• Ben Erickson

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino is famous for dropping the needle on B-side tracks and turning them into A-side material, using exclusive and oftentimes obscure recordings in his films. He is also infamous for dropping the needle on original score cues from older films, to the irritation of many film score fans, avoiding the use of an original score entirely if possible. In both of these tasks he has enlisted the invaluable assistance of his long-standing music supervisor Mary Ramos to obtain rights and access to this music, and of the nine films now produced by the auteur only The Hateful Eight used an original score, written by Ennio Morricone. More than any other composer, Morricone's music has satisfied Tarantino's visionary (and pedantic) demands, with the director professing his fondness for the composer on several occasions. Scandalous sources would have us believe that what Morricone thinks of Tarantino is less savoury, but according to the recently published book In His Own Words by Alessandro De Rosa, Morricone has nothing but respect and admiration in return. Morricone did share some concerns however, saying "[p]art of my reluctance to work with him derived from the fact that I was somewhat afraid to come up with new music for him, as I feared that he might be too conditioned by his own musical habits..." (De Rosa, 92). Tarantino's latest love letter to the film industry, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – itself a play on words from the 1968 spaghetti Western Once Upon a Time in the West, which was scored by Morricone – carries on the tradition of using preexisting score cues, only this time with a practical application. Nearly every cue is consistent with the late '60s setting of the film, and a number of them are used within the meta context of the Hollywood big-screen, such as when Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) sneaks into the theatre to watch Wrecking Crew, or in the brief viewing of a clip from The Great Escape with Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Following is the list of film score cues used in the film:

  • "Miss Lily Langtry" and "Judge Roy Bean's Theme" from The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean by Maurice Jarre

  • "Batman Theme" from the Batman television series by Neal Hefti ("KHJ Batman Promotion")

  • "Freya Bangs", "Freya", "Karate Dance", and "TV Screen" from The Wrecking Crew by Hugo Montenegro

  • "Mannix" from Mannix by Lalo Schifrin

  • "The Bed" from Danger: Diabolik by Ennio Morricone

  • "Cooler" from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein

  • "Ecce Homo" from Ecce Homo by Francesca De Masi

  • "Mexico Western" from Vado L'Ammazzo E Torno by Francesca De Masi

  • "Theme from It's Happening" from the It's Happening television series by Mark Lindsay

  • "Dalton Gang Ride Entrance" from Cattle Annie & Little Britches by Sahn Berti and Tom Slocum

  • "The Radiogram" from the rejected score for Torn Curtain by Bernard Herrmann

  • "Screen Gems Logo (1965 Version)" by Van Alexander

  • "Seq. 1" from Un Uomo chiamato Apocalisse Joe by Bruno Nicolai

  • "FBI Theme" et al. from The F.B.I. (television series) by Bronislau Kaper*

*While Kaper wrote for the highest number of episodes in The F.B.I. series, these cues could ostensibly have been written by other composers on the series such as Richard Markowitz, Sidney Cutner, Duane Tatro, John Elizalde, Willard Jones, Leo Arnaud, Albert Harris, Richard LaSalle, Hugo Friedhofer, Michel Mention, Robert Drasnin, and Nicholas Carros.

Tarantino's films use a specific musical language; one that is highly stylized and personal, but also one that is informed by and in turn informs the film. It seems reasonable to assume that it is this very holistic approach that dictates his use of preexisting cues in the first place, not only based on his apparent need to micromanage his films at every level (which the creative contributions of a composer might threaten), but because his scenic expression can be so music-centric at times that it is difficult to imagine he wrote the script without the music in mind. Personally, I found the sheer amount of music used in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood gratuitous to the point of pathological, particularly with the short radio injections during transitory scenes in the car and so forth, but this would only detract from the film if it was something you were actively listening for. Otherwise, it makes for a bloody fun time picking out cues you may already be familiar with.

De Rosa, Alessandro. 2019. Ennio Morricone : In His Own Words. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.