Tag Archives: The Animals

Rocks In The Attic #858: Various Artists – ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1 (O.S.T.)’ (2003)

RITA#858The 4th film from Quentin Tarantino, the opening credits tell us, with balls the size of watermelons. It’s here that Tarantino starts to recognise his own legacy. Not only is he numbering his films – surely the first sign of his subsequent plan of only directing ten films – but it’s with Kill Bill that he starts to litter the Tarantino-verse with references to his earlier works.

In the film’s first post-credits scene, Uma Thurman’s character (‘The Bride’ AKA Beatrix Kiddo) arrives at Vernita Green’s house, her first target for revenge. With their knife-fight interrupted by Green’s daughter returning from school, the two call a temporary truce and head to the kitchen for coffee. There, the Bride explains how she’ll first kill Green, then her daughter and then her husband. “That’ll be even Vernita…that’ll be about square.” As she says that last word, she traces the outline of a square in the air with her right hand. The gesture is surely a reference to Thurman’s earlier character in the Tarantinoverse, Mia Wallace from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. In that film, on her night out with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, she tells him not to be a square, again tracing the outline of a square – which Tarantino sneakily overlays with a rectangle in post-production.

Even Thurman’s character in Kill Bill is described in dialogue by Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace nine years earlier. She explains to Vega how she once appeared in a failed TV pilot, whose characters almost perfectly describe the Bride and her former team of assassins:

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RITA#858aMIA: It was a show about a team of secret agents called Fox Force Five.

VINCENT: What?

MIA: Fox Force Five. Fox, as in we’re a bunch of foxy chicks. Force, as in we’re a force to be reckoned with. Five, as in there’s one…two…three…four…five of us. There was a blonde on, Sommerset O’Neal, from that show Baton Rouge, she was the leader. A Japanese one, a black one, a French one, and a brunette one, me. We all had special skills. Sommerset had a photographic memory, the Japanese fox was a kung-fu master, the black girl was a demolition expert, the French fox’s specialty was sex…

VINCENT: What was your specialty?

MIA: Knives. The character I played, Raven McCoy, her background was she was raised by circus performers. So she grew up doing a knife act. According to the show, she was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife. But because she grew up in a circus, she was also something of an acrobat. She could do illusions, she was a trapeze artist – when you’re keeping the world safe from evil, you never know when being a trapeze artist’s gonna come in handy.

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And the references to the Tarantinoverse don’t end there. Michael Parks’ world-weary sheriff is surely the same character he played in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, we glimpse Michael Madsen in a black suit a la 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, and the boardroom rant by Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii echoes Pulp Fiction’s opening rant by Amanda Plummer’s Honey Bunny (“Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!”).

But the casting of Sonny Chiba as master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō is perhaps Tarantino’s greatest coup. In what must have been a dream come true for the director, the casting of Chiba refers back to one of Tarantino’s earliest scripts. In 1993’s True Romance, written by Tarantino but directed by Tony Scott, Christian Slater’s Clarence meets Patricia Arquette’s Alabama at an all-night theatre, watching a Sonny Chiba triple-feature (“The Streetfighter, Return Of The Streetfighter, and Sister Streetfighter”).

I remember seeing Kill Bill Vol.1 at the cinema and being blown away. But each time I’ve seen it since, I’ve always felt it to be a little bloated, not as much as it’s Vol. 2 companion piece, but there’s definitely some breathing space put into each scene.

That first segment with Vernita Green, post fight, is perhaps the slowest scene in the entire film. We’re finding out a little bit about what has happened to bring the Bride here, but it’s the one time I wish Tarantino had followed a linear storyline by putting the hospital scenes first. Strangely, the Vernita scene and the hospital scene played out of order is essentially the only non-linear aspect of the narrative, excluding the flashbacks to the wedding.

The split-screen over Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve as Darryl Hannah’s Elle Driver changes into her nurse’s uniform is fantastic, and goes hand in hand as the most cinematic moment of the film with the later scene scored with Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor Or Humanity as the Bride speeds off on her bike and O-Ren Ishii walks into the House Of Blue Leaves.

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One break-out star of Kill Bill is somebody who goes largely unnoticed in the film, but whose contributions are priceless: Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell. The nature of the fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping led Tarantino and his Western crew into a different way of working. Schedules were abandoned and sequences were added or deleted to better suit the narrative.  The change in mindset led to another important decision: the promotion of Bell from a low-tier ‘crash and smash’ stuntwoman to a full-on stunt double for Thurman. The shoot thrust her into the (face-covered) limelight, but left her with broken ribs and a dislocated wrist.

Tarantino stuck with her and she subsequently appeared as either an actress or stuntwoman in all of his subsequent films. I met her at the New Zealand premiere of The Hateful Eight in January 2016 where she was kind enough to sign my copies of Death Proof and The Hateful Eight. In hindsight, I should have asked her to autograph everything from Kill Bill onwards, given her impact on the Tarantinoverse.

The Kill Bill films mark Tarantino’s first musical collaboration with another artist, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, who contributed score elements and also acted as co-producer of the soundtrack alongside Tarantino and Lawrence Bender. About a dozen or so tracks were left off the accompanying soundtrack, either used in the film or in its promotional material and so an expanded soundtrack one day is a definite possibility. My only gripe is that so much is left of the resulting soundtrack to fit in all ten and a half minutes of Santa Esmeralda’s nauseatingly camp cover of the Animals’ arrangement of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (it’s the Animals version of the song, rather than the Nina Simone original, as the European disco group also recorded a version of House Of The Rising Sun).

Hit: Twisted Nerve – Bernard Herrmann

Hidden Gem: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

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Rocks In The Attic #633: Ramin Djawadi – ‘Westworld (O.S.T.)’ (2016)

RITA#633It’s a hard life being a soundtrack nut. Last week, I was waiting online to order a copy of the score to Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter [spoiler alert – as the fourth instalment of eleven films, it was far from being the final chapter] from the always excellent Waxwork Records. At 2am, when I found out that the record was going on sale in the USA at the equivalent of 5am NZ-time, I went to sleep for three short hours before waking up to place my order (a double LP in Tommy Jarvis blue & white swirl with green splatter), and then going back to sleep.

Last week I also received Waxwork’s repressing of John Harrison’s 1985 Day Of The Dead score in a lovely blood-smear double LP set; and earlier this morning, the postman brought me a trans-Pacific package from Newbury Comics, featuring John Carpenter and Allan Howarth’s score to Christine (1983), in a blue and gold split red splatter, and this, the soundtrack to HBO’s Westworld TV series, in blood red vinyl.

I have to admit, I was a little cautious when I heard that they were remaking Westworld into a television show. The 1973 sci-fi western is an old favourite of mine from when I would tape films off the TV in the middle of the night, and although a recent rewatch showed that it has dated quite a bit, you still don’t want TV companies from ruining something you hold in high regard.

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But it’s HBO we’re talking about – the company behind The Sopranos and The Wire, arguably the two best TV shows of the 21st century – so the subject matter would surely be in safe hands. Ultimately those hands belong to Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, as creators of the show. Jonathan Nolan has been an integral part of his brother Christopher’s work, co-writing Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige and Interstellar, so I was sold on his involvement alone.

Supported by an intriguing all-star cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright), the show was very good, although structurally it felt a little too unbalanced with its numerous narrative twists all taking place in the last couple of episodes. Nolan and Joy have suggested that the show will run to five seasons, so if anything, the groundwork has been laid for some more cerebral television.

My favourite aspect of the show however, was the music. Not only does Ramin Djawadi’s score give us a lovely bit of cello in the ominous title theme, but the real aural treat is the show’s diagetic music. Played on a pianola, the anachronistic soundtrack features honky-tonk piano renditions of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, the Stones’ Paint It Black, the Animals’ arrangement of House Of The Rising Sun, Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, the Cure’s A Forest, and Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, No Surprises and Exit Music (For A Film).

Hit: Main Title Theme – Westworld

Hidden Gem: Black Hole Sun

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Rocks In The Attic #467: The Kinks – ‘Kinks’ (1964)

RITA#467.jpgA couple of months ago, I got so sick of having no Kinks records in my collection I resolved to do something about it. But there was a problem – after nearly twenty years of collecting, I had never seen any Kinks records in the wild. They do exist, don’t they? I haven’t just made them up in my head?

So, what do you do when you can‘t find an animal in the wild? You employ the services of a poacher. Onto Discogs I went, and I found some very nice recent reissues of the first three albums – Kinks (1964), Kinda Kinks (1965) and The Kink Kontroversy (1965) – all on lovely red vinyl. I paid my money and very soon, just like the dentist-cum-hunter who shot and killed Cecil the lion, I had my prize. By the way, Cecil The Lion sounds so English, it could almost be the title of a Kinks song.

Of all the beat explosion bands that emerged in the wake of the Beatles, the Kinks might just be my favourite. Their run of ‘60s singles – from You Really Got Me in 1964, though to Lola in 1970 – is bloody strong, and of such a high quality they really should be seen as equals to the Beatles, the Stones and the Who. They’re quite often not though. They tend to be considered as poor cousins, one rung down on the ladder with the likes of the Hollies, Manfred Mann and the Animals.

In Ray Davies, the Kinks had something that those premier bands could only dream of – a one-man Lennon & McCartney and  a remarkably consistent songwriting machine. Only Pete Townshend comes close in being the singular visionary for one of those top ‘60s band – and as far as I’m concerned, the strength of Davies’ songwriting blows him out of the water.

As a debut album, this record is very similar in tone and content to its contemporaries, being comprised mainly of R&B and rock n’ roll covers, together with a previous few examples of original material. The two standout songs on the album – You Really Got Me and Stop Your Sobbing – are exactly that though – standout songs. They’re absolutely fantastic. Stop Your Sobbing might be more famous for its cover by the Pretenders (it was never released as a single by the Kinks), but it’s still a great song.

The record is also notable for the non-Kink personnel who played on the sessions – namely Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin on guitar, and Jon Lord from Deep Purple on piano. Crikey!

Hit: You Really Got Me

Hidden Gem: Beautiful Delilah

Rocks In The Attic #392: The Animals – ‘The Animals’ (1964)

RITA#392On opening track, Story Of Bo Diddley, it’s highly amusing that Eric Burdon refers to Richmond in Surrey as the deep south. Why not, eh? That would make the Animals hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne equal to Chicago, wouldn’t it? They’d probably like that, given their love of Chicago blues.

Of all the British Invasion groups of the ‘60s, the Animals always get classified as a second-tier group. They didn’t come bursting out of the starting gates with their own compositions, like the Kinks or the Who, and unlike their closest rivals the Rolling Stones, they never made the leap from blues copyists to writing their own songs.

It’s a shame that they’ll forever be linked with House Of The Rising Sun rather than something of their own making. They deserve some respect for the arrangement of that song though, which takes the song somewhere special. In Dylan’s hands – and prior to him, in Dave Van Ronk’s hands – it sounded ordinary.

Hit: Memphis Tennessee

Hidden Gem: Story Of Bo Diddley