‘Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’ might be Tarantino’s greatest musical masterpiece


Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” has had people talking since it hit theaters in late July. For those living in Los Angeles while it was being shot, talk of the film has been floating around a lot longer. Love it or hate it, Tarantino’s ninth film continues to be the topic of much discussion. Right out of the gate, the movie made history, marking the director’s most successful opening weekend to date.

Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)

Big numbers at the box office haven’t been the only thing people are buzzing about. Within his fairy tale twist on the Manson murders, Tarantino is said to have eerily captured some critical factors about that time. He got everything down from the setting of Spahn Ranch to El Coyote—the restaurant where Tate and her friends had dinner on that fateful night in 1969. That restaurant is still in operation today.

Tarantino allows us to travel back in time by depicting things with incredible historical accuracy. All sorts of former landmarks appear in the film, including the now non-existent Sunset Strip hotspot, Pandora’s Box. Iconic locations are even incorporated into black and white commercials that play during a scene. At one point, a long-gone version of Pacific Coast Highway appears onscreen. Other scenes include old jingles that instantly conjured up memories of the world in the ’60s.

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If you didn’t live it, you were given a sense of what it was like.

As to be expected in any Tarantino movie, music is an important theme. “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” bears no exception. The story itself is intriguing. Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton), Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth), and Margot Robbie (Sharon Tate) all deliver commendable performances. However, it’s the soundtrack that might be one of Tarantino’s more compelling components to this film. It’s perhaps one element of this creation that most can agree on.

I Put A Spell On You

Just after the film’s release, Tarantino curated a playlist on Spotify that highlights some of his favorite songs from his roster of movies. “Pulp Fiction,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Kill Bill,” and “The Hateful Eight” were all included in the roundup. In a podcast, he also detailed why he chose the songs he did for “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

Merging music in movies to create an alternate reality is something that Tarantino has always been applauded for. The way he weaves together a song and a scene has become an art in itself. It’s a Tarantino trademark. Even background tracks are carefully placed. Every song adds to the scene or, in some cases, plays a large part in why the scene stands out.

While most people are still debating how they feel about the film, the soundtrack appears to be a favorite for everyone. Tarantino chose songs from the era in versions that were slightly unexpected. Each track complemented the scene it was paired to. One scene has the Manson family girls scouring for food in a dumpster and singing “Always Is Always Forever,” which is one of Manson’s songs. With the right tune, he turns what could be an average scene into a spellbinding moment. Whatever you think about his style of directing, there is no doubt that the way Tarantino ties music into movies is masterful.

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Looking back, Tarantino has produced some of the most creatively music-oriented scenes in pop culture history. “Reservoir Dogs” was the first taste we got of his musically-infused ways. Today we refer to that as “classic Tarantino style.” Not only was the soundtrack superb, but anyone who has seen that movie has never been able to listen to “Stuck in the Middle with You” the same again. Michael Madsen sets the scene up brilliantly, allowing for every move to draw you into that moment. Tarantino managed to capture something creepy, psychotic, and fun all at the same time.

Not long after that came “Pulp Fiction.” While there were many music highlights throughout the film, the scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta dancing on stage has become one of the most iconic movie scenes of all time. With that, Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” was introduced to a whole new generation and suddenly, Tarantino made an old song from 1964 cool again.

The opening scene of “Kill Bill,” which plays Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” is another one etched into the memories of movie buffs. David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” fit like magic into “Inglorious Basterds.” “Jackie Brown,” “Death Proof,”  “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,”—music is the one theme that Tarantino fans can count on to be the same in every one of his films.

Goodnight Moon

The word is now out that Tarantino’s next film will be his tenth and final endeavor. That makes “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” seem like almost more of a love letter to the entertainment industry. Thankfully, his ode came packed with musical gifts that will resonate with audiences for years to come.

For every Tarantino film, there is a catalog of songs woven into its scenes that create an abstract work of art. No two lists of “Top Tarantino movie songs” could possibly match. Like his movies, it’s subjective and left up to interpretation.

With one film left to go, there are plenty of people right now wondering what the subject will be. If you’re a real Tarantino fan, then you’ve already pondered that, and you’re already curious about the soundtrack.

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Sari Cohen is a journalist based in the Greater L.A. Area. She began her career in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comedy writer/performer and over the years has developed scripts for both the stage and screen. She currently covers music and live entertainment for AXS, reviews movies for Hollywood First Look Features and writes for InLove Magazine. She also pens funny stuff for popular sites such as Cracked and Screen Rant. You can often find her at concerts or on a red carpet somewhere, talking to someone about something. From on-the-scene reporting to exclusive interviews, she tackles every topic from music, movies and television, to fashion, lifestyle and politics. You can check out more on Twitter at @ask_sari or follow her adventures on Instagram under @thesavvyscribbler.