There’s simply no denying that Quentin Tarantino is one of modern cinema’s most pivotal figures. When Tarantino broke out of the shadows of blockbuster Hollywood during the early nineties to bring indie sensibilities to big screen pictures, the world rejoiced in unison. Tarantino was different to directors before him, using a post-modern lens he told glorious and gory stories with equal verve, never willing to compromise on his unique and untethered vision for what his movie would be.
One key aspect of all of the films he has directed remains that they all arrive equipped with an astounding soundtrack — the kind of soundtracks that can be released and sold as standalone records. Seen as the king of Indiewood following the release of his debut picture Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino gently toyed with the tropes of cinema and enhanced them with a self-referential style that ensured his audience knew he was a movie fan before becoming a director. It’s a style that has underpinned his work ever since and can also be heard in the soundtracks mentioned.
The delicate balance Tarantino has always struck with his films has always relied on the weight of glory that the past can sometimes hold and the gravitational pull of the future and modernity. In the soundtracks for his movies, which naturally chart the course of said films, we get an up-close and personal look at this. Looking through the list of songs gathered from his films Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds, Django, and the rest, Tarantino often relies on the past’s golden gems to gild his films.
Of course, Reservoir Dogs relies heavily on music and the expert tone of Steven Wright who acts as a constant companion for the audience as K Billy hosting his “Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend.” Within the film, Tarantino uses music to make the most poignant moments truly pop, including, of course, the infamous moment Mr Blonde cuts off the ear of the kidnapped officer while dancing to ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ by Stealer’s Wheel. It’s a technique that he took into all of his movies.
Whether it is the infamous rendition of ‘Bang Bang’ in Kill Bill as Elle Driver makes her way to kill The Bride or, indeed when that same Bride faces off against the Crazy 88 amid a flurry of blood, blades and badass playing from The 5,6,7,8’s, Tarantino is a dab hand at using the vibes of the past to control his narrative. That said, he was also happy to let RZA from Wu-Tang Gang have creative control over the music for both editions of Kill Bill once again proving his affinity with blend past and future.
There’s also a lot to be said for Pulp Fiction not having the same impact if not for the expert soundtrack. Originally conceived by Tarantino as a rock ‘n’ roll version of a spaghetti western, something Tarantino was a big fan of, he needed the rock ‘n’ roll version of Ennio Morricone. For Tarantino, that meant surf-rock.
It would go on to be a vital part of the film’s iconography, perfectly distilled and delivered as Honey Bunny’s shots ring out and Dick Dale’s version of ‘Misirlou’ kicks into gear. The opening title run through and is then replaced by ‘Jungle Fever’ from Kool and the Gang, as the songs once again infiltrate the storyline. Moving throughout the film, the soundtrack becomes a starting member of the ensemble. Whether it is Chuck berry’s influence on Vince Vega and Mia Wallace’s dance contest with his song ‘You Never Can Tell’ or Wallace’s own “I fucking love this song” moment as she plays Urge Overkill’s ‘Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon’, the soundtrack is a star.
In fact, across all of his films, Tarantino’s use of songs and scores to illustrate, narrate and render his movies is impeccable. It encouraged the director to share a playlist of his favourite songs from his films last year to a ripple of applause from his fans. But the real beauty of these famed soundtracks comes when you listen to them the whole way through. Knowing the films, listening to each record offers a stimulating retelling of the pot using one’s own imagination; offering new angles, perspectives and theories that, without re-listening, would remain hidden in the audience’s psyche.
Below, take a journey through Quentin Tarantino’s filmography through their soundtracks and marvel at the sonic innovation the director has always implemented.