At one point, Ennio Morricone was attached to write an original soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic provocation. If this had gone through as planned (Morricone backed out due to a scheduling conflict), I’ve got to imagine that Basterds would still have sounded pretty much the same. There are two reasons for this.
First, Quentin Tarantino does not, as a rule, use original music in his films. Even in movies where there is a credited composer, such as Kill Bill 1 (the RZA) and Kill Bill 2 (Robert Rodriguez), the most prominently displayed cues are always preexisting music, respectively Hotei Tomoyasu’s Battle Without Honor or Humanity and a cue from Ennio Morricone’s score to Il Mercenario, which also turns up in the Basterds soundtrack.
The nice way of describing this is to say that Tarantino is a collage artist: he makes his films by combing through the scraps of other people’s creations, and he’s just as sensitive to sound fragments as he is to images. The not-so-nice way of describing it is to say that he’s a micromanaging sumbitch who cannot stand to let a composer have creative control over one of his movies.
Maybe Tarantino should be more generous, and remember that if directors hadn’t been willing to let Morricone stretch his wings back in the day, people like Tarantino would not have any closets of cinema-music to pillage. Or maybe the current author should be more generous, and remember that “micromanaging sumbitch” is very nearly a director’s job description. The rise of the jukebox soundtrack may lead the art of film scoring to perdition, but, as the Sondheim lyric goes, “everyone does it, and seldom as well.” Tarantino has an exquisite ear: his assembled scores are more interesting than %80 of the original music coming out of Hollywood these days.
That brings me to the second reason that the Basterds soundtrack would probably sound pretty much the same: basically everything on it was either written by Ennio Morricone, or could have been. The soundtrack album is a pretty poor approximation of what the movie really sounds like: the various “period” german songs make only momentary appearances in the film itself, while the Morricone cues play at length, and are often pretty close to being the main point of the scenes that they’re in.
(Now, credit where it’s due: I’m not going to pretend that I have the kind of encyclopediac knowledge of 70s film music that it would take to identify all this stuff on my own. I basically drew this information from the Tarantino.info wiki page, here.)
There’s the aforementioned cue from Il Mercenario
and an excerpt from his iconic, sui generis score to The Battle of Algiers
and this piece of splenditudinous, grandioliloquent, apocalycious tomfoolery from Il Ritorno de Ringo.
All due respect to John Williams, but that, that, is how you use a chorus to eerie-up a film score.
I always have to marvel at Morricone’s flexibility. The only thing these cues have in common is a richness you could chew like gum… well, that and the fact that they were inexplicably left off of the soundtrack CD. Given how prominent these cues are in the film, and this almost feels like a slap in the face to film music fans, especially the cue from Il Ritorno de Ringo, which doesn’t seem to be available on any CD that’s still in print. Part of the point to this post – alluded to in the title – is to provide convenient access to the music that was left off the disc, at least until the inevitable DMCA takedown notices are filed. The last Morricone cut that’s missing from the CD can be found here.
Let’s not forget about some of the non-Morricone music that’s missing from the soundtrack. Here’s Davie Allen and the Angels’ songs for the biker movie The Devils Angels. The second song in the mix is the one used in Basterds.
What’s interesting here is how much this juiced up pop music does sound like Morricone in the sections without vocals. I’ve heard that Morricone actually prefers to write severely dissonant orchestral music, but he’s a brilliant pop songwriter pretty much in spite of himself. There’s also a cue from Charles Bernstein’s score to The Entity, which is just spooky.
Like the Ringo cue, this one is not readily available on CD. The same is true for “Zulus” from Elmer Bernstein’s soundtrack to “Zulu Dawn,” which isn’t even available on youtube. The last “missing” song listed by the Tarantino.info page is the theme to a kung-fu movie called Eastern Condors.
I don’t remember exactly where in the movie this pops up — is it when Omar rushes the Nazi guard outside of the opera box? — but presumably they used the version without Sammo Hung singing. I kind of wish they had used the music from this scene instead,
so that I’d have an excuse to show it to you. Which I guess I just did anyway. My bad. (That bit at the beginning where the guy dives headfirst into a pile of leaves has to be one of my favorite shots in all of cinema now.)
Now, I’m not saying the Basterds soundtrack isn’t worth your money. The period music, while not particularly important to the movie, is fascinating in its own right. And you do get some great Morricone tracks, especially this bricolage of Für Elise from The Big Gundown, which you can see in its original context below (the music starts at about 40 seconds in.)
And of course, David Bowie. David Bowie!
Couldn’t leave that one out.
You know, listening to it again, I don’t think the cue from the Devils Angels that they actually used sounds so much like Morricone. But the other ones, especially the instrumental version of the title track that they close out the mix with, are really very close. Take about %20 of the fuzz off the guitar, slow it down a little, and add a voice going “Hah!” every twenty seconds or so, and you’d have the spaghetti western title theme that never was.