1. BATTLE WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY by Tomoyasu Hotei
From Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
Up until Kill Bill, forgotten rockabilly and pop songs from the 1970s were the staple of the Tarantino soundtrack. That all changed when the tight guitar flicks and double-brass blast that opened Tomoyasu Hotei’s Japanese hit became the signature musical moment from this two-part Kung Fu epic. Tarantino stole this track from the 2000 film New Battles Without Honor and Humanity (aka Another Battle) but its association with Kill Bill is definitive. From its first appearance in the trailer, ‘Battle…’ became as instantly iconic as The Bride’s yellow and black-striped motorcycle leathers and was quickly parodied in everything from Team America: World Police (hilariously) to Hotel For Dogs (less so).
Film-wise, the song is gifted not to Uma Thurman but to her nemesis, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) scoring her arrival at The House of Blue Leaves, flanked by her entourage of masked swordsmen and schoolgirl assassins. Nevertheless, it has since replaced AC/DC’s Back in Black as the song most likely to make any iPod listener suddenly start walking in slow motion, preferably in front of a large reflective window so they can see how baddass they look.
This video is most definitely NSFW.
2. L’ARENA by Ennio Morricone
From Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
Ennio Morricone is Tarantino’s most beloved film composer. Stealing songs from other people’s movies was never a problem for QT – Bobby Womack’s title track from Across 110th Street (1972) for example, was pilfered and reassigned as Jackie Brown’s de facto title song. This marked one of the first times that Tarantino swiped the actual score from another movie. Passages from several Morricone soundtracks would later find themselves repatriated into Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained (to the reported chagrin of the legendary Italian composer).
L’Arena was taken from the soundtrack to Sergio Corbucci’s 1968 ‘Spaghetti’ western A Professional Gun (or ‘Il Mercenario’), starring Franco Nero and Jack Palance. Fittingly, it was used here in Kill Bill Vol. 2, the Spaghetti Western to Vol. 1’s Kung-Fu epic, and it scored the film’s most memorable scene: Uma Thurman kicking her way out of her coffin having been buried alive.
3. DOWN IN MEXICO by The Coasters
From Death Proof (2007)
Tarantino’s second half of the Grindhouse double-bill marked the first (and so far last) time that his golden touch seemed to desert him. An enormous flop on its US debut, Grindhouse was cleft in twain for international release and Planet Terror and Death Proof were both re-edited as single films. A good thing too, because one of Death Proof’s most memorable scenes had originally been cut out and replaced teasingly with a ‘Reel Missing’ notice.
Radio DJ ‘Jungle’ Julia tells her listeners that anyone who can recite a certain poem to her that night will get a free lap-dance from her friend Arlene. After an interminable length of time listening to Julie, Arlene and their friend Shanna spouting endless, inconsequential Tarantinese on their way to a bar, the mood shifts abruptly when a seemingly benign stuntman (Kurt Russell, who may or may not be stalking them) suddenly recites said poem word for word. After much deliberation Arlene finally agrees and puts on a show-stopping, cat-like performance to this swampy, 1970 version of an old doowop classic. Trivia fans will note that the record played in the film was the actual vinyl copy from Tarantino’s own jukebox, which he Christened “Amy.”
Again, this video is NSFW.
4. CAT PEOPLE (PUTTING OUT FIRE) by David Bowie
From Inglourious Basterds (2009)
It would be folly to criticise a film in which Hitler is machine-gunned to death by Eli Roth, for using a song from the 1980s to anachronistically soundtrack the 1940s. This is less a film about war than ‘War Cinema,’ and capturing the mood meant far more to Tarantino than historical accuracy. This opening of the fifth chapter – Revenge of The Giant Face – represents a sudden redirection of attitude, following the tension, violence and thrills that precede it.
Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), having escaped Hans Landa’s machine guns in the opening scene, has since taken over a small provincial cinema. Events conspire to bring the entire Nazi high command to her door to attend the premiere of a German propaganda film. The sombre, reflective shots of Shosanna readying herself for the premiere – during which she plans to kill every Nazi in attendance – are transformed into something mesmerising by Bowie’s brooding theme. Transformation is at the heart of Cat People (Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake, from which this track was purloined) and as the song kicks into gear, Shosanna is transformed from a pensive, nervous fugitive into a determined soldier who will stop at nothing to complete her mission and have her revenge.
5. TRINITY (TITOLI) by Annibale E I Cantori Moderni
From Django Unchained (2012)
Having embarked of a whirlwind of musical larceny that merged Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith with James Brown and 2Pac (via Jim Croce), Tarantino closed his revenge western with this sweet, Frankie Laine-type sing-song from a 1970 Italian comedy-western, The Call Me Trinity. Reminiscent of Jason Robards’s comic theme from Once Upon a Time in The West, it is held together by the kind of loose-stringed slap bass that one fondly associates with ITC show theme-tunes and ancient cinema curry-house adverts.
The song is a ‘Big Bad John’-style biography. Following, as they do, Django’s ride into the sunset with his gal by his side and the smell of freshly dynamited plantation house in his nose, the lyrics seem to be telling Django’s story and cementing his legend. After repeated plays though, lines like “He’s a sleepy tired guy / Always takes his time / Sure I know you’ll be changing your mind / When you see him use a gun, boy,” the words could just as easily be summing up the eight-movie career of Quentin Tarantino.