Express Gets Tarantino on Grindhouse’s Gritty Beat

Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez talk music, dismemberment, and the relationship between the two. By Cole Haddon
On the off chance you ever end up at Quentin Tarantino’s house, ask him to show you his record room. “It looks like a little used record store,” he explains, while sitting poolside in a leprechaun-green sportscoat over blue-green medical scrubs at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. “It’s even broken down into genres and subgenres, with stuff in bins.”

Music, unsurprisingly, is integral to the acclaimed director’s creative process — from the inception of his projects through their development, all the way up until production, where his sets become parties between takes. His soundman plays DJ, and yes, he takes requests.

This week, Tarantino’s latest movie Death Proof premieres as part of a rare double feature, Grindhouse, that pays homage to the low-budget, ultraviolent, ultrasexualized “grindhouse” flicks of the ’70s. As with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the soundtrack took shape before the film.

“My thing is to actually dive into my record collection and what I’m looking for is the beat of what this next movie’s going to be, the rhythm of it,” Tarantino says. “I start with the opening credit sequence. If I can find the right piece of music and stylistic opening credit sequence for it, then I might actually make this movie.

“It’s the tone setter,” he emphasizes. “It sets it off; I know the beat, I know the rhythm.” He taps out a beat on the tabletop, one, two, three, four, as he speaks. “In the case of, say, Jackie Brown, that movie moved to the rhythm of old-school ’70s soul. In the case of Pulp Fiction, it moved to the rhythm of surf music.”

Remember the opening riff from “Misirlou” by Dick Dale & His Del-Tones and it comes as no surprise that Tarantino’s brother in cinematic arms, Robert Rodriguez, finds just as much inspiration in music; specifically, his guitar. The director of El Mariachi and Sin City handled Planet Terror, the other half of Grindhouse.

Rodriguez, in his trademark black cowboy hat, sits beside Tarantino and talks about scoring several of his own movies with no orchestral training. Rodriguez got frustrated by outsourcing his film’s music, but was then inspired by Danny Elfman, who has transformed himself from a member of Oingo Boingo into one of Hollywood’s hottest composers.

“I’ve been writing this movie so long, I don’t want to just turn it over to a composer five weeks before the movie comes out,” Rodriguez says. “Then they just write a bunch of music and hopefully I’ll like it all.”

Elfman told Rodriguez to use his guitar skills and do it himself. “I found that it became exciting to write music as I was writing the script, like writing themes for characters,” the director explains. “In the case of Grindhouse, before I even started my second pass at the script, I came up with the ‘Grindhouse Theme.’ That kind of informed everything. ‘Hmm, that sounds like a grind dance. I need to have a character dancing over the opening titles. Well, I should make the girl who loses her leg a dancer, then.’ That’s how much the music was informing the characters and scenes.

“You actually have music coming from the same place these characters come from,” he continues. “It’s a really cool way to do it if you can do it that way.”

Grindhouse opens April 6 in East Bay theaters.


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