Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained – his eighth film – is entertaining and challenging cinema audiences across the world. It also has a great soundtrack.
Smart dialogue, surprising twists, occasional cruelty, great tunes… Yes – it’s another one of my blog posts…
I saw Django Unchained the other day; I won’t spoil the plot for you but suffice to say there are nods to Blazing Saddles, the first hour sees the leads play off each other like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef‘s bounty hunters in the Dollars Trilogy and Samuel L. Jackson plays a thoroughly dislikable character for laughs: whilst the weight of history and the backdrop of slavery is never far from mind throughout. As with many Tarantino films, it’s not really one to take the kids to. Difficult to see how a parent could be praised for taking their child to see it, unless they had a school project on slavery, or a social studies essay to write about media portrayals of violence and Mandingo Fighting.
And whilst Hitchcock may have enhanced his reputation by squeezing cellos on trains, you certainly never saw him play a cameo quite like the one(s?) Tarantino plays in Django Unchained…
This is a music blog, however, so I’ll leave the film reviews to other people.
One of the many things that sets apart Tarantino’s films is his use of music to make a scene memorable. Django has a few of these, and the soundtrack is one of the better ones that Tarantino has produced, loaded with Morricone tunes, (a couple from the classic Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood film Two Mules For Sister Sara) the best one of which features early in the film and is entitled The Braying Mule. So let’s look back at some of these classic soundtracks and hear what Quentin Tarantino himself has said about the music he uses in his films:
“There’s a piece of beautiful music: Zamfir – the pan flute guy – and when I was playing it I was like “This is amazing – this is Japanese Samurai meets Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone. What is that? I’ve gotta use that for Kill Bill. That’s almost a hypnotic score.”
When Zamfir’s Lonely Shepherd played to the credits at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1 it took me back to hearing my mum and dad’s James Last records. There must have been a version of that pan pipe song on one of those. Only Tarantino could have found that song and made it listenable for me again!
“When people ask me, “what kinds of music do you listen to?” I never know what to say. I listen to lots of types and I always feel somewhat resentful if I have to start narrowing it down because well, that kind of says something about me and that’s not really the whole story”.
“I don’t think “It’s so cheesy that I like it. No. I like it.”
Tarantino has introduced me (and many others) to some great (and some off the wall) tunes over the years. Across 110th Street, Miserlou, Little Green Bag, Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), and some Ennio Morricone scores that would otherwise have been been lost on an obscure film soundtrack forever…
“If you do it right, if you use the right song, the effect is you can never really hear that song again. When Dirty Dancing used Be My Baby that’s like: That’s the opening theme to Mean Streets. Excuse me?”
It’s true. Try to separate the opening to Once Upon A Time In The West (or moments from the Dollars trilogy) without the Ennio Morricone soundtrack…
“The whole combination of the right piece of music, with the right visual image I really think is one of the most exciting things you can do with film. There’s a reason why people remember it because when you do it right…”
For me, the perfect combination of visuals and music was the anime section of Kill Bill vol. 1 (The Origin of O-Ren) with that haunting music from Ennio Morricone: The Grand Dual. It was so beautiful, it got a round of applause at the cinema I went to…
“I make tapes for friends and this has that feeling about it. This could easily be a Quentin tape. We’re really trying to make it fun and neat and not just a collection of songs. Y’know – kind of give it a personality, where you get pieces of dialogue and hopefully the dialogue is witty enough and it’s interesting enough that you hear it out of context and just enjoy it for that.”
Tarantino’s soundtrack tapes (Tapes: that’s the right word for me: they have the feel of a mix tape, and I bought both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction on cassette when they were originally released) are unusual for film soundtracks in that they can be enjoyed stand-alone, without the need for visuals. Having said that, your enjoyment of the Inglorious Basterds soundtrack will mostly depend upon your liking for inter-war German-French folk songs (although the main theme from Dark of the Sun is cool, and it’s good to hear Bowie’s Cat People).
“I’m giving them an experience. They’re getting their eleven dollars worth that day. They went to the movies. She might not like it. He might like it. He might not like it. She might like it…but they had an experience.”
The Death Proof soundtrack probably has more highlights than the film. Actually, there are three highlights to the soundtrack: T Rex’s Jeepster, a nice version of the blues standard Stagolee and April March’s Chick Habit is a kitch piece of bubble-gum sixties-sounding pop (actually a nineties cover of a sixties Serge Gainsbourg song). The film itself went boring, boring, Really Great!, boring, boring, Really Great again! So not my favourite – although a friend of mine swears by it…
On Miserlou: “I always dug surf music, but I never understood what the hell it had to do with surfing.”
“I love taking an audience for a ride.”
“At one point I thought about using My Sharona for the (Zed’s basement) scene (in Pulp Fiction). My Sharona has a really good beat to it if you think about it.”
Perhaps Pulp Fiction was Tarantino’s most successful soundtrack – up against some strong competition, especially amongst the first four films. Who else would have thought of playing surf music over the opening credits to the robbery of a diner?
What’s your favourite Tarantino moment? The slow-mo walk in Reservoir Dogs to Little Green Bag? The “ear” scene to Steelers Wheel‘s Stuck In The Middle With You? Travolta and Thurman dancing to Chuck Berry? Daryl Hanna‘s nurse in Kill Bill walking down the corridor to that whistling tune? When you see Django Unchained, you may find a couple more to add to that list.
Django Unchained is on general release worldwide. In the meantime, if you are a Tarantino fan, check out this inspired James Hyman remix of Tarantino’s songs that has been in my CD collection for many years – and which is where many of these Tarantino quotes came from:
James Hyman DJ Mix Vol.4: ‘Tarantino: Pulp Mixin’ by Jameshyman on Mixcloud
Record #145: Ennio Morricone: The Grand Dual (Parte Prima) from the Kill Bill Vol. 1 Soundtrack
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