The Work of Quentin Tarantino: Quality Over Quantity
There is no simple answer when one asks what makes a great director. It can be an array of different factors, from having well-written script, to having a new and distinctive way of shooting scenes. What separates a good director from an iconic director is how their films inspire new generations of filmmakers. The well-known Quentin Tarantino is one of those iconic directors. He is one of the most famous modern directors – his name alone can sell a movie. Tarantino has a lot of distinctive styles that reoccur in all of his films. The three big ones are his witty dialogue, his massive amount of blood and violence, and paying tribute to the older films he grew up with.
Even though his styles are distinctive, Quentin Tarantino has been considered a controversial director because of all the intense bloodshed in his films. While it is true that Tarantino’s use of blood is hardly subtle, his films should not be considered instructional videos on how to hurt people in real life. His films are exactly that, just films, and this is clear by how intently preposterous his violence is portrayed in his films. When Marvin’s face explodes like a watermelon in Pulp Fiction, the audience should know the scene is unreal because peoples’ faces do not explode when shot by a small handgun. The other reason Tarantino spatters blood around is because the films he pays tribute to also are know for excessive amounts of violence, like samurai films and spaghetti westerns.
Speaking of Tarantino paying tribute to other films, he has been accused of being unoriginal because of how many elements he takes from other films. This is not really a valid argument because other famous directors like George Lucas and Martian Scorsese also take a lot of elements from other films. Besides, as the old saying goes “imitation is the sincerest from of flattery”. Since he only has a total of 7 feature films he has directed, it would make sense to analyze all of familiar staples in his films. Four Rooms will be excluded because only his full-length films will be discussed.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs was the small independent film that made a name for Quentin Tarantino as a director. The film is about eight criminals who get together to rob a diamond store, only to have the heist fail miserably in the end. The main characters are the surprisingly considerate Mr. White (Harvey Keital), the psychopathic Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), the self-centered Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), who spends most of the movie bleeding to death. Because the film was independent, it had an extremely low budget, to the point that all the actors had to supply their own wardrobes. Even the heist itself is never shown on screen, and the audience only gets to see the aftermath of the heist.
Instead of this being seen as a drawback, it instead gave Tarantino the chance to display how all a film really needs is well-realized characters. A film does not necessarily need explosions or special effects to make a good movie because if the characters are boring, nobody is going to care about the film. While Reservoir Dogs has its fair share of bloodshed, the scenes that really resonate with viewers are when the characters are arguing with each other. Of course, a character is only as good as the dialogue they spout out, and Tarantino has created a type of dialogue that is all his own. His characters will chat to one another in a casual manner, and the conversation may come off as just filler. To any director, it seems like recreating Taranto’s dialogue is simple, but what is often overlooked is how his dialogue scenes establish foreshadowing.
Take the opening scene in the diner for example. When Mr. Pink is the only one at the table that does not put in money for a tip, it shows him as cheap and self-centered. By the end of the movie, the remaining characters basically kill one another, except for Mr. Pink, who runs away at the end, presumably with all the diamonds. Another example of foreshadowing is in the diner scene when Joe Capet asks who did not pay the tip, and Mr. Orange rats out Mr. Pink. This foreshadows how Mr. Orange is secretly an undercover cop, working among the group. While the films is simple when regarding the story, it is small attentions to details that makes Reservoir Dogs more than just another crime thriller.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Inspired from pulp magazines from the 50s, Pulp Fiction is arguably Tarantino’s most popular film, probably because it expanded upon what made Reservoir Dogs so good. The film is about three intertwining stories that are told out of order. The first story is about the hit-man, Vincent Vega (John Travolta), simply taking his boss’s wife named Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) out for dinner. The second story is about the boxer Butch Collidge (Bruce Willis) trying his best to avoid the crime boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), after he went behind his back. The last story is about Vincent Vega and other hit-man, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) having one of the luckiest, yet unluckiest mornings of their lives.
The plot does not necessarily have a main character, but simply has an ensemble cast that gets the same amount of screen time, more or less. The closest we get to main characters are Vincent Vega because he shows up in all three stories and Jules, who has the most complete arc in the film. They also represent two conflicting sides of divine intervention, which becomes an important theme of Pulp Fiction. After they miraculously survive a shower of bullets from a scared gunman, Jules believes it is a sign of God intervening, but Vega sees it as just dumb luck.
Divine intervention is a continuing theme throughout the film because it tests the audience on believing if there is an all powerful force, watching and predicting our every move. When analyzing Butch’s story, it can be argued that having his flightier girlfriend forgetting his father’s watch, him getting it back, running into Vega and Marsellus Wallace, and stumbling upon a deranged sex dungeon is all bad luck. However, if looking at the unusual situation as divine intervention, it makes sense because of how it benefits Butch in the end. Because Butch saves Wallace from two men sexually assaulting him, Wallace agrees to let Butch get out scot free, as long as he never shows his face back in town. If Butch never saved Wallace, he would still be on the run from Wallace’s men, and he would always be looking behind his back.
Tarantino’s distinct dialogue makes a comeback, and it carries the same foreshadowing as it did in Reservoir Dogs. For example: Vega and Jules have a long casual conversation, debating if Marsellus Wallace killed a guy for massaging Mia Wallace’s feet. It may seem like entertaining filler at first, but when Vega is forced to take Mia to dinner, he is put in a scary situation. He has to makes sure that she has a good time, but he is scared to make any romantic implications to her, worried about what Marsellus Wallace could do to him. With a fantastically written script and spot-on casting, Pulp Fiction is an entertaining and re-watchable classic.
Jackie Brown (1997)
Based on the book by Elmore Leonard titled Rum Punch, Jackie Brown is the rare occurrence of Tarantino adapting a book to film. The film is about the female flight attendant, Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), who has been smuggling money from Mexico into the America. After getting caught with planted drugs and going to jail, she is bailed out by an old bondsmen named Max Cherry (Robert Forster). She is soon recruited by two cops, to help catch a gun dealer named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), by pretending to help him smuggle money. She in now working for both sides, as she tells Ordell that she is only working with the cops to throw them off. In reality, she is playing both Ordell and the cops for suckers, and she is really tying to take the smuggled money for herself.
Jackie Brown may have been considered underwhelming when compared to Pulp Fiction, but it is still a great crime thriller never-the-less. What may have stopped it from being an instant classic is how it does not contain a lot of Tarantino’s staples.There is almost no blood, the dialogue is used more for exposition, and the story is told linearly, with no flash backs or scenes told out of order. This may be because the film was based on a book, and Tarantino was trying his best to stay true to the source-material .The film borrowed a lot of elements from old blaxplotation movies from the 70’s. Blaxplotation films were crime thrillers that primarily had black actors, and were accompanied by soul and disco music.
While Jackie Brown does have a black lead character and funky soundtrack, unlike blaxplotation, the film does not treat its characters like stereotypes, and instead uses a mixture of white and black actors respectively. Jackie Brown herself does not feel like a stereotypical black character, and neither does Ordell Robbie because their race never came off as their defining characteristics. Much like Reservoir Dogs, when you strip a movie down to its bare bones, all it needs is relatable and interesting characters, and Jackie Brown delivers in that regard.
Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 (2003-04)
Kill Bill is the heavily martial art inspired revenge film about an ex-assassin getting presumably killed on her wedding day by her fellow assassin comrades. After she comes out of a coma and realizes her unborn baby is missing, she vows to kill all four of the assassins that ruined her wedding day, and then finally encounter the man named Bill (David Carradine). The unnamed main character known as The Bride (Uma Thurman) is not a typical protagonist usually seen in martial art movies, considering she is an American woman with bright blonde hair.
This is actually a smart choice on Tarantino’s part because Hollywood seriously needs more female action characters in leading roles. After watching Kill Bill, one cannot help but think that the excuse that a female lead character would not work in an action movie seems invalid.In fact most of the best characters in the film are women, whether it be the katana wielding O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), the tough as nails Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) or the hot tempered Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). The film is very female empowering, but the film never rubs this in the audience’s face, to the point that it could become gimmicky. Kill Bill is also the first Tarantino movie to be more action oriented, and it shows with the fantastic action scenes and stunt choreography.
There are plenty of examples of Tarantino mimicking styles from old kung fu and samurai films. The constant use of quick close up shots, the ridiculous array of Japanese weapons, and guys bleeding geysers of blood are just a few of these styles seen in Kill Bill. The two films have more to offer that just relentless action scenes, because you cannot have a Quentin Tarantino film without having witty dialogue. Instead of the dialogue feeling like it is simply delaying for the next action scene, it actually gets the audience interested because of how it establishes character development and suspense. When simply watching the first scene in Kill Bill: Volume 1 in which the Bride confronts Vernita Green at her home, not only does their chat establish who these characters are, but also builds suspense on who is going to throw the next punch, or knife in this case.
While the audience knows this is a revenge movie and it would be strange to kill the main character in the first ten minutes, the suspense is raised when Vernita’s daughter is thrown into the scenario. Lastly, what made the Bride such a well-realized character is how she constantly battles between the life of a deadly killer and that of a normal woman. As Bill uses the proper Superman comparison by the end of the film, she can try to have a normal life all she wants, but she will always be a katana wielding killer. As we speak, the possibilities of Tarantino making a Kill Bill: Volume 3 is up in the air, and if not, at least we have two films that will be remembered as the director’s best.
Death Proof (2007)
Death Proof was released alongside Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in a double feature called Grindhouse. The double feature was named after grindhouse theaters, which specifically showed very low budgeted films that were filled with exploitative violence and sex appeal. Since Planet Terror was as eccentric zombie movie, Quentin Tarantino decided to make a slasher movie with Death Proof. The film is about a car stuntman named Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), who appears as a smooth ladies man, but who actually kills his female victims with his intimidating stunt car.
There are two different groups of women who come across Mike, and both come at him in two completely different ways. One group of women fall for his charming looks when they run into him in a bar, while the other group clashes with Mike on the road, and they stoop to his bloodthirsty level when he tries to kill them. Essentially, the first group of women represent victims of abusive men, while the second group represents women being able to step up to abusive men, and to put them in their place. It is hardly a subtle message, but no one expected any subtlety when walking into the film. The look of Death Proof perfectly encapsulates the look of old grindhouse films by having reel scratches and cigarette burn being the established stylistic choice.
Despite having a great look, a flaw of Death Proof is that the characters are not as well-written as in his other films, mostly because they are not very likable. The characters in his films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction may be criminals, but they are still relatable, and they oddly show some sort of humanity once and awhile. The women in Death Proof just come of as a little bit to self-centered, therefore when a long stretch of dialogue appears in the films, the audience is not as engaged because the characters are unlikable. Death Proof is not a bad film at all; in fact, it is a very unique film in the slasher genre. However, when compared to Tarantino’s other films, it comes off as his least best; even he admitted it is his least favorite film. Nevertheless, Death Proof is still a great throw back to a once forgotten time in cinema history.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Inglourious Basterds is one of the smartest, yet also one of the most mindless action thrillers in resent memory. When a film takes place in World War II, it is usually based on a true story, but Tarantino had a different plans for Inglourious Basterds. The film follows a group of rebel Jewish soldiers lead by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), devoted to bringing down Hitler and the Nazi party. They work alongside the secretly Jewish theater owner Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent), as they hatch a suicidal plan to kill Hitler and his followers at a film screening in her theater.
The title of the film is lifted straight from the 1978 Italian action comedy The Inglorious Bastards, which also uses Nazis as the undisputed villains. Tarantino certainly took liberties when filming Inglourious Basterds by not only fictionalizing most of the characters, but also by rewriting history in order to benefit the story.Despite changing the history when regarding the nazis, Tarantino still implemented strong themes of loss and violence prevalent in that time period, showing that he took World War II history seriously. The film opening demonstrates this perfectly, as a man is secretly hiding Jews under his house, while the despicable Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) interrogates the home owner. Not only is the scene tense, but it also accurately conveys what a terrifying time in history it was for Jewish people.
It is scary to think how easily men could be persuaded into ratting out Jews, and also how relentless the Nazis were when hunting and killing Jews. Moments like that are treated respectfully, yet the film does not take itself too seriously, and Tarantino knows when to have fun with a premiss like this. To make a war centered film set World War II, Nazis are the easiest villains to use because of the pre-established notion of the group being bad guys in the public eye. Nazis are basically blood-filled piñatas for our heroes to stab, bash or blow up, knowing that is what the audience wants. However, the scene where Hitler and other Nazi sympathizers are watching a propaganda film is symbolically holding up a mirror to the audience.
They are cheering for Nazis killing other people the same way we, the audience, are cheering for Nazis getting what they deserve. This is not to humanize the Nazi party, but instead to establish how in times of war, villanizing the enemy makes your side more heroic. The character that embodies this is Hans Landa, better known as the Jew Hunter. He does not execute Jews to boost his evil persona, he does it because he sees himself as the hero, and the Jews and Jewish sympathizers are a threat. He is certainly a vile villain, yet he is not as mustache-twirling as Nazi character are usually portrayed in cinema. Inglourious Basterds may not be the best film to take notes on for a history class, but it does attempt to show what violence-driven mindsets might have been like back in World War II.
Django Unchained (2012)
For Quentin Tarantino’s 7th film, he decided to once again direct a period piece with Django Unchained. The film takes place two years before the Civil War, and our main protagonist Django (Jamie Foxx) was a harshly beaten slave, until a fake dentist named King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) saves him from his captors. Schultz turns out to be a very handy bounty hunter, and decides to recruit Django to work for him, not as a slave, but as his protégé. After taking some bounties and befriending each other, Schultz agrees to help Django to rescue his beautiful wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the sophisticated, yet disgusting plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Django Unchained was not only inspired by westerns, but specifically spaghetti westerns, known for being more gritty and bloodier than older westerns. The name was even inspired by the 1966 spaghetti western Django, starring Franco Nero. The spaghetti westerns were escapism at its finest, but because of that they rarely ever delved into the disturbing subject of American black slavey. What Tarantino wanted was to make an inspiring black protagonist for the western genre, considering there are almost none. Tarantino also wanted to make a symbol of hope for black people during one of the dark times in American history. Django Unchained might be Tarantino’s most controversial film, and it wasn’t because of all the blood splatter, though there was plenty of that in the movie.
No, even though the film had a black protagonist and antislavery message, some people saw the film as ‘racist,’ or at least ‘offensive’ to slave history. This was mainly publicized by the director Spike Lee, saying how it was in bad taste to treat his ancestors legacy like a bloody western. That is an understandable ideology, yet at the same time, Tarantino did take the subject material seriously. It may be a spaghetti western at heart, but much like Inglourious Basterds, it understands the themes and mindsets that were prominent at that time and place.
Calvin Candie for example realistically resembles plantation masters in the South that thought highly of themselves, to the point they saw themselves as good masters who treat their slaves well, when that was completely the opposite. The head slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) resembles slaves that idolized there masters as heroes, and in doing so became as mean and stubborn towards other slaves as Candie, but much less subtle about it. Even Django himself symbolizes the rightful hatred for whites in the South. He symbolizes real slaves who took brave measures to save themselves and other fellow slaves. Tarantino was not just making a western, he wanted to make a film that would propose questions about slavey and why it was one of the most inhumane crimes in American history. Django Unchained can be disturbing at times, but if you don’t invoke discomfort in a film about slavery, you’re doing something wrong.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
The western The Hateful Eight will not be released until Christmas time of this year, and fans are already clamoring to see it. Despite someone releasing the script online, the story has been kept very secret among Tarantino and the cast. What is known from the plot is that it takes place after the Civil War, where a couple of bounty hunters meet up in a cabin during a fierce blizzard. While it may be strange for Tarantino to make another western considering how each one of his films are from different genres, it could be a different kind of western than from Django Unchained. The title is very similar to the classic western The Magnificent Seven, which leads one to believe The Hateful Eight may be inspired from John Wayne styled westerns like The Searchers, and True Grit. Like every other cast in Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, the cast looks fantastic. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leith, Michael Madsen, and even rumors of Channing Tatum. Here’s hoping the film will be awesome… which it probably will be.
Tarantino’s Contribution to Cinema
Who would have guessed a kid that dropped out of high school would become one of the most essential directors of our generation. If there was a Mount Rushmore of movie directors, there would be a good chance Quentin Tarantino would be up there, along with the greats like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Yet what makes him so iconic besides giving his character unique speech patterns and stylized violence? What makes him more than just a fanboy for the vintage films he grew up with? There are plenty of reasons why film enthusiasts look up to him, but there are two big reasons why he is a beloved director, and both are plain as day when looking over his filmography.
The first reason is his use of diversity when casting black and female characters, who also get leading roles. To this day, film fans and critics beg Hollywood to have more diversity with gender and race, and they only get so many examples of diversity to quench their thirst. When watching Tarantino’s films, one cannot help but wonder why diversity is such a hard thing to come by in Hollywood, seeing how easily he does it. Kill Bill and Django Unchained will be remembered by audiences for demonstrating how diversity is not an earth-shattering concept in mainstream films.
The second reason is that by having a handful of films, it shows he prefers quality over quantity. A director should feel free to make as many movies as he/she wants, whether it be a small or large amount. Tarantino exclusively writes his own scripts to make sure that his characters and settings are envisioned just the way he wants. This is evident in how Tarantino has essentially created his own connected universe with all his films. It makes sense considering his films are in classic genres like crime thrillers and westerns, making it more unlikely that he will direct a sci-fi fantasy anytime soon. An example of his interconnected universe is how Vic Vega (Mr. Blonde) from Reservoir Dogs and Vincent Vega form Pulp Fiction are brothers, just in separate films.
Quentin Tarantino has implied that he could possible retire after The Hateful Eight, or possibly when he films his 10th movie. Even if he takes his retirement seriously, at least we can always look back on his work, and understand why the film world needs a Quentin Tarantino.
Tarantino, Q. (1992). Reservoir Dogs. United States: Miramax.
Tarantino, Q. (1994). Pulp Fiction . United States: Miramax.
Tarantino, Q. (1997). Jackie Brown . United States: Miramax.
Tarantino, Q. (2003). Kill Bill Volume 1 . United States, Japan: Miramax.
Tarantino, Q. (2004). Kill Bill Volume 2 . United States: Miramax.
Tarantino, Q. (2007). Death Proof . United States: Dimension Films.
Tarantino, Q. (2009). Inglourious Basterds . United States, Germany: Universal Pictures.
Tarantino, Q. (2012). Django Unchained . United States: Columbia Pictures, The Weinstein Company.
Tarantino, Q. (2012). The Hateful Eight . United States: The Weinstein Company.
Thomas, Leon. “Renegade Cut- Quentin Tarantino.” Channel Awesome. Channel Awesome, 2 May 2014.
Chitwood, Adam. “Quentin Tarantino Says DEATH PROOF Is the “Worst” Film He’s Ever Made; Watch Full Directors Roundtable Interview.” Collider. Collider, 28 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.
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