Questions and Troubles with Quentin Tarantino

Joshua Vaughan questions all-things Taranino…

“Egotist”, “genius”, “geek”; these are just a trio of words which have adequately described Quentin Tarantino over the course of his long career as the director, writer and cameo-bomber of a variety of Hollywood’s most revered films in recent years. However, there is one word which has come to light which, in a manner more than fair, sums up Tarantino’s career post-Jackie Brown. This word is “disappointing”.

It may be sacrilege for some people to make Tarantino a figure of disappointment rather than that of worship-inducing idolatry. However, for a career which was forged from a star through Reservoir Dogs, to then birth unto the world this critic’s favorite film in Pulp Fiction, and then to create the depth of brilliance found in Jackie Brown, it is more than testing to see the dismay which has found its ground in Tarantino’s career thereafter. Yes, this includes the strange misguidance found in Kill Bill Volumes I and II.

The beginning of this downfall took place post-Jackie Brown, with the release of Kill Bill Volume I, a film revered by Tarantino fans. After Jackie Brown failed to impress at the Box Office, collecting a measly $40 million (compared to Tarantino’s previous $215 million success with Pulp Fiction), Tarantino brought out Kill Bill Volume I in 2003.

Now, compare this film to Tarantino’s earlier works. Reservoir Dogs, the pinnacle of Tarantino’s greatness, which would go on to be ripped off by Tarantino himself (we’ll get to that later). Pulp Fiction, the greatest interwoven work of post-modern cinema ever put to screen. Jackie Brown, the only film in which Tarantino actually creates a feasible woman character, rather the dictionary of Tarantino in a dress (we’ll get to that also).

Kill Bill Vol. I? A series of individual filler scenes with the estranged film-geek quotes or unmemorable action set-piece thrown in, complete with a distractive, overbearing soundtrack to cover for the director’s lack of investment in a succinct narrative.

Kill Bill Vol. I is a film overridden with violence, without any conviction of real grit or depth which (similarly) over-compensates for Tarantino’s disinterest in making a film which is reined in, with the aim of hitting the point Tarantino thought he would address; he, instead, misses that point entirely, directly through the means listed above. What this all amounts to is a film which (although the scene itself may be aesthetically impressive), the action and dialogue set pieces counteract with each other, creating an uneven shambles which Tarantino has failed to correct.

Therefore, it is easy to see that Kill Bill Volume II is no better in this sense. Moreover, most of his most avid defenders would still like to believe that Kill Bill was made to be a fan’s film, or rather,“homage” to Japanese cinema. If we are to go down that road of thinking, as we move on to Death Proof, we will discuss how those people are (and I stress this) completely and vehemently wrong to use that frame of defense.

Back to Kill Bill. Tarantino’s “homage” seems to go the length of purposely omitting the name of the Bride from the films until she is revealed to be Beatrix Kiddo (spoiler). However, this in itself completely and viciously defeats the obvious (and quite hammered in) connection to Clint Eastwood’s character of The Man with No Name. Similarly, the out-of-place anime chapter entitled “The Origin of O-Ren” is perhaps the best the film has to offer, yet sums the entirety of Kill Bill up in one fleeting moment: a four hour collection of scenes which are individually quite well made, but when preceded or followed by another equally opposed scene, the grit and emotional connection with the film of a whole is lost, when Tarantino has proven this to be one of his strengths. This, of course, is a fundamental problem with movie direction as a whole, and a problem one cannot ignore with the work of Tarantino.

After the release of Kill Bill I & II, Quentin’s self-indulgence towards film-making was easy to note and today seems easier to ignore. This was totally and quite accurately timed by Tarantino through his release of Death Proof, as although Tarantino and the marketing campaign may have tried to pawn the film off as “the fifth film by Quentin Tarantino” on all of its advertising posters, it is at best the sixth-and-a-half by him. Do you know how I know that, Quentin? Because although you have tried to write off Four Rooms (which you wrote and directed, by the way) in that Stalinist way all egotists do, you also forgot that Kill Bill Volumes I and II are on two separate discs of a box-set, were released in two different years, and people paid to sit in the cinema to see your films not once, but twice.

Aside from the utterly false marketing of the lie that is Death Proof, one can now get to Quentin’s narcissism as it unfolds on-screen. As mentioned before, Jackie Brown contained a fully fleshed-out female role, which had a demeanor and a purpose separate from Tarantino’s trademark rambling diction. Instead, Death Proof was the opposite. Death Proof, initially half of the movie Grindhouse when paired with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, was split by Tarantino after poor initial ratings and Box Office estimations (sure, he is a “fan” who doesn’t care about ratings or money).

Death Proof: a horrendously written film surrounded by women who all speak like Quentin Tarantino may not sound like much, and it is exactly that; not very much at all. Everyone in this film speaks just as Quentin Tarantino would be expected to speak, except however, when Tarantino does arrive in the movie, his acting is so wooden and off-pace that he cannot physically talk in the manner that his co-actors have been screen-written to talk.

This, among all other pieces of evidence collected from those four hours of Kill Bill Tarantino sat and wrote, shows that Tarantino has lost the will to write the roles of men and women as separate entities, and rather, has selected to write dialogue for all genders, races and ethnicities across all of space and time as he himself would verbalize his most basic words. Not only is this lazy, but gives reason to believe that Tarantino has sold out; a pretty evident point given how he split up Grindhouse.

Following Death Proof, Tarantino released Inglourious Basterds (yes, that is how it is spelled) in 2009. Despite being the director’s best work since Jackie Brown, it really isn’t saying much when given his later track record. This film was an uneven blend of each of the films which it had been preceded by, and is the rare example in which we can see just how good Quentin Tarantino is as a filmmaker when creating a set-piece (in this sense, I refer solely to dialogue set-pieces; action, not so much). The tension is gripping and has real depth, the cinematography is particularly great, and the direction in these scenes is definitely above par, considering Tarantino’s work in Death Proof.

However, the mastery in those breathtaking dialogue set-pieces, such as how Christoph Waltz’s “Jew Hunter” opens the film, is completely overshadowed by a very uncanny flaw: Tarantino’s inability to rein himself in as a director of the movie as a whole. Despite the dialogue being incredibly fascinating at times, each scene is overmatched when spliced together to make a film. Inglourious is proof in how Quentin Tarantino has the ability to produce set-pieces which are incredibly pleasing, both to the eye and to the ears, but he does not have the ability to use these pieces to make a movie overall coherent, missing his overall goals to the point of disregard and eventual abandonment of the movie’s identity.

To further this point we move on to Django Unchained, a film with really pleasing aesthetics, yet faces real disappointment in its lack of an overarching narrative. The epitomical “I like the way you die, boy” scene is one of few grounded scenes in which the film has real grit and depth, and does not lose itself in the unreal escalation that befalls Kill Bill. However, the overwhelming problem facing Django Unchained, aside from Tarantino’s use of unnecessary gore and explosions which demotes the film in quite an alarming way, is Quentin’s obsession with the shock of cinema, which seems to replace the relevance of the scene itself.

The ending of Django is quite simply the result of an undisciplined director. Despite the ways in which Tarantino is a breathtakingly good cinematographer, and alerts the actors around him to his specific wishes, he still tends to put the scene before the movie itself. This is wholly evident in Tarantino’s bizarre appearance in the film, with the most horrendous Australian accent (if you can call it that) ever put to screen. Whilst being the same length as Jackie Brown, one is a narrative well told and fleshed out, whilst the other finds its convictions through the makings of 2/3rds an excellent movie, and 1/3rd a movie of incredulous silliness.

This leaves us with The Hateful 8. Last week at The Waterfront, Alex Roden wrote a review which stated the undeniable fact that Tarantino always manages to get people talking about his film. Although this is meta-factual, given the nature of this article, it seemed that just talking about the film is not enough, when taking into account the slump “H8ful” has taken at the Box Office, compared to the director’s recent so-called hits.

Django meets Reservoir Dogs, and pretty much rips off the latter’s premise entirely (as mentioned at the beginning of this article). A film around 30 minutes too long, The Hateful 8 wraps this whole thing up with a pretty bow, and suffers all of the pitfalls and triumphs that Tarantino has seemed to find himself facing over and over again. Beautiful scenes, interesting dialogue, great acting, wholly overshadowed by the director’s inability to rein himself in, resulting in a movie bereft of a feasible story arc, and unnecessary action scenes negating the gorgeous scenes of set-up and dialogue; because five other films of this same mantra was not enough.

It is utterly apparent that despite the wonder of Tarantino’s ability to create a scene of pure majesty, it is ironic that his films post-Jackie Brown cannot sustain themselves in the same way. Even more disappointing is Tarantino’s obsession with the effect of the shock of cinema (the overuse of the “n” word, splattering violence, long ungrounded monologues), to the point where these factors often replace the importance of the script itself. Whereas before, Tarantino would create beautiful interwoven story arcs, full with fresh and interesting characters, his films have gone the way of explosions and flashy, unnecessary homage’s. Egotist? Certainly. His ungrounded (false) rant about Disney’s strong-arming business tactics on The Howard Stern Show is just one of many events in the last 12 months which pretty much is an update on where Tarantino’s self-indulgence stands today. Beyond those reasons, people often point out the preference of “style over substance”. This is a false dichotomy. My evidence? Quentin Tarantino. His films often have both, in equal and oftentimes superb stature. However, instead of working together to make a great movie, they counterbalance and hinder the next Tarantino classic being made.