Monday, January 7, 2013

Top 15 Song Moments in Quentin Tarantino Films


I’ve done my fair share of lists on this blog, and I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that this has to be one of (if not the) most difficult list I’ve ever assembled.

One of the reasons Quentin Tarantino uses music so well in movies is because he writes to the song, when most other directors write, shoot, and edit their sequences, then decide on music after the fact. QT finds songs he loves, and writes scenes based around their rhythm. Or, in the case of Django Unchained, he asks some of the most talented musicians working today to cut a track for his film, simply based on the inspiration they get from the script.

No matter the how, few can marry song and film as wondrously as Tarantino. The possibilities for this list are endless, but here are my favorites.

15. “Who Did That To You” by John Legend from Django Unchained
By this point in Django Unchained, the movie could’ve very well ended. Twice. But after Jamie Foxx skillfully tricks a trio of mining company employees, he frees and handful of slaves, strips his horse, and rides bareback to rescue his woman. A newly-released slave stares on admirably. “Who Did That To You,” Legend moans… it’s about damn time Django settles that once and for all.

14. “L’Arena (From Il Mercenario)” by Ennio Morricone from Kill Bill: Vol. 2
You know The Bride is going to get out of that lonely grave, but you just don’t know how. A hilarious and resourceful flashback gives us a hint, and when we cut back to the present, Morricone’s track let’s us know that everything will be all right. “Okay, Pai Mei, here I come.” You bet your ass.

13. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” by Nancy Sinatra from Kill Bill: Vol. 1
After splattering the blood of his ill-fated Bride, Tarantino takes his sweet time letting us into his kung-fu crazy world of Kill Bill, slowly fading in his comatose, silhouetted heroine. A literal song choice, but a perfect one nonetheless.

12. “Little Green Bag” by George Baker from Reservoir Dogs
Why does the credit sequence in Reservoir Dogs work so flawlessly? The slow motion, the song, the too-cool-for-school facial expressions – they all help, but certainly don’t fully explain the badassery of this sequence. Everything just… works. As unique and strong a statement that a new talent had emerged as I can recall.

11. “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill from Pulp Fiction
Uma Thurman’s little, perfect, stoned dance gets most of the credit here, but can we give props to John Travolta in this sequence. I’ve seen movie characters talking to themselves in a mirror countless times, and rarely does it work this well. “Go home, jerk off, and that’s all you gonna do.” Just, flawless.

10. “Unchained (The Payback/Untouchable)” by James Brown/2Pac from Django Unchained
In my initial review of Django Unchained I made specific mention of the moment in the film in which the thunderous James Brown/2Pac mashup track is used. Slow motion carnage erupts on screen as Brown’s snares tap tap tap away. A contemporary rap mashup being used in an epic slavery film simply should not work. But does it ever. Puzzlingly, gloriously, ferociously – it’s a perfect juxtaposition to the on screen mayhem.

9. “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack from Jackie Brown
From the instant the Miramax logo appears, Bobby Womack’s brilliant Motown ballad gets Jackie Brown off and running. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Yes, the use of this song in the opening scene gets far more play, but I’m more drawn to the final shot of the film: an extended, therapeutic unbroken shot of Ms. Jackie driving and singing, ecstatic in her deceit.

8. “Ironside (Excerpt)” by Quincy Jones from Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Seeing Kill Bill: Vol. 1 in the theater marks what is still one of my most anticipated movie experiences in my life. QT hadn’t made a film in six years, and my excitement for his new release was hyperbolic to say the least. Sure, the intro to the film is blissfully unsettling, but once Vivica A. Fox opened the door to her quiet house, and Jones’ 15-second cue from “Ironside” blasted away, I knew I was home. A brilliant musical touch, like a shot of adrenaline to the heart.

7. “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity” by Tomoyasu Hotei from Kill Bill: Vol. 1
There will be a few times during this post in which words will escape me. “Little Green Bag” was one, and “Battle Without Honor Or Humanity” is certainly another. There’s not much I can say or expand on except to say that the use of this song in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pure Tarantino and just, simply, works.

6. “Hold Tight” by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch from Death Proof
Part of the wonder of Tarantino soundtracks is in discovering brilliant tracks you’ve never heard. They’ve been around for decades but QT brings them to life in ways never imagined. “Hold Tight” is a bitchin’, drum-heavy track that I absolutely love, and considering the sudden massacre that occurs on screen while it blares over Death Proof… well, how can you not dig it?

5. “Strawberry Letter 23” by The Brothers Johnson from Jackie Brown
Up until this point in Jackie Brown, Ordell Robbie is all talk. He’s belittling to his women, smooth with his business, and knowledgeable about crime, but it’s all just chatter. That is, until Samuel L. Jackson talks Chris Tucker into getting into his trunk, then slowly puts on tight leather gloves, cocks his weapon, and drives half a block to kill his idiotic “passenger,” all while scored to The Brothers Johnson “Strawberry Letter 23.” That’s a bad motherfucker right there.

4. “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry from Pulp Fiction
“You Never Can Tell” helps make the twist-off dance sequence in Pulp Fiction one of the most iconic movie scenes on the ‘90s, and is utterly synonymous with the film itself. It’s Tony Manero, all these years later, owning the dance floor, with Mrs. Mia Wallace going toe-for-toe every step of the way. In my mind, it’s as perfect as movie scenes get.

3. “Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)” by David Bowie from Inglorious Bastards
Much like using a rap song in a slavery film, there’s no reason an ‘80s rock ballad should work in a revisionist World War II film. But that’s exactly what Tarantino is: a revisionist. Scored and choreographed perfectly (and propelled by Mélanie Laurent’s stoic face and Robert Richardson’s insanely crafty camera work), I now find it impossible to imagine this sequence scored to anything else. Note: the shot from 3:38-3:41 in the clip below is one of my favorite shots in any Tarantino film, thanks much in part to Bowie’s track.

2. “Misirlou” by Dick Dale & His Del-Tones from Pulp Fiction
If there was ever a song that simply IS Tarantino, it’s surely this one. Pumpkin politely threatens, Honey Bunny uncharacteristically shrieks demands, the frame freezes, the track begins and we wonder: What the hell have I just gotten myself into? From this point on, cinema would never be the same.

1. “Stuck In the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel from Reservoir Dogs
An obvious choice, perhaps, but an essential one all the same. The case, to me, is simply inarguable: the fashion in which Tarantino managed to mold this Dylan-esque, pop, bubblegum favorite from April of 1974 into a song of true terror is nothing short of masterful. The slashing, the ear, the gas – the violence here gets far more credit than it deserves, because quite frankly, this scene is so memorable due to Michael Madsen’s adulated performance. I love the slow walk to the car, the one-two dance shuffle, the precise movements – it’s so manic and marvelous. Just study Madsen’s face the instant the song begins to play. His face registers as if to say: Yes, this is the perfect song for what is about to happen. It’s a look only a Quentin Tarantino character could give.

30 comments:

  1. Santa Esmeralda's Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood. One would think a Flamenco inspired Disco track has no place in a moonlit wintry sword duel, but now I can't imagine a better match.

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    1. Oh that's a hell of a track right there, and used so damn well in Vol. 1.

      Great choice!

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  2. Awwww yeah. Tarantino is a master at crate digging and finding just the right music for his films. As you said, stuff like Rick Ross in Django should not work, but damn if it isn't effective. I can only imagine how difficult this list was to put together, but I think #1 has to be the unanimous choice. I would bump up the Chuck Berry myself, simply because that is a perfect dance scene if there ever was one, but I'm glad you put it in the top five at least. Nice work, man!

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    1. Thanks man! So glad you admire QT's musical choices as much as I do. The Chuck Berry track really is perfect, tough to argue that the others are "better," you know? They're all just so damn fantastic.

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  3. Perfect list is perfect.
    "You Never Can Tell" will be my choice for number 1, but really cannot argue with this list. Oh but I do very much love "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Woo Hoo".
    Tarantino is insane.

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    1. Thanks! Oh "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Woo Hoo" were right there, believe me. Tarantino fuckin' IS insane isn't he? I can't think of a time one of his song choices didn't benefit the a scene. A madman.

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  4. For me, the #1 moment that Quentin Tarantino used music in a film is that famous first-meeting between Jackie and Max Cherry to the tune of Bloodstone's Natural High.

    It's a perfect moment in film terms of visual presentation, editing, and music. It says a lot in that moment with so little that was needed.

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    1. Oh God, that is a perfect moment right there, it really says everything you need to know about Max Cherry as a man. You're right, it works on damn near every aspect of the filmmaking process.

      Excellent choice.

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  5. Awesome post, Alex! I've only seen a few QT films so far, but I love his use of music. Rick Ross' song in Django Unchained was the most memorable for me so far. I couldn't help but laugh - the song reminded me that the extreme violence was meant to be totally over-the-top.

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    1. Thanks! And that is definitely one of the intentions of QT's music choices: at times, he wants to remind you that you are indeed watching a movie, and all that comes with it. Glad you're liking his films!

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  6. Great list. It says something about Tarantino's choices that there are so many others that missed it. One of my favorites is "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" by the Delfonics from Jackie Brown. The shot of Robert Forster driving around listening to the song and thinking of Jackie is just awesome. I'm glad to see you mention "Across 110th Street", which sets the mood perfectly.

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    1. Thanks! You're right, it really speaks highly of QT that so many great song moments were excluded from my list. The Delfonics track in Jackie Brown is used so flawlessly. Ah, I just love it.

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  7. “Go home, jerk off, and that’s all you gonna do.” always has me in tears. That whole sequence is brilliant, especially when we see the shot of Mia covered in puke and blood and Vince says "Let's take a walk girl!" and then the shot of a car out of control on the road :) I love "Girl you will be..." it really fits the scene and the whole soundtrack for PF is awesome. My favorite is probably 'Bullwinkle part 2" played in the scene where Vince injects himself with drugs.

    I loved "Unchained" by James Brown and 2Pac played in Django, it was so badass. Hip hop really went well with the movie. "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" is one of my favorites too, loved the way they used in trailers as well. My fav tracks from Kill Bill are "Malagueńa Salerosa" - I never stay during end credits, but it was too awesome to leave - and "Dont let me be misunderstood" during fight with O-Ren.

    I remember listening "Across 110th street" for hours after seeing Jackie Brown

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    1. The ENTIRE overdose sequence is just brilliant. "FUCK YOU LANCE, ANSWER!!!"

      "Bullwinkle Part II" is the absolute perfect song for that scene. It glamorizes the use of herion in a way I've never witnessed. So eerie.

      All of your other top picks are great, as usual! I can never not picture Ms. Jackie Brown when "Across 110th" Street plays.

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  8. I remember QT was once asked to be the judge of an episode of American Idol, the theme of that episode was "songs from the movies". Yeah, you can't go wrong with the song choices in any QT movies.

    Among those you listed, I love 13,9,4,1. I might love others which I couldn't name.

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    1. I remember that American Idol episode too! You're right, there's no going wrong with music and QT.

      Glad you liked the list!

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  9. There's no doubt in my mind that the marriage of Chuck Berry, Tarantino and Uma Thurman with John Travolta in the dance floor is one of the best things I've seen in any film. This would obviously be my choice.
    I don't truly remember all of your choices, but the ones that I do recall are certainly praiseworthy.

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    1. That is just one of the finest, most iconic, most memorable scenes in film history. It always sends chills down my spine. Have you watched the special features for Pulp Fiction? During that scene, QT is just dancing off to the side, watching Uma and Travolta. It's fucking hysterical. And then after a few minutes, he just goes up and takes the camera from the DP and starts shooting it himself. Brilliant.

      Check it out here! Jump to the 2 minute mark for the good stuff.

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    2. Oh yes, I saw the special features as soon as I got the Blu-Ray of the film. This is a guy that loooooves what he does. How can you ask for more as a fellow artist sharing the set with him?

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    3. And he's just so damn funny to watch interact on set. You're right, he just loves the hell out of it.

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  10. Fantastic choices man! Again, your top 5 picks are ridiculously good, and the whole list is full of great stuff. Not to mention the many songs that didn't make it. No wonder this list was so hard to make!

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    1. Thanks duuude. Seriously, I could list another 15 and it'd arguably be just as good as the first one! So many great choices.

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  11. If I could, I would watch them right now, but work is in the way. I will get on it soon! Tarantino always has great soundtracks, I can't wait to see Django tonight or tomorrow!

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    1. That pesky work shit. Stupid. Haha, but I'm glad to hear you have a job!

      Can't wait to hear what you think of Django!

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  12. As you say, an obvious chioce for number one, but surely the only possible choice available? One of my favourite scenes in history, not just from Tarantino.

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    1. Damn right man! Sometimes obviousness is obvious for a reason, because it's the truth! Ha, but really, I agree, a classic scene in film history, not just QT film history.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  13. Great stuff. Tarantino sure knows how to pick his tunes. Love "Across 110th Street" and "Battle Without Honor...". Pretty sure I had the latter on an iPod at one point. Used to listen to it quite a bit.

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    1. Thanks man! I have all of his soundtracks on my phone. Sometimes I'll get in grooves and find that they're the only thing I'll listen to. Was rockin' the Death Proof soundtrack the other day. So so good.

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  14. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never seen Jackie Brown, but I have seen the opening and closing sequences, and was mesmorized by the end. It's so simple, and I don't know the context, but it was just so brilliantly shot and concluded!

    Everything from Kill Bill 1/2 is amazing.

    And I LOVE Cat People from Inglorious Basterds. That scene stole it.

    Great list!

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    1. Thanks! It speaks very highly to QT's skill that you were so entranced with the final scene of Jackie Brown, without having seen the rest. Really speaks to his power as a filmmaker.

      Cat People ruuuules. Glad you're a fan!

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