“If I have a change of heart, if I could come up with a new story, I could come back. But if I stop at 10, that would be okay as an artistic statement.”
Tarantino to Playboy magazine
Quentin Tarantino, currently one of Hollywood’s most recognisable directors has hinted in an interview with Playboy Magazine that his run at the top of Hollywood could be coming to an end. Tarantino, whose filmography includes Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Kil Bill Vol.1 and 2, Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and the upcoming Western, The Hateful 8, expressed his desire to retire after directing ten films. He said “Directors don’t get better as they get older…I am all about my filmography, and one film can fuck up three good ones.” But is the king of pop culture references making the right decision? Or will he even decide to retire? Looking over his first two and last two films as a guide to how his career has changed, it is clear, that for one thing he will leave behind an incredible legacy… if he does decide to retire.
Even from Reservoir Dogs we can already see the sheer talent that this self-proclaimed “maverick punk” possesses, with a solid first film packed with immensely quotable dialogue, flashy visuals, an unforgettable soundtrack and a narrative that broke all the rules. Reservoir Dogs put this indie director on the map, with a cast including Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, and it took the gangster genre and began to transform it, a genre revisited in Tarantino’s second film Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs focuses on a group of six men who have been brought together to perform a diamond heist, which is never actually seen, an interesting technique considering the film is part of the gangster genre, where the heist is one of the most recognisable features of the gangster film. Tarantino instead chooses to focus on the fall-out of the heist, which goes dramatically wrong as the police had been tipped off and appear as the heist is taking place. The majority of the film takes place in a warehouse, the rendezvous point of the six gangsters, as they gather there after escaping the police,suspicion arises as one of their group is suspected of being an undercover cop and we see the sadistic lengths criminals will go to for the truth, to save themselves, or just to have a little fun. Nowhere is this clearer than the iconic scene where Michael Madsen’s, “Mr Blonde” tortures a kidnapped police officer. Madsen proclaiming, “I don’t give a good fuck about what you know or don’t know, I’m gonna torture you anyway” instantly establishes the sadistic nature of the villains in Tarantino’s Universe. Mr Blonde dancing across the screen to Stealer Wheels’ “Stuck in the Middle With You”‘ and the camera circling the tied up police officer like a predator stalking its prey creates a terrifying psychopath, one that is calm and collected. Despite the psychopathic nature of Mr Blonde, the use of the soundtrack and sadistic humour implicates us in his actions as we are drawn to him, this will be one of Tarantino’s lasting legacies: creating these sadistic yet ‘cool’ characters, many of which have become embedded in pop culture history. The film as a whole is a boiling pot of pop culture references, from the opening scene discussing the ‘real’ meaning of Madonna’s Like A Virgin, to the use of the 70s soundtrack throughout, it cemented Tarantino’s place in cinema as an eclectic filmmaker. His use of older songs and references throughout Reservoir Dogs brought this music and vintage chic lifestyle to an entire generation who can’t talk about tipping, Madonna or Stuck in the Middle With You without this film in mind. Reservoir Dogs is still influencing an entire generation of screenplay writers, directors and pop culture references in general, its narrative is gripping, the plot-twists will keep you on the edge of your seat and in terms of a filmography, it is still so hard to believe that this is a director’s first film, a film that very firmly established Tarantino as a director who was here to stay.
Pulp Fiction -1994
After the success of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s next film, is often lauded as being the epitome of his work. Approaching its 10th anniversary, Pulp Fiction is still as engaging and influential as it ever has been. The film focuses on the intertwining narratives of mobster wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), gangsters Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), an on-the-run boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) and Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer), a ‘wannabe’ Bonnie and Clyde couple. The film’s plot is not as straightforward as Reservoir Dogs, as Tarantino experiments here with narrative form. The first sequences are out of order and seem unconnected, it is only after you have seen the whole film that the separate sequences make sense, making this film a different fare to what we are used to, blending the lines between indie and Hollywood films. The soundtrack and dialogue, like in Reservoir Dogs, are unforgettable, the opening scene in itself reflects the energy and the bizarre likeability of criminals in Tarantino’s films. The film opens Pumpkin and Honey Bunny, discussing robberies they have performed and the robbery that they are about to undertake in the diner they are eating in, after telling each other they love each other they draw their guns and threaten the whole diner. Then the titles cut in, on a black screen the words Pulp Fiction appear in big, bright yellow letters and the soundtrack song Miserlou (an edgy surfer inspired song) plays. Tarantino throws you into this eclectic film head first, it’s as if the the audience is hit by a force, your senses heightened, intrigued and unsure where this film will take you. This could have been a disaster in the wrong hands, but Tarantino and his talented cast create a piece that showcases the best of everyone’s talents involved in the film. John Travolta and Uma Thurman had their careers revitalised by this film, in what was certainly inspired casting and a huge risk on Tarantino’s part, with both actors being cast against type. John Travolta transforms from his dancing days in Grease to his iconic pony-tailed gangster and Uma Thurman transforms into a gritty wife of a mobster, worlds apart from her previous romantic smaller roles. Whilst the film is excellent, there are some parts that seem slightly irrelevant, the only word needed to be mentioned in this context is gimp, if these parts had been cut it would have felt much less superfluous. Pulp Fiction is often lauded as Tarantino’s best work, and whilst this review has focused on so many of the positives in this particular film, in terms of his filmography, most of his films are at the same level, this film is just given more attention and praise due to its innovative narrative design.Inglorious, not mentioned in detail in this article, is an excellent piece of filmmaking and the script and visuals feel far more polished than Pulp Fiction does, showing that each of Tarantino’s film have their own strengths. Whilst the acting and soundtrack within the film are inspired, if it had not been for the innovative narrative timeline, this film could easily have blended with other gangster films, like Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. So whilst this film is on its own a definite must to watch, do not let the hype surrounding the film cloud your first viewing, it needs to be appreciated for its innovative nature and superb acting, but not as the peak of Tarantino’s career. Django Unchained and Tarantino’s other films all live up to the expectation of this film and all showcase the brilliance and increasing refinement in Tarantino’s filmmaking.
Django Unchained, Tarantino’s last released film had the most hype and coverage of any Tarantino film to date. Anybody who had missed Tarantino’s work before has surely heard of him after the success of Inglourious Basterds, earning Christoph Waltz an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. This feat was once again replicated in Django Unchained’s success with Oscar’s for both Best Screenplay and Waltz again as supporting actor. This film was Tarantino’s first attempt at a Western film, taking inspiration from the Spaghetti Western genre (Italian made, American set Westerns) that has heavily influenced his work. Tarantino after the film was released said the film was more of ‘a Southern’, focusing on slavery in the southern American states, rather than the cowboys of the old West. Django Unchained is the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who is released by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in return for information on slave owners that he is hunting down. Django helps him and eventually joins him and trains to become a bounty hunter by his side, so that together they can go and rescue his wife from evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Blood, sweat and tears are abound in this thrilling adventure, is one of the most action-packed of Tarantino’s recent films, second only to the Kill Bill films. Whilst it has been seen as controversial due to Tarantino’s treatment of slavery, a topic that is still a sensitive subject in America, and also due to his use of the ’N’ word, it is a fantastically exciting film, one that sees the tables turned on the white slave owners, the slaves getting their revenge. What’s so controversial about that? Surely Tarantino should be applauded for exploiting the rules, by reversing the race roles, the slave protagonist being the hero of the film in this era? He changed history by murdering Hitler in Inglorious Basterds, so what difference is there here? Django Unchained as a whole is an excellently made film, with vivid colours, brilliant dialogue as per any Tarantino film, Oscar-Winning and Nominated performances and an eclectic soundtrack that at times jars with the time period but somehow works. To date it is Tarantino’s highest grossing film, with a worldwide gross of $425,368,238, signalling that his career is just growing to higher and higher heights, Django Unchained could be just the film that makes him reevaluate his decision to retire.
The Hateful Eight – 2015
Tarantino’s upcoming film The Hateful Eight, coincidentally his eighth film, has not been without controversy, with a leaked script that Tarantino condemned, he claimed that he would never make the film, only to then do a live public reading which people scrambled to get tickets for, to then deciding to in the end direct the film after all. Some have suggested the leak was intentional, which seems unlikely given how guarded Tarantino usually remains over his films, but either way, he used the situation to his advantage and many people are greatly anticipating the release of the film. Tarantino claims that this will be his true Western film, speaking to Jay Leno he said “that after I taught myself how to make one [a Western], it’s like, ‘OK, now let me make another one now that I know what I’m doing.” The Hateful Eight focuses on a group of travellers stuck in a building during a blizzard, a concept that sounds reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs’ claustrophobic warehouse setting for the majority of the film. It seems from the little information we have of the new script that Tarantino is going back to his roots, having established himself as a big name within Hollywood he can now make those dialogue-heavy intense films that work so well with his fantastic writing. With the ‘Hateful Eight’ having been cast, we see a mixture of firmly established faces from the Tarantino universe, alongside new actors or actors that have had smaller roles in Tarantino films. So, let’s take a look at the ‘Hateful Eight’:
- Samuel L. Jackson – Major Marquis Warren: “The Bounty Hunter”
2. Kurt Russell – John Ruth: “The Hangman”
3. Jennifer Jason Leigh- Daisy Domergue: “The Prisoner”
4. Walton Goggins- Chris Mannix: “The Sheriff”
5. Demian Bachir – Bob: “The Mexican”
6. Tim Roth- Oswaldo Mobray: “The Little Man”
7. Michael Madsen – Joe Gage: “The Cow Puncher”
8. General Sandy Smithers: “The Confederate”
With an eclectic cast and teaser trailer having been released a few months ago excitement is certainly abound for Tarantino’s film. Whether this means there is more pressure to succeed on Tarantino remains to be seen but after having created masterpiece after masterpiece (we’ll ignore Death Proof for now) it seems likely that this will be just as good, if not better than all his other films.
After looking back (and forwards) at Tarantino’s career it is clear that he is one of the most diverse, innovative and influential directors of our generation. He has taken all the rules and broken them again and again: from gangster movies to blaxploitation films; from Japanese revenge films to Westerns. Tarantino is often criticised for his lack of originality but by using ideas and genres we are already familiar with and turning them, on their head/subverting them he creates cinema that surprises us as it challenges our expectations. So should he retire? After looking back at his collection of films it is clear to say that if he stays at this standard then no, of course he shouldn’t! He doesn’t churn films out, they are all personal pieces of work that he is devoted to and as a cinephile I’m sure he has so many genres and plot options that he has yet to explore. Metro News made an interesting point, if other directors had quit because they were getting old or after ten films, we would have lost cinema history! Imagine no Psycho, no Jurassic Park, no Vertigo (voted the best film of all time in 2012!). Tarantino’s greatest masterpieces could still be yet to come, he claims that a director’s last four films before they die (if they keep directing until then) are their worst, but Stanley Kubrick’s last four films are like the list above, outstanding: The Shining, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. Tarantino’s excuses for no longer making films seem like a sign of boredom or more likely attention-grabbing headlines, in this case, perhaps the right question to ask is; will he retire? Obviously not being Tarantino himself, we will never truly know his intentions, but with The Hateful 8 released next year, it seems Tarantino is the master of controversy and raising publicity for his films, perhaps making this extravagant claim helps to boost the significance of each film as we have to savour each and every one, control the supply and it becomes the audience’s demand: Hollywood’s oldest trick in the book. Tarantino claims that he will turn to writing, penning plays and novels, but he has hinted that the door will always remain open to making films, if he has a good idea. Tarantino told Playboy, “if I have a change of heart, if I could come up with a new story, I could come back. But if I stop at 10, that would be okay as an artistic statement”. Considering that Tarantino is one of the most innovative and creative minds of our generation’s film industry, it’s not difficult to see him coming out of retirement in the future, that’s if he does retire at all.