It is pretty unusual for me to advocate for a soundtrack comprised of pre-existing music. I’m stubbornly dedicated to the orchestral work of John Williams and Angelo Badalamenti, and I generally find compilations to be commercially driven and musically uneven. Periodically, however, a director is able to curate music that becomes inextricably bound to the experience of their film. When it is done right, it brings the experience back just as effectively as an originally composed score, perhaps with the added bonus of nostalgic reference.
When appropriating songs for soundtracks, obscurity is key. If a song is too widely recognized, it may challenge the viewer’s associations. Kill Bill shows Tarantino's awareness and mastery when it comes to combining a wide variety of unknown music to his cinematic vision. For example, athough Bang Bang was released nearly forty years before Kill Bill was, it’s clearly Beatrix Kiddo’s theme song.
Kill Bill is a rather bizarre pastiche of cinematic styles that seemingly refers to everything, but actually copies nothing. Its a self-encapsulated world where redneck hitmen and samurai swordsmen coexist in uneasy truces. Taken literally,the soundtrack is a similar collection of obscure and disparate tracks that, if taken individually, would fall between the cracks of clear record-bin categorization. The distinctive world of Kill Bill, however, can somehow be circumscribed by both the frenetic surf-punk of the 5,6,7,8’s Woo Hoo and Zamfir’s expansive pan flute kitsch.
Where does Tarantino find this stuff, anyway?
Overall, the soundtrack has more high points than low, but it does suffer slightly from its breadth. In particular, I feel like the RZA’s track, Ode to Oren Ishii, which was not featured in the movie, isn’t representative of his best work. I understand that Tarantino is a devout fan of the RZA, but it seems a little off-the-cuff. All is forgiven soon, however, especially two tracks later when Tomoyasu Hotei kicks out the jam Battle without Honor or Humanity. The way in which this song connects with its attendant imagery in the movie makes it difficult to resist the temptation to walk down crowded halls in slow motion. Plus it’s got that great timpani riff in the middle.
Kill Bill is one of those rare instances where director’s cinematic vision is unified with the songs selected for the soundtrack. As a standalone work, it's particularly evocative, especially for the fanboy. A simple whistled melody becomes infused with menace as it evokes Elle Driver's entry into Beatrix Kiddo's hospital room. I doubt, however, that it’s as suggestive for those not familiar with the movie. Even so, it’s a compelling mix of eclectic music that’s got some real gems hidden in its tracklisting.