Friday, November 16, 2012
The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino
One of the filmmakers who would change the face of independent-minded cinema for the early 1990s, Quentin Tarantino was the ultimate film geek who became one of the top filmmakers working today. From his visceral approach to violence as well as his knack for stylish dialogue, he’s a filmmaker that has a style that is clearly on his own. Though he may have those who imitate him, they couldn’t duplicate what he brings to cinema as he would reinvent himself time and time again. Already in the film scene for 20 years, Tarantino is set to return to the big screen with eighth feature Django Unchained that is a tribute to a genre that he adores in the western.
Born on March 27, 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Quentin Jerome Tarantino was the son of a nurse named Connie McHugh as she took Quentin and his younger brother Ron to California when Quentin was two years old. During this time living around Torrance and later to the neighborhood of Harbor City, Tarantino grew up being interested in film where he would eventually take a job in his teens working at the video store Video Archives where he would meet another avid film buff in Roger Avary. It was there that Tarantino would discover films from all over the world through not just the movies that were available on Video Archives but also from tapes recorded on the Southern California-based pay-cable movie channel called Z Channel.
My Best Friend’s Birthday
Tarantino’s first short was originally a 70-minute short about a young man trying to do something for his best friend’s birthday only for things to go wrong. The project was co-written with Craig Hamann who wrote the original story as Tarantino decided to helm the project on 16mm film with $5,000 budget. With Roger Avary helping out on cinematography and Tarantino also acting in the project that would include famed character actor Allen Garfield. The short would be a comedy that revels in a man’s attempt to give his best friend a great birthday only for that friend to deal with things that is beyond his control.
During the editing of the short, something went wrong when the final reel got burned only for 36 minutes of the film to survive. Though it was shown on various film festivals and was eventually shown on the Internet, Tarantino would say unkind things about the short feeling it was too amateurish. Although it would feature many of Tarantino’s attributes such as fast, stylish dialogue and a unique music soundtrack. It was really a short that would really show a young man learning the ropes of what it takes to become a filmmaker.
During Tarantino’s time working at Video Archives, he would pen screenplays with help from Roger Avary that would become the basis for many of his early projects. Among them was a heist film of sorts that told the story about a troubling aftermath following a heist where surviving criminals try to figure out who is the informant. Tarantino cited Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 film The Killing as well as Ringo Lam’s 1987 film City on Fire as key influences on what would become his first film entitled Reservoir Dogs.
Wanting to create a film that was very different from other heist films, Tarantino decided to employ a somewhat non-linear structure for his screenplay as well as inserting scenes that would tell the story of three of the participants in the heist including the informant who is revealed in the third act. It’s all part of Tarantino’s approach to build up suspense where many of its participants try to figure out who is the rat while a crime boss and his son want to know where the diamonds are that one of the criminals had hidden. Tarantino showcased the script to cult filmmaker Monte Hellman who was impressed with the script as he would help secure funding for the project. With Live Entertainment funding the film, the script also attracted the attention of actor Harvey Keitel who would help fund the film as he also got to play the role of Mr. White as well as being a co-producer.
At the Sundance Film Labs where Tarantino would get a chance to develop the film, Tarantino got help from filmmaker Terry Gilliam who gave him pointers on how to create the film. Actor Steve Buscemi also participated in the lab project where he would eventually be cast as Mr. Pink. The development would help Tarantino not only shape his screenplay but also would give him the chance to finally flesh out ideas of what he wanted to do visually. Once filming was to begin, Tarantino would gain several people who would become his key collaborators that would include production designer David Wasco, set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, and editor Sally Menke.
With Tarantino playing the role of Mr. Brown and Keitel and Buscemi already slated to play their respective roles. The cast would include Tim Roth as Mr. Orange, Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde, Chris Penn as Nice Guy Eddie, real-life criminal Eddie Bunker in a small role as Mr. Blue, and veteran actor Lawrence Tierney as the organizer of the heist Joe Cabot. Shooting began in 1991 where Tarantino would employ a style that was very different while he would infuse his dialogue with profanity and pop culture references such as the opening diner scene where Tarantino’s Mr. Brown character discusses the origins of the song Like a Virgin by Madonna. Other aspects of Tarantino’s dialogue is a scene where Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange, Mr. White, and Nice Guy Eddie talking about a blaxploitation film as well as other moments such as Mr. Orange’s commode story.
Adding to the unique tone of the film is the soundtrack as Tarantino hired music supervisor Karyn Rachtman to assemble the film’s soundtrack. With the film featuring voiceovers by comedian Steven Wright as a radio DJ playing songs from the 70s, the soundtrack would consist of music from that decade. Among them is The George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag for the film’s opening credits sequence where Tarantino has the characters walking in slow motion. Another is the use of Stealer Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle with You where Mr. Blonde torture a cop in one of the film’s most gruesome moments. These moments would become many of the trademarks Tarantino would refine in the years to come.
The film made its premiere at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival which many considered to be a landmark year not just for the festival but for the American independent film scene. The festival wound include such key releases as Alexandre Rockwell’s In the Soup, Gregg Araki’s The Living End, Anthony Drazan’s Zebrahead, Allison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging, and Tom Kalin’s Swoon. The film became a major festival hit despite the controversy for the film’s graphic violence. While it would receive mixed reviews from critics, the film gained a cult following where it would recoup its $1.2 million budget as it eventually scored more than $14 million in the box office. The film’s success would mark Tarantino’s arrival into the film scene.
True Romance (screenplay)/Natural Born Killers (screen story)
During Tarantino’s time writing screenplays before making Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino would write various projects including two screenplays that were inspired by one of Tarantino’s favorite films in 1973 Terrence Malick film Badlands. The first screenplay inspired by Malick’s debut film would be a love story about an Elvis-obsessed comic book clerk and a call girl who fall in love, accidentally grab a suitcase full of cocaine where they hope to sell it in Hollywood only to be targeted by the mob. The project would be called True Romance as Tarantino managed to get the screenplay optioned to be a film. After getting money for the script to be developed, the script got the attention of British filmmaker Tony Scott who would helm the project.
While Tarantino would make a few changes in the script, he wasn’t directly involved in the production though Scott was able to be faithful to Tarantino’s script. The project featured an all-star cast that included Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Michael Rapaport, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, and Val Kilmer. Through Scott’s stylish approach to violence and romance, the film would be unlike anything that was out there in Hollywood though it would retain elements that appealed to a mainstream audience. Though Tarantino wasn’t happy about changing the film’s ending at first, he was eventually pleased with it after seeing Scott’s final cut. Despite some rave reviews, the film was a commercial disappointment yet gained a cult following over the years as it would be hailed as one of the best works for both Tarantino and Tony Scott.
The other screenplay that Tarantino would write that was inspired by Badlands was a script called Natural Born Killers about a young couple who go on a cross-country killing spree where their capture attracts the attention of a TV show host who plans to exploit them by interviewing one of them on his show. Tarantino sold the script for $10,000 to producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy after failing to get funding for the project. The script was sold to Warner Brothers where it attracted the attention of Oliver Stone. Stone, along with Richard Rutowski and Dave Veloz, would re-write the script though Tarantino had some reservations about Stone’s approach to the script which would focus on the killers instead of the TV journalist. Though Tarantino would get story credit under the rules of the Writing Guild of America, he was pleased with what Stone created as the film came out in August of 1994 to a large degree of controversy and divided reviews.
The success Tarantino was gaining for Reservoir Dogs and the screenplay for True Romance got him the attention of Hollywood who wanted him to helm various projects. Tarantino turned them down in order to write a screenplay for his next project. With Roger Avary providing contributions where he would get credit for co-writing the story, Tarantino decided to tell a multi-layered story about a few days in the life of various people in Los Angeles. One of which involving two hitmen retrieving a mysterious briefcase that is later followed by all sorts of trouble. Another involving one of the hitmen taking his boss’s wife on a night out as she would later have an accidental heroin overdoes. The third story would involve an aging prizefighter who gets himself into serious trouble while trying to get back his father’s gold watch.
Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender would show the screenplay to actor Danny DeVito who was interesting in developing the project for his Jersey Films production company. Yet, it would take some time for the project to find a proper studio to help finance and distribute the project as it finally found a home at Miramax that was run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Miramax was a studio that was getting a lot of attention for releasing a lot of daring films that helped attract an audience of independent films and art house films as they also helped widen the theatrical run for Reservoir Dogs in 1992. With Tarantino and Bender forming their own production company called a Band Apart, a pun on Jean-Luc Godard’s film Bande a Part, production for Tarantino’s second film Pulp Fiction was well underway.
Retaining many of his collaborators from Reservoir Dogs for Pulp Fiction, Tarantino was also able to get Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth from Reservoir Dogs to star in a couple of key roles along with Steve Buscemi in a cameo as a waiter dressed up as Buddy Holly. The casting would include many people that was in Tarantino’s dream list that featured Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stolz, Rosanna Arquette, Maria de Medieros, and Ving Rhames. The biggest coup that Tarantino would get is nabbing Bruce Willis for the role of aging prizefighter Butch Coolidge as the project was something Willis needed after starring in a series of high profile flops for the past few years.
Another big coup in the casting after Michael Madsen was unavailable was getting John Travolta as Vincent Vega. Though many were unsure about getting Travolta for the role as Travolta was seen as a has been in Hollywood, Tarantino wanted Travolta for the part in hopes to revive the actor’s flagging career. Travolta eventually accepted the part of Vincent Vega for a small fee as production went well underway on the $8.5 million budgeted film.
Taking Jean-Luc Godard’s idea about film narrative, Tarantino devised to tell the film in a non-linear fashion which was unique at the time considering that Tarantino was already known for gritty, stylized violence and witty dialogue. Notably to maintain a sense of dramatic impact in the story where the film opens with a couple having a conversation in a diner before they rob the place and it would end in that same diner just as the robbery is in progress where the couple would meet up Vincent and Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules character at the same diner. It’s all part of creating an air of suspense throughout the film as it also features unique stories on drugs, killing, and all sorts of things while moments that are lighthearted such as Vincent and Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace’s dance at the 50s themed restaurant they eat.
Adding to the film’s unique tone is its soundtrack where Tarantino would go more into creating a soundtrack that featured all sorts of genres from 60s and 70s soul music, country, rockabilly, surf music, and pop. With the soundtrack, Tarantino would give many of these songs a chance to be re-heard for a new generation as it would revive the career of surf rock legend Dick Dale whose instrumental Misrilou played in the opening credits. The soundtrack also featured a cover of Neil Diamond’s Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon by the alternative rock band Urge Overkill that was a major hit.
The film premiered at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival in May of that year where it was a major hit and won the coveted Palme D’or. After a run of playing European festivals later that summer, the film got its release in October of 1994 where it was a major critical and commercial hit grossing more than $213 million worldwide. The film not only made Tarantino a big name in Hollywood as well as the Weinstein brothers but also gave Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman major profiles in Hollywood and revived John Travolta’s career as he followed up Pulp Fiction with a series of successful films including 1995’s Get Shorty.
The film was considered to be a major landmark for the world of American independent films as it gained seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director for Tarantino, Best Actor to Travolta, Best Supporting nominations to Thurman and Jackson, and a Best Editing nod to Sally Menke. The film only won one Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay which was award to Tarantino and Roger Avary. Despite losing to the much-friendlier Robert Zemeckis film Forrest Gump, Tarantino was now the new kid in Hollywood.
Four Rooms: The Man from Hollywood/From Dusk Till Dawn (screenplay)
The success of Pulp Fiction made Quentin Tarantino a hot commodity in Hollywood as he would star in small indie films like Sleep with Me, Destiny Turns on the Radio, Spike Lee’s Girl 6, and Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado as he would maintain a close friendship with Rodriguez. Tarantino would also be on board as a producer as he made a cameo and produced Angela Jones’ 1996 film Curdled and Roger Avary’s 1994 film Killing Zoe. Tarantino also involved himself in taking un-credited re-writes for films such as the notorious Saturday Night Live-produced flop It’s Pat as well as Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide and Michael Bay’s The Rock. Though Tarantino would be a name that was synonymous with American independent films, it also spawned numerous imitators trying to cash in on everything Tarantino had done where films would feature Mexican standoffs and other attributes that Tarantino was known for.
During this break between feature-film project, Tarantino involved himself in other several small projects as he would direct an episode for the hit NBC medical drama ER in the episode called Motherhood. The episode would have Tarantino get the chance to work with George Clooney whose career was finally on the rise as it included one of the season’s most tense moments. Another project Tarantino involved himself in was an anthology film with fellow filmmakers Alexandre Rockwell, Allison Anders, and Robert Rodriguez called Four Rooms about a hotel bell hop who finds himself in strange encounters on New Year’s Eve in four different rooms.
Tarantino’s segment entitled The Man from Hollywood that starred Tarantino, regular Paul Calderon, Jennifer Beals (who also appeared in Alexandre Rockwell’s The Wrong Man segment), and an un-credited Bruce Willis. The whole revolved around the crazy day of a bellhop played by Tim Roth as his day would get more insane as it goes on. Tarantino’s segment was the last as it revolved around a Hollywood filmmaker partying at a penthouse with a few friends where he would involve the bellhop in a bet. A bet that was inspired by a TV show where it involves a car and someone’s pinky as the bellhop is in the middle. Tarantino would employ lots of stylistic shots such as long-takes, dazzling crane shots, and all sorts of strange situations for his short as it was considered one of its highlights along with Rodriguez’s The Misbehaviors segment.
Four Rooms was not well-received by critics upon its December 1995 release though there was praise for both Tarantino and Rodriguez’s segments as the film only did OK in the box office. Yet, Tarantino and Rodriguez decided to continue their collaboration on a vampire project called From Dusk Till Dawn from a story by visual effects guru Robert Kurtzman. Tarantino would write the screenplay as it would revolve around a couple of criminal brothers who had just robbed a bank as they’re trying to go to Mexico to split the take with a Mexican gangster. After encountering a preacher and his two kids, they travel with them to Mexico where they stop at a bar to meet the gangster only to realize it’s a bar run by vampires.
Tarantino would play with one of the brothers as it would also star George Clooney in the lead role. With a cast that included Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis along with several of Rodriguez’s associates like Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, and John Hawkes along with appearances from Kelly Preston, John Saxon, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, and Michael Parks playing the role of Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. The film would be a mixture of horror and action as it reveled into the world of vampires. The production was controversial due to the fact that Rodriguez used a non-union crew as it was documented in the 1997 documentary Full Tilt Boogie. Despite the controversy, the film was released in early 1996 to mixed reviews and modest box office as it would help raise Rodriguez’s profile while giving Tarantino time to figure out his next move.
During Tarantino’s break between feature-film directing, there was a surge of popularity in the writings of Elmore Leonard as an adaptation of his 1990 novel Get Shorty was a major hit in 1995 as it helped to maintain John Travolta’s comeback. Tarantino would read the works of Leonard during that period where he had the option to adapt a few of Leonard’s work. Eventually, he chose the book Rum Punch that was about a 44-year old stewardess who decides to team up with a bails bondsman to steal money from a gunrunner after she was caught by the ATF. Tarantino decides to make some changes for his own adaptation by changing the protagonist’s surname as well as her race from white to black as the project would be a homage of sorts to 1970s Blaxploitation films.
Entitled Jackie Brown, Tarantino decided to be faithful to Leonard’s book but also input changes of his own as Leonard was impressed with what Tarantino had created. The script would also be a major change for Tarantino as many of trademarks that he had been known for were now being imitated left and right by many other films in the mid-1990s. For Tarantino, it was time to set himself apart from these imitators just as the state of American independent cinema was in transition where it would include a new wave of filmmakers like David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, and Wes Anderson where they would provide a more humorous approach to their works.
With Samuel L. Jackson already cast in the role of arms dealer Ordell Robbie, Tarantino decided to make a big decision by casting 70s Blaxploitation star Pam Grier in the title role. Grier’s career had slowed down in the 1980s as Tarantino had originally wanted her in Pulp Fiction but was unavailable as she definitely decided to play the role. Another big factor in the casting was getting famed cult actor Robert Forster whose career was relegated to starring in numerous B-movies as Tarantino cast him as the bails bondsman Max Cherry. The cast would also include Bridget Fonda as Robbie’s friend Melanie Ralston and Robert de Niro as aging criminal Louis Gara while Michael Keaton took on the role of ATF agent Ray Nicolette which he would play again for the 1998 adaptation of Leonard’s novel Out of Sight that was to be directed by Steven Soderbergh.
The $12 million budgeted film would have Tarantino retain several of his collaborators like editor Sally Menke, production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco. Tarantino would gain the services of renowned Mexican cinematographer Guillermo Navarro who was the regular cinematographer of Guillermo del Toro as well as a then-collaborator for Robert Rodriguez. Wanting to give the film a look that was different from anything else he had done, Tarantino and Navarro aimed to create a look that was similar to the films of the 1970s as well as employing a language that was similar to the world of Blaxploitation films. Though Tarantino would get a lot of criticism for the use of a racial slur in the film from filmmaker Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson would later defend Tarantino for the usage of the slur.
With Tarantino’s approach to violence already being imitated, Tarantino decides to restrain the violence for the film by not showing elements of blood or anything that is graphic. Another aspect of Tarantino’s approach was to focus on the relationship between Jackie and Max where the scene where Max picks up Jackie from jail would show something unexpected from Tarantino. The way Tarantino uses Bloodstone’s Natural High and the way Menke’s editing times the reaction to the rhythm of the ballad just shows a new sense of subtlety and restraint that is unexpected. For many, it was an example of how much Tarantino had matured as a filmmaker but also realizes that there’s more to him that profane language and graphic violence.
The film was released during the Christmas holidays in 1997 to a large degree of anticipation. Despite some excellent reviews and grossing more than $30 million in the U.S. with a total of $72 million, it was considered a disappointment of sorts in comparison Pulp Fiction while the film was playing against the James Cameron romantic blockbuster Titanic. While Samuel L. Jackson won the Best Actor prize at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy. The film revived the careers of Pam Grier and Robert Forster as the former also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy while the latter got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Though the film was considered a disappointment in its release, the film’s reputation grew in the years to come as some felt it was Tarantino’s best work of his career.
In the aftermath of the release of Jackie Brown, Tarantino went on a six-year hiatus from filmmaking where he spent a lot of that time working on a World War II project that would eventually become Inglourious Basterds. Yet, the project took a long time to write as he took breaks by producing sequels for From Dusk Till Dawn while making a cameo as a blind preacher in the 2000 Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky. The screenplay for Inglourious Basterds took longer than he expected as he decided to focus on another project that would blend his love of samurai films, martial art movies, and westerns. For the project, Tarantino teamed up with Uma Thurman whose career at the time was cooling down after a series of high-profile flops as she and Tarantino would create a character named the Bride for a revenge project called Kill Bill.
Kill Bill told the story of a woman who had just woken up from a four-year comatose state after a brutal beating by her former team of assassins and their boss Bill. In turn, she decides to seek vengeance on the four former assassins that tried to kill her as well as Bill as she goes on a mission to kill them all. While the film was inspired by many samurai films, westerns, and other revenge stories including the 1973 film Lady Snowblood, Tarantino chooses to blend all of these genres into one entire story as an epic of sorts about revenge. Yet, Tarantino also wanted to make it a love story since it would establish many of the Bride’s history with Bill that would show all of the motivation into her thirst for vengeance.
The casting would include Tarantino regular Michael Madsen as Bill’s brother Budd as well as appearances from Michael Parks, reprising his role as Texas Ranger Earl McGraw from the Tarantino-scripted From Dusk Till Dawn, and Samuel L. Jackson as an ill-fated organist. Also cast for the role as the Bride’s former assassin friends would include Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, and Daryl Hannah plus film legends like Bo Svenson, Sonny Chiba, and Sid Haig in small roles. For the role of Bill, Warren Beatty was offered the part but turned it down as Tarantino eventually gave the role to David Carradine.
With Sally Menke, David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, and Karyn Rachtman returning to the fold, Tarantino gained a new collaborator in renowned cinematographer Robert Richardson who had worked with the likes of Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. Richardson’s contributions would heighten Tarantino’s visuals for brighter colors and a wider canvas to help Tarantino broaden his vision. Notably as the film would blend many genres that Tarantino aimed for as he was aware that he was making a much grander film that would go beyond the normal scale of most films.
For the music, Tarantino would employ a wide soundtrack that would be a mix of score music from other films including the works of Ennio Morricone as well as everything from pop, country, soul, hip-hop, rock n’ roll, electronic music, and other things. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA would contribute pieces for one of the film’s key moments in the Bride’s battle in Japan while Robert Rodriguez would contribute some score music for the scenes in Texas as Rodriguez did his score for free. The music would add a lot to what Tarantino wanted as it revealed the many different worlds the Bride would encounter.
When the film was finished with a running time exceeding more than four hours, Miramax was worried about how to handle the release as they didn’t want the film to flop financially. With anticipation running high as fans waited to see the new Tarantino film, Tarantino would make a decision that not everyone was happy about. The decision was to split the film into two parts as Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 as it would make audiences pay twice to see both parts. The first part came out in October of 2003 where it did well in the box office while also receiving some excellent reviews. The second part was released in April of 2004 where it’s box office was also great while the reviews were more positive than the first film.
The Kill Bill films put Tarantino back in the world of films as it showcased the range that he could bring as some including Tarantino himself are hoping for a full-length release of the two films as one. With Uma Thurman receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama for the second film, it proved that Tarantino hadn’t lost his touch. It also indicated that people will have to wait for a new Tarantino film as the director took another break.
Sin City/CSI-Grave Danger
The success of the Kill Bill films gave Tarantino the chance to lay low for a while as he would continue to work on his screenplay for Inglourious Basterds. It was around the time Tarantino took a step back to produce a few films that included Eli Roth’s horror film Hostel where Tarantino would befriend the director. Another project Tarantino took part of was an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series called Sin City that was being co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
The project was to be shot in high-definition digital in a digital backlot in Rodriguez’s home studio in Austin, Texas. Tarantino was invited to the set as he decided to return a favor to Rodriguez by directing a scene in the segment for The Big Fat Kill. It would be the car scene where Clive Owen’s Dwight is driving in the rain with a dead Jackie Boy, played by Benicio del Toro, as Jackie Boy would try to haunt Clive. Tarantino would get a special guest credit as he and Rodriguez were not members of the Director’s Guild of America due to various restrictions as the project would become a big hit when it was released in the spring of 2005.
Another small project Tarantino embarked on was directing a two-part season finale for the crime drama CSI: Crime Investigation Service for the episode called Grave Danger. A fan of the show, Tarantino offered a story concept that involved the character Nick Stokes (George Eads) being abducted as he later finds himself inside a glass coffin buried alive. The CSI team try to recover him where they have 12 hours to find him only for complications to come in due to the man they’re facing and what he does afterwards that creates bigger obstacles for the CSI team. The episode features some of Tarantino’s trademarks such as the buried alive premise that was from the second part of Kill Bill along with his unique approach to music and some dark humor in a fantasy scene involving the characters of Al Robbins (Robert David Hall) and “Super“ David Phillips (David Berman) in a strange autopsy scene.
When the two-part episode aired in May of 2005, it was a huge hit in the ratings as it also gave Tarantino his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Direction for a Drama Series. The episode was also dedicated to Frank Gorshin who had died a few days before the episode aired as he and Tony Curtis made a cameo appearances as buddies for the Sam Braun (Scott Wilson).
Grindhouse: Death Proof
While still doing work on the script for Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino decided to get involved in another collaboration with Robert Rodriguez as a stop-gap project of sorts for Tarantino. Due to their love for the grindhouse pictures of the 1970s, Tarantino and Rodriguez decided to collaborate on creating a project that would be a tribute to those movies. Rodriguez for years had an idea for a project that relates to the genre as Tarantino would work on something of his own as they would create a film that would essentially be a double-feature that is filled with various genres along with fake trailers to recreate the grindhouse experience in a project simply called Grindhouse.
With contributions from filmmakers Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, Jason Eisner, and Eli Roth contributing fake trailers as well as one from Rodriguez, the Grindhouse project began to take shape as Tarantino and Rodriguez would each create their own features. For Rodriguez, it would be in the form of a zombie thriller inspired by the works of John Carpenter called Planet Terror that would feature Tarantino in a cameo role as an infected soldier while also helping Rodriguez on the set to help direct actors. With a very diverse cast of actors set for Planet Terror, Tarantino would utilize some of them like Rodriguez’s nieces in Electra and Elisa Avellan along with Michael Parks in the role of Earl McGraw, Marley Shelton as McGraw’s estranged daughter Dr. Dakota Block, and Rose McGowan playing a different role in a woman named Pam for his feature called Death Proof.
Death Proof would be a tribute to the slashers and car-based films of the 1970s as it revolved around a former Hollywood stuntman who kills women in his Death Proof car as he would target another group of women only to get himself into some serious trouble. The casting would have Tarantino basing the film largely on women as it would include Vanessa Ferlito, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Jordan Ladd, Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell who was Uma Thurman’s stuntwoman in the Kill Bill movies. For the role of the antagonist Stuntman Mike, Tarantino received the services of Kurt Russell in the diabolical road.
With both films set in Austin, Texas, Tarantino served as his own cinematographer for the film as he also wanted to maintain an air of realism for the project by avoiding the use of CGI and other modern-day visual effects. Notably in the dangerous stunts involving cars as Tarantino wanted to create an air of terror in the car crashes including the sequence where Stuntman Mike tries to terrorize a group of women who were trying to perform a big stunt. Tarantino also wanted to capture the vibe of the party scene in Austin as he had the first act revolve around a party to showcase what goes on there.
For the film’s soundtrack, Tarantino devised a very diverse soundtrack inspired by 60s garage rock, 70s glam, various score music from other films, and 60s pop music. A lot of it is to create something that is part of the cool world of Austin, Texas as well as an ode to the music that Tarantino loved in the movies from that era. While the production was commencing on both films, Tarantino also directed an audition tape for Josh Brolin, who was starring in Planet Terror, for a role in the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Though the Coen Brothers liked the tape, they didn’t give Brolin the part initially as it would help bring luster to Brolin’s career as he did finally got a major part in the Coen Brothers film.
After some serious cutting that nearly went into the NC-17 route, Tarantino and Rodriguez finally were able to release Grindhouse in April of 2007 in the U.S. to a large degree of anticipation. Despite some excellent reviews as well as lots of fanfare from both fans of Tarantino and Rodriguez, the film was a major commercial failure. The $53 million budgeted film caused lots of problems as the film only made $25 million in the U.S. forcing Harvey Weinstein to split the film as two different features for its international release. Tarantino would premiere an extended version of Death Proof at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to a great reception as both films were hits on DVD while Grindhouse was finally released in Blu-Ray in 2010.
In the aftermath of Grindhouse, Tarantino returned to continue work on his World War II film Inglourious Basterds that was inspired by many of the World War II ensemble pictures like The Dirty Dozens and Guns of Navarone. The project had been in the works for many years as Tarantino struggled to come up with ideas including an ending for this story that would be essentially a fictionalized take on World War II. Notably as it revolved around two major storylines involving a group of American soldiers going after Nazis and a Jewish-Frenchwoman seeking revenge for the colonel that killed her family. The title was inspired by the 1978 Enzo G. Castellari’s World War II film The Inglorious Bastards.
Tarantino also wanted to do something that was very different from other World War II films as he didn’t want to go for anything that would rely itself on historical facts but also didn’t want to take many dramatic liberties since this was a fictionalized film set in World War II. The film would also feature many references to other genres but also be a tribute of sorts to the propaganda films that were made during World War II. After a decade of writing the screenplay, Tarantino was finally able to get the chance to make his dream film as production was finally underway in 2008.
For the casting, Tarantino wanted to go for an array of high-profiled actors but some were unavailable at the time. While Tarantino was able to get regulars Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel doing voice-over work, Brad Pitt was cast in the lead role of Lt. Aldo Raines while Tarantino had a difficult time trying to find someone to play the lead antagonist Colonel Hans Landa. The part was finally given to an unknown Austrian TV actor named Christoph Waltz as he would prove to be a major discovery for Tarantino. Another discovery Tarantino for the role of the vengeful Shoshanna Dreyfus was French actress Melanie Laurent who was well-known in her native France. The casting would also include parts for Diane Krueger, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Bruhl, and Til Schweiger along with appearances from Mike Myers, Rod Taylor, Bo Svenson, Julie Dreyfus, and B.J. Novak in small roles.
Production commenced in the fall of 2008 as Tarantino shot the film in France and Germany with cinematographer Robert Richardson at the helm along with regular collaborators in production designer David Wasco, set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, editor Sally Menke, and sound editor Wylie Stateman who had been a regular of Tarantino’s since the Kill Bill films. Tarantino would also make scenes in a German studio while inviting famed German filmmaker Tom Tykwer to write translations for dialogue set in German. The production was to be very quick as Tarantino had hopes to premiere the film at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
The post-production period proved to be difficult as the Cannes Film Festival deadline proved to be closer forcing Tarantino to cut out small parts from Maggie Cheung and Cloris Leachman from the final cut of the film. Tarantino also wanted Ennio Morricone to score the film but Morricone was unable to due to the sped-up production though Morricone did offer Tarantino permission to use other score pieces that Morricone did in other films. The soundtrack would be just as anachronistic as everything Tarantino would do as he would infuse score music that Morricone did from films like The Battle of Algiers, The Big Gundown, and Revolver along with some R&B music, other score music from Spaghetti westerns, and a cut from David Bowie.
The film made its premiere at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival to a large degree of anticipation where the film was well-received and won Christoph Waltz the festival’s Best Actor prize. Tarantino would later do some trimming for the film’s official release in the summer of that year where it would receive rave reviews as well as being a major commercial success for Tarantino. The film would also garner eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director for Tarantino while Christoph Waltz won the Best Supporting Actor prize. Though the film was a highlight of Tarantino’s career, it would sadly mark the last time Tarantino would work with editor Sally Menke who died in September of 2010 due to heat exhaustion while hiking in Los Angeles as Tarantino called her his greatest collaborator.
The next project Tarantino would release set for December 2012 would be in the form of a western that he had been working on for several years called Django Unchained. The film would revolve around a bounty hunter who frees a slave named Django as they team up to go after a gang of ruthless killers and later retrieve Django’s wife from a ruthless owner. The film is inspired by Tarantino’s love for the Spaghetti westerns of the 1960s that featured the works of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci as the latter had made a legendary Spaghetti western called Django that starred Franco Nero in the title role.
With Nero set to make a cameo, the film stars Jamie Foxx as Django while the film will also feature Tarantino regulars Christoph Waltz as the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz and Samuel L. Jackson as a butler. Playing the film’s antagonist in plantation owner Calvin Candie is Leonardo DiCaprio while filling out the ensemble will be Kerry Washington, Jonah Hill, Tom Savini, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine, and Don Johnson. The film would also include collaborators like cinematographer Robert Richardson while handling the editing will be Tarantino’s longtime assistant editor Fred Raskin. The soundtrack is slated to feature all sorts of music ranging from contributions by Ennio Morricone to the soul music of James Brown as the film is expected to arrive in Christmas 2012.
It’s been 20 years since the release of Reservoir Dogs yet Quentin Tarantino has created a legacy that definitely lives up to the greats in the world of cinema. Through his love for films, Tarantino creates the kind of movies that he wants to see and give audiences some thing that he can share with his love for films. The films that Tarantino has made definitely showcase something that feels vital and exciting as he provides the kind of film going experience that Hollywood doesn’t often bring. Whether it’s through some witty dialogue, cool music, graphic violence, and captivating characters. Quentin Tarantino always give the people not just their money’s worth but also something that will make audiences wait for whatever he does next.
© thevoid99 2012