Tarantino on Film Music

Yesterday, composer Alain Mayrand over at Getting the Score posted an interesting quote from Quentin Tarantino on his use of music in his films, taken from a master class given by the filmmaker in Cannes. In response to Tarantino’s comments, Mayrand brings up some interesting issues from a composer’s point of view. As a film music fan, I had a raw, primal reaction to the quote and felt the need to share my thoughts as well.

I don’t normally use original score. I don’t trust any composer to do it… The music is so important. The idea of paying a guy and showing him your movie at the end and then he comes over it; I would never give anybody that kind of responsibility…I have one of the best soundtrack collections… That’s how I write it, that’s how I design it; I go into my soundtrack collection and I start visualizing the sequences…I cut out the composers. I work with the best composers, Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin, John Berry [sic]…but I don’t deal with them.

Tarantino serves as screenwriter, director, and Grand Poobah on his films, which is entirely his right as a filmmaker. But for someone who prides himself on one of the “best” soundtrack collections, he seems to have missed the boat on how original film music can serve his films.

I don’t trust any composer to do it.

Why not? Another director trusted that composer enough to compose those tracks that are helping you to visualize your scenes. I guess that means that the cinematography, editing, art direction, and acting aren’t particularly important elements of your films since you “trust” those individuals to do their jobs.

As for showing the film to a composer at the end, how about bringing him on at the beginning? If the music is so essential, make him part of your creative process, not another violent punctuation in your bloody tale.

I work with the best composers…but I don’t deal with them.

I bet these composers are perfectly happy not to deal with you as well. The paycheck would be sweet, but who wants to compose a score that has already been spotted and timed to the ultimate temp track? Might as well cash the scratch for the reuse fees and skip having a director hovering over every note with the distinct possibility that the score will be rejected and “cut out” anyway.

Tarantino doesn’t want a score, he wants a schizo compilation of tracks that he can mold, cut, slice and dice to his satisfaction. Sure, that collection of eccentric tracks contributes to the unique, frenetic quality of his films. But instead of an original score that fits his vision, he is content to rehash someone else’s musical vision. Apparently film music is interchangeable. It doesn’t matter who or what the music was written for. It’s all grist (or gristle) for Tarantino’s mill. I question whether or not he is capable of an original cinematic, much less musical, thought.

Tarantino can do whatever he likes on his films and continue to make all the loving homages he wants. But it’s this kind of pompous attitude from a “major” (and I use that term loosely) filmmaker that contributes to the lack of respect shown to film composers today. His attitude towards film music is arrogant and snide, and I won’t support it with my hard-earned dollars.

  1. Nice article with some good points about Quentin & his attitude towards original scores. However, I think for the types of movies Tarantino puts together his selection of music & editing of said music works well together. I believe that Tarantino has specific music in mind prior to setting up certain scenes and bases some of the action around said music. Creating something new to go around his completed filming may not work as well for him.

    In any regard, I enjoy most of his films and I also enjoy those filmmakers who do utilize original scores. The joy of having so many creative minds out there allows for such differences and wider scope of musical inclusion with all different films produced.

    1. I agree that music and editing works well for his films. But is that because that’s all we’ve seen (again and again and again) or because he’s simply unwilling to relinquish control? And while creating something new to go around his completed film make not work for him, why not bring the composer in as part of the creative process?

      I wouldn’t presume to tell Tarantino how to do his job anymore than I’d want him telling me how to do mine. He’s certainly an influential filmmaker. Whether or not that’s a good thing, depends on your point of view. There’s room enough out there for everyone. But this attitude towards something I dearly love–film music–irritates the hell out of me.

  2. Tarantino is a pompous pervert. His films aren’t original or worthwhile—they’re pornographic regurgitations of his childhood movie repertoire, fulfilling whatever dark violent or sexual fantasies he fancies at the moment.

    His attitude about music smacks of the worst kind of arrogance. Every good filmmaker recognizes the necessarily collaborative nature of making films. A director combines the strength of his creative vision with the strengths of dozens or hundreds of other people who have strengths in a hundred other areas. It’s still, ultimately, his vision, but he knows better than to think he doesn’t need to rely on talented artists in a number of fields. Directors who are so loathe to relinquish control of the music that they refuse to even work with a composer are narcissistic and naïve.

    Tarantino’s method of stitching together pre-existing pieces of music works fine as a gimmick, but not as a general rule for good art. “Dead” music that fits a director’s vision may make for a functional film; new music tailored specifically for the director’s vision and his current material—born out of an organic collaboration between two distinct but unified artists—makes (or can make) for an absolutely transcendent experience.

    He can keep making these Frankenstein creations for all I care, robbing the graveyards of old movies and recorded music. But I won’t be watching them.

    1. Tim, I’ll agree with pompous and regurgitations of childhood film repertoire. As for pervert and pornographic, well, I’ll leave that up to each of us to decide for ourselves. As for arrogance, gimmick, and Frankenstein creations (great phrase, by the way), I agree wholeheartedly.

      I’ve bitched about “writer masturbation” in past posts. Well, this smacks of supreme director masturbation. It’s his film, his budget. He can do what he wants. But I don’t have to watch just because he’s not respectful enough to shut the bathroom door when he does it.

      Tarantino has always been a polarizing director. And two posts on two different sites and the comments so far show that that hasn’t changed. Polarizing means he’s on to something. But I don’t have to follow him over the cliff like a lemming because a bunch of cineastes tell me I should.

  3. I agree that his arrogance is uncalled for, but like you say, his films are strictly homages, and it makes sense in my opinion to pay tribute to past composers just as he pays tribute to past directors and genres. If he wanted to create truly original films, I don’t think he would understand how to do so, because it isn’t his style.

    Fortunately for me, I really appreciate the humor, writing, and intelligence in his films. And while I do prefer scores written for films, I really admire the music selections he does use in his films, particularly with the Kill Bill films.

    As a side note, Tarantino attempted to get Morricone to write an original score for his latest film. But Morricone chose instead to work with his longtime collaborator Tornatore on another film instead.

    1. I somehow missed the fact that Tarantino asked Morricone to write an original score for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. When I did a Google search (not that I didn’t believe you…okay, maybe I didn’t LOL), there it was in black and white.

      Considering Tarantino’s use of Morricone’s use in the past (and in the eventual film), I can’t think of another composer that would fit his vision. Still, considering Morricone’s working style, I can’t imagine it would be a good working relationship either. I’m just hoping we get to hear Morricone’s work on LENINGRAD at some point.

      As you say, Tarantino apparently doesn’t want to nor maybe understands how to create truly original films. It might be a good creative challenge for him. He’s an intelligent man, opinion of original film scores notwithstanding. ;)

  4. Never much minded his decision to crib from old scores until “Inglorious Basterds.” Yawn. It’s getting old, baby boy. And the theme from “Cat People”? Really?!

    1. I didn’t see it, so I won’t comment on it. But I agree, it’s getting old. Again, it’s director masturbation in my book: “Look at me! Aren’t I clever?” For me, a film is all about the story and the characters. But perhaps he doesn’t trust his own writing enough to let it stand on its own without constant visual and aural stimulation to comment on it.

  5. QT has always been a rip off director. Has he ever one anything original? NO. Jim call him pompous is being way too kind. He worked for a friend of mine at the “video store” Video Archives. Bib not think much of him then and l think even less of him now.

  6. Tarantino can’t abide the thought of someone else’s creativity enhancing (much less bringing a new dimension to) his films — yet the unique contributions which composers brought to Citizen Kane, Ben-Hur, Psycho, Goldfinger, The Magnificent Seven, Chinatown, Star Wars, Last of the Mohicans or Harry Potter are among the main reasons these films are considered classics.

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