Owning just four film soundtracks on CD and a further one on mp3, some may believe I cannot possibly be well versed enough in film music to publish my opinions in any kind of authoritative way, especially a virtually anonymous post on a website. However this is merely because one must rigorously evaluate a film soundtrack before paying the extortionate high-street prices for the aforementioned genre. This is because film soundtracks run the gauntlet of having dud tracks or tracks that simply do not fit, for simplicity I will choose to cite the song Walking Song by Meredith Monk on the soundtrack to The Big Lebowski, which happens to be one of the soundtracks I own. Some may argue the song echoes the bizarre nature of the film however I would counter that the song is simply irrelevant as the rest of the soundtrack reflects the eccentric nature of the film, for example the extraordinary cover of The Eagles’ Hotel California by Franco-Spanish flamenco band Gipsy Kings who graced the cinema world recently with their charming cover of You’ve Got A Friend In Me for Toy Story 3.
I would argue that the criteria of success for a film soundtrack is far broader than that of a regular album because, despite running the risk of dud tracks, the selection is far more likely to triumph, for example the David Dobkin film Fred Clause, which suffers from what can only be described as Terrible-As-Usual-Christmas-Film-Syndrome, a disease that plagues the cinemas every year like a particularly nasty strain of Ebola. Fred Clause however has one stand-out scene that isn’t blighted by symptoms such as soppy discharge or bleeding ears due to the banality and predictability of the dialogue. A man teaches a dwarf to dance in order to impress a beautiful woman, an unsurprisingly idiotic scene though it isn’t unfunny and the song chosen lifts the scene out of what could have been an uncomfortable situation. For some reason Beast Of Burden by The Rolling Stones strikes the balance between being beautiful enough to make the scene ironically funny but having the signature Rolling Stones rock-blues beat to drive the pace of the scene along in a way that sets the scene above the rest of the film. Especially the final scenes in which dwarves watch family’s open presents that the dwarves themselves admitted the families did not want on a giant snow globe that can see into any house on the planet, I won’t discuss the implications of this in light of the fact that real people do ask others for products from Ann Summers for Christmas. What really makes this scene almost painful to watch is the hideous selection of Silent Night on the soundtrack. Now I am an enormous fan of the carol, especially preceding Tom Waits’ Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis during his set on the Old Grey Whistle Test in the late 1970s – yes that is a plug, go and watch it on YouTube- however this mournfully slow version is simply so out of place in what is essentially an exultant scene that it makes me think they were just trying to work a carol into the film for the sake of it, which never makes for a good piece of cinema.
A good film soundtrack usually means that one can listen to it with great pleasure without watching the film, or that it fits the film seamlessly, or even in some cases that it is set against the mood of the film to great effect, a perfect example being Stealers Wheel classic Stuck In The Middle With You during the famous scene of grotesque torture in Tarantino’s gem Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino himself is famous for his command of music in his films and the Pulp Fiction soundtrack is another of the film soundtracks I own.
Pulp Fiction has arguably the greatest soundtrack of any film ever made adhering to all the success criteria Tarantino uses songs that one can listen to while relaxing in the bath and songs that one can dance the night away to, as Uma Thurman and John Travolta do in another of cinema’s most wonderful scenes. As the pair pull out dance moves that harken back to Travolta’s earlier career in musical cinema, I think I need not cite examples, the wonderful choice of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell plays on the soundtrack. This blending of tunes that both fit the film wonderfully but are so listenable outside the context of it are why the soundtrack is so perfect.
Of course, the opening moments of the film would not be so memorable if it were not for the inclusion of Miserlou a song with strange Greek and Serbian origins. Set alongside the freeze-frame of two would-be armed thieves raising their guns in the diner they are about to ransack the song is perfect, it sets off the film with an electric vitality and makes the bold credits far more interesting. Miserlou does suffer in my opinion however because of it’s repetitive and heavily distorted, modern sound which, when listening to it on the CD, has the same effect that I imagine being strapped into a chair in an empty warehouse and having Woody Woodpecker sit on your chest and peck directly into your cerebral cortex would. This said however the track on the CD is particularly pleasing because the recording includes a short amount of Tarantino’s rich dialogue before the song actually begins. Snippets of machine-gun dialogue are peppered around the soundtrack like the bullets of the hand-cannon that miss Vincent and Jules by inches in a particularly sharp scene, these add to the intoxicating effect of the soundtrack.
Though I realise I might be bloviating perpetually on Tarantino but he simply is a master of film soundtracks, I have already mentioned two of his films that adhere to all the criteria of a successful film soundtrack and I haven’t even time to make a significant dent in the man audacious enough to include Morricone music in his own faux Western cum revenge B movies Kill Bill. It is important however to make a lasting plea to the reader to go and buy the Collectors Edition of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack if it is only for the sixteen minute long interview with the director on how he listens to his records to inspire his films. Perhaps with that rationale he has hit on pure soundtrack gold and for anyone who loves music and film he is certainly a man to study intently.
That is not to say however that the only soundtracks worth listening to are those of Tarantino films, I would be out of a job rather quickly if I was only to talk about the music of his seven full films, especially as I have already talked about the essence of why his soundtracks are so perfect. No the world of film music is far more complex than Tarantino; Scorsese for example is far more prolific and I would say he has done far more for film music and music in general than Tarantino ever will or could. However discussing the music of the greatest film director of all time shall have to wait for another review, that is supposing the powers that be at Coda don’t balk at my entry and I am never seen again, you never know I might meet the same fate as Chris Tucker in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Hm, I wonder which song was playing at that moment… I can’t recall…I’m sure it was superb though.