Tag Archive: Quentin Tarantino


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“The whole world’s comin’ to an end, Mal!” — Mickey

It was late summer back in 1994.  I had gradiated from Olde Genevieve, but college hadn’t started yet.  I was in a dawg haus with my girlyfriend’s parents from which I was never destined to emerge.  Nevertheless, we went to the movies one night.  It was a strange crowd.  One that never really hung out together.  In addition to me and the Drama Queen, the Artistic One and Top Gear were with us.  Now, to this day the Artistic One and Top Gear remain polar opposites on the electromagnetic spectrum, so yeah, it was weird.  But we were all out to see Ollie Stone’s latest controversial flick, a little ditty named Natural Born Killers.  It was supposed to be uber-violent and edgy, kinda like a modern A Clockwork Orange.  And usually that kind of thing would have been right up the Artistic One’s alley, but for some reason he didn’t take to it and he stepped out to smoke a ciggy.  And strangely enough, so did the Drama Queen, even though she didn’t smoke.  But it kind of got my proverbial goat, ’cause I had this weird vendetta against cigs since mi padre died when I was a wee lad, so it put me in a bad mood.  And it was just me and Top Gear watching the movie, and he was pretty much hating every minute of it.  So about halfway through (right about when Mickey and Mallory go into the drugstore to get the snakebite juice) we all bailed.  Which is okay…the second half of the movie is rubbish anyway.  But it was just a strange night, and it wound up being the last movie the Drama Queen and I would ever see together.

The connection here is that the song “Sweet Jane” features very prominently in the movie and on its soundtrack.  In fact, it’s sort of Mickey and Mallory’s theme and it comes back several times in the movie when ever they have a romantic scene.  But it’s not the Lou Reed version of the song, it’s a cover done by the Cowboy Junkies.  And all through college I used to love that version of the song.  Its mellow and soothing and the slide guitar just relaxes my mind and the la la section at the end takes me to another place.  Actually, the entire NBK soundtrack is killer (forgive the pun) and features tons of really great songs.  It was pretty much hand selected by Mercer, Pennsylvania’s favorite son and was Trenton’s first foray in cinema music (he’d win an Oscar later on for The Social Network original score).  And “Burn” may be the best non-album NIN track.

But as good as the soundtrack is, the movie pretty much is crap.  Even Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. can’t save it.  And that’s despite being written by my favorite auteur, Quentin Tarantino (sort of).  As the story goes, after Tarantino had dropped out of high school and was working at the video store, he wrote three scripts: True Romance, Natural Born Killers, and Reservoir Dogs.  Well, he wanted to make Dogs himself, so he sold the other two to finance it.  True Romance wound up being made by Tony Scott (who changed the ending), and Oliver Stone picked up NBK.  The thing is, he completely rewrote it…so much so that QT asked to have his name taken off it (he still gets a story credit).  Now, I’ve read the original script, and its basically a crime drama (much like the rest of QT’s early work).  But Stone decided to make it a media statire and his transparent moralizing ruins the film.  And the 8 million cuts are bizarre and fairly obvious (“hey look, it’s Mickey’s inner demon!”).  Its sort of an attempt at 90s psychedelia, but it doesn’t work and it hasn’t aged well.

So I picked up this album a year or so ago at the east side Half Price Books that used to off Brice Road (it recently moved all the way up to McNaughten).  They were playing it over the sound system while I was browsing, and when I got up to the register I asked how much it was and the clerk said $6.99 American and I said “I’ll take it!” (probably without that much enthusiasm).  As far as the music goes, I dig the songs Lou Reed sings and not much else.  Doug Yule just really doesn’t do it for me.  But hey, at least Nico was long gone by this point.  Actually, Lou Reed was gone too by the time this was released…on to a stellar solo career (minus that one collaboration a few years ago with Metallica…ugh, that record is terrible!).

Other lists: “Sweet Jane” is #342 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: Even the Velvets are not immune to the critical darling that is Kid A and drop one spot from their original position of #109.

My favorite track: “Sweet Jane”

Honorable mention: “Rock & Roll”

Quote: “Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all.  She started dancin’ to the fine fine music, you know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.”

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Superfly

It was Christmas Day back in 1997.  I was dating the Drama Queen, and Black Cloud was dating her best friend. I was home from college, we had all finished up with family time, and we were excited to meet up and head out to a movie.  We were all Quentin Tarantino fans (who wasn’t back then?), and after the excruciatingly long three year wait since Pulp Fiction, it was finally the release date for his third film, Jackie Brown.  Little did I realize it at the time, but I was about to have my first experience with a blaxploitation flick.  Or at least an homage to a blaxploitation flick.  Actually, after the movie I was a little disappointed.  Yes, Jackie Brown had Samuel L. Jackson, but drug-pushing Ordell just didn’t seem nearly as cool as the wise hitman Jules from Pulp Fiction.  And although Tarantino found another aging-actor to be a lead, Robert Forster’s performance as Max Cherry seemed a little stiff compared to John Travolta’s masterful portrayal of Vincent Vega.  And there was only one scene out of sequence (the money exchange at the mall near the end of the movie)!

Well, it wasn’t until after the success of the  Kill Bill films that I went back and gave Jackie Brown a second chance.  By this time, DVDs had become the medium of choice, and in one of the special features on the Jackie Brown disc, Tarantino talked about many of his influences coming from exploitation movies, and specifically blaxploitation movies being the inspiration to take the lead character in Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch and change her into a black woman.  Then, he went out and hired the queen of blaxplotation movies, Pam Grier, to play the lead and even made the title an homage to one of her most famous films, Foxy Brown.  I was intrigued.  So of course, I went out and bought a box set of Pam Grier movies, as well as several other exploitation movies that Tarantino has sponsored for re-release, and I dug into the genre.  For those who aren’t in the know, exploitation movies were basically a genre of cheaply produced movies in the 70s that featured lots of sex, drugs, fast cars, and motorcycles.  Blaxploitation movies were the black version of the genre, and usually were set in the inner city and had stories about pimps and drug-pushers.

So the connection here is that this album is the soundtrack for the blaxploitation movie Super Fly (yes, the movie title is almost always printed as two worlds while the album and song title is usually printed as one).  So I picked up this album for $5.82 on Amazon, and as I listened it I thought in my head that this would make a lot more sense if I watched the movie.  Fortunately DVD copies of Super Fly are super cheap (the sequel was never released on DVD and VHS copies of that are super pricey), so I picked on up on Ebay for $6.89, and after I watched it, the stories behind all of the songs all sort of clicked into place.  In a way, this is sort of an answer to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.  Marvin Gaye released that album in 1971, and here in 1972 Curtis Mayfield answers this is what’s going on…drugs, violence, death, and a never ending vicious cycle of life in the inner city.  The two albums even share many musical commonalities, including the smooth, high voices of the singers the string arrangements that soar overtop of the horns and the Congo drums.  Superfly is a bit funkier though, probably due to Mayfield’s wah-wah guitar playing and some phat bass lines.

As for the movie, Super Fly is interesting in as much as it doesn’t glorify “the life”.  In fact, it shares a major commonality with Jackie Brown in that the leads in both movies are trying to get out of “the life”.  And to do so, both characters are trying to pull one last big score that will let them escape to a new life and a chance to go straight.  The obstacles in both movies are pretty much the same…drug lords who won’t let anybody leave their business, cops who may or may not be on the up-and-up, and friends of questionable character and trustworthiness.  Hell, the climax of both movies is virtually the same, with both Priest (the lead in Super Fly) and Jackie using a decoy to smuggle the money out while he/she allows him/herself to be captured and ultimately confront the bad guys.  Oh well, nothing Tarantino does is truly original…he just improves on things…

Super Fly

Other lists: Curtis Mayfield ranks at #40 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, #34 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, and #98 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped three spots from its original position at #69 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

My favorite track: “Pusherman”

Honorable mention: “Superfly”

Quote: “We’re all built up with progress, but sometimes I must confess: We can deal with rockets and dreams, but reality…what does it mean?”

Elvis Presley

 

The movie “True Romance” begins with the main character, Clarence, declaring his love for Elvis to a girl he unsuccessfully tries to pick up in a bar on his birthday.  Then, throughout the movie, Clarence is given advice by his “mentor”, a blurry Elvis-like figure who usually appears while Clarence is using the restroom.  The “mentor” gives Clarence the confidence to do the things that move the plot forward, like killing his girlfriend/wife’s pimp and selling a suitcase full of cocaine to a Hollywood film director.  And in usual Quentin Tarantino fashion, these events usually lead to a gunfight.  I’m starting to think that Tarantino is an Elvis man, not a Beatles man (although oddly I don’t think he’s ever used an Elvis song on one of his soundtracks…maybe the royalties cost too much).  At the end of the movie, Clarence’s wife, Alabama, names their son Elvis.  Don’t mess with the King.

So I found this album one day at the Half-Price Books out East on Brice Road, and I snagged it for $5.99 (minus my teacher discount).  This was the first album Elvis recorded after his Sun Records contract was sold to RCA, and it sounds mostly like a continuation of his Sun recordings.  There are even a few of those early Sun recordings thrown in to fill up space on this record.  The big difference is the addition of drums/percussion to the newer material.  By this point in his career, Elvis had also started to develop that “uh-huh-uh-huh-uh-huh” vocal pattern that made him so famous, but which honestly I find annoying and distracting.  The music is good though, and it’s interesting to hear him play covers of R&B songs like “I Got a Woman” and “Tutti Frutti” right beside country western covers like “Blue Moon”.  Actually, I guess you could consider the entire album to be a cover album, since Elvis never wrote any of his own material.  But he was the King, and the King does what he wants, right?  And apparently the King wanted to mesh R&B and country into a new form of music called rock ‘n roll.  Long live the King.

Other lists: “Blue Suede Shoes” is #430 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (“Heartbreak Hotel” which was included on this CD reissue, but which was not on the original album, is #45 on the same list).

Ch-ch-changes: This album also dropped one spot from its position on the original list due to the rise of “Meet the Beatles!”.

My favorite track: “Blue Suede Shoes”

Honorable mention: “I Got a Woman”

Quote: “Well, it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go, cat, go!”