Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Soundtrack to success: Why Quentin Tarantino's post-Hollywood career should be as a DJ

With ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ in cinemas this weekend, the director is here to remind us that he really knows his tunes

Director Quentin Tarantino is well-known for his soundtracks. AFP
Director Quentin Tarantino is well-known for his soundtracks. AFP

When Spotify’s head of sales for the entertainment industry, Andi Frieder, commented on filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s recent takeover of the streaming service’s “Film and TV Favourites” playlist, it’s fair to say no one actually got too excited.

“Our platform empowers entertainment marketers such as Columbia Pictures to excite consumers about upcoming releases while delivering moments of discovery for our millions of users and celebrate creators,” he said.

Dig beneath the corporate jargon, however, and people did get excited about the playlist itself. Tarantino knows his music – surely if he wasn’t so busy making great films he’d be a must-see DJ – and uses it to great effect in his films. The filmmaker’s Spotify selection featured music from his films, including Johnny Cash’s A Satisfied Mind (Kill Bill Vol 2), The White Stripes’ Apple Blossom (The Hateful Eight), Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man (Pulp Fiction), and Bill Withers’s Who is He (Jackie Brown).

'One of the things I do when I am starting a movie is... I go through my record collection'

There are few, if any, directors in the modern era who are better at utilising music to underscore their films, and many scenes in Tarantino’s work are elevated purely by his choice of soundtrack. Take the scene in Reservoir Dogs in which Michael Madsen’s Mr White slices off a cop’s ear with a razor. It’s visually arresting, no doubt, but what’s the thing you remember most? It’s less likely to be the gruesome images unfolding on screen, than the dulcet tones of Scottish folk rock band Stealers Wheel pumping out of the speakers. I can’t imagine a cop’s ear being severed to any tune other than Stuck in the Middle with You. Admittedly, I don’t dedicate a large portion of my time to imagining cops’ ears being cut off, but if I did, that song would absolutely be the soundtrack, 100 per cent of the time.

Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt on set of the film. 
Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt on set of the film. 

Tarantino has spoken himself about the importance of music in his movies, in the booklet that accompanied the compilation album The Tarantino Connection. In his introduction to the album, the director noted: “One of the things I do when I am starting a movie, when I’m writing a movie or when I have an idea for a film is, I go through my record collection and start playing songs, trying to find the personality of the movie, find the spirit of the movie. Then “boom”, eventually I’ll hit one, two or three songs or one song in particular, ‘oh, this will be a great opening credit song.’

“That’s one of the things about using music in movies that’s so cool, is the fact that if you do it right, if you use the right song, in the right scene – really when you take songs and put them in a sequence in a movie right, it’s about as cinematic a thing as you can do. You are really doing what movies do better than any other art form; it really works in this visceral, emotional, cinematic way that’s really special.”

Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill'. 
Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill'.

Tarantino is absolutely correct. His films are almost defined by their soundtracks. Much as I could never hear Stuck in the Middle With You without thinking of Reservoir Dogs, I can never hear Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang without an image of a yellow-catsuit-clad, sword-wielding Uma Thurman popping into my head.

With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we'll get plenty more treats from the deepest recesses of Tarantino’s music collection

Even Tarantino’s weaker films (and to be fair, he sets the bar high) leave you tapping your feet. Jackie Brown, for example, is for me the weakest link in Tarantino’s output to date. That is a debate that could last all day – the film still manages an 87 per cent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and there are fans out there who cite it as the director’s best movie.

But for me, it lacks stunning visual moments such as the climactic final standoff in Reservoir Dogs or the diner hold-up scene from Pulp Fiction. ­Conversely, it may have Tarantino’s strongest soundtrack attached to it. From Bobby Womack to Johnny Cash, Tarantino has dug deep into his record collection – housed in an entire room of his Los Angeles home – and delivered an unforgettable aural experience that almost cancels out the slight disappointment, personally at least, of the visual one.

The Tarantino Connection. Courtesy MCA Records
The Tarantino Connection. Courtesy MCA Records

With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we can look forward to plenty more treats from the deepest recesses of Tarantino’s music collection. Covers feature highly among the tracks on the film’s soundtrack and Tarantino has stuck rigidly to using only songs that came out prior to the film’s 1969 setting. Vanilla Fudge’s psychedelic take on The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hanging On and Jose Feliciano’s version of The Mamas and Papas California Dreamin’ are among the high points and, like all of Tarantino’s films, you can go to the cinema safe in the knowledge that even if you don’t like the movie, you can close your eyes, drift away and be guaranteed two hours of musical education that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.

Tarantino has long stated that he intends to quit making movies after his 10th film, and Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is his ninth to date. He has even intimated that if this film is well received, he may quit right now. If that happens, Tarantino could embark on a new career as a DJ, in which case he’ll keep us entertained with his encyclopedic musical knowledge for many years to come. But in case he doesn’t, you should probably head to the cinema this weekend, even if you simply close your eyes and listen. It could be your final opportunity.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in UAE cinemas

Updated: August 19, 2019 03:58 AM

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