1962)


Firstly the album begins with two of my most favorite tracks: ‘Reach Out,’ and ‘Back to Oz’.

Out of all three ‘Reach Out’ had been on repeat on my Spotify because of how positive it sounds and all of the harmonies that are done on the track. Their voices are described as “gently intertwined” by Pitchfork. And it’s not only this song, it’s the whole album. 

‘Back to Oz’ is very interesting as it isn’t about the classic ‘The Wizard of Oz’ made in 1939, but about ‘Return to Oz’ made in 1985. I of course wanted to do research about some of these movies as I have not seen most. I came to figure out that ‘Return to Oz’ is actually on the large steaming platform, Disney+. This movie couldn’t have been any more messed up than the original. 

Explained better, Stevens said, “None of the characters resemble the former characters—they don’t even try. And then the first scene is the uncle taking Dorothy to a psychiatric hospital where she’s given electric shock treatment, which then precipitates all this calamity, and there’s a storm. Lightning strikes the hospital or something. Then through a moment of trauma, she’s transposed to this new fantasy world, and the Oz that we formerly knew as something that was full of Broadway songs and bright colors and friends and comrades is now replaced by violence.”

Inspired from the movie the lyrics from the song go, “Though it wasn’t there/Get it back, get nowhere/Get it right, follow my heart/Back to, back to Oz/Where I was born at the start/Don’t be my last call/Do you mind that I’m falling apart?” These lyrics sort of help reflect on how Dorothy is in the movie as she is going through something traumatizing and how the movie shows mistreatment of people with mental illness during the time period it takes place.

“As soon as Dorothy steps into Oz, there’s just immediate antagonism,” Stevens said. “In every scene and every sequence, she’s met with violence. She’s risking her life. There’s just a whole cast of very problematic and strange and kind of nightmarish characters, and it’s all very life-threatening. It’s strange that it’s a Disney movie. My takeaway from that film is that it’s really about child abuse.” 

The film is very weird, but I like how Stevens and Augustine used it as an influence for the song. It’s like they took a strange movie and made a great song out of it. Also, the instrumentals of guitar and drums are very well done and help keep the song upbeat, which honestly makes it a bop.

Moving on you have the fourth track ‘The Pillar of Souls’ based on ‘Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth.’ Of course, the third movie is a very random one to pick considering they watched five of the Hellraiser movies. 

According to, ‘The Pillar of Souls’ “refers to the statue that served as a prison for Pinhead. A rectangular box covered in the imagery of humans being tortured. The point of view Sufjan and Angelo take is that of the antagonist, Pinhead coming out of limbo.” I’ve never seen Hellraiser and I don’t think I have the patience to watch five of the movies, but I have definitely heard of the movie before. 

Out of all the songs, this one is the darkest of them. It has the lyrics, “​​Cenobite seized within the throes to be released from the pillar of souls/ Dragged from the dark, my love extolled/ Bring me the beast, my life gives blood.” Without seeing the movie, these lyrics really help describe the vibe of the movie.

Without going over all of the songs and straight-up spoiling all of the movies, we’ll move on to track number 12, which personally is another one of my favorites, ‘Fictional California’ influenced by ‘Bring it On Again.’ 

The song starts right off the bat explaining the plot of the movie, “Now, Whittier arrived in fictional California/We’re gonna bring it on again/Bring it on to you hard/Our school spirit was defined by dance and drama/The lord above will be my guide/The light into my heart.”

This is very positive which makes sense since the film surrounds the motivation from cheerleaders. I have seen ‘Bring it On Again’ but I don’t remember it like I did the first ‘Bring it On’. But someone who would disagree with me is Sufjan Stevens as ‘Bring it On Again’ is one of his top 10 favorite movies.

“And so I saw this movie last week and I was like – that’s really awesome that there’s this like idea of a cheerleading squad at every corner of every game,” Stevens said at a show once. “It doesn’t matter if it’s table tennis or croquette – and we need that, you know – at our jobs, at our cubicles. We need the deadbeat cheerleading squad to just pop out of nowhere and be like: ‘Look alive.’” 

The song ends with the lyrics, “I’m all alone at the megaphone/I’m all psyched up as I make my mark in total darkness/I look alive but I feel so dead inside, I’m bleeding/Gonna break a leg with the basket toss/For the loss of my broken dreams.” Even though I can’t remember the movie that well I can 100 percent remember this song as it gives this a deeper meaning to the movie and exudes positivity and motivation of going into the unknown and taking risks.

Finally, the 13th track on this album is ‘Cimmerian Shade,’ heavily based on ‘Silence of the Lambs’ but mainly the character Buffalo Bill, who is one of the main antagonists of the film. The song is from his perspective to the movie’s director, Jonathan Demme.

“I just want you to love me/I just wanted to know myself/Fix it all, Jonathan Demme/Beauty resides where your spirit dwells” is the chorus of the song. Basically, the character’s motives throughout the movie obviously aren’t good as he is an antagonist. The movie overall has received hate from people claiming that it is transphobic mainly because of this character and what they do in the movie.

“Many authors have emotional attachments to the characters they create,” Augustine said. “But in this instance, I was interested in how a character felt about being created. In my imagination, I was giving consciousness to someone else’s creation. The song is essentially a dialogue between creation and creator that seeks to find understanding to some of the same questions that we ask ourselves about existence, free will, fate, purpose, guidance, and if anyone or anything out there is listening or cares.”

Of course, while writing about a movie like this, you can’t not write about the problems surrounding it. I find it very interesting that they did it from the perspective of a character towards the creator as that is a concept rarely seen in music. Overall the song is very calm and faint as it talks about a character and an issue that is problematic.

To conclude, I love this album and the concept. It is very creative and something you wouldn’t really see in the music industry nowadays. I may not recommend some of these movies to people, but I do highly recommend this album to anyone interested in music or movies in general.