19 September 2014

Quentin Tarantino: Omega Genre Nerd

This is a guest blogpost by Brandon Engel

From his underrated script for True Romance to the more recent
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He’s almost like a composite of every notable auteur who has ever picked up a camera: he has the exuberance of Godard, tempered by the exactitude of Hitchcock, with an aptitude for recontextualizingcliches in a way that evokes Brian de Palma, with the witty repartee of Billy Wilder. Films like Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and InglouriousBasterds will likely endure in the same way that the works of John Ford and Martin Scorsese have.

While other up-and-coming filmmakers spent time in universities taking film courses, Tarantino took on the humble role of a video store clerk, which provided him with invaluable fodder for his vast imagination. He was enamored with blaxploitation films, vintage Italian horror, French new wave, classic kung fu films...Tarantino devoured film, and assimilated everything he loved into his own directorial bag of tricks. From the beginning, he’s crafted films that are more of a reflection of his particular tastes — whether we’re talking about the gratuitous shots of female feet, or obscure rock songs from the sixties, or the characters seen eating bowls of vintage Halloween breakfast cereal. He constructs his fantasy world, so that we might immerse ourselves in it.

Taking cues from famous directors such as KinjiFukasaku, Woody Allen, and Sam Peckinpah, Tarantino speaks the language of cinema fluidly. Consider the standoff from the sequence in Reservoir Dogs that is very similar to the sequence in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3. Or the references to Godard’s Contempt in the scenes of Pulp Fiction whereBruce Willis and his wife are mingling in the bathroom. Or the scene where Uma Thurman gets maced in the eye, which coyly evokes the infamous eye-gouge scene from Lucio Fulci’sZombi 2 (1979). Or even the references to Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill(1965)in Death Proof (2007).

Those who are quick to deride Tarantino on the grounds that his work is derivative are missing the whole point. All art is imitation, and nothing is born of nothing. Tarantino takes all the fragments of everything that stimulates him, and uses them towards his own ends as a filmmaker. What it means, ultimately, is that his films are reflections of what is meaningful to him. He doesn’t select music, for instance, on the basis that he’s exploiting the popularity of current recording artists. His movies are labors of passion first and foremost, but he has still had strong box-office performances, consistently.

His recent interview with his protege Robert Rodriguez on El Rey (details here) revealed the fact that Tarantino wants to leave the world an impeccable filmography, and its likely that he will stop making films after he turns 60. Whether or not he ultimately makes good on this claim remains to be seen. What we can say now, confidently, is that if Tarantino were to hang it up now, he would still the leave a world one extraordinary cinematic legacy.

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