Directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez spent $53 million to pay loving tribute to the vintage hundred-thousand-dollar exploitation fare that inspired Grindhouse's two-movies-for-the-price-of-one thrill ride. Tarantino's half of the exercise (which also includes Robert Rodriguez's self-scored Planet Terror) features another effusive slice of the director's eclectic musical sensibility to underscore its manic tale of stuntman/psycho-killer Kurt Russell and his muscle-car-fueled exploits. Tarantino works from a familiar formula that variously mixes evocative, semi-obscure Italian film cues from Morricone and Dinaggio, contrasting slices of '60s catalog from the great Jack Nitzsche and Brit Invasion also-rans DDDBM&T and some '70s fodder from both ends of the Top 40 via Smith and T. Rex, also stirring in a savory mid-disc run of R&B that stretches from PG&E's upbeat read of "Stagger Lee" through more familiar fare from Joe Tex, Eddie Floyd, and the Coasters. The director also serves up a couple of those deliciously off-kilter obscurities that have come to be his musical trademark as a coda: Eddie Beram's thumping "Riot in Thunder Alley" and April March's infectious ditz-pop take on Serge Gainsbourg's loopy "Chick Habit." --Jerry McCulley
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Quentin Tarantino soundtracks are often as deliriously exciting as the films themselves and Death Proof is no exception to the rule. His half of the exploitation double-bill Grindhouse concerns a serial killer called Stuntman Mike who offs girls with his indestructible car -- a blend of no less than three B-movie staples that provides a perfect vehicle for a perfect soundtrack, which Death Proof comes pretty close to being. Given the inspirations behind this stylized exploitation flick, it should come as no surprise that this soundtrack also borrows heavily from the '60s and '70s, digging up a bunch of forgotten soul, pop, rock, surf, and soundtrack songs that aren't commonly heard. There are some familiar names here -- whether it's composers Jack Nitzsche and Ennio Morricone or soul singers Joe Tex and Eddie Floyd -- but the closest this comes to familiar territory is T. Rex's glam staple "Jeepster" and maybe Smith's one-shot wonder "Baby It's You." But the pleasure of this soundtrack is precisely how all these little-known songs create their own fantastical spin on the late '60s and '70s, just like how Tarantino does it within the film itself. According to this, it was a time when the Coasters turned "Down in Mexico" into spacey, funky doo wop, when Dave Dee, Dozy, Bich & Tich turned out fizzy pop pleasures like "Hold Tight" and when Pacific Gas & Electric turned "Staggolee" into a psychedelic pimp. Thow in a down-n-dirty Willy DeVille number and the girl power of April March's "Chick Habit," and this is turns into an addictive record -- one that's perfect for long, dark drives or just about any other kind of good time you could name.
[Warner Bros.; 2007]
Who whoulda thunk it: The soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino movie decides to mix together schlock/art and the obscure/familiar in an attempt to skew our accepted notions about such things. (Honestly, you'd think we'd be onto the guy's shtick by now.) As with Tarantino's previous soundtracks, Death Proof skids across decades, countries, and cultures like Kurt Russell's Grindhouse deathmobile, taking in Italian B-movie soundtracks (the queasy ebbing and flowing flute and strings of Ennio Morricone's "Paranoia Prima"), American pop-soul (the Coasters' noirish doowop "Down in Mexico"), and British glam (the fuzzed-out boogie bop of T.Rex's "Jeepster"). Taraninto treats his soundtracks like he treats his films, as if the invention of the VCR abolished the space-time continuum and suddenly all genres, decades, and countries existed at once within one parallel Hollywood universe.
But with Tarantino's pop song sound markers becoming iconic in their own right-- I'm pretty sick of seeing Michael Madsen hacking off that cop's ear every time I turn on the oldies station-- the guy obviously knows a thing or two about picking a memorable song to match a memorable image. Despite the years that separate them, most of Death Proof's tunes do sound like they could have been plucked from three decades of double features at the drive-in, even if April March's "Chick Habit" really sounds like interstitial music from the Powerpuff Girls. Hell, Jack Nitzsche's "The Last Race" and Eddie Beram's "Riot in Thunder Alley"-- a deliciously schlocky combo of fuzz bass, cheesy new-for-1967 sitar, and cod-Latin drumming that will have you instantly imagining teenage rabble cruising down two-lane blacktop to a middle-aged man's idea of rock'n'roll menace-- were already B-movie standards before being repurposed by Tarantino. And like all of Tarantino's soundtracks, Death Proof comes with dialogue from the film that wears itself out before the first play through, though thankfully these snippets are much easier to get rid of in the age of iPods than they were with the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. (Unless you were one of those people who actually figured out how to program a CD player.)
So Quentin once again collects a pretty killer clutch of semi-familiar and downright unknown pre-80s pop, rock, and soul; he probably made some awesome mixtapes for his friends before he was famous, too. But Death Proof raises the same old unfortunate parallel between Tarantino's big-budget exploitation flicks that quote the history of low-budget cinema and his major label soundtracks that repackage golden oldies and thrift-store obscurities now for iTunes. Tarantino spent €34 ($53) million and three years to recreate a B-movie era where directors were lucky to get €34,000 ($53,000) to crank out a whole flick over a three-day weekend. Likewise, you can spend €13 ($19.99) on Death Proof at Best Buy or dig up a .99 copy of that Joe Tex album at your local Salvation Army. It might sound even better on vinyl, in much the same way that the movies Tarantino pays homage to with Grindhouse are more fun when you catch them on late-night TV than they are when they're lovingly restored by the AFI and turned art-house respectable.
-Jess Harvell, May 01, 2007