Essential Films: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), The Kill Bill Collection (2005), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012), Once Upon a Time…. in Hollywood (2019)
Oscars: Best Screenplay (Pulp Fiction, 1994), Best Screenplay (Django Unchained 2012)
In His Own Words: “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ‘No, I went to films’.”
Director Profile: Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino must be living every film geek’s wildest dream: he started out as a humble video-store clerk only to wind up slamming an adrenaline-loaded syringe into the solar plexus of the American indie movie scene, becoming a filmmaker so influential, film critics turn your name into an adjective. It’s not even like you need to worry about being original; in fact, those who criticize will still praise you for your cinematic magpie work, conceding that at least you steal from the best: Howard Hawks, François Truffaut, Sergio Leone…
With his perma-smirk features and breathless jabber mouth conversational style exuding an air of limitless enthusiasm and glee, it’s clear Tarantino knows he’s hit his personal motherlode and isn’t about to take it for granted. But it’s not like he lucked out, after all; his Reservoir Dogs script was lambasted when he first workshopped it at the Sundance Institute in 1991. He could have given up there and then. Yet one year later, he was back in Utah with the finished product. A heist movie where you don’t see the heist. A noir shot in the Californian sunshine. A crime movie that opens with some guy — Quentin himself, of course, starting a tradition of cameoing in all of his works — verbally assaulting the audience with a theory about Madonna’s Like A Virgin. People didn’t know what to make of it. Even the projector spazzed out, breaking down halfway through the first-ever screening.
It was soon clear afterward that one of the industry’s greatest directors had broken onto the scene and wasn’t going to overstay his welcome, committing to only making 10 movies in his career before retiring. If you count the two chapters of Kill Bill as one film, as Tarantino does, that puts nine films in his filmography as he works on what’s rumored to be his final feature film, The Movie Critic.
But returning to what’s already been made, there’s only one adjective that can be used to describe his works: Tarantinoesque. Every film the Tennessee native makes is oozing with a style that can only be classified as his own: fractured, chronologically reshuffled narratives; violence often played for laughs as much as for shocks; incidental dialogue scenes pushed center stage; astute, bold use of music… And that’s not even mentioning his numerous visual trademarks or his propensity for language that would make a nun blush.
That’s the style, but what’s the substance? QT’s detractors point to his films as moral vacuums more concerned with coolness than warmth, all those winking tributes to the director’s faves sitting where there should be some kind of thematic throughline. Well, here’s a theory for you: Tarantino’s movies are all about trust, primarily between mentors and pupils –the betrayal of which is the worst thing one can do to the other.
Mr. Orange certainly knows that when he tells White, who’s trusted him enough to tell him his real name, that he’s really a cop. In Pulp Fiction, Butch betrays Marsellus Wallace’s trust by not throwing the fight; Vincent lives up to it by not having an affair with Wallace’s wife. Jackie Brown and Ray Nicolette need to trust each other to ensnare Ordell. And Bill’s terrible punishment of his number-one Diva was basically for a breach of trust, her trying to both flee him and — most offensive to her mentor — her own bad nature. Yes, it is just honor among thieves, but it’s as close to morality as you’re going to get from the man who once said, “If I’ve made it a little easier for artists to work in violence, great! I’ve accomplished something…”
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