Friday, June 27, 2008

Inglorious Slacker: The Life and Times of Quentin Tarantino

By know you've probably heard that Quentin Tarantino has finished writing Inglorious Bastards, his WW II epic and that he's decided to make it two films, a la Kill Bill. Setting aside for a moment that it might not be a good idea to make every movie longer than it was originally intended to be (which happened with both Kill Bill and Death Proof) and ignore the question that brings up about his self-editing ability, let's talk about Tarantino's blessed career. Anne Thompson writes
Tarantino is one of most fortunate writer-directors in Hollywood. While other filmmakers white-knuckle their way from project to project, hoping to finance their fantasies and get them up on screen just the way they want them--which never happens--Tarantino can count on long-time mentor/patron Harvey Weinstein to be there for him. As soon as the director is ready, he gets a greenlight, and can move forward into production.
I take a different tack here. Isn't the struggle part of art? I love Tarantino's filmography. Every film (save Death Proof by my estimation) has been a gem. But has the coddling made him lazy? Tarantino gets a green light whenever he wants one and yet in 16 years in the business he has only made 6 features --5 if you count Kill Bill as a single film since that's what it was when he was making it -- Half of those films were in his first five years when he was establishing the reputation he still enjoys as an artist and showman. Once you add in the time it will take to actually get around to making and releasing Bastards (I'm guessing 2012 rather than the intended 2010) the lack of productivity will seem even more pronounced.

Tarantino's filmography from 1998 to 2008. That's it.

In the past 11 years he's only delivered Kill Bill and Death Proof. I'm not sure the ease with financing is helping. If he had to struggle a little more, would there be a fire lit under him? Would self editing be a honed survival skill? Would "Director" be the first job description to show up on IMDB instead of "Actor" Yes, he's acted far more often than directed. [shudder]

For comparison and conversation's sake in roughly their first 16 years as feature filmmakers these auteurs made
  • Steven Soderbergh. 15 features (+ a television series)
  • Clint Eastwood. 12 features
  • Pedro Almodóvar. 11 features
  • Woody Allen. 11 features
  • Steven Spielberg. 11 features (+ a television series)
  • Ang Lee. 10 features
  • Ridley Scott. 8 features
  • Peter Jackson. 8 features
  • Wong Kar Wai. 8 features
  • David Lynch. 6 features (+ a television series)
  • Todd Haynes. 4 features
  • Terence Malick. 2 features
Different strokes and all that but come on QT. Work faster, dammit!
*

16 comments:

Robert said...

Eh give him a break. I mean how many different ways can you make an omelette out of old kung fu movies, Sergio Leone and the French New Wave?

He's played out.

Moviezzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nate Tyson said...

On-Topic: Tarantino is slowly destroying his own legacy, sadly.

Off-Topic: I know this is the FILM Experience, but did you see the prelim Emmy lists? BSG snubbed (of course), The Wire included, Flight of the Conchords upsets (if you haven't checked it out, Nat, I would recommend it...it's a musical comedy, after all!), and Family Guy stinks up the joint. Let's see if any of the pleasant surprises stick around through the next round of voting.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Given the diminishing quality of the product, isn't a good thing he's slowing down?

NATHANIEL R said...

but maybe it wouldn't be diminishing if he had to fight for it?

that was my theoretical point ;)

Flower said...

I wish some of my favorite directors worked faster, too. But I think focusing on "the struggle" of filmaking in terms of how quickly and easily one can get a budget or a greenlight is off point. Kubrick didn't have to struggle for it past his first couple of films. Worked out fine for him. Spielberg doesn't have to struggle for it now, and hasn't for, what, thirty two or thirty three years? Same thing with Clint Eastwood, more or less, and Ridley Scott.

These guys benefit from the same priveleged position Tarantino occupies. That they've been more productive just means that they work at a different speed than Tarantino. I don't think you can really extrapolate any further than that. If Tarantino worked faster, there's no guarantee that those films would be better than the ones he's made instead. Were all of Ridley Scott's first eight films masterpieces? Were Soderbergh's 15? Did their faster output result in on overall higher quality body of work than if they had made, say, 6 (in Scott's case) or 10 in Soderbergh's?

NATHANIEL R said...

good point Flower. But given that Tarantino WAS working fast the first few years and the product was great means, to me, that he's slacking and taking things for granted.

but it's really just greed. If he was a bad filmmaker i wouldn't care.

but when someone is talented you always want them to really deliver.

moses said...

Okay. Really who cares how little work Tarantino has done. It should be quality vs. quantity. Tarantino has 5 films in 16 years. Reservoir Dogs is still his best. Pulp Fiction is best written. Jackie Brown has okay. Kill Bill was his MASTERPIECE. Grindhouse (not Death Proof, I hate how they split the films) was one the most enjoyable film experiences I had in my entire life. Tarantino is also a huge advocate into getting QUALITY foreign and small films into the American Market i.e. Iron Monkey, Hostel, The Protector and Hero (2003 Foreign Film Oscar Nominee) He loves film-making so much he often works with other directors for FREE. In not saying he belongs in the same category as this director but there is another director who has made only 13.5 films in 50 years. His name is Stanley Kubrick. .5 if you wanna count A.I. Artificial Intelligence. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY.

Glenn said...

You're forgetting he directed a 2hr episode of CSI (he says with a laugh).

But, really, I'm one of the few that thinks Death Proof is some kind of madcap comedy so I can't even remotely buy into the "diminishing returns" argument (I think Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are my least favourite of his films, actually, even though they're still classics).

Still, this man gave the world Jackie Brown so he could be making films about grass growing once every 10 years and I'd still worship him.

Anonymous said...

"Jackie Brown" is my favorite of his films and isn't it one of the shortest, taking the least time to make?

When I hear directors say, this movie has been in my head a long time, I automatically think, it's going to be a dud. Because most of it is still going to be in your head. And a ruthless editor is needed for these long-gestating projects.

While I don't think suffering makes art (or anything else) better, I prefer projects with a lot of strong personalities collaborating. In the example of Kubrick, I liked his early ones best, when he had to accomodate tough guys like Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus" and idiosyncratic characters like Peter Sellers. When he worked with actors too willing to please him, I find it dull.

I think that one of Tarantino's saving graces is that he adores actors, all kinds of actors (even the unappreciated) and I think he delights in their imput and will change for them. Now, he needs a tough editor who will force him to CHOOSE.

Adrianna

NATHANIEL R said...

moses --i agree about Quality over Quantity. The difference being that I don't believe you can't have quality if you work regularly. And I also sorta believe in "if you rest, you rust"

Admittedly there are some writer/directors whose work probably suffers because there's not much time for fine tuning (Woody Allen and Soderbergh come to mind and Robert Altman, as great as he was was prolific and uneven)

but look at how fast Almodovar works (he also writes and directs) and what a beauty all his films are.

I just don't buy the argument that Tarantino NEEDS the time. Given how quickly he worked from 1992 to 1997

Chris Na Taraja said...

I loved Death Proof. I actually think it's one of his best since Pulp Fiction. He took a step back from the Hollywood glitz and gave some old school Tarantino.

I'm just annoyed that it was released on DVD separately, instead of the double feature I enjoyed so much in the theatre.

Arkaan said...

I'm not a Tarantino acolyte. In my mind, he has yet to make an actual, honest to goodness, knock-my-socks-off masterpiece. He's made masterful moments, but I feel everything he's done, someone else has done better, with more cinematic instinct and humanity.

But I agree with Nathaniel on this one. More specifically, I think we underrate the effect that "minor" films can have on one's mentality. Check out Soderbergh, for example. His two films before Out of Sight (his best film): Grey's Anatomy and Schizopolis. Neither are masterpieces, but both are works of an strongly independent mind regaining his sense of creativity. And since then, he's given us bonafide masterpieces, fantastic studio experimentation, some first rate entertainments, etc.

I definitely think that Tarantino could benefit from that

Glenn said...

i don't know why i wrote "madcap comedy", cause i meant to write "madcap brilliance". How odd.

thombeau said...

Maybe if he actually had something to say, instead of showing people how clever he is, he would feel compelled to get it out there more often and with a sense of artistic urgency. Just sayin'.

(I do, in fact, enjoy his films, by the way!)

Anne Thompson said...

tarantino defends his lack of speed. he's a writer, not just a director, and he labors over these things, for years. sure, he's distracted, and out on the town, etc. but he's got a process, for better or worse, and the results speak for themselves. death proof is a great movie, even if planet terror is not. he wants each movie to be original, memorable, classic, for the ages. i wish soderbergh made fewer, better films, same with woody allen and john sayles.