Soundtrack in Pulp Fiction

With every Quentin Tarantino movie, the soundtrack plays an important in the film. Each song stands out as a carefully selected piece of pop culture resonance. Whether it is the use of Bowie’s “Cat People” in Inglorious Basterds, “Stuck in the Middle with You” accompanied by an ear getting severed in Reservoir Dogs, or the frequent use of Ennio Morricone scattered throughout his films. One of the many elements that is exceptional throughout Pulp Fiction is the soundtrack. As a proud owner of the soundtrack, I find the music thoroughly enhances the film. The film’s song selection enhances the atmosphere in several ways throughout the film.

The soundtrack is filled with surfer music, which is heavy in its instrumental effect. Surfer music has a cool feel to it that is transmitted into actions by the characters. The music fits perfectly as Vincent and Jules walk out of dinner, they just prevented from being robbed. The classic guitar riff of Misirlou plays over the credits after Jules violently shoots Brent.  Butch slashes Zed up to an exhilarating horn section in the song Comanche. All of these uses have something in common; they provide a sense of calm and organization after and during violence. They relate to all of these acts of violence and tie it together by giving us a sense of the characters composed psyche.

Music is also used to provide seduction to the character of Mia Wallace. When we are first introduced to the character of Mia Wallace, we are already familiar with the fact that she is dangerous because of the Tony Rocky Horror story. When we see her for the first time we hear Dusty Springfield’s song of forbidden love, “Son of a Preacher Man.” The music accompanied with her bare feet is a point of seduction, and build her as a fem-fatal. When Vincent and Mia compete in the Jack Rabbit Slims twist contest, the music further serves as a point of seduction and connection. Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” matches the 50’s décor of the restaurant, as John Travolta goes back to his dancing roots. They are connecting emotionally as characters through song and dance. The final song used between these two characters is “Girl You Will Be a Woman Soon.” In the scene Vincent fight his temptations while the source of his temptation dances wildly in the next room.

The radio is also used as an important sound device. When we first see Vincent and Jules, they are driving with “Jungle Boogie” being played on the radio. The song accompanied by the ridiculousness of their hair makes for a humorous. After Butch thinks he made a clean get away with the watch, he sings along with the country “Counting Flowers on the Wall.” The scene goes quickly from joyous to tense as Marcellus Wallace appears in the middle of the street. Few directors use music quite as effectively as Quentin Tarantino, and the attention Tarantino gives to it shows.

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Baptism of Blood

I am not sure if I am exaggerating when I say I have seen the Godfather a thousand times, but I feel like I have seen it that many times. Once when I was sick I even watched the Godfather I & II back to back on TV. Out of all the scenes in the movie, the most memorable to me is the Baptism scene. A scene that is somewhat replicated in the next to installments to the trilogy. The contrast between the violence and social behavior is so beautifully interwoven in this striking scene that elegantly ties together several themes of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic film.
In the scene we see Michael’s nephew being baptized in an elegant golden Catholic church. The scene is then intercut with several acts of violence being prepared all with a church organ and Latin prayers being played over it. All these acts of violence orchestrated by Michael become closer to their bloody conclusions; the music gets tenser illustrating the suspense of the scene. As Michael accepts his role as Godfather to the newly born child, the brutality erupts. The same as he renounces Satin, several rivals and betrayers are gruesomely gunned down. The water that runs over the head of the child, cleansing the soul sins, is in contrast with the blood that flows down the street.
The scene signifies the continuation of tradition, a major theme of the movie. The child is being forced upon the religious traditions dictated by his family. Although Connie and Carlo probably dismiss many attributes of religion, the child is more importantly being brought into a social society. The child is now a part of a way of life built upon organized crime and is likely to follow into that legacy. The scene also signifies a new leader of that way of life, Michael. Michael follows tradition by becoming a Godfather making him the head of the family and mafia boss. He becomes leader through the child’s baptism, but also through the violence he is orchestrating. It shows the combination of the business and social aspects that are necessary for heading the family. While many characters try to separate business from personal affairs, this scene combines them through tradition to show they are intertwined.
The scene also issues a new found corruption of Michael. Despite the fact that he is swearing off Satin, he is arranging the deaths of his enemies. Michael goes from war hero, to defender of his family, to leading the violent enterprise which is the Corleone. Throughout the movie, Michael compromises his ideals for the sake of the family. He says that he is not his family to Kay in the beginning of the film which he later changes to he will have the Corleone running a legitimist business in a short amount of time. It is the life style Don Vito never wanted for his son, but it was destined. Michael is now a mafia boss and is orchestrating murders. Unknown to the viewer, at this point in the scene is just how corrupt Michael has become. While all this is occurring, Michael knows the boy’s father, and his brother in law only has a limited number of hours left. The irony of the religious ceremony cleansing of the soul of the sin combined with the corruption of Michael’s soul makes the scene that much more powerful.
This scene would be a basis for the conclusion of the second Godfather which follows even further with the corruption of Michael. It is rare for a scene to be both as violent as this scene and be as meaningful and significant. This makes the movie that much more powerful.

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The Populace View of Bonnie and Clyde

America has always had a long obsession with the outlaw. Many classic outlaws include Jesse James, John Dillinger, Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. All of these fugitives have had romanticized legacies that have had their established legends further enhanced through the medium of film. Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde focuses on the folk hero aspect of these two icons to create an Americana that favors myth more than truth. The legacy of the outlaw can be one be villainized or it can be one where the criminal is viewed as a hero with the common people. Penn creates these two lovers as populace icons by creating our heroes criminal activities with a sense of seduction and by having them stand up for the beliefs of the down trotted Depression era people.

The movie, especially the first half, serves as a glamorization of a life of crime. The appearances of the characters are exaggerations that make the characters seem cooler and more relatable. The real Clyde Barrow has a much earthier Okie vibe than Warren Beatty and has large white toothed smile. Faye Dunaway has much longer and blonder hair than the pictures of Bonnie Parker. The power of the characters also gets intertwined with sexual notions. While most of the movie Clyde is impotent, Bonnie is attracted to Clyde due to his outlaw nature. When Clyde first shows her his gun, it is seen as a major phallic symbol. He holds it by his crotch and she proceeds to touch the gun in a highly sexualized fashion. After he robs the store for the first time, she throws herself upon him because she is unable to control her sexual attraction to the danger.  It is clear that Penn is linking a life of crime with sex appeal thus seducing the viewers to the likability of what could be viewed as two ruthless cop killers.

The characters likability is further cemented in their reliability to the populace. People of the day did not feel as though Bonnie and Clyde were robbing the down trotted Okies, they were robbing the immoral banks. The common men related the actions of Bonnie and Clyde to a Robin Hood story arc, making them heroes. Early in the movie we see a farmer with a repossessed house and his family boarded up in a car straight out of the Grapes of Wrath. Bonnie and the farmer proceed to shoot the banks foreclosure sign. This signifies how the Barrow Gang is targeting the establishment that is taking advantage of the common man. Later we see Clyde let a farmer keep the money when he is robbing the bank. The farmer would go onto say something along the lines of, “they are alright by me.” This reflects the folk hero view of the two characters and how they became martyrs for the populace.

The late 1960’s brought about a new era in Hollywood where the criminal did not have to be villianized. Cowboy movies have always been told with the sheriff being the hero, but that would shortly change with movies like The Wild Bunch. The outlaw is a classic Americana icon that was unable to be properly told until Bonnie and Clyde. Arthur Penn is able to balance seduction and populace imagery in his violent tragedy.



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Disconnect in Breathless

Michel lies in the street, bleeding from a bullet wound in the back, he speaks softly to his once lover Patricia. He mutters with his last dying breath, “You make me want to puke.” She follows this with a reoccurring theme in the movie and asks what he says. This is the conclusion of Jean-Luc  Godard’s visually revolutionary picture Breathless. The movie follows Michel, a sociopath who treats the real world like he was playing the video game Grand Theft Auto, who searches for meaning with the American Patricia. In many ways Breathless is about a series of errors that arise from the miscommunication of the two.

Michel has a great appreciation for American culture and the new world, but does not completely understand it. Michel’s idol is that of American cultural icon, Humphrey Bogart. Given I have only seen him in Casablanca, Bogart had a style that is cool, charming, and slightly dangerous. Michel tries to emulate this to an extreme level, that it becomes treacherous. He misidentifies with this American Icon, focusing on the danger and seduction rather than the humanity of the persona. Michel’s fascination with America can be seen in his love of Patricia. Patricia is an American in Paris who has not fully adapted to French culture. She works for an American paper, speaks with an American accent, and does not always understand idioms. Although Michel has other women in his life, for some reason he falls for Patricia. Most likely he is attracted to her American ways. He says there are prettier people, but he still loves her more than them. Instead of running away to safety, he stays to try and convince her to follow. Of course the romance was doomed from the start. His reluctance to go to Italy can be seen in his identification with the new world. If America is the new world then Italy, the site of the Roman Empire, is the physical representation of the European old world.

The quick cuts in the film add to the films feel of miscommunication. Often in the middle of dialogue people will change positions and is confusing to the viewer. There is a definite feeling of discontent with the picture and dialogue, and makes it harder to follow the conversation thread. While it draws attention to the fact that you are watching a movie, this visual technique in editing is effective in communicating the language barrio of the two characters.

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Birds in Psycho

With each viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, I always pick up on a different characteristic of a motif that I had never noticed. Hitchcock uses several different motifs to subconsciously create suspense for the film viewer. Throughout this viewing I tried to pay attention to the mostly visual bird motif. This motif, while subtle, creates a sense of tension in Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful masterpiece, Psycho.

From the beginning of the movie until the end, Psycho uses the bird motif in several ways. In a typical Hitchcock opening shot, the film begins with a bird’s eye view over a city until it slowly zooms in on a half open window. It is also important to mention that the city is Phoenix, Arizona. In the room, is what some consider to be our protagonist Marion, who’s last name is Crane.

While these are more understated references, more obvious Bird references emerge with the appearance of Norman Bates. Room one of the Bates Motel is decorated with several pictures of simple birds. As we follow Norman into the parlor, we are again greeted by more bird references. Norman’s bizarre and somewhat disturbing hobby of taxidermy continues to play with this motif. When we enter the Parlor we are given a point of view shot of a stuffed crow and a stuffed owl, each dominating the wall with their intimidating glance and long shadows. Behind Marion are several song birds, and to the left of Norman is a bird that appears to be a turkey.  Norman says that Marion “eats like a bird,” and that he likes stuffing birds because they are “curious” and “passive.”  As Norman talks his hand rests on a bird that looks like a turkey. Although mostly timid throughout the interaction, we see glimpses of the devils that lurk inside Norman. When he talks about his relationship with his mother, we see a low angle shot of the stuffed owl above Normans head. As Marion leaves the crow is visible above her head, as she tries to fix her secret of the stolen money.

In this parlor scene, we understand the meaning behind the bird motif. The birds are representative of each characters personality. The different species of birds represent the different elements of Norman and Marion’s personalities. Besides her last name being that of a bird, Marion draws several comparisons to birds in this scene. By saying she eats like a bird and having her surrounded by little finch like birds, we see her as vulnerable thus increasing the suspense for the viewer. As for the crow that is above her, that could represent her guilt for stealing the money, or provide foreshadow for her eventual demise. Norman is represented by two different set of birds as well; the large yet timid birds, and great owl above his head. The shy and socially awkward side of Norman and the murderous mother personality represent those birds respectively. When he is calm the bird in site is the turkey, which is far from intimidating. When his personality switches, we see the looming predator owl above his head. The aggression in his tone is matched by the owl, which is threatening to the viewer in its size and opened winged pose. Before Norman looks into the peep hole, we see both types of birds used to represent his personality, indicating a split in his personality. The metaphor of birds is represented of the different personalities of the characters and the danger associated with these traits.

Birds are used again after the shower scene and at the very end of the film. When Norman sees the murder that happened in the bathroom, he looks in horror and knocks one of the photos of the birds off the wall. The photo hints that Norman is actually the killer in the film because of the previous representation of Marion as a little bird. During the very end of the film, the mother personality of Norman says, “I am just as harmless as one of those stuffed birds.” This further relates the personalities of the characters to birds.

This is just one of the many motifs that Hitchcock uses to create suspense. For his next major film, The Birds, Hitchcock certainly expand upon using this motif in a suspenseful way. Throughout Psycho the creepy and odd looking birds create suspense and provide a symbol for the different personalities of the characters.

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Singing in the Rain’s most Famous Scene

A dark rainy night surrounds two characters as they kiss goodnight in the doorway of a city apartment. He leaves optimistic and cheerful as he dances through the adverse weather and singing an upbeat song through the water. The song he is singing is the title track to 1952’s Singing in the Rain. This scene has become a classic use of song and dance in musicals and film in general.  This scene is indicative of what has transpired throughout the film thus far.

The mood that is established in the scene is crucial to its significance. The atmosphere of the setting is a complete contradiction between the feelings and actions of our protagonist, Don, as well as the music of the scene. The large raindrops covered the dark city streets, as people run for cover from the storm. Don on the other hand, is so full of life that he is singing and dancing through the puddles of the deserted city. He croons to the street lights belting out, “What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again.” It is clear the dark conditions of the weather do not affect Don’s love filled emotions.

The weather, in some ways represents the struggle that comes with the change of time. There is some level of insecurity about the future. As time advances so does technology and leaves behind those who are unable to adapt. Don’s future seems to be in dire straits. Talking movies are in their infancy and many careers are in limbo in between. After the premier of his poorly pieced together first talkie, Don’s career is in definite jeopardy.

Just as his career is at the closest to fading away into obscurity, he finds a glimmer of hope in love. His relationship with Cathy has improved from its initial fascination in its infancy. With her comes the cure to improve his film, which is updating the film into an overdubbed musical. This is the hope in the storm, the reason he is singing such an optimistic and innocent song. As we see, Don makes it through the storm and releases a successful musical.

I can’t finish this paper without mentioning how A Clockwork Orange forever ruined the innocence of this song for me.

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The Tough Times of Modern Times

Comedies have long been a staple of the American cinema. Few stars of the cinema are as well known or as influential as Charlie Chaplin, whose name is synonymous with the comedies from the silent film era. While his slapstick style is unmistakably influential to comedy, his ability to infuse social commentary into the genre is somehow missing in today’s comedic movies. Through a series of comedic sketches, Chaplin is able to incorporate a strong liberal social commentary into his comedic film, Modern Times.

The first of the many segments in Modern Times, Chaplin takes a stab at the shape of the industrial complex of the era. Sound is incorporated heavily into this social commentary. The buzzing of the metallic machines, the rhythmic pounding of a steal hammer, and the turning of screws at the hands of our protagonists all provide an aesthetic of order to a structured assembly line to the movie. The most important use of sound is integrated in voices. Voices are not heard directly by the speaker, but through machines. This all creates an isolated environment for our protagonist among the cold machines that surrounds him. Personality is removed from the factory until we see the Tramp, who eventually suffers a nervous breakdown due to the monotonous activities of the factory. The attention given to the efficiency of the industry can be seen in where the Tramp is ordered to get back to work after taking a smoking break in the bathroom. Another dehumanizing aspect of the factory scene is when they test the machine that helps people eat lunch. The dehumanization of the factory is shown throughout the beginning of the film.

Poverty is another topic of interest for the film. Both our protagonist and his love interest face poverty throughout the film. Children can be seen starving and the female protagonist has to steal to eat. Chaplin takes a stance that shows the devastation and desperation of the people suffering. Chaplin’s character has it so rough in the outside world that he intentionally tries to get thrown back into prison

As the movie reaches its conclusion, glimmer of hope withstands for our two unemployed leads. They smile as they walk down the highway to an unknown fate. The bittersweet optimism experienced by our protagonists makes us hopeful of a change in the world. While Modern Times creates a social statement by constructing a world where our two heroes cannot withstand the dehumanization and poverty of the era, the ending of the movie leads us thinking that there is hope somewhere in this world.

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