Thursday, February 04, 2010

Modern Maestros: Quentin Tarantino

Robert here, continuing my series on great contemporary directors. I figured this would be as good a time as any to take a look at one of this year's Best Director nominees.  No, he probably won't win the Oscar this year, but history may look upon him more kindly than any of his fellow nominees, especially as a real titan of his generation.  He's a rock star director, and like him or hate him, you can't deny his influence.

Maestro:Quentin Tarantino
Known For: Highly structured, stylized, talky and violent movies.
Influences: Jean-Luc Godard, Sergio Leone, and anyone who ever made a Kung-Fu film.
Masterpieces: Pulp Fiction is the easy answer, but in pop-culture years that was eons ago. How about the Kill Bill movies.
Disasters: none
Better than you remember: Jackie Brown is already a "better than you remember" classic.
Awards: A couple Best Screenplay Oscars (excuse me, one Best Screenplay Oscar, don't want to jump the gun).  A couple Best Direction and Picture nominations.  And a Palme d'Or back in 1994.
Box Office: As we all know, Inglourious Basterds is his highest grossing film with over 120 mil to date.
Favorite Actor: Samuel L. Jackson whose likeness (or voice) has appeared in four Tarantino films.


What can be said about Quentin Tarantino that hasn't already been?  Not much.  But let's not start with the two elements of his films that are most discussed - his stylistic flourishes and his unique dialogue.  Instead I pose to you what may be Tarantino's greatest, yet least credited strength as a director.  He is a fantastic director of actors.  It's fitting to note now as we're expecting Christoph Waltz to earn an Oscar for giving perhaps the best performance in a Tarantino film that all of his actors' performances are uniformly excellent.  Unfortunately, too often they're overshadowed by the style and dialogue that everyone seems to obsess over.  But in Tarantino's mind, his witty, trademark dialogue is merely a means to the end of a great performance  He's said himself that if he truly considered himself a writer at heart he'd be writing novels.  But he's not.  He's a filmmaker, and his dialogue isn't nearly as important on a page as it is performed out loud.

Okay, so let's talk a little about style... it's unavoidable.  Tarantino, lover of the French New Wave, has taken a page from their play book and enjoys breaking cinematic rules for the sake of breaking cinematic rules.  And why not do so by throwing in elements from another kind of picture he loves, the B-movie. Q.T. has yet to meet a trick he doesn't like.  Voice overs, animated sequences, shifts in time, can all sneak up on us without warning, and perhaps without purpose aside from setting a mood unique to Tarantino films alone.  And then there's the violence.  Yes, the way Tarantino enjoys breaking the rules most is through his total and fervent delight in violence.  And yet he occasionally jars us through violence that's suddenly less gleeful (the death of Vincent Vega or the baseball bat bludgeoning of a sympathetically painted Nazi).  Tarantino is eternally exploring the complex relationship between delighting in and being repelled by violence.  It is perhaps for this reason why he's given us so many revenge pictures lately (a genre he's constantly redefining by making it epic or dancing on established archetypes or even revising history itself), or why he continually focuses on violence committed by the fairer sex.  These elements are meant to turn our ideas of right or wrong or natural against us.  But we're not bogged down by them because we're having so much damn fun.

We root for the violent ladies

Feeding into his revenge fantasies is his love for the plotting of a plan.  Tarnatino films often feature large meticulously structured plans.  It's no surprise then that he loves making movies.  He sits atop the modern indie film world as something of an elder statesman.  Really he just wants to have fun.  Other modern directors who delight in exploiting B-movie elements seem burdened by their inability to apply them to anything new.  But Tarantino knows how to keep giving us something new.  He keeps evolving.  That's what makes him not just relevant but revolutionary almost twenty years after he helped re-invent the American indie.  In that time he's been not only a director but a promoter of great films, helping to bring pictures like Chungking Express, Sonatine and Hero to American audiences.  What comes next for Tarantino is somewhat unknown.  That's all part of his enigmatic image.  He's suggested a desire to make a film entirely in Mandarin.  And he's hinted that there will soon be a unified Kill Bill epic and a Kill Bill vol. 3.  But it doesn't really matter what comes next.  It's already a given that it'll be exciting and interesting and the mark of a director who truly defines his time.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

I only recently discovered Jackie Brown and it's already my favorite Tarantino film. Samuel and Pam are incredible!

Casey said...

he might just be my favorite, every film he gives us is new and something we havent really seen, keep going tarantino

Casey said...

he might just be my favorite, every film he gives us is new and something we havent really seen, keep going tarantino

Thomas said...

I never thought a death scene could be beautiful, but when Melanie Laurent was shot in the projection room, and she gracefully collapsed in quasi-slow motion, her screams drowned out by the gorgeous music that had just climaxed and the whole sequence stylized with red blood sparkled around her equally red and already iconic dress-- I knew it was beautiful.

Colin Low said...

Anon: YES! Samuel and Pam give by far the best performances in any QT film, which is saying quite a lot. And Robert Forster and Bridget Fonda aren't far behind.

David Coley said...

The latest rumor I've heard is that his next film is set in the Middle Ages and stars Helen Mirren. Could definitely be a lie but sounds interesting.

Simon said...

Are we not counting Four Rooms as a movie?

Well, anyway, he's my favorite director ever, just because even if he makes a shit movie, you know he won't half-ass it, and it'll be a glorious disaster.

NATHANIEL R said...

I love this series.

as for Tarantino's violence. I'm not sure he's complicated it as much as he's getting credit for. But he's so stylistically assured that it's really hard to not enjoy anything that he enjoys.

In a way I think he's his own best audience. He seems fully aware of the audience even at his most self-indulgent which is... something.

anyway, I don't think Waltz gives the best performance in a Tarantino movie but that's only because Tarantino movies almost always have great performances in them.

Anonymous said...

Well, if Death Proof wasn't a disaster, than I don't know what is

Maciej said...

^^this.

Last chase bit was fun and all, but yeesh.

NATHANIEL R said...

yeah, i hate that one too. But it's his only dud I think.

Robert said...

I thought Death Proof was poorly executed but an interesting enough concept to prevent it from being a total disaster.

Glenn said...

Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino's worst film. Having said that, I give it a B+. Literally everything else he has directed (well, I haven't seen Four Rooms) gets an A- or above from me. Jackie Brown is my absolute favourite and Pam Grier gives my favourite performance out of anyone in any QT film.

I am a huge huge fan of Death Proof as well. Maybe it helps that it was released in Australia as a standalone movie and, unlike Nathaniel, didn't have to sit through another 90minute movie beforehand, which very well may have made it a struggle. The car chase is one of my top 3 favourite moments of cinema for the last decade, without a doubt and such a wonderful loving tribute to Aussie cinema.

Stella said...

"He is a fantastic director of actors."

Thank you! I can always count on a standout performance from even mediocre actors (well, except for maybe Eli Roth. Worst casting decision, hands down, ever).

Tarantino may have given us more unforgettable characters than any other director, don't you think? Vincent Vega, Mr. White/Orange/Pink, The Bride, Ellie Driver, Jules, O-Ren, Gogo, Hans Landa, the list goes on. I've personally found it very hard to erase the name "Hugo Stiglitz" from my mind for awhile now....plus it might be the most fun name to say, ever.

Fernando Moss said...

@ Stella: There's actually a mexican actor named Hugo Stiglitz (he mostly acted in mexican horror cinema)...

and yes I agree there's a hell of a lot of great performances in his films, everytime I rewatch any of his films (except DP) I change my mind on who gives the greatest perf in a Trantino movie...

jessica said...

I actually really liked Death Proof. I didn't think it lacked major flaws but I thought it was very satisfying. I liked it better than Planet Terror.

Aiden R. said...

Dude's the shit. Proof is in the pudding. What else is there to say?

Anonymous said...

How about no dubbing and cutting the foreign movies you adorse Tarantino? I smiled like the Joker when MiramAxe went bankrupt.

NATHANIEL R said...

dubbing?

Thankfully i've never experienced dubbing. I feel so bad for countries that have to put up with that.

subtitles 4ever

Andrew R. said...

I've seen Four Rooms-I'll live.

Technically, he's only made 7 films if you count the Kill Bills seperately-Death Proof was not terrible, but kinda lame. The other 6 range from great to flawless.

Also, in all 6 good films, there are at least 2 flawless performances. AT LEAST. Generally more.

Resevoir Dogs: Mr. Pink/Blonde/White
Pulp Fiction: Guess which 3...
Jackie Brown: Jackie Brown and Max Cherry
Kill Bill: The Bride (my personal favorite), Bill, Gogo, O-Ren, Elle Driver, Pai Mei...the list goes on.
Basterds: Hans Landa of course, plus Shoshanna (where is her Oscar nomination?).

Jimbobbins said...

For some reason I hated Kill Bill, and didn't like death proof that much. The rest of his movies are awesome though. Pulp Fiction is my favourite of all time. I also don't understand why everyone think Christoph Waltz gave the best performance of all his films. How could you better SLJ's Jules Winnfield? Oh and Tarantino does consider himself primarly as a screenwriter I heard him say somewhere.

Carly said...

I recently reviewed Inglourious Basterds, check it out on my blog "Carly's Critiques":
http://carly.onsugar.com/Inglourious-Basterds-Review-7416697