A large cult love him, a large group hate him; the impartial have simply never seen him. So here’s to you, the impartial, the hateful, and the lovers who aim to be more knowledgeable: Impact’s quintessential film-tro to Quentin Tarantino.
Despite being the highly famed, critically acclaimed blockbuster powerhouse we know today, Tarantino didn’t go to film school. In fact, Tarantino dropped out of Narbonne High School aged fifteen. He then found a job ushering at a porn theater (lying about his age, in order to work there). It was only when he attended the James Best Theatre Company that he would meet several people who would later appear in his films. While at the theatre company, in the 1980s, Tarantino worked in a number of places. His earliest acting credits include playing an Elvis impersonator in “Sophia’s Wedding: Part 1” – an episode in the fourth season of The Golden Girls.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino is by no means world-famous for his acting, however (and arguably, rightly so). Tarantino’s real entrance to the cinematic world came with his feature-length debut as writer and director of Reservoir Dogs. This is my favourite film by Tarantino, and amongst my favourite films of all time – it’s certainly the film I have re-watched the most. In this instance therefore, I’d argue there’s no better place to start with Tarantino than at the beginning of his full-length career.
The film is not complicated; the plot is essentially a diamond heist from the perspective of the criminals, which goes very badly, resulting in them suspecting an undercover cop amongst them.
The reason I adore the film, and the reason why it’s the film to start with, is that Tarantino’s style is captured immaculately. Sure, it’s not fully developed, and arguably there aren’t masses of substance in the film – but the film shows us exactly what to expect from Tarantino. Additionally, we must remember this is an independent film, with little over a million in budget (primarily as a result of Harvey Keitel). Therefore there were limitations, but Tarantino utilized these ingeniously, and gave us a film that actually feels closer to theatre than to cinema: the theatrical aspects of the film are captured through the film being very close to real time, adopting a non-chronological plot, keeping key aspects ambiguous, and most importantly, using naturalistic dialogue.
The beginning captures this last aspect most notably, where Mr Brown (Tarantino himself) gives us a lecture on the meaning of Madonna’s Like A Virgin as the camera introduces us to the rest of the criminals, who are all sitting around the table. Whilst the verbal essay might do nothing for the film itself, it shows us Tarantino’s fascination with pop culture from the core. And, egotistic as he is, by presenting to us himself as opposed to opening the film with Keitel, Tim Roth, or any of the other incredible cast members, a real connection between the director and his audience is felt. We see his personality and tone shine through – and the beginnings of a relationship with Tarantino are born.
This film is iconic, shocking it’s audiences like films hadn’t before – critics, horror directors and special effects artists were amongst those who simply couldn’t view the absurdly dark and iconic ‘stuck in the middle with you/ear scene’, let alone the audience who hadn’t seen anything near as daring in the cinema. In years to come, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs will be studied as the unwatchable, revolutionary plays of the early 20th century are today; the most impressive bit is, this cinematic transformation is packed into a mere 99 minutes of screen-time. I believe this film has the absolute right to be frequently cited as the best independent film of all time. It is definitely where you need to start!
Pulp Fiction (1994)
There is an entire world more to Pulp Fiction than just being a more developed Reservoir Dogs. However, any doubts raised regarding the – at times – continuity errors or similar characters to those in his debut are dissolved here. Part of this is thanks to the additional budget, which allows Tarantino to really show the world what he is; and part is due to the longer duration more generally, which allows Tarantino to showcase his unrivalled ability to reference pop-culture, interweave plural established plots with developed characters, and to muddle with the order of the film. Whether the king of homage, or simply a theatrical genius in himself – he proves he is at least one of the two in this film, if he hasn’t beforehand.
Pulp Fiction sees Tim Roth and Keitel reappear, and also provides an introduction to two of the most notable actors to form alliances with Tarantino – Uma Thurman, his ‘muse’, and Samuel L. Jackson. Released publically on October 14, 1994, it became the top-grossing film at the box office in its first weekend, beating The Specialist, which was in its second week and playing at more than twice as many theaters. It also became the first “indie” film to surpass $100 million. Worldwide, it took in nearly $213 million, making it the tenth biggest film of 1994, despite being shown in far fewer cinemas than the rest of the top 20. Not to mention winning the Palme D’Or, an Academy Award, and countless others.
Accolades aside, practically, this film is a masterpiece as it makes ‘dogs look primitive’. (See how we managed to bring this film’s intro to an end, by going back to the beginning? The film does something similar!)
Furthermore, it possesses the rare ability to show incredibly sensitive circumstances: violence, drug use, racial slur, and rape, to name a few – without being distasteful (to a majority). This is achieved through the absurd circumstances of the scenarios in the play. This, along with the alienating effect of the film being non-chronological and self-referential, always shields the film from being criticized – whilst the sharp dialogue distances the film from any real seriousness. Everything the film pushes is ultimately laughed off. The film is also considered a post-modern masterpiece by many critics, for those interested.
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
This film probably turns people for or against Tarantino more than any other, but now that you’re accustomed to two of his films, and consequently love him (right?) we’ll put the argument forward that it’s possibly his best work.
This film uses four languages (of which, the phenomenal Christoph Waltz speaks all four) and English only accounts for slightly more than a third of the dialogue – which, given the nature of Hollywood and indeed American films, is pretty unheard of. This might sound disengaging, and unless you’re looking to watch and appreciate the film, it may well be – but come on, you’re reading a film article, I’ll give you the benefit of doubt!
I don’t want to give anything about the film away; but with regards to the usual Tarantino tropes, violence and controversy are still quite apparent (the film is one of his most violent, just to warn). However, Tarantino’s use of homage, pop culture and comic dialogue aren’t as prominent; the film shows a slightly different side to Tarantino, which is still unmistakably his own, and it bleeds into his later films Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, which are sort of a blend between Dogs, Pulp and this film – which is why it should be watched.
If you can appreciate the fact that Tarantino is not trying to make you agree with or disagree with any characters, but that the films are purely entertainment derived from his ingenious talent and love for all things film, then it should be easy to embrace the pop culture, his dazzling dialogue and ability to pastiche.