photo & text by nacrowe
usually film soundtracks are a cash-grab, but the iconic use of class AMERICAN GOSPEL, R&B, ROCKABILLY and even SURF MUSIC in PULP FICTION (MIRAMAX, 1994) by director QUENTIN TARANTINO transcends this sad industry practice. and i mean right from the jump with opening credits utilizing DICK DALE's "MISERLOU" to genius effect. it is probably the most effect use of music in film since JOHN WIILLIAM's score in STAR WARS (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, 1977) and even BERNARD HERRMANN in PSYCHO (SHAMLEY, 1960). i'd put it right up there. full disclosure: my favorite score of all-time is PETE GABRIEL's evocative and global tapestry of score for THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (UNIVERSAL, 1988), but in terms of popular appeal and cultural impact i will yield to WILLIAMS and HERRMANN.
in a film that is high referential and more than subtly tips its hat to multiple genres, most prominently FILM NOIR and FRENCH NEW WAVE, the fact that such a wide-range of music styles feels authentic to the narrative and the chaotic world it inhabits is a testament to TARANTINO's skills as both a director and a curator. not once in the film does the music take you out of the moment, if anything it transparently embeds you further within the dark seductive depths of depravity that these four concurrent storylines regarding hitman, boxers, gangsters, petty thieves and hangers-on spiral around. it is a real sonic achievement. the only other director that i feel has a similar gift for effectively utilizing popular music in way that transforms it from its original context and bends it completely to the will of multiple memorable scenes is DAVID LYNCH and films like BLUE VELVET (DE LAURENTIIS, 1986), MULHOLLAND DRIVE (ASYMMETRICAL, 2001) and LOST HIGHWAY (ASYMMETRICAL, 1997).
TARANTINO's music curation is also a key part of an overall cinematic aesthetic that has a sense of play in how it thoughtfully re-contextualizes the cultural baggage associated with disparate elements that also include dialogue, set design, editing, camera movements and even casting decisions. his movies are almost just as much about his love and meta involvement in the process of filmmaking as it is about the actual film itself. and that nerdom and intensely interior nature of his films are what make them so much fun and invigorating for movie junkies. and his use of music in PULP FICTION is a master class in said genius
id recommend the music of this soundtrack, but my inclination is to encourage anyone to see their use in the film first.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
to me TOSHIYA FUJITA's LADY SNOWBLOOD (TOHO, 1973) is the ultimate revenge film. if you've seen KILL BILL, then you will be familiar with the plot because basically this is the source material for that whole franchise. the main character here seeks revenge upon three assassins who killed her father and brother and raped her mother.
the plot to tell you the truth is not what fascinates me about this film. in fact the whole "you raped/killed my (enter female family member)" is the laziest trope in film history, which is why it is used in every terrible STEVEN SEAGAL / JEAN CLAUDE VAN DAMME / SYLVESTER STALLONE film ever.
what makes this film compelling is its choreography. in essence the delicate interplay between its camera positions and editing is what sets it apart. it is essentially a master class in effective utilizing obtuse camera angles and long and short cuts that leave the viewer anticipating the action of our heroine. i am not a big fan of actions films, but when the camera is utilized to showcase movement in a suspenseful, climactic sequence of thought-through maneuvers that embellish the intensity of a scene, then i am all in. case in point, any of the death scenes. long establishing shots are usually punctuated by quick extreme closeups of the heroine and swift cuts on action to her striking down her target. just brilliant.
the other aspect of this film i appreciate is how it turns notions of JAPANESE FEMININITY on its head. being a delicate, passive, soft-spoken flower in the context of this film are the perfect guise to prey upon unsuspecting targets. it is almost as if these behavioral tropes of a traditionally chauvinistic normative culture that are meant to guard women from undue attention and risk here ironically presents men with the opposite. not sure if this film was meant to question the validity of these gender prescriptions but it makes the case nonetheless.
it makes sense to me that this film in particular was of interest for QUENTIN TARANTINO, as he is known for watch a film multiple times just to observe and make note of sequencing and editing. i highly suggest watching this film as a companion piece to KILL BILL VOL. 1 as both utilize a similar aesthetic to how they present action and thrill us with catching us off guard with a well choreographed cut. they also both challenge the audience to reassess what makes an ideal assassin and how notions of femininity plays into that role.
this is an interesting film that is definitely worth seeking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
who decides the meaning of a piece of art? the audience? critics? the artist him/herself?
LE CORBEAU (CONTINENTAL FILMS, 1943) by french direftor HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT is an absolute enigma. its meaning has been the subject of focus by film critics since its debut during WWII.
after NAZI forces blitzkrieg-ed their way through FRANCE effectively reduced the country effectively to a neutral player during the remainder of the war. this was the case officially but most industries in the southern VICHY region were known to be collaborating with their new overlords. whether this was done by choice or by coercion is still a matter of historical debate. CONTINENTAL FILMS was a german-controlled french film company that produced LE CORBEAU. obviously this is still quite controversial as it implicitly asks a viewer to question for whom this movie was made.
the film itself deals with a poison-pen letter and the secrecy and duplicity that surrounds its content and violent aftermath. could this film be a cautionary tale of what happens when you attempt to surreptitiously usurp the NAZIs or is it a take of how to partake in counterrevolutionary efforts.
the fact is CLOUZOT got the germans to pay for the film, which in and of itself can go either way. was the director an immoral collaborator with the NAZIs or a great political/cultural revolutionary who got his oppressors to pay for his lampooning of them.
i do not know the answer. you should watch the film and decide for yourself.
i will say that this double interpretation was something QUENTIN TARANTINO recognized and use to great effect in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY, 2009) where double agents set to murder HITLER in a movie theater playing, of course, LE CORBEAU. genius.
if you are a fan of ALRED HITCHCOCK or classic suspense films in general, then this or any of the other major films in CLOUZOT's catalogue are worth your time (THE WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE especially). couldn't recommend them any more forcefully.