Tag Archives: Reservoir Dogs

Rocks In The Attic #812: Various Artists – ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (O.S.T.)’ (2019)

WARNING! SPOILERS!

RITA#812Half-way through Quentin Tarantino’s ninth picture, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Brad Pitt’s character, stuntman Cliff Booth, visits Spahn Ranch. Reminiscent of the ‘glass of milk’ scene in Inglourious Basterds, or that same film’s later bar scene, it’s a deliciously tense moment in an otherwise bloated film. Booth suspects that there’s something amiss about the group of hippies living at the ranch owned by his former colleague. Unlike the audience, he doesn’t have hindsight of the Manson family, but still feels that something isn’t quite right.

He insists of seeing his former colleague, George Spahn, to ensure he’s not being taken advantage of, or worse. After much obstruction by the Mansons, Booth finally speaks to a grouchy Spahn who insists that everything is okay. He might be being taken advantage of, but seems relatively content about it.

And so, a wonderfully tense fifteen-minute scene ends in an anti-climax; a metaphor for the film itself.

RITA#812aOnce Upon A Time In Hollywood isn’t a bad film, but it’s a huge disappointment. It’s up there with Ari Aster’s unapologetic ­Wicker Man­ rip-off, Midsommar, as the biggest let-down of 2019. To say that four years ago, I met Tarantino and practically begged him not to retire after his tenth film, I should have spent that precious time asking him to be more careful with #9 and #10.

People tend to forget that what originally made Tarantino’s films so interesting is that they normalised dialogue between henchman, bad guys and crooks. They did horrible things but they still had small, human problems. Thirty years after the 1-2-3 success of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and we’re faced with a picture that, despite its depiction of infamous events, is just dull. That throwaway book-reading scene between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and his 12-year old co-star is painfully dull.

In fact, the whole DiCaprio storyline is boring. Death Proof levels of boring.

My main issue with the film though, is its skirting with reality and its subsequent failure to end with the Sharon Tate murders. Tarantino has played with revisionist history before: a Jew murdering Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis in Basterds, and Jamie Foxx’s slave rising up to avenge his former slave-owners in Django Unchained. Here though, he kind of gets away with it because, as the film’s title suggest, it’s a fairytale. A happy ending. An allegory for Hollywood itself.

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My preferred ending to the picture would have kept the meeting of Dalton, Sebring and Tate on the driveway, but the crane shot would have swept back to the open gate to reveal another car full of Manson children, implying that fate cannot be stopped.

I’m probably more disappointed about what the film could have been rather than how it turned out. Tarantino directing a period film in 1960s Los Angeles sounds unbeatable. First, we get that classic period-era Columbia Pictures studio ident at the top of the film, to set the scene. Then things start to break down.

Five minutes in, we get a blast of narration from Kurt Russell’s Randy Miller: ‘That’s a fucking lie!’ Do we get any more? Yes, but much, much later in the film (following Dalton and Booth’s return from Italy). Cliff Booth has a clunky flashback as he fixes the aerial on Dalton’s roof. Do we get any more flashbacks? Nope. And those crazy cuts – hat on, hat off – in the first scene between Dalton and Timothy Olyphant’s James Stacy? What the hell is going on with these half-hearted narrative devices?

The script across the film’s opening scenes – Booth explaining in the car who he is to Dalton, and Dalton explaining who Roman Polanski is – feels very clunky, like a first draft even. I did chuckle at the random line of dialogue: ‘Don’t cry in front of Mexicans’, which sounds like the oddest piece of racist advice from Brad Pitt’s character.

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And to expand on the issues with Pitt’s Cliff Booth, where do I start? The implication that he killed his wife, and the insinuation that she deserved it for being a nag, is just awful. As is the portrayal of Bruce Lee in the next scene. After two viewings, I still can’t understand why Bruce Lee is a character in this film. Is Tarantino making an example of him because he’s a mainstream kung-fu star, and Tarantino prefers more obscure films from that genre? What else could it be? I don’t think it’s particularly racist, but it’s definitely disrespectful, and more importantly, downright lazy.

I do love the soundtrack though, with the radio station framing – Boss Radio featuring Humble Harve and the Real Don Steele – harking back to Steve Wright’s radio announcements on the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. It’s odd that the vinyl version of the soundtrack retains that compressed radio sound for the songs introduced by the Boss radio DJs, but the digital version I’ve heard on Spotify abandons this and plays the standard versions.

My only gripe with the soundtrack is the inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson, a song that just feels too popular, too obvious, to be in a Tarantino picture. I did hear Tarantino explain in an interview with Edith Bowman, for her excellent Soundtracking podcast, that in fact the song choices were made for him. Looking for archival recordings of radio stations from the time, they found that somebody had recorded audio from Boss Radio in 1969 and he used this as the basis for sides A and C of the eventual soundtrack release. If songs weren’t played during this found recording, he didn’t put them on the soundtrack.

Overall, I expect better from Tarantino because he’s shown how strong a filmmaker he is. Man, I hope film number ten is a vast improvement on this let-down.

Hit: Mrs. Robinson – Simon & Garfunkel

Hidden Gem: You Keep Me Hangin’ On (Quentin Tarantino Edit) – Vanilla Fudge

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Rocks In The Attic #735: Various Artists – ‘A Clockwork Orange (O.S.T.)’ (1972)

rita#735I often wonder what Mary Whitehouse, the UK’s self-imposed guardian of decency, would think if you sat her down and played her an episode of The Walking Dead. Perhaps that episode where the bad guys made someone eat his own leg. Or maybe that one where Rick and crew were captured, kneeling at a trough, and waiting to be picked off one by one. Or that episode where Glenn and Abraham both got a baseball bat in the back of the head.

Maybe she’d prefer Game Of Thrones. She might like the episode where half of the principal cast were killed off at the red wedding, and the show took great joy at showing a pregnant woman being stabbed repeatedly in the belly.

It’s fair to say that we’ve gone a long, long way from the dark days of overbearing censorship; but have we gone too far?

I was reminded the other day of the United Kingdom’s video nasties list, something I hadn’t thought about for twenty years. Reading up on it, it feels like some kind of whacky parallel universe.

rita#735aIt all started with a legal loophole in the early 1980s. It’s hard to believe a market as big as home-video being unregulated, but as the popularity of home video wasn’t foreseen, videos were originally released without being reviewed for classification. Bonkers!

The subsequent list of films – 39 titles which could lead to prosecution following the Video Recordings Act 1984, a further 33 titles deemed less obscene (but which could be still seized by the police), and a final 82 films deemed even less obscene (but again could still be seized) – make for some interesting reading.

Of the first list, I’ve only seen two – The Driller Killer and The Last House On The Left – and if the quality of these films is anything to go by, I won’t be seeking out the rest. I’ve seen two on the second list – The Evil Dead and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – but I have the most success with the third list, which seems to be a catch-all of pretty much every other horror film of the time, having seen eight titles: Dawn Of The Dead, Friday The 13th, Friday The 13th Part 2, Night Of The Living Dead, Scanners, Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Thing.

One film commonly associated with the video nasties list was A Clockwork Orange. However, this was withdrawn from cinemas by Stanley Kubrick himself, after reports of copycat crimes. Subsequently, it was never released on home-video. Only after the director’s death was the film re-released in cinemas in 2000, and made available on VHS and DVD.

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While A Clockwork Orange is a fantastic film, it will never be one of my favourite of Kubrick’s. It’s just so damn depressing, with Michael McDowell’s Alex impossible to empathise with. Of course this is just as much to do with McDowell’s performance as it is with the character written by Anthony Burgess. I can’t ever remember McDowell playing a sympathetic character – he oozes repulsion both in the people he plays, and from the audience watching him.

Even though the age of censorship that bred the video nasties list feels like a lifetime ago, one of today’s top directors was affected early in his career. Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was originally denied a home-video release in the UK, despite being classified for a cinematic release in 1992. Herein lies the real headache – video classification was originally considered completely separate from cinematic classification. Another example was William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which didn’t see a home-release until 1999, despite regularly playing at midnight screenings across the country (including my local Roxy cinema in Failsworth) since its 1973 release.

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What this all boils down to is a lack of trust in the consumer. The government would (begrudgingly) allow a film to be viewed at the cinema, but wouldn’t allow it to be viewed at home because they had no control over who would see it on the family television. In theory, it sort of makes sense, but it fails in practice. A huge home audience was initially refused the opportunity to see Reservoir Dogs, once declared ‘the greatest independent film of all time’, which despite featuring a lot of blood, doesn’t actually have much on-screen violence.

Hit: Title Music From A Clockwork Orange – Wendy Carlos

Hidden Gem: I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper – Erika Eigen

Rocks In The Attic #642: Nirvana – ‘In Utero’ (1993)

RITA#642Last weekend I found a pair of perfectly good speakers on the side of the road. A handwritten sign – ‘FREE’ – was standing next to them. I did a quick u-turn and threw them in my car. New Zealand’s attitude to freecycling occasionally delivers gems like this. You could probably drive around all weekend and furnish your entire house with kerbside treasures that people are throwing away. The speakers are a lovely pair of Technics, standing 18” tall and my vinyl-collecting friend at work, who’s far more knowledgeable about hi-fi equipment, assures me they’re a very, very good find.

That’s if they still work, of course, because who in their right minds would throw away a perfectly good set of speakers? A quick trip to the local electronics store to get some speaker cable, and I can rest assured that not only do they work perfectly, but they also sound fucking awesome. It makes a world of difference to the set of (perfectly good for purpose) surround speakers I was running my turntable through previously.

Whenever I’m testing a new set-up – be it a new turntable, or a new amp, or a new set of speakers – the album I always turn to is Nirvana’s In Utero. My clear favourite of their three studio albums, it towers over their unripe debut, and their too-slick crossover follow-up. Steve Albini’s production sounds more like what I imagine the band’s natural sound to be, and it was the record I turned to when Kurt died as it was their final studio album.

The reason it’s so good to test hi-fi equipment is that it’s so dynamic, and so well recorded that it doesn’t sound like the product of pro-tools. After Albini’s initial production (foreshadowed by a great letter to the band), Geffen Records attempted to fix what they saw as an uncommercial record by employing Robert Ludwig to master it. Still unhappy, the master tapes were then given to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed the singles alongside Andy Wallace (who had mixed Nevermind). With so many cooks in the kitchen, the album should sound conflicted, but to my ears it sounds perfect.

RITA#642aThe hi-fi recommendations in the inside cover of the CD booklet, something that you just don’t usually see in liner notes, have always made me chuckle. I suspect that rather than being a genuine instruction to listeners (unlikely), it’s an irreverent poke at the casual music fans the band were attracting (a more obscure jab than the lyrics to In Bloom).

RITA#642dAlthough I own a late ‘90s reissue of In Utero, I jumped at the chance to get the Steve Albini mix of the record, released to mark the album’s 20th anniversary. Running at 45rpm, and split across two discs, it’s a wonderful package. But while it’s very interesting to hear, I think I’ll always prefer the original version. Albini’s mix of the singles sound so much more in line with the rest of the album, and if anything the contrast shows how much the Scott Litt mix of those songs sounds like the range of dynamics you would hear on an REM single.

One thing I really liked around the 20th anniversary re-release was a memo that did the rounds on the internet, mocked up to look like a letter to record store owners, pleading with them to get behind the album’s reissue. I seem to remember some discussion at the time around whether it was genuine or not, but it’s clearly a joke – it’s dripping in cynicism, and reads like something that Kurt Cobain might have composed from beyond the grave.

I don’t usually pay much attention to the ‘thank you’ lists in liner notes, but there is one particular name on the In Utero sleeve that is deserving of a mention. The band listed Quentin Tarantino in this section – in 1993 a relatively cult director with only one film, Reservoir Dogs, to his name (and Pulp Fiction yet to be released). When the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction eventually saw the light of day in September 1994, Quentin repaid the favour and thanked the now-departed Cobain.

Hit: Heart Shaped Box

Hidden Gem: Radio Friendly Unit Shifter

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Rocks In The Attic #608: Various Artists – ‘True Romance (O.S.T.)’ (1993)

RITA#608.jpgIn the early 1990s, director Tony Scott was handed a piece of gold dust. Quentin Tarantino, a cocky, young up-start had been circling Hollywood for a few years trying to develop his first script, True Romance. Tarantino decided to sell the script, and Warner Brothers snapped it up greedily. In hindsight it would have been too large a project for a first-time director anyway.

Instead Tarantino turned his attention to his next script, a simpler heist story called Reservoir Dogs. This would have been an easier film to pitch with him as director – the heist is never seen, only referred to, and much of the film takes place in one location.

By the time he was handed Tarantino’s script, Tony Scott was already a blockbuster director, arguably more commercially successful than his older brother Ridley. While Ridley had scored critical successes with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott had directed Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II and Days Of Thunder. His collaborations with super-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer say more about his directing style than anything else.

True Romance then, becomes the lost Tarantino picture. His trademark dialogue is evident throughout the film – all pop-culture references and cooler than cool soundbites – but Scott’s input muddies the water somewhat. The cinematographers that Scott worked with throughout his ‘80s and ‘90s films had a very peculiar style. Lots of obtrusive close-ups, too many filtered interiors, and a very synthetic, staged camera set-up. By the time you get to something like 1996’s The Fan, the cinematography is so overbearing that the film is practically unwatchable.

Looking back, True Romance has one of the greatest ensemble casts of all time, featuring several actors who would go onto bigger things. Joining leads Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette were Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

RITA#608aThe soundtrack also differs from most Tarantino films in that it has both a pop soundtrack and an original score, by Hans Zimmer (the only soundtrack of Tarantino’s to mix pop songs with an original score is The Hateful Eight). Zimmer’s score is delightful – practically a proto-Thomas Newman score before he rewrote the rulebook on esoteric, oddball soundtracks with 1996’s American Beauty.

Some of the pop songs wouldn’t be out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. Charlie Sexton’s Graceland, Robert Palmer’s (Love Is) The Tender Trap and Chris Isaak’s Two Hearts feel like they belong in QT’s record collection, but mediocre tracks like Charles & Eddie’s Wounded Bird and John Waite’s In Dreams reminds you that this really is just a typical run of the mill blockbuster soundtrack, and wasn’t curated in any way by Tarantino. Even Soundgarden’s Outshined sounds a little too obvious. The absence of Aerosmith’s The Other Side – presumably due to rights reasons – is personally disappointing, but it would have just dated the soundtrack even more.

Hit: Outshined – Soundgarden

Hidden Gem: Graceland – Charlie Sexton

Rocks In The Attic #607: The George Baker Selection – ‘Love In The World’ (1971)

RITA#607K-BILLY’s “super sounds of the seventies” weekend just keeps on coming with this little ditty. They reached up to twenty one in May of 1970. The George Baker Selection: Little Green Bag.

How Quentin Tarantino found this song and picked it out of obscurity to be one of the coolest, era-defining songs of the 1990s is beyond me. Listening to the rest of this record – the second release by the George Baker Selection – there isn’t a great deal else to point to such a gem of a song.

If anything, the Dutch band seems to be a curiosity, lost between decades and difficult to classify. They’re half-late’60s pop rock (late-era Byrds, late-‘60s Kinks) and half-early ‘70s singer-songwriter rock, all jumbled up with a touch of pysch and a sprinkling of jazz. They make for an interesting listen, that’s for sure.

Little Green Bag was the first track of their 1970 debut (also titled Little Green Bag), and given that Wikipedia doesn’t even have pages for their albums beyond this, it looks like they peaked commercially right at the start of their career.

Even Little Green Bag is difficult to classify. After an extremely cool intro, the song devolves into a crooning cabaret song. The change in tone is startling – like a smoking Miles Davis groove taken over by a bravado Tom Jones vocal.

Hit: Little Green Bag

Hidden Gem: Suicide Daisy

Rocks In The Attic #338: Rod, Matt & Jane – ‘The Bumper Rainbow Album’ (1976)

RITA#338Rod, Matt & Jane? This line-up pre-dates the trio I knew from my childhood – Rod, Jane & Freddy. If Matt looks familiar on the cover of this record, it’s because he’s Matthew Corbett who later went on to take over his father’s presenting duties, sticking his right hand up Sooty’s backside.

This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in children’s television. The Wiggles have had more line-up changes than Sugababes, and the new Maori Wiggle is referred to as the brown Wiggle, which just sounds disgusting. As Tarantino would say in Reservoir Dogs, ‘Mr. Brown is a little too close to Mr. Shit.’

Just give me anything that isn’t Peppa fucking Pig!

Hit: Clocks

Hidden Gem: Happy Christmas