Today: February 22, 2024

Tarantino Unchained

In little over a week the new film from Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained, winds its way into British cinemas. As critics and fans prepare to board that rollercoaster, Greg Evans takes a timely look at the Directors work and asks: What has Tarantino done for us lately?

In
little over a week the new film from Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained, winds
its way into British cinemas. As critics and fans prepare to board that
rollercoaster, Greg Evans takes a timely look at the Directors work and asks:
What has Tarantino done for us lately?

Django
Unchained
stars Jaime
Foxx
as Django, a slave turned bounty hunter who attempts to rescue his
wife from an evil plantation owner. Set in antebellum era America, Jaime Foxx
is joined by Christoph Waltz, Leonard
DiCaprio
and Samuel L. Jackson in
what has already been described as a return to form for Tarantino. This
dark-exploitation Western has earned praise not only for its strong
performances but also its serious look at the racism that existed in that
period. Unapologetic in its racial outbursts, the profanities used in the film
have raised a few eyebrows. The most significant voice to speak out against the
film’s language and tone is Spike Lee who
accused Tarantino of “turning slavery into a Sergio Leone film”. If this is true then the film should rightfully
be condemned but, in true Tarantino style, just as many voices have been raised
in the film’s defense. Which all seems par for the course from a director of
Tarantino’s notoriety.

Since the early ‘90s Tarantino has made a succession
of films that have not only outraged audiences but also delighted many. If you
were to ask any critic or Tarantino fan, you could bet that the majority would
name his first three films as the best. Reservoir
Dogs, Pulp Fiction
and Jackie Brown captured
a rare thing in cinema; they successfully blended and acknowledged numerous
genres, while being completely original. Sharp and snappy dialogue littered the
script and while all three films contained a host of characters with individual
story lines, nothing ever seemed too confusing. Narratives flowed perfectly and
scene upon scene gave us great cinematic moments that were just so exciting,
you knew that a master director was at work. Everybody who knew who Tarantino
was in that decade could boast they’d seen at least one of his films.

The beauty of Tarantino’s work in the ‘90s was that,
although being extremely violent, the stories had enough weight and intrigue to
balance them. Take Vince and Jules in Pulp Fiction; the two foul mouthed, sharp
suited hit men, who are existentially at odds with there jobs. Jules is a man
who intensely enjoys his work, but obviously recognizes its dangers. So much so
that he is willing to walk away from his role. Meanwhile, Vince seems perfectly
content in his job, possibly because he is a drug addict. The conflict in his life
comes from his lack of romance and the restrained but eventful evening he
spends with his boss’s wife (Uma
Thurman’s
Mia Wallace). Similar troubles and themes ran throughout
Tarantino’s early work and those films, apart from being enjoyable romps, had a
real sense of intelligence to them. Yet at the turn of the century something
changed.

The Tarantino of the 21st Century is just as in love with cinema but has now become gratuitously
blatant. Previous films made subtle homages to filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Jean Luc
Godard, Brian DePalma
and films like City
On Fire, Black Sabbath
and Foxy
Brown
. Now his films play out like infantile parodies of one man’s DVD
collection. Tarantino seems to be more obsessed with genre films as opposed to
his previously more ambiguous work. Pulp Fiction, for instance, was obviously
going to be a gritty crime thriller but its cleverness allowed it to
incorporate elements of romance, action, comedy, art house and film noir. In
comparison Inglorious Basterds,
while being a thoroughly gratifying war film with great set pieces and
performances, never threatens to take itself seriously. You could argue that
Tarantino is merely paying tribute to the B-movies that he loves so much.
Surely though, there is a way of doing this that doesn’t require so much
smugness?

The snappy, intuitive dialogue of Tarantino’s earlier
films has now been replaced with a smorgasbord of references. He now seems more
interested in detailing his knowledge of film and music rather than letting the
film and soundtrack list them for him. Tarantino now subjects viewers to long
drawn out conversations between his characters, often on topics the audience
has barely any interest in. This running self-indulgent theme was evident in Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds, but
it proved to be most nauseating in Death
Proof.
What starts out as an interesting, low budget thriller about a
killer stuntman, quickly dissolves into monotony peppered by scene after scene
of pointless, boring dialogue. Discussions about cult television shows, obscure
music trivia and irrelevant movie knowledge contribute absolutely nothing, and
the story practically grinds to a halt. Death Proof, even by Tarantino’s
admissions, is his worse film. Few directors have ever managed to capture their
egotism on screen, but with his last handful of movies, Tarantino has achieved
such a feat.

If any other director had such flaws to their name,
the public would have rightfully dismissed them long ago as a prima donna.
However Tarantino still remains a source of interest for fans, critics and
filmmakers alike. Why? Well apart from being at the top of his trade, Tarantino
is still very willing to promote any film he feels is worthy of praise. In
recent years we have seen him lend his names to martial arts movies like Jet Li’s Hero, The Man With The Iron Fists and The Protector. His Rolling
Thunder
film club from the late ‘90’s was also another outlet for Tarantino
to share his film love with fellow enthusiasts. This series saw him present
films by the likes of Wong Kar Wai and Lucio Fulci, and in the process
brought their works to a more mainstream audience. While good honest promotion
is one thing, where does the man’s influence in terms of filmmaking stand?

Directors like Eli
Roth
and Robert Rodriguez arguably
owe their entire careers to Tarantino. If it were not for his exaggeration of
gore in the 90’s it’s doubtful that their films would be so popular now. Plus
public endorsements from Tarantino go a fair way to helping a film’s success.
However Tarantino’s influence is a little more widespread than that. When you
think of a film like Drive, there is
no doubt that that film is heavily indebted to Tarantino’s B-movie style.
Everything from the violence, soundtrack and even the wardrobe reeks of
Quentin’s ideal movie aesthetic. Although it’s doubtful Nicolas Winding Refn would admit to this, you can bet that he had
watched Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown a fair few times before making Drive. The
same can be said of directors like Derek
Cianfrance
and Jee-woon Kim, whose
films are very much in the B-movie mould yet attempt to transform them into a
more highbrow medium. It could be said that nowadays people are making
Tarantino movies, better than Tarantino himself.

Tarantino’s status within the movie world is a weird
one. He is obviously a director of immense talent, capable of crafting
beautifully interwoven narratives with a cast of appealing characters. Recently
though, his directorial choices have become lazier and less restrained. Long
running times and pointlessly languid scenes have left previous Tarantino fans
scratching their heads as to how a once great artist could so easily forget his
morales. If Tarantino could become stricter with his art and not be so
infatuated with his idols, then he would quickly restore his value. Whether
Django Unchained will do that remains to be seen. Early signs look positive. So
let’s just hope that one of Hollywood’s great directors can start making his
own movies again instead of homages.

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