Essential DVDs: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Brown (1997), The Kill Bill Collection (2005), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012)
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’.”
It must be every film geek’s wildest dream: you start out as a humble video-store clerk, and 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 criticise will still praise you for your cinematic magpie-work, conceeding that at least you steal from the best: Howard Hawks, François Truffaut, Sergio Leone…
With his perma-smirk features and breathless jabbermouth conversational style exuding an air of limitless enthusiasm and glee, it’s clear Quentin Tarantino knows he’s hit his personal mother lode 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 Californian sunshine. A crime movie which opens with some guy — Quentin himself, of course — 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. Soon after, cinema was never quite the same again.
Back to that well-earned adjective, then: Tarantinoesque. Fractured, chronologically reshuffled narratives; violence often played for laughs as much as for shocks; incidental dialogue scenes pushed centre stage; astute, bold use of music… And that’s not even mentioning his numerous visual trademarks.
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 is 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 honour-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…”