Later this year, Quentin Tarantino is expected to release his highly anticipated film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. More than 20 years since his first film, Tarantino is proving that there is still massive demand for his idiosyncratic work. But what exactly about his films has captivated audiences for so long? In the first of a new series, we will examine legendary filmmakers and attempt to breakdown their careers and what exactly separates them from the rest.
Above all else, the second you come across a Tarantino film, you immediately know what you have stumbled upon. There are three fundamental aspects that jump off the screen and announce themselves to the viewer. A Tarantino film at its very core cannot exist without violence, certain music choices, and perhaps most importantly, his writing. With this, he separates himself from the rest of Hollywood and does so in a way that is wholly original and his own.
Mass amounts of violence are more than expected in a film from the auteur. They are basked in for extended amounts of time. Bloodshed occurs so frequently that it conditions audiences to expect it at any moment; it could happen in the middle of a conversation or a tense scene. It regularly serves as the cherry on top in any of his greatest scenes. One that always comes to mind is this brilliant scene in Inglorious Basterds. We know it can’t end well, yet we never expect just when it will come to a head. Some of the tensest moments occur in the minds of viewers purely out of fear that it will all come crumbling down with a spray of gunfire. It is overt in its delivery and, necessarily, over the top. And it would never be able to work without his sharp writing.
It is safe to say that Tarantino is one of, if not the most, entertaining writers in film. He has the ability to hone into pockets of dialogue unlike anyone else. A scene can be extended by 10-15 minutes due to non-sequitur debates about foot massages, food, or superheroes. These moments exist solely to highlight character traits in more organic methods. What is most impressive, however, is how he wraps it all up. His brilliance shines in these moments that bring the dialogue and overall scene full circle. Conditioning audiences to relish in extended dialogue is difficult, but when it is as thought-provoking and flat out hysterical as Tarantino tends to make it, it becomes a walk in the park.
Finally, there is nothing better than a great music choice to compliment a scene or even an entire film; this, too, is where Tarantino excels. Whether it’s recruiting legendary Western composer Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight or RZA for Kill Bill, the attention to detail is palpable. A Tarantino soundtrack has two main goals: to invoke a sense of nostalgia and to thematically link the scene to the film as a whole. For example, Kill Bill: Volume 1 begins with “Bang Bang” by Nancy Sinatra. If the gorgeous opening was not enough to begin the film, Tarantino primes the viewer with a summation of what we are about to witness with a song.
Now, the aspect of nostalgia is where many critics of Tarantino stake their claims. It is no secret that Tarantino loves cinema as a whole. He is extremely vocal about it in interviews and propels this love in his films. However, some believe he takes this pastiche too far, almost into a sense of stealing. While it is impossible to disagree with the fact that he regularly uses a plethora of inspirations in his films, it seems unfair to chalk it up to uninspired filmmaking. For instance, Jackie Brown and Django Unchained pay homage to blaxploitation films of the ’70s. Tarantino has never shied away from his love for these genre films. Kill Bill regularly uses audio cues and actors from classic martial arts films. These instances are not hidden with tricks and are undisguised for great reason.
They are blatant and included for the sole purpose of paying tribute to those filmmakers who came before, and yet Tarantino achieves what many cannot. For films that are heavily influenced by genre films of the past, Tarantino’s entire career feels wholly original. That’s why a Tarantino film cannot be mistaken. Despite its blatant delivery, Tarantino can craft films that transcend a particular path to a final product. Each subsequent release is a culmination of his prior films, his influences as a filmmaker, and more. Most importantly, he has never boxed himself into a single corner.
For all intents and purposes, it would be safe to claim that most artists in any medium will follow a distinct set of rules in order to maximize audience approval. What separates Tarantino from the rest of Hollywood is how regularly he breaks these rules. Rather than shun him for it, his audiences bask in this. Tarantino remains unconventional with every film, despite viewers fully knowing he will never conform to a typical movie; therein lies his brilliance. To make such a wide array of films and still subvert expectations is beyond practicing a skill, but being born with a mastery of the craft.
Tarantino debuting with Reservoir Dogs is impressive in its own right. It is a wildly riveting film that primarily takes place in a singular location. To then follow up with Pulp Fiction is a brazen decision. For not only is it the antithesis of his debut in terms of scale, but its inclusion of nonchronological storytelling and unconventional methods are brilliant. To split Kill Bill into two halves, but make them completely different genres, is a move that could not be pulled off cohesively by seemingly anyone else. Tarantino has his own method of making films, and it has paid off tenfold. As much as we believe we have understood his methodology, it is always a treat to see how he will surprise us even 20 years later.
Many filmmakers attempt to mimic the style of Tarantino, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is evident that he has influenced today’s wave of directors, and it is inspiring to say the least. If Tarantino can craft some of the best films ever by paying immense respect to his influences, why can the same respect not be shown from the next generation? What is most exciting is that Tarantino still seems to have plenty of steam left in him. If the rollout of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is any indication, it’s that audiences have not lost their craving for more from the legend.
Are you excited for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood? What’s your favorite film by Tarantino, and what director would you like us to examine next? Let us know in the comments below!