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Blood Splatter On A Film Reel Of Pulp: The Soundtrack of Tarantino

Jeremy Hunter Pop Culture and Literature

 

Quentin Tarantino; a director whose films have been the ultimate adrenaline fix any film junkie would be willing to die for. Throughout his nearly thirty-year career, Tarantino has written and directed some of the bloodiest, most entertaining films to ever grace the screen. 

Throughout the entirety of his film career, Tarantino has amassed a cult following which has him crowned by fans as the undisputed king of pop culture. With the release of his most recent feature, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which many critics have hailed as being his best film since Pulp Fiction, it would be a major slap in the face to the auteur not to discuss one of the king of pop culture's most valuable assets in terms of his film making; his incredible use of music. 
 
Like no other director, Tarantino has seemed to master the ability to choose precisely perfect music for any given scene. The only comparable directors would be the late Stanley Kubrick, through his use of tying in classical compositions within his films, or Martin Scorsese through his choice to inject what seems to be any number of tracks within The Rolling Stones songbook into nearly all of his movies with impeccable results. To fully understand Tarantino's mastery of music within his films, it would be necessary to go back to his first official feature film, Reservoir Dogs
 
Reservoir Dogs was released in theatres in the summer of 1992 and was met with immediate critical acclaim. The film was to be Tarantino's second endeavor into filmmaking after he shot the micro-budget, My Best Friend's Wedding, in 1987. Tarantino, however, viewed his first, incomplete feature debut as more his own personal film school, rather than a film of any real significance. 

The first example of Tarantino's incredible use of music through the film was his incorporation of the 1969 Dutch hit Little Green Bag by George Baker Selection, which was used to help introduce the film's title characters. The song, of course, was to follow the infamous opening scene where the movie's characters bantered about what Madonna's, Like A Virgin, was really about. 

The film also made incredible use of the song Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel when one of the film's antagonistic psychopaths, Mr. Blonde, engaged in torturing a bound and gagged cop just for shits and kicks. The scene sent shivers down the spines of audiences everywhere, especially the moment when Mr. Blonde cut off the ear of the defenseless cop. But the scene would have held little power if not for Tarantino's choice in music which allowed the scene to become nearly as iconic as the shower sequence within Psycho, backed by Bernard Herrmann's tense score. Or the title score of Jaws which played as the shark was first introduced. 
 
In 1994, following the success of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino released his most critically acclaimed film to date; Pulp Fiction. The film helped to catapult the young director to international fame while revitalizing the acting career of John Travolta and helped the Badass Motherfucker himself, Samuel L. Jackson, to become a household name thanks to his role of Jules Winnfield. 

Throughout the film, Tarantino was able to further showcase his precision to choose the best song possible for any given scene. An example being the use of Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell during a memorable sequence where Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace, played by the beautiful Uma Thurman, enter a dance-off competition at Jack Rabbit Slims, a fictional fifties diner, which was also a subsequent throwback to Travolta's disco days in Saturday Night Fever

Another incredible showcase of Tarantino's choice in audio pornography was through the use of The Statler Brothers 1966 country hit, Flowers on the Wall, as it was heard on the radio when Butch Coolidge, played by Bruce Willis, had just managed to find his beloved pocket watch before killing Vincent Vega with the moronic hitman's own gun. Tarantino also inserted two instrumental hits by guitar legend, Link Wray, which included the song Rumble, which to date is the only instrumental hit to be banned from American Airwaves upon its release in 1958 due to a fear that the song would incite gang violence.  

When asked what inspired his choice of music for Pulp Fiction, Tarantino was quick to bring up his desire to incorporate surf music of the sixties as the original soundtrack to give the film a rock and roll, spaghetti western kind of feel. 
 
Tarantino's next feature film was his only film to date adapted from a novel, which was titled Rum Punch, written by Elmore Leonard. Tarantino renamed the movie Jackie Brown, which was a film he desired to be his love letter to Blaxploitation films of the seventies. 

Tarantino even cast Pam Grier in the title role, who was famous for her performances in Blaxploitation films of the seventies. The original film score was composed by James Newton Howard, and the film's soundtrack consisted primarily of soul and funk tracks from the seventies, including songs by The Brothers Johnson, Bill Withers, and even the song Long Time Woman, performed by Pam Grier herself. The movie also contained tracks by Johnny Cash, The Supremes, and The Guess Who.  

Even though the film is far from my favorite of Tarantino's, his use of music, especially the song; Across 110th Street by Bobby Womack and Peace which played during the opening credit sequence, where Pam Grier is first introduced on screen, was a very cool introduction which helped to set the pace for the entire film. 
 
In 2003, Kill Bill: Volume One hit theatres. And in the following year, Kill Bill: Volume Two was released. Both films of which ironically brought together the real life film adaptation of Mia Wallace's failed TV Pilot, Fox Force Five which she had described to Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, helping to laminate the theory that all of Tarantino's films are connected through a cinematic universe of his own creation. 

But at this time, I won't get into the theory of the Tarantino-Universe. The two Kill Bill films were initially to be edited as one motion picture. Film executives, however, chose to split the movie into two parts to keep the audience from having to endure a film equal in length to the 1956 motion picture, The Ten Commandments.  

When Tarantino began writing Kill Bill, he wanted to showcase to the world his own variation of a Kung Fu film while incorporating elements of the Spaghetti Western, undoubtedly one of Tarantino's favorite film genres. The storyline for Volume One and Volume Two, which told the tale of a former assassin's hunt for vengeance after being left for dead on what was to be her wedding day by those she once trusted, was met with critical acclaim, like a majority of Tarantino's films. 

The soundtrack drew heavily upon the incorporation of film scores which were reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns directed by Sergio Leone. The genius behind The Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) which starred film icon and altogether badass, Clint Eastwood. Tarantino also made use of the song Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra, which followed the cold open where The Bride's former lover, Bill, shot The Bride in the face. The perfect song to open a motion picture with themes of retribution. 

The film also made incredible use of original film scores such as the song Twisted Nerve by Bernard Hermann, who was widely known for the film scores he had composed for Alfred Hitchcock during the fifties and sixties, including the scores for Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. The composition played as one of the films many antagonists, Elle Driver, enters the hospital where The Bride has been in a coma. The eye patch wielding assassin is heard whistling the tune which then transcends into the original score by the legendary composer as the tension starts to build. But throughout the film, my favorite use of music had to be Tarantino's choice to utilize the song Nobody but Me by The Human Beinz during an epic fight sequence where The Bride takes on The Crazy 88's single-handed. Quite possibly the bloodiest fight sequence in all of cinema. As a whole, Tarantino's choice of music elevated the overall feel of both Kill Bill Volume One and Two and helped both to transcend into films of epic proportions. 
 
In 2007, Tarantino collaborated with long-time friend and fellow filmmaker, Robert Rodriguez, in what was to become a double feature dubbed; Grindhouse Presents: Death Proof and Planet Terror. The filmmakers had previously worked together on the 1996 vampire flick, From Dusk till Dawn, which Tarantino co-starred in while helming the original screenplay. This time around, Tarantino and Rodriguez specifically filmed their double feature as their love letter to B-grade movies that had been most commonly recognized during the seventies. 

Both films were made to feel as though they had been shot on a relatively low budget, and included countless sexy women, far-fetched plots, and gratuitous amounts of violence. Tarantino's feature, Death Proof, revolved around a psychopathic stuntman who targeted unsuspecting groups of young, beautiful women, who he then sadistically murdered through the act of vehicular manslaughter. The movie featured multiple hits from the late sixties and seventies, which one could only assume the now veteran filmmaker grew up listening to throughout his childhood in Los Angeles. 

My favorite use of music within the film had to be during a sequence when the song Down in Mexico by The Coasters played as the incredibly sexy Vanessa Ferlito gave Kurt Russell, who plays the movie's titular antagonist, Mike the Stuntman, a very sensual lap dance. The film also utilized a multitude of hits including; Baby It's You by Smith, Jeepster by T. Rex, and Hold Tight by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich which was heard playing on the radio during a gruesome scene in which a car full of babes were brutally murdered by Mike the Stuntman after he collided into them with his signature classic vehicle. The film also featured a personal guilty pleasure of mine, Chick Habit by April March. A song which had the feel of a hit classic from the sixties despite having been released in 1996. 
 
Tarantino has always been a fan of films which centered around World War II. In particular, films which showcased the American's either standing up to the Nazis when the odds were stacked against them, such as the 1967 Robert Aldrich directed, The Dirty Dozen. Or films centered around the America's doing all they could to escape the Nazis, such as the 1963 smash hit, The Great Escape, which Tarantino has dubbed his all-time favorite World War II film. 

In 2009, this love for war films led Tarantino to write and direct the World War II epic, Inglourious Basterds. Upon release, the film gained widespread critical acclaim from critics and remains one of his most celebrated films to date. Unlike most Tarantino films, the soundtrack for Inglourious Basterds didn't include much of any previously recorded mainstream hits, but did contain a badass musical score, which was once again heavily inspired by Tarantino's favorite film genre; the Spaghetti Western. 

Multiple scores featured within the film were composed by legendary composer Ennio Morricone, helping to give the film an added layer of suspense. A personal favorite scene from the movie took place when The Bear Jew was first introduced as he emerges from a dark, ominous cave with a baseball bat in hand as the song The Surrender plays a moment before he brutally bashes in the brains of a Nazi Officer. 

Tarantino also borrowed musical scores from numerous feature films, including the song Tiger Tank from the Motion Picture Kelly's Heroes, which plays as Private Zoller goes to meet Shosanna in the projector room, ending in a bloody shootout. The only modern piece of music incorporated into the film was Putting Out Fire, performed by David Bowie. The song played during an introductory sequence to Chapter Five in which Shosanna prepares to burn down her movie theatre and ultimately kill Hitler and other key members of the Third Reich. The film soundtrack for Inglourious Basterds was so sought after that it received a Grammy Nomination for Best Compilation Soundtrack For A Motion Picture, only to lose to the soundtrack for Slumdog Millionaire
 
Quite arguably the most eclectic soundtrack for a feature film directed by Quentin Tarantino to date came in 2012 for the epic Spaghetti Western, Django Unchained, which featured a multitude of musical genres. 

The film, which tells the enduring story of a freed slave, Django Freeman, who becomes a bounty hunter as he travels across the United States on horseback with his savior and friend, Dr. King Schultz, to save his enslaved wife, Broomhilda, was met with universal acclaim by critics. 

The soundtrack to the film incorporated elements of rap, hip hop, as well as an array of country hits including the song Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash, as well as another vast selection of film scores by Ennio Morricone. 

Throughout the film there have been songs which have elevated scenes significantly more than others, including the introductory song Django, performed by Rocky Roberts, which played as an enslaved Django was led through the desert, chained by the ankles and wearing mere rags. 

The song helped set the pace for the entire film while also serving as a throwback to the 1966 Spaghetti Western, Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci. Speaking of which, Django Unchained also featured a cameo performance from the original Django when the actor from the 1966 film, Franco Nero, spoke with Django Freeman, played by Jamie Foxx, at The Cleopatra Club. This scene proved to be quite the memorable cameo. Another notable use of music was through the Jim Croce hit, I Got a Name, which played during a film montage where Django and Dr. King Schultz rode into the winter landscape, ending in a beautiful shot of Django imagining himself being reunited with his gorgeous wife, Broomhilda. 

One particular scene of the film, guided by the breath-taking film score La Corsa by composer, Luis Bacalov, in which Django has finally caught up to the Brittle Brothers who had tortured both Django and his wife, has always managed to give me goosebumps upon every viewing. The image of a valiant Django approaching John Brittle before shouting his name as the musical score plays in the background, ending in Django killing both John and Little Raj, has always been a scene which has brought about feelings of hope, dignity and the belief that good will ultimately triumph over evil. 

Arguably the greatest use of music within the film, however, had to take place during the bloody shootout at Candieland following the deaths of both Calvin Candie and Dr. King Schultz. Django made his way through the mansion, pistols drawn, firing wildly as a remix titled Unchained featuring vocals by 2Pac and James Brown played, had to be my favorite scene in any Motion Picture which was elevated massively by Tarantino's choice to insert the most unexpected of songs into a film it would have typically had no business being incorporated into. No different than the soundtrack for Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained also received a Grammy Nomination for Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture, cementing it as being a genuinely great soundtrack personified by Tarantino's incredible taste in music. 
 
The accurately titled, The Hateful Eight, which was the eighth film directed by the famed auteur, included for the first time in a Tarantino film a completely original score; composed and conducted by none other than Ennio Morricone. The Hateful Eight had been a film which faced widespread controversy before Tarantino even decided to go into production due to the first draft of the script being leaked online in January of 2014. The director initially stated that he would not film the feature. That was until the overwhelmingly positive response he received from an audience during a historic live reading of the script. With the evident support of the public, the film finally went into production in September of 2014 and upon its release, was met with mixed reviews by critics. 

Considered to be one of the weaker films within Tarantino's filmography, the story centred around eight strangers brought together during a brutal blizzard in Wyoming during the winter of 1877. In a way, the film was a throwback to Tarantino's first feature film, Reservoir Dogs, which also only contained one primary set location. Although the film didn't receive universal acclaim such as other films within Tarantino's body of work, the original score by Morricone couldn't have been received any better, having won the respected, veteran composer a Golden Globe Award, as well as his first Academy Award for the film's score. 

Along with having a masterful original score which gave the Motion Picture an immediate Hitchcockian feel, the opening sequence as the composition The Last Stage to Red Rock proved to elevate the film further. The film also featured a few songs by original artists. One of which was the song Apple Blossom by The Whites Stripes, which played during a scene where Daisy Domergue, in a masterful performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh, was punched in the face by John Ruth in an equally excellent performance by Tarantino regular Kurt Russel. Another significant incorporation of music within the film came when Daisy sang the song Jim Jones at Botany Bay while strumming along on an acoustic guitar within Minnie's Haberdashery

When John Ruth approaches Daisy and asks if there's a second verse, he becomes enraged after Daisy finished a line which hinted that John would be left for dead as Daisy arrives in Mexico. This leads John to rip the guitar aggressively from Daisy's hands before smashing it against a supporting beam within the lodge, driving Daisy to react in complete shock and horror. 

This reaction, however, wasn't included within the film's script and instead came as the result of Kurt Russel unknowingly destroying an original guitar crafted in the 1870's worth an estimated $40,000, which had been meant to get switched out with a cheap replica which would then be smashed to bits. The reaction Jennifer Jason Leigh gave within the film was 100% authentic, leading to an accelerated brilliance within her Oscar-nominated performance. 

The music within the film, centered around Ennio Morricone's bleak, yet stunning, film score, helped bring together a claustrophobic feel, ensuring that the audience left theatres with the same sense of isolation and dread that the characters within the film would have undoubtedly felt. 
 
A couple years back, when news of Quentin Tarantino's most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, first hit the web, I was quick to become an obsessive film junkie in search of learning all there was to know about the film before it finally hit theatres. This was due in part to me being a massive fan of Tarantino's films, as well as being a self-described pop culture enthusiast who has an enormous interest in all things Hollywood and what is unquestionably the most glorious of decades; the 1960's. From the music to the classic cinema, the beloved television shows, the beautiful women, and the history behind Tinseltown itself, the premise behind the Motion Picture which centered around a washed-up former western television star and his stuntman attempting to make it in a Hollywood they no longer recognized, was a story which immediately grabbed my attention at the throat and refused to let go. 

Having viewed the film several times following its release, Tarantino once again did not disappoint. Throughout the film, his use of music was spot on, containing hits by Neil Diamond, Buffy Saint Marie, Deep Purple, Simon & Garfunkel, and an incredible rendition of California Dreamin' performed by José Feliciano. The music within the film essentially acts as a vessel necessary to move the audience through the sixties and leave them salivating for more, despite having a screen time of nearly three hours. I don't want to give away too much of the film for those who have still not given it a viewing. As well as the film containing an ending which will undoubtedly rival Tarantino's hijacking of history done through his epic, Inglourious Basterds. The film is well worth the watch, to say the very least. 
 
In ending, years from now, when Tarantino has retired, which may come sooner than most would hope following talks of him only directing ten features, I'm confident that fans won't merely be discussing Tarantino's impressive body of work. His choice in music for each individual film will also be at the forefront of people's admiration of the auteur. After all, has there ever been a director with the capability of elevating any given scene with a single piece of music alone more so than Quentin Tarantino? Have it be a long-forgotten hit like Tarantino's use of Little Green Bag by George Baker Selection, or him utilizing the talents of an aged film composer like Ennio Morricone, I think it's safe to say that if Tarantino does only decide to direct one more feature, that it will undoubtedly be regarded as his tour de force with the soundtrack being crowned as his magnum opus. 


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