Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tarantino's Mix Tapes Get Award

From today's Hollywood Reporter:

Quentin Tarantino will be honored with the first ever Critics' Choice Music+Film Award.

The inaugraual(sic) award was created to honor a single filmmaker who inspires moviegoers with cinematic storytelling, but also heightened the impact of film through the use of source and soundtrack music.

Tarantino was cited for his mix of music and film in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill: Vol 1 & 2, and Inglourious Basterds.

And that's all HR had to say. There was no examination of how ludicrous this news is. While I'm a big fan of the soundtracks for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino lost me when it came to Jackie Brown with the opening sequence (a visual lift from The Graduate) set to the title track of Across 110th Street. Since then he's just been absolutely shameless with his use of other films' music in his own movies.

The Graduate


Across 110th Street


Jackie Brown


When Jackie Met Benjamin

You can call Tarantino one of the most environmentally-friendly filmmakers of our age due to his visual and audible recycling. You can say that it's wonderful he's throwing a spotlight on older films via his "sampling" of soundtrack music from older films. Or, you can say that he's a lazy filmmaker who doesn't employ a composer to score his film but just leaves the "temp track" on his movies. The real shame is that there are people I've talked to -- people who claim that they're film fans -- that have no idea that "that great song in Inglourious Basterds" was from another film.

The Big Gundown

Even the tune most-associated with Kill Bill, Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor Or Humanity" was the theme to, you guessed it, Battle without Honor or Humanity.

Battle without Honor or Humanity
Kill Bill Trailer

So, I'm a little taken aback by Tarantino getting acknowledged for his inspiring use of soundtrack music. If anything, it seems a little uninspired.

Twisted Nerve
Kill Bill

Now, now... I know I shouldn't get so bent out of shape. I mean, Quentin Tarantino does so much to give back to the film community. After he rifles through all of these films, biting his favorite bits, including songs, he does a great job of getting them put out on deluxe DVDs via his illustrious company Rolling Thunder, right? I mean, look at that lovingly restored version of The Grand Duel, the controversial The Losers disc, and that deluxe box set for Twisted Nerve and, of course, the movie his company was named for -- Rolling Thunder -- has been flying off the shelves since it had the huge DVD and revival house screenings it enjoyed... Oh, wait....

Rolling Thunder released just a handful of films before it closed up shop. It never released Rolling Thunder, its namesake, nor did it release (m)any of the films that, eh-hem, inspired Tarantino. Instead, it became just another ill-conceived vanity project that lived for a while in the VHS age and never translated to DVD.

And, what's worse, he continues to get lauded for his so-called contributions to the movie and music world. Critics' Choice is even making up an award for him, the Music+Film Award. Let's not talk about how music's been used through the ages -- even repurposed -- to work with film.

And what about Stanley Kubrick and his use of classical music for films like A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey? In the case of 2001, Kubrick had a full score done for his film with the intention of utilizing several classical pieces regardless. While these pieces may have been used in the past (I won't make any claims to knowing in "The Blue Danube" had never made an appearance in a movie before 1968), Kubrick's visuals and the content of his story recontextualized these songs to give them additional meaning. Though some may think that Elvis is about to go on stage when they hear "Also Sprach Zarathustra", the piece was given this new life as Elvis's theme music due to 2001.

The same can be said about A Clockwork Orange with the additional facet that the music here was given a new life via the machinations of composer Wendy Carlos Williams. "Ode to Joy" and other classical pieces are given new life via Williams's use of electronic music to reinterpret the classic pieces into a dystopian future. And, let's not forget Alex (Malcolm McDowell) recasting "Singing in the Rain" as his song of happiness as he commits atrocious acts. If Tarantino had made A Clockwork Orange he'd have set the action against Motown recordings and had Alex sing "Tears of a Clown".

There are so many songs that I can't hear without picturing the images that went with them in various films; when I hear "Layla" by Eric Clapton I can only think of the montage from Goodfellas. Or, to continue with Goodfellas, whenever I hear "Sunshine Of Your Love" by Cream I think of the slow push in on Robert DeNiro as contemplates his situation. All of the acting going on in his face while that music just brings out the darkness in his heart.


Now, I'll completely agree with the way that Tarantino worked with '70s songs in Reservoir Dogs (I can't hear Stealers Wheel without picturing Mr. Blond doing a little boogie to it before he goes to work on Marvin Nash with a razor blade. Or hear "Little Green Bag" without picturing the cast walking in slow-mo during the opening credits. (Reservoir Dogs wasn't mentioned in the above Hollywood Reporter quote). And his use of surf music as "modern day spaghetti western music" worked wonderfully in Pulp Fiction. But, since then, it's been downhill with his pilfering of other films' soundtracks for his own. And, for that, he gets lauded and an award from his peers. Shameful.

Special bonus track:


Anonymous said...

Did Tarantino rape your family or something? I can't believe this shit still bothers you after like 15 years. I used to enjoy your mag back in the day and all that, so I don't want to be negative on you or anything...but jesus dude, it's not like people don't know Tarantino takes half his shit from some other movie he admits it himself. You just come off like a nag at this point.

Besides, lots of indie filmmakers do the same thing. How can you give a pass to El Frenetico or Lethal Force or half the recent indies for THE EXACT SAME THING?

Mike White said...

If you check out the DVD of Lethal Weapon, you'll see that Alvin added a score to the final film. I can excuse lower-budget movies for taking from established scores. It's when a filmmaker has a budget that they should pay for music rights and/or get a proper score for their films.

And, BTW, no, Tarantino didn't rape me or anyone in my family.

Mike White said...

Lethal Force. Not Lethal Weapon.

Anonymous said...

The Cream song in Goodfellas is "Sunshine Of Your Love"...not "White Room".

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