Music in the Movies – Songs

Reservoir Dogs (1991, Quentin Tarantino)

I used to dream about Reservoir Dogs. It was released in UK cinemas in 1992, but then repeatedly denied a video release. (This was during one of the periodic media storms around violent films that tediously erupt every 5-10 years.) In consequence, Reservoir Dogs built up an enormous cult following in this country and made more at the UK box office than the American. (It was finally released on video in 1995.)

As a 12 year old interested in cinema, I became obsessed with this film I wasn’t allowed to see. There were tantalising clips on film programmes, articles in movie magazines, mythical stories of pirate copies…and there was the soundtrack. I couldn’t see the film, but I could buy the CD. (And even then I had to have my dad with me!)

Tarantino’s films are as influential for their use of pop songs as for anything else. Just from Reservoir Dogs ‘Little Green Bag’, ‘Hooked on a Feeling’, ‘Coconut’ and, of course, ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ have reentered radio playlists and turn up regularly in adverts and TV programmes. Tarantino has a gift for rediscovering forgotten pop songs and reminding us how good they are. Or, you could just say he grew up in the seventies.

Tarantino has also said he specifically doesn’t want to hire a composer to produce an original score for one of his movies, citing a reluctance to hand over that much creative control to someone else; he knows the impact a score can have on a film. (More on this in ‘Music in the Movies – Scores’)

I listened to the Reservoir Dogs CD over and over, learning the lyrics to all the songs, and the lines of all the dialogue snippets that have become Tarantino’s soundtrack signature. When I was finally able to see the film (my cousin got hold of a copy, taped off a LaserDisc – the thrill!) it was inevitably a touch disappointing. Almost no film could live up to 2 years of anticipation. It was also a strange experience to finally put images to snatches of dialogue I knew word for word.

With later Tarantinos I had the pleasure of hearing the soundtrack for the first time while watching the film. When Jim Croce’s ‘I Got A Name’ played over a snowy montage of horse riding in Django Unchained, I almost got sexually aroused.

Sam Bowles

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