Quentin Tarantino Says There's an Art to the Music in His Movies

'Pulp Fiction'Credit: Miramax
What's your favorite of Tarantino's use of music in his films? 

One of the purest joys in a Tarantino movie is hearing the needle drops as different scenes or lines of dialogue begin. From cutting an ear off during "Stuck in the Middle with You" in Reservoir Dogs to the 5.6.7.8's scoring the Bride's violence in Kill Bill, Tarantino never misses when it comes to the tunes. 

Well, now we have QT's explanation for why his music is art inside his films. 

In a booklet that came with The Tarantino Connection, a collection of soundtrack songs from his films, Tarantino explained, "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.'”

Tarantino continued, “To me the opening credits are very important because that’s the only mood time that most movies give themselves. A cool credit sequence and the music that plays in front of it, or note played, or any music ‘whatever you decide to do’ that sets the tone for the movie that’s important for you. So I’m always trying to find what the right opening or closing credit should be early on when I’m just even thinking about the story. Once I find it that really kind of triggers me in to what the personality of the piece should be what the rhythm of this piece should be.”

I love hearing Tarantino expand on how he just blasts songs until he finds the exact right feeling. Obviously, having a large budget can help there, but he really searches for the right track that hits the notes but also accentuates the story. 

It's true art. 

Want to see the theory in practice? Tarantino talks about how the Dick Dale song "Misirlou" fits into Pulp Fiction. 

“Having ‘Misirlou’ as your opening credits is just so intense it just says, ‘you are watching an epic, you are watching this big old movie just sit back.’ It’s so loud and blaring at you, a gauntlet is thrown down that the movie has to live up to; it’s like saying, ‘We’re big!'”

Of course, no Tarantino song chat is complete without mentioning Reservoir Dogs, which set the tone early for extreme violence and extreme fun juxtaposed against each other in the ear slicing scene. 

“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,” Tarantino said. “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.”

He expanded on this idea, saying: “And 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. I don’t know if Gerry Rafferty necessarily appreciated the connotations that I brought to ‘Stuck in the Middle with You.’ There is a good chance he didn’t.”

Of course, music doesn't just inspire what happens on screen, but it's part of every step in Taratino's process. He often writes to music that may not be in the motion picture, but helps him hit what needs to happen on the page.

As Tarantino said, “Music is very, very important in my movies. In some ways the most important stage, whether it ends up being in the movie or not, is just when I come up with the idea itself before I have actually sat down and started writing. What I’m looking for is the spirit of the movie, the beat that the movie will play with." 

What are the Tarantino musical moments that make your head spin? Are you a fan of writing to music to express yourself on the page? 

Let us know in the comments.      

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I honestly believe Kill Bill has many of them, with Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang," for the grim opening credits, the theme from "Twisted Nerve," in the hospital sequence, the backstory of O-Ren Ishii to Ennio Morricone's music from "Death Rides a Horse," the theme from "Ironside," for the flashbacks, "The Lonely Shepherd," for the scene when Hattori Hanzo reveals his new sword, his masterpiece, to the Bride, the list is endless.

In Inglourious Basterds, both the theme for "Slaughter," and the theme to "The Battle for Algiers," in the Hugo Stiglitz sequence and David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)," for the beginning of the final act of the film.

I could go on forever!

May 19, 2021 at 1:46PM

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Jesse J. Tripp
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