It is hard to believe but Quentin Tarantino, the one-time Hollywood wunderkind, is now one of the seasoned sages of cinema. Yes, Quentin is turning 60. It has been over three decades since the American auteur shocked the world with his directorial debut, “Reservoir Dogs”. In the years since, he has racked up eight Academy Award nominations and changed the way movies are made.
A true cinematic savant, Tarantino excels in several masteries of the craft. Among them are his extensive dialogues, untraditional plot structures, and nods to pop culture. But perhaps QT’s greatest weapon in his filmmaking arsenal is his use of music.
The director has referred to the soundtrack as “the spirit and the rhythm that the movie needs to play in”. Quentin uses music like another character in the film, not as mere audible fodder. He is simply a master at uniting song and scene. What follows are Tarantino’s opinions and attitudes regarding music in film.
“The most important stage”:
“Music is very, very important in my movies. In some ways the most important stage, whether it ends up being in the movie or not. When I come up with the idea itself. Before I have actually sat down and started writing…I want to be known for my discography as much as my filmography.”
“Across 110th St.” from Jackie Brown:
QT’s 1997 film “Jackie Brown” boasts perhaps his most eclectic and dynamic soundtrack. Tarantino applies the Bobby Womack classic “Across 110th Street” to both open and close the film. In the final scene, audiences see Jackie (Pam Grier) driving a car when once again “Across 110th Street” begins to play. The viewer assumes the song is acting as background music as previously used, until Jackie starts to mouth the words. It is a very effective technique and Tarantino employs it better than anyone.
“The personality of the piece”:
“I’m always trying to find what the right opening or closing credit should be early on when I’m just even thinking about the story. Once I find it that really kind of triggers me in to what the personality of the piece should be. What the rhythm of this piece should be.”
“The fun of modern movies”:
“[Music] is a big part of what I do. I think it’s a big part of the fun of modern movies, modern cinema…to have modern pop songs in your films. And not only are they in them, you kind of cut the scenes to them. When you do it right, and the music and the movie kind of goes in sync with each other for a sequence or so. It’s just kind of like you’re flying or you’re skating or something. And those are always some of the funniest parts to watch with an audience because they’re really engaged”.
“Down in Mexico” from Death Proof:
“Of all the records I’ve ever used in any of my movies, ‘Down in Mexico’ by The Coasters, that version of it is hands down the rarest…That version of ‘Down in Mexico’ became one of my favorite tracks of all time.”
“Caught up in my film”
“My first concern is to tell a story that will be dramatically captivating. What counts is that the story works and that viewers will be caught up in my film. Then movie buffs can find additional pleasure in getting whatever allusions there are”.
“Visceral, Emotional, Cinematic”:
“You are really doing what movies do better than any other art form. It really works in this visceral, emotional, cinematic way that’s just really special. And when you do it right, you can never really hear this song again without thinking about that image from the movie.”
“Cat People” from Inglorious Bastards:
“Sometimes the song comes first. Sometimes I wrote the scene and then pick the song for it, and sometimes during shooting I come up with something. One of the best cues I’ve ever used in one of my movies is the thing from ‘Cat People,’ the David Bowie (song) in ‘Inglorious Basterds,’ but I didn’t come up with that until we were actually shooting the movie, and then I actually played it on set.”
“A record room in my house”
“How I end up doing it my own, I have a record room in my house, I’m a big vinyl guy. And I have a room that’s almost like a little used record store. It has bins and it’s broken down by genre and sub-genre. Part of my thing when I’m coming up with an idea is to go through that record room. And go through those records and to kind of find the music or the personality of a given movie. It’s like I’m looking for the rhythm that this movie needs to play in”.
“His most personal soundtrack”
Mary Ramos, Quentin’s longtime music supervisor, comments on his efforts for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, released in 2019. “All the songs are ones Tarantino heard on the radio growing up in L.A.” says Mary. “As a result, this is his most personal soundtrack.” The film, which takes place in 1969, features stunning sweeping scenes set to period relevant tunes. Quentin digs deep to use rare cuts of popular songs. Jose Feliciano’s version of “California Dreamin” is a beautiful example of this.
Continued in part two of Tarantino Talks Music