Quentin Jerome Tarantino, March 27, 1963, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

Were it not for Quentin Tarantino’s unassuming background, his meteoric rise to filmmaking fame would probably not itself have been so exceptional. But as it happened, the story of this high school drop-out turned self-educated movie geek who made good in a big way gave Tarantino a legendary standing almost immediately. Fuelled by a canny skill at self-promotion, a boundless enthusiasm – for his own movies and those by others – and an undeniable talent, Tarantino assumed rock star status and critical respectability in an astonishingly short period of time. That burst onto the international cinema scene is somewhat deceiving, however, for while his celebrity and credibility seemed instantaneous, Quentin Tarantino the renowned writer and director had been a work in progress for some time.

Tarantino quit school by the ninth grade, obtained a job as an usher at The Pussycat movie theatre (lying about his age in order to gain employment at an adult film venue), and soon joined the Torrance Community Theatre Workshop, where he secured the lead in a play called “Two and Two Makes Sex” (again operating under a false age assumption). More than writing or directing, Tarantino aimed to enter the movie business through his acting. He began attending the James Best Theatre Centre in 1981, where he honed his skills and met several individuals who would prove vital to his future filmmaking career. This was also the case at his next job, Video Archives, a rental store that served as ground zero for his continuing film education.

With friends and co-workers Roger Avery, Craig Hamann, and Scott McGill, Tarantino embarked on his first genuine filmmaking effort, My Best Friend’s Birthday. Lovebirds in Bondage, another project started with McGill in 1983, never saw much development, and a 20-page screenplay titled Captain Peachfuzz and the Anchovy Bandit, which Tarantino started writing at age 12, never got beyond this rudimentary phase. Working off a 30–40 page script (accounts vary) and shot for about US$5,000 over the course of three years, My Best Friend’s Birthday was never completed. A lab accident later resulted in cans of the film being lost, though segments do survive. While Tarantino considers the experience the equivalent of film school, he has nevertheless disowned the effort.

During this time, he was also writing profusely, reasoning that perhaps the best way to appear in a movie was to make his own. Going off an aborted 80-page script by Avery titled The Open Road, Tarantino expanded the storyline and broke the tale into two: True Romance and Natural Born Killers. Initial drafts of both were complete by 1987.

Tony Scott would ultimately direct True Romance (1993), the story of two young lovers caught in a whirlwind of crime and naïve passion. While Scott and his company made alterations to Tarantino’s original screenplay (a happy ending was added and the narrative became linear), Tarantino was pleased with the result, for even in the final film, there is no denying the autobiographical references perforating the story. Less positive was the ordeal of Natural Born Killers (1994), where the backlash was so severe Tarantino had his screenplay credit removed before the film went into production, solely based on the script revisions. As directed by Oliver Stone, Natural Born Killers retains something of Tarantino’s media-probing intent, as it follows the sudden and disturbing notoriety of serial killers Mickey and Mallory Knox, though much else was irrefutably altered. In Tarantino’s script, the story essentially follows television reporter Wayne Gale as he pieces together a segment on the recently arrested Mickey and Mallory. In Stone’s version, the mostly still-active couple are the central focus, with a newly added back-story and a hint at motivation, such as the abuse seen in the I Love Mallory TV parody.

After Tarantino quit Video Archives in 1989, he met Bob Kurtzman, who had written a few paragraphs of a vampire story. Kurtzman and the others comprising the film makeup company K&B Effects proposed that Tarantino take a crack at developing the potential horror film. According to Tarantino, “[They] had a treatment for a movie called From Dusk Till Dawn, and they hired me to write a script. They paid me $1,200 to write the script, and if the movie ever got made I’d get $10,000. That was the first time anyone had ever paid me to write. And I took it – I jumped at it – and I quit my office job to do this, and I vowed I would never have a day job again.”1

In 1990, Tarantino met budding producer Lawrence Bender. Although unable or unwilling to commit to either True Romance or Natural Born Killers, Bender was intrigued by Tarantino’s story proposal regarding a diamond robbery gone bad. Written in three weeks, Reservoir Dogs began as a possible story in the triptych that would become Pulp Fiction. With the new potential of a standalone feature, the film became its own entity. Bender, Tarantino, actor Steve Buscemi, and director Monte Hellman (who served as associate producer on Reservoir Dogs) attended the June 1991 Sundance Institute, after which a US$1.5 million budget was secured and filming was soon underway.

Quentin Tarantino

Steve Buscemi (left) and Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs.

The film follows the before and after of a diamond heist as its participants, a group of eight men, six of whom are known primarily by their colour-coded aliases, meet, plan, steal (though the robbery itself is never seen), and react to a series of shocking and violent twists. Though that general scenario bears more than a few resemblances to prior crime dramas, Tarantino’s take on the tried and true is wholly unique. Like much of his work to follow, Reservoir Dogs upends generic conventions while also retaining a faithful devotion to historical cinematic predecessors.

While the primary present-day location is a sparse warehouse to which the surviving thieves return, Tarantino employs flashbacks throughout to broaden the film’s sense of space and time. For Tarantino, though, the term flashback does not necessarily apply. “Flashbacks… come from a personal perspective,” he states. “These aren’t, they’re coming from a narrative perspective. They’re going back and forth like chapters. I like the revealing of information and deciding what I’m gonna reveal and when I’m gonna reveal it. I think a certain suspense comes from that.”2 Such a novelistic structure would repeatedly be employed by Tarantino, and here, the arrangement builds on the tension, as the audience sporadically and variably knows more and less than the characters at any given moment. As a result, the film develops the men in a piecemeal fashion, with intermittent glimpses of their pasts and only gradually revealed connections.

Reservoir Dogs debuted back at Sundance on 18 January 1992, during Robert Redford’s annual festival. Its general United States release followed nine months later. Although initially on just 26 screens nationwide, strong word of mouth and positive critical reviews enabled the production to make its money back in ten weeks. As the properties had not yet firmly landed with Scott and Stone, Tarantino was next approached to direct True Romance and Natural Born Killers. He waived the options, essentially stating they were written to be his debut, and now that he had directed his first feature, his interest had waned.

The original concept of Pulp Fiction (1994) was to have three people write three stories; Tarantino would do the first, Avery would do the second based on his story “Pandemonium Reigns”, and someone else would come in for the third. In the end, Tarantino took Avery’s material, transformed it into the “Gold Watch” segment, and wrote the third story himself. After forming the production company A Band Apart, Tarantino and Bender struck a deal with Miramax, founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, making Pulp Fiction the first film fully financed by the brothers and establishing a relationship that has lasted to this day.

Like the dictionary definition that opens the film, Pulp Fiction is intensely lurid, existing in an almost hyper-real reality, as opposed to Reservoir Dogs, which, at least in terms of mise-en-scene, is reasonably realistic and restrained. Pulp Fiction packs in a plethora of vivid content, with drugs, guns, gimps, and other sordid material. Against this is a continued oscillation between moments of violence and apprehension and sudden breaks into comedy, creating a delicate build up of anxiety and abrupt relief. Certain scenes, however graphic or disturbing, nevertheless elicit an edgy laughter, and Tarantino rightly acknowledges the comic tone of Pulp Fiction: “All my movies, I definitely stop short of calling them comedies, because there’s stuff in them you’re not supposed to laugh at. But Pulp, more than any, has an overtly comic spirit, pretty much from the beginning to the end.”3 This complex balance of frequently off-colour humour and shocking violence is a recurrent Tarantino motif that many find adroit, just as many find it inappropriate at best. On the visceral union, Tarantino likens the strategy to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups where, like the chocolate and peanut butter, the comedy and violence are, “two great tastes that taste great together.”4

Quentin Tarantino

Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

Contributing to the comedy are characters with an inordinately rich vocabulary and a poetic, hip-hop repartee that wittily turns phrases with casual abandon. In general, Pulp Fiction contains more casual talk than Reservoir Dogs, where, outside the opening diner discussion and a few filler scenes, most of the dialogue is on point as far as the narrative is concerned. Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, makes ample room for conversational digression. The individuals here are as foul-mouthed and crude as they are conversant about television, movies, and fast food, thus speaking a curious mix of pop culture-infused tough-guy banter. Part of that colloquialism, for better or worse, is also a sharp politically incorrect tongue. As amusing as the dialogue is, it is marred by disparaging sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs. Yet there is comedy.

Just as the dialogue contributed to Pulp Fiction’s notability, so too did its fragmented construction give the film an exceptional cause for analysis. While there are three titled chapters, Pulp Fiction is divided into five segments, with the first two running full circle into the last. With each segment, Tarantino drops the audience in midway through, as conversation between the respective characters is in progress and the drama already unfolding. In a fashion similar to Reservoir Dog’s incremental revelations, Tarantino is “giving the answers first, getting the questions later.”5 At the same time, he remains with characters beyond the point of initial interest or apparent relevance. In moments such as when Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) clean the car of blood spatter – presumably what movie gangsters do after a typical scene cuts – Tarantino lingers on what would normally be omitted. As Bender puts it, “Where most movies cut is where Quentin’s scenes start getting interesting.”6

Following what is possibly Tarantino’s most pronounced thematic preoccupation, those in Pulp Fiction literally voice concerns relating to questions of morality. Maintaining control, staying professional, and adhering to a respectful code of honour are paramount to even his most hardened of criminals. Here and in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino establishes a professional camaraderie, emphasising the importance and the precarious development of masculine bonds and the amity of like-minded criminals. In such a dangerous and explosive occupation as crime, particularly when more than one individual is involved, there is a stated need for solidarity, a living out of the “honour among thieves” dictum. Loyalty, dependability, and a perhaps surprisingly vital moral compass, however skewed, are tantamount to Tarantino’s criminal class: favours are owed, debts are paid, and even enemies find redemption through unlikely bonds.

Once production was complete, a Palme d’Or win at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival led to Pulp Fiction’s United States premiere at the New York Film Festival later that year. What followed was a US$107 million worldwide gross (from a budget of US$8.5 million) and Tarantino’s first Academy Award for screenwriting (shared with Avery).

Four Rooms (1995) was as much a critical horror show as Pulp Fiction was a laudatory achievement. The omnibus played off the recent success of the Sundance “class of 1992”, which included participants Tarantino, Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, and Robert Rodriguez, all of whom were riding high (to varying degrees) following their indie film successes. Initially called Five Rooms (Richard Linklater dropped out – wisely, most agree), the film follows a night in the life of hapless bellhop Ted, played by Tim Roth. Tarantino’s segment, “The Man from Hollywood”, in which he also starred, has Ted reluctantly taking part in a wager based on the suggestion that a lighter cannot be lit ten times in a row. Depending on the outcome, one character gets a 1964 Chevy Chevelle or one gets his pinky cut off. Ted assumes the position of the potential slicer.

Four Rooms premiered 22 December 1995, and despite the appeal of the four directors and the film’s eclectic cast, the release was an unequivocal failure. A comparatively more positive experience for Tarantino was the realisation of another of his screenplays. After Rodriguez showed interest in directing a horror film, Tarantino brought up the shelved From Dusk Till Dawn. He added about 25 pages, developing the characters and increasing the suspense through an expansion of the film’s unexpected narrative structure. Unlike Tarantino’s other screenplays, From Dusk Till Dawn plays out in a linear fashion, but essentially divides into two movies. The first is a more typically Tarantino blend of humour and violence by way of criminal brothers on the lam (played incongruously by George Clooney and Tarantino himself), with kidnapping, snappy chatter, and violence. But at about the one-hour mark, the film changes gears, changes genres, and the remainder of the picture is a gore-filled, ultra-violent vampire movie.

On the heels of Pulp Fiction’s success, Tarantino had chosen Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch as the source for his third full-length feature, which he retitled Jackie Brown. In adapting a pre-existing work, Tarantino saw the chance to combine his voice with another. In the case of Leonard it was a perfect pairing, with both creative parties exhibiting a similar knack for character, story, and dialogue. Not only did the author consider the resulting screenplay the best adaptation of one of his novels (there had been several), he considered Tarantino’s script to be one of the best screenplays he had ever read, period.

Even with the approval of the source novelist, Tarantino made the film his own. The setting changed from Palm Beach to Los Angeles, trading Leonard’s familiar territory for Tarantino’s stomping grounds. And most obviously, the white Jackie Burke of the novel became the black Jackie Brown. As evidenced by the name and race change, Jackie Brown is explicitly a vehicle for Pam Grier – or at least the Pam Grier persona distinguishing her finest films. Many were quick to assume that in casting Grier, Tarantino was hoping to do for the actress what he had done for Travolta in the career-boon that was his role in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino refutes the assertion: “I don’t think like that. I cast a good actress in a role that’s perfect for her.”7

Though the opening tracking shot of Jackie moving forward suggests the sort of independent toughness one associates with Grier from her earlier films, here she is actually a struggling working woman rushing to get to her job. As opposed to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, several characters in Jackie Brown have average working class duties. From Jackie and bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to cops Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen), they have typical work that needs doing, and are concerned with their correlative responsibilities. Yet like the criminals in the earlier features, they maintain a similar professional drive and sense of duty. If gunrunner Ordell Robbie (Jackson) is the outlier in this – his is no 9-to-5 occupation – he still approaches his profession with sincerity and competency. As the film plays out, such admirable proficiency extends to nearly everyone involved, even when they are on opposite sides of the law: “Whatever you’re into, you seem to be getting away with it,” Max tells Ordell, “so more power to you.” At the same time, since everyone in Jackie Brown is coming at one another from diverging, if not opposing sides, there is little of the mutual respect one sees in Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. No one is therefore automatically intimidated or deferential, and more often than not, the result is a continual sense of everyone involved hatching separate schemes.

Quentin Tarantino

Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown.

While a few flashbacks pop up in Jackie Brown, there is no major spatiotemporal movement back and forth until the end of the film, when we see how the three involved parties take part in a money swap. Even in their character-specific replays, Tarantino retains an essentially objective perspective of the same unaltered action. Though we are followings others, it is not necessarily their point of view, and there is no Rashomon-type variation in what actually occurs. The same action is simply shown three times, with the different camps as the primary point of focus.

Released on Christmas Day in 1997, Jackie Brown did solid business at the box office, even if it did not set the movie world on fire like Tarantino’s previous two features. With its less kinetic pace, Jackie Brown allowed for Tarantino to indulge in a more cadenced balance of formal attributes, resulting in a more restrained confluence of action and meditative stasis.

Following a nearly five year hiatus from directing, Tarantino reached back into the archives for his next undertaking, reworking an idea he and Uma Thurman first discussed on the set of Pulp Fiction. He developed Kill Bill into a mammoth 222-page screenplay and shooting began in January of 2002. In July 2003, the four-hour preliminary cut was deemed too long for conventional release and the decision was made to release the film in two volumes, the first in October 2003, with Vol. 2 hitting theatres in April 2004. After what was seen by many as something of a departure with the more sedate Jackie Brown, and following Tarantino’s extended break from directing, Kill Bill was a glorious return to form.

Quentin Tarantino

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Tarantino compares his Kill Bill films to movies like Star Wars (1977) and the Indiana Jones series (1981–2008) – movies that recalled the types of programming directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had affection for when growing up.8 Tarantino’s cinematic favour leans more toward kung fu films and spaghetti westerns. Kill Bill thus resembles movies of yesteryear in visuals, sound and tone.

Though widely heralded as a groundbreaking original, Tarantino often found himself confronted with accusations of filmic plagiarism. But as he has claimed, if there are similarities between his movies and those by others, it is the result of an intense and loving cinephilia: “I steal from every single movie made… If my work has anything it’s because I’m taking this from this and that from that, piecing them together.”9 Of all his films to date, Kill Bill incorporates the most cinematic allusions. Tarantino has likened the film to a “compendium,” where “it’s like taking 30 years of my favourite grind-house movies and genres and sticking them into a press and that’s this movie.”10 Befitting this aesthetic hodgepodge, Tarantino pulls out all the stylistic stops, with freeze frames, black and white cinematography, split screens, slow motion, and even an anime sequence. Audibly, there is a vast assortment of pre-existing music, aural snippets, sound effects, and an almost comical integration of musical cues.

The multi-chaptered narrative of Kill Bill follows a shifting, though nonetheless logical, reordering of events. Chapter headings, also revealed out of chronological order, give hints as to who will be involved and the order in which they will be dispatched by the vengeful Bride (Uma Thurman). Four years have passed since Bill (David Carradine) and his cohorts attempted to assassinate The Bride (real name Beatrix Kiddo), and Kill Bill picks up with the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad as a sort of “where are they now”. There is plenty of deceit in Kill Bill, and what Bill and the others do to The Bride is the ultimate betrayal. As such, it demands and yields the ultimate revenge. Yet even in that revenge, there remains an expert esteem. It is not quite professional courtesy, but it is an understanding and an integrity of sorts. Correspondingly, it is The Bride’s proficiency and knowledge that earns her the respect of martial arts masters who train her and provide her with the necessary weaponry.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is quickly, ruthlessly, and relentlessly violent. Indeed, the gore may be Tarantino’s most extreme; it also appears as the most comically exaggerated and is therefore rendered less realistically visceral than prior Tarantino carnage. In any event, as with every one of his films, save for perhaps Jackie Brown, the director was again the subject of screen violence controversy. Violence and Tarantino’s cinema remain synonymous, and few directors have so overtly revelled in and simultaneously challenged a wider perception of cinematic bloodshed. “To me violence is just one of the many things you can do in movies,” he has commented, likening it to slapstick comedy or a dance sequence.11

Still in the mindset of making the types of movies he likes to watch, Tarantino re-teamed with Rodriguez for the two-part Grindhouse, where each directed a film that harkened back to the gritty 1970s exploitation fare they so enjoyed. The resulting efforts, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof, were to then be shown as part of an old-school double bill. In Tarantino’s film, Kurt Russell plays Stuntman Mike, a crazed killer who stalks and assaults groups of young women with his weapons of choice, American muscle cars.

Grindhouse was scheduled for a 6 April 2007 release. Then, as Dale Sherman puts it, “the two films would be split apart for some foreign markets as longer, unedited films where the grindhouse experience was one unfamiliar to audiences.”12 Despite generally favourable reviews, the two-part Grindhouse release did poorly at the box office and was quickly gone from theatres, perhaps a result of the length of the “experience”, or perhaps because this type of presentation simply did not resonate with moviegoers – even those whose tastes were largely based on Tarantino-approved endorsements. Ultimately, the films were indeed split, released, and in the case of Death Proof, recut.

Quentin Tarantino

Death Proof

In the face of this commercial disappointment, Tarantino remained optimistic, even if roundaboutly so: “Death Proof has got to be the worst movie I ever made. And for a left-handed movie, that wasn’t so bad, all right? So if that’s the worst I ever get, I’m good.”13

Getting back on track after the rare feature-length misstep, Tarantino delved into his long-gestating war film, Inglourious Basterds, which began as a “gigantic epic novel” with the potential to become a miniseries.14 With its name derived from Enzo G. Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards (1978) and its World War II setting preserved, Tarantino crafts what is an otherwise distinct war film. After condensing the script and the movie itself, Inglourious Basterds premiered at the May 2009 Cannes Film Festival. For his first foray into historical drama, he proceeded to rewrite history as only he could.

Following Jackie Brown as his most mature character, and The Bride as among his strongest and most determined, Mélanie Laurent’s Shosanna emerges as the latest in Tarantino’s series of strong female characters driven by revenge. But it is the object of her vengeance – Christoph Waltz as the Nazi Colonel Hans Landa – who receives the most prominent attention (garnering Waltz his first of two Oscar wins under Tarantino’s direction). Indeed, Tarantino considers the suave and charming Nazi to be one of the best characters he ever wrote.15

Lansa is part of Tarantino’s most obviously infamous group of antagonists, though Tarantino cannot, of course, take credit for their malicious role. The Nazis are standard movie villains, with a built in wickedness, but they are unique in the Tarantino filmography in that there is no blurring of character identification. Aside from Lansa (due to the charismatic Waltz), most would not identify with, sympathise with, or even enjoy the other Nazi figures; these are not the appealing Tarantino criminals who populate his contemporary settings. On the opposite side of the good/bad division are the Basterds, a Nazi-hunting team of United States soldiers led by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). With their clearly stated goal, they share a mutual duty and, subsequently, a mutual respect. In quintessential Tarantino fashion, they are professionals and, no matter the gruesome nature of their scalpings and their etching of swastikas in the heads of Nazis, there is a morbid joy in their vocation.

Chapter headings return in Inglourious Basterds, and here they indicate not only points in the film as a whole, but distinctive narrative threads that eventually coalesce at the conclusion of the picture. It is only by the final act that all strands tie together, and as so many characters and character arcs are at play, and with so much on the line, the taut, multileveled climax is one of Tarantino’s most nerve-wracking sequences.

Quentin Tarantino

Eli Roth (left) and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds.

Utilising the native languages of German, French, and English, Inglourious Basterds has a notable degree of linguistic legitimacy and, as much as anything else, provides Tarantino the opportunity to compose his by now famous monologues in a variety of idioms. The film is no less talky than his other features, but here the talk delays the narrative not by way of inessential ponderings, but by maddeningly building on the suspense and resulting in a rigid postponement of action. In all of this chatter, it is even possible that Tarantino’s talent for nonstop talk gets the better of him (as it did in Death Proof), where the somewhat exaggerated verbal digressions that were once amusing in their pop referentiality are now at risk of hindering the expedient progress of the narrative.

If Tarantino’s Mexican standoffs, Ennio Morricone musical samples, dramatic compositions, and even taglines (“Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France…”) have their basis in the Western, his seventh feature, Django Unchained (2012), is the closest he has come to a full-fledged venture into the genre. Yet despite its obvious generic similarities, among the facets that distinguish it from the traditional Western is its setting. With the action primarily located in states such as Mississippi, and with its plot genesis being that of slavery, Tarantino consequently dubbed the film more appropriately a “Southern”. As Sherman points out, at US$100 million this was Tarantino’s most expensive project, with a 130-day shoot his longest film to make, and following a 25 December 2012 release and a US$425 million worldwide gross, one of his most commercially successful.16

As it dealt in sometimes graphic detail with slavery, however, Django Unchained was also among Tarantino’s most controversial works. The racially sensitive language was even a point of early doubt for star Leonardo DiCaprio, who was reluctant to use the “N word”. Tarantino was no stranger to debate concerning this racially inflammatory term. Reservoir Dogs had it, but it was not as overtly prominent. In Pulp Fiction, the use of the word was more pronounced if for no other reason than one of its main users was Tarantino himself, in his role as Jimmie Dimmick. With Jackie Brown, while the term may have been more appropriate to the characters, its reoccurrence was enough to upset more than a few. In his defence, Tarantino denies any sort of racism and suggests his intent, if anything, was to desensitise the word with its proliferation.

In any case, the story of Django Unchained firstly concerns itself with the liberation and employment of slave Django (Jamie Foxx), who is brought under the bounty hunting tutelage of Doctor King Schultz (Waltz). Their work in this regard complete, the men team to find, and similarly free Django’s wife, who currently resides as property of Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). As much as the opening of Django Unchained is immensely entertaining and rather touching at times, particularly when Django is granted his freedom and achieves/regains his sense of individuality, the film’s latter half is where one sees echoes of familiar Tarantino territory.

First, Candie continues in a line of Tarantino characters who are initially introduced by way of other characters and their voiced perception. Like Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) in Reservoir Dogs, whom we are led to believe is a crazy killer before he ever appears, Mia (Thurman) in Pulp Fiction, whom Vincent and Jules teasingly speak about at length, and Bill, who is repeatedly mentioned but only briefly glimpsed in Kill Bill Vol. 1, Candie has a reputation that precedes him. This is amusingly exploited by the star status of DiCaprio, who relishes his dramatic introduction and proceeds to steal the film.

Second, Django and Schultz adopt false personas and perform accordingly, just as in Reservoir Dogs, where the men strive for a posture of unflappable bravado and Mr. Orange (Roth) is literally acting a part; or Pulp Fiction, where the hardened Vincent and Jules “get into character”; or Inglourious Basterds, where the titular heroes try to pass themselves off as Italian. Many in Tarantino’s films operate under the artificial influence of one purpose or another, pretending to be someone they are not. Despite the expressed importance of being, in common Tarantino parlance, “cool”, the associated calm in his films often gives way to an anxiety derived from paranoia and suspicion, a tension emerging from these very charades. Django and Schultz have their scheme worked out, but variables inevitably arise, threatening the ruse and the best laid plans, and producing an extensively extreme bloodbath.

For his eighth feature film, Tarantino is staying largely within the Western genus. He started work on The Hateful Eight in November 2013, but following a controversial leak of the screenplay and his temporary cancellation of the project, production did not resume until January 2015. A three-hour-plus roadshow version with overture and intermission is set for a 25 December 2015 release, but only in theatres equipped to screen the picture in its 70 mm format. A shorter version for wider release will follow on 8 January 2016.

Quentin Tarantino

Kurt Russell (left) and Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight.

In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino pits a group of strangers against each other in the snow-covered Wyoming landscape. Featuring Tarantino stalwarts such as Roth, Madsen, and Jackson, and given its scenario of secrets and lies in an isolated, restricted setting, the film will undoubtedly thrive on the aforementioned friction that arises from diverse characters feeling each other out for information, validated perceptions, and dubious intentions. It will also continue in the racially conscious vein of Django. “My movie is about the country being torn apart by [the Civil War], and the racial aftermath, six, seven, eight, ten years later,” Tarantino has said. “That’s going to make this movie feel contemporary. Everybody’s talking about race right now… Finally, the issue of white supremacy is being talked about and dealt with. And it’s what the movie’s about.”17

If Quentin Tarantino the director remains a larger than life persona and a universally recognised cinematic figure, much of this identification has to do with his buoyant personality, fan accessibility, and his work apart from directing feature films. Aside from his own work, Tarantino began appearing in other movies as early as 1994, though arguably his most ambitious acting role, generally seen as less than successful, was his 1998 stage appearance alongside Marisa Tomei in Frederick Knotts’ Wait Until Dark.

He has also tried his hand at directing television, helming episodes of ER (aired 11 May 1995), CSI (19 May 2005) and Jimmy Kimmel Live! (20 April 2004). His dialogue polish on Jan Eliasberg’s Past Midnight (1991) garnered him his first on-screen credit, as associate producer, and in 1993, he helped produce Avery’s directorial debut, Killing Zoe, which was largely sold on its “From the creators of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction” tag-line. At festivals, through his short-lived video distribution company Rolling Thunder, and via his ownership of the New Beverly Cinema, Tarantino has also promoted a wide variety of films, acting as a purveyor of wide-ranging, often obscure, motion pictures.

Quentin Tarantino considers himself an international filmmaker, in that he is making films for the whole world. But his world is a distinct one, framed by an instantly identifiable, unforgettable cinematic vision. At the same time, his oeuvre is wilfully evocative of what came before. Tarantino built his career on the reinvention and reintegration of familiar technical formulations, cinematic conventions, and generic tropes; how he then depicts these familiar elements is where his post-modern originality becomes so extraordinary. And while others before him may have featured rock music, darkly humorous violence, and clever wordplay immersed in pop culture, after Tarantino no-one ever could without an automatic presumption of imitation. He is a seminal figure in the history of film, and it is hard to think of a more significant one in the past 25 years. His generation-spanning influence has been, and remains, immeasurable.

 

Filmography

Reservoir Dogs (1992) also writer

Pulp Fiction 1994) also writer

Four Rooms segment “The Man from Hollywood” (1995) also writer and producer

Jackie Brown (1997) also writer

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) also writer

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004) also writer

Death Proof (2007) also writer and producer

Inglourious Basterds (2009) also writer

Django Unchained (2012) also writer

The Hateful Eight (2015) also writer

 

Select Bibliography

Barnes, Alan and Marcus Hearn, Tarantino: A to Zed. London: B.T. Batsford, 1999.

Bernard, Jami, Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995.

Clarkson, Wensley, Quentin Tarantino: Shooting from the Hip. New York: The Overlook Press, 1995.

Dawson, Jeff, Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool. New York: Applause, 1995.

Page, Edwin, Quintessential Tarantino. London: Marion Boyars, 2005.

Peary, Gerald, Ed., Quentin Tarantino: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.

Sherman, Dale, Quentin Tarantino FAQ. Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2015.

Smith, Jim, Tarantino. London: Virgin Books Ltd., 2005.

Woods, Paul A., King Pulp: The Wild World of Quentin Tarantino. London: Plexus, 1998.

Woods, Paul A., Ed., Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files. London: Plexus, 2005.

 

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Cinema, Race and the Zeitgeist: On Pulp Fiction Twenty Years Later by Michael Green
http://sensesofcinema.com/2014/feature-articles/cinema-race-and-the-zeitgeist-on-pulp-fiction-twenty-years-later/

The Deep Morals of Inglourious Basterds by Joseph Natoli
http://sensesofcinema.com/2009/feature-articles/the-deep-morals-of-inglourious-basterds/

Tarantino and the Vengeful Ghosts of Cinema by Maximilian Le Cain
http://sensesofcinema.com/2004/beyond-the-grave-of-genre/tarantino/

 

Endnotes

  1. Dale Sherman, Quentin Tarantino FAQ (Milwaukee: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2015), p. 16.
  2. Jeff Dawson, Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool (New York: Applause, 1995), p. 70.
  3. Jim McLellan, “Tarantino on the Run” in Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, Paul A Woods, ed. (London: Plexus, 2005), p. 57.
  4. Erik Bauer, “The Mouth and the Method” in Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, Gerald Peary, ed. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), p. 116.
  5. Peter Brunette, “Interview with Quentin Tarantino,” in Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, p. 23.
  6. Dawson, p. 70.
  7. Quentin Tarantino, “Blaxploitation: What it is … What it was!” in Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, pp. 142–43.
  8. Henry Cabot Beck, “Quentin Bloody Tarantino,” in Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, p. 167.
  9. Paul A Woods, “Eastern Dogs” in Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, p. 32.
  10. Fred Topel, “Tarantino Talks Kill Bill Vol. 2” in Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, pp. 183–184.
  11. Dawson, p. 82.
  12. Sherman, p. 215.
  13. Ibid., p. 226.
  14. Ibid., p. 196.
  15. Ella Taylor, “Quentin Tarantino: The Inglourious Basterds Interview” in Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, p. 155.
  16. Sherman, p. 292.
  17. Brown, Lane, “In Conversation: Quentin Tarantino,” New York Magazine, 24 August 2015, www.vulture.com/2015/08/quentin-tarantino-lane-brown-in-conversation.html?mid=twitter_vulture#

About The Author

Jeremy Carr is a faculty associate at Arizona State University and a visiting research fellow with the ASU Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture. He has written for Cineaste, Film International, CineAction, Cinema Retro, MUBI’s Notebook, Vague Visages, Movie Mezzanine, Cut Print Film, Bright Lights Film Journal, and The Moving Image.