Quentin Tarantino Explains The Art of the Music in His Films

To some direc­tors, the music heard in their films seems as (or more) impor­tant than the images seen or the dia­logue spo­ken. Maybe you’d make that case about Jim Jar­musch after read­ing — or, more to the point, hear­ing — our post on the music in his movies. And sure­ly many Quentin Taran­ti­no fans would regard a Reser­voir Dogs with­out “Stuck in the Mid­dle with You” or a Pulp Fic­tion with­out “Misir­lou” as not Reser­voir Dogs or Pulp Fic­tion at all. In the book­let that comes with The Taran­ti­no Con­nec­tion, a col­lec­tion of sound­track songs from Taran­ti­no’s movies, Taran­ti­no describes his per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly musi­cal­ly-inspired method of film con­cep­tion as fol­lows: “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 just 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.’ ” Hence his use of Dick Dale, the “King of Surf Gui­tar,” for the open­ing cred­its of Pulp Fic­tion.

“Hav­ing ‘Misir­lou’ as your open­ing cred­its is just so intense,” writes Taran­ti­no. “It just says, ‘You are watch­ing an epic, you are watch­ing this big old movie just sit back.’ It’s so loud and blear­ing at you, a gaunt­let is thrown down that the movie has to live up to.’ ” He goes on to describe the tak­ing of songs and arrang­ing them in a cer­tain sequence in a movie as “just 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 just real­ly spe­cial.” And did he already know, as he set Reser­voir Dogsun-unsee­able ear-slic­ing scene to that mel­low, then twen­ty-year-old hit from Steal­ers Wheel, that “when you do it right and you hit it right then the effect is you can nev­er real­ly hear this song again with­out think­ing about that image from the movie”? Cer­tain­ly his use of Bob­by Wom­ack­’s “Across 110th Street” has fused the song with Jack­ie Brown and not the epony­mous 1972 pic­ture for which Wom­ack orig­i­nal­ly wrote it. And who has Kill Bill and does­n’t asso­ciate it with Nan­cy Sina­tra’s ver­sion of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”? “I don’t know if Ger­ry Raf­fer­ty [a mem­ber of Steal­ers Wheel] nec­es­sar­i­ly appre­ci­at­ed the con­no­ta­tions that I brought to ‘Stuck in the Mid­dle with You,’ ” Taran­ti­no adds. “There is a good chance he did­n’t.” But when it comes to under­stand­ing a song’s cin­e­mat­ic poten­tial, Taran­ti­no has long since proven he knows what he’s doing.

Across 110th Street

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

via That Eric Alper

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Quentin Taran­ti­no Lists His Favorite Records: Bob Dylan, Fre­da Payne, Phil Ochs and More

The Pow­er of Food in Quentin Tarantino’s Films

The Best of Quentin Taran­ti­no: Cel­e­brat­ing the Director’s 50th Birth­day with our Favorite Videos

Jim Jar­musch: The Art of the Music in His Films

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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