Friday, November 13, 2015
Growing Up with Quentin Tarantino
For anyone that has followed film, there is always a certain filmmaker that people will follow and when a new film from that filmmaker comes out. It’s more than just a premiere but an event. For those who were part of the post-war era of the 20th Century, a new film from Stanley Kubrick must’ve been a must-see as it came in a certain period for someone in that time. For anyone who was a kid or a teenager in the 1990s, who was the filmmaker that everyone wanted to see? It was Quentin Tarantino as like Kubrick, he takes his time making his films as they become events once they’re released. Unlike the late and reclusive Kubrick, Tarantino is someone who is always unabashed in his love for cinema and always share it with fans and film buffs.
For myself, Quentin Tarantino is someone who was instrumental in my upbringing not just as a person but also in the way I viewed films. I was 11 when Reservoir Dogs came out but I never saw it until a few years later. In many ways, my film life can be sum up into two different periods. Before and after Reservoir Dogs. Before that film as I come from a somewhat sheltered existence since my parents are Catholic and didn’t like the idea of having me to watch certain films or listen to certain things. At the same time, there weren’t a lot of daring movies out there as the films my parents and my younger sisters went to see were family films because those were the only films that I was able to see with them. Yet, there were a few things that were R rated that I was able to see which were comedies that starred Robin Williams, Chevy Chase, and Eddie Murphy as I grew up watching them in the 1980s.
I first heard about the film when I was in 7th grade where by that time, I was 13 and listening to music that my parents didn’t like at all such as Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails as the latter would become my band. It was also around this time that I began to become very unenthused about the films I was seeing around that time as the movies I was watching were awful family films like Blank Check and North. Yes, I saw fucking North in the theaters as it was one of the films that I could see with my sister and I thought it was shit when I saw it and it is still one of the worst viewing experiences I had ever had. By that time, I was starting to grow out of those films and was looking for something that didn’t star Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Late at night, I would stay up and watch something to see if it was interesting as among them were these softcore porn films.
Now as a 13 year old kid, it was exciting to see films with these women with gorgeous bodies. Shannon Tweed, Shannon Whirry, Rochelle Swanson, and the films that were directed by Andy Sidaris that featured Playboy Playmates. What a time it was as they didn’t just feature beautiful women but actually had some decent stories and it looked good despite the minimal budgets they had. The B-movies that were out at the time were quite interesting as some of them were martial arts films and some were just these cop films. Some of them showed boobs which is why anyone would stay up late in those times. Still, it wasn’t enough as I keep hearing about Pulp Fiction as I wanted to see it but my parents were like “no way”. I don’t know when I first saw Reservoir Dogs or how I heard about it other than it was by Quentin Tarantino until I went to the local video store which was a block from where I live (which is now as Little Caesar’s and a cell-phone store). What I do remember is that VHS cover where I was like “what is this?” I had no idea what this was and I somehow managed to rent the film and then… boom.
I saw it by myself and it was like a fucking atom bomb. I had seen some violent films which were mostly action movies and some B-movies but nothing like this. I was struck by not just the way it was film but also the narrative as it didn’t have this traditional beginning-middle-end structure that I had often seen in films. Another revelation about this film was the fact that all of the guys in the film were fucking cool and could say some shit and back it up. Sure Mr. Blonde was a sadistic, psychotic fuck but he was cool as hell as I was in awe of seeing this guy dancing and singing along to Stuck In the Middle With You with a razorblade and cutting this guy’s ear off. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life and I was also struck by the fact that there weren’t anything defined about these characters.
The fact that the villains in the film weren’t really villains and that there weren’t any good guys was a big revelation as this film broke the doors down about who I could root for and who could I not. The same thing that would happen to me in the way I sort of viewed professional wrestling at the time where it was in the mid-90s before WCW was going to present WCW Monday Nitro and the arrival of the nWo. In the fall of 1995 where I was a freshman in high school at 14 years old and with very little friends. Whatever friends I did have were fans of that film and we all wanted to play certain characters in that film. I think everybody wanted to be Mr. Pink because he talked a lot of shit and such while there were days we wanted to be Mr. White or Mr. Blonde.
I don’t remember when I first saw Pulp Fiction but I think it was when I was in high school and it was on TV as it was just fucking awesome. By that time, I had known more about films as the films I was more interested in seeing were the stuff that Quentin was doing as well as the movies that Robert Rodriguez were making. Still, I was seeing the comedies that were out at the time that starred Chris Farley but I was also forced to see those awful Brady Bunch movies. Seeing Pulp Fiction on TV was just as life-changing as anything else that I had with Reservoir Dogs though I still thought Reservoir Dogs was the better film. Yet, I was amazed by not just the narrative but also in how many characters they were and how cool they are.
If you were in high school and had seen that film, I’m sure everyone had a favorite character. Some wanted to be Vincent Vega. Some wanted to be Jules. Some wanted to be Mia, Butch, or Marsellus. The one I was into was the Wolf. As small as Harvey Keitel’s appearance was, his performance was the best thing in that film as I related to the character in how organized he is and how precise he wants things to be. One of the things I definitely acquired from my mother is the fact that I like to have things organized and ready. Plus, I just love those little moments as for anyone that is reading Alex Withrow’s list about the list will understand why people love it so much.
There was a lot in the film that was surprising and made me realize that this wasn’t anything Steven Spielberg nor Robert Zemeckis were doing. From the moment Vincent put that adrenaline needle on Mia’s heart to the moments of violence. It was a world that was shocking yet the moment that made me scream “what the fuck?!!!” was the gimp and Zed fucking Marsellus right up his ass. That was new and I had never seen anything like that. It took me aback but still, it didn’t deter how different the film was and why it was such an impact to me as a teenager.
It was during this period in 1995 and 1996 where it was just my view of film was expanding but also my tastes in music where I was heavily into Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, and anything that was heavy rock. Due to my love for NIN where I had bought anything that featured them including the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers is where I learned that Tarantino came up with the story for that film as I would see that and True Romance which he wrote as it was a good time for films back then. I would also watch an episode of ER because I read it was directed by Quentin Tarantino and it was a good episode even though I wasn’t into the show at all.
Yet, for anyone that was listening to alternative music at the time and were into what was perceived as American independent cinema would notice that there were certain things happening. For every band that sounded like Nirvana, there was Bush and Silverchair. For every band that sounded like Nine Inch Nails, there were Stabbing Westward and Gravity Kills. It was the same thing in films were Hollywood was cashing in on what Tarantino was doing. While there were some good films like 2 Days in the Valley that sort of was Tarantino-esque at the time. There were also some mediocre films like Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and Truth or Consequences, NM as it was strange seeing everyone try to be cool and having a Mexican standoff in some scenes. Another thing that I would say sort of got me tuned out of Tarantino’s world was the fact that he was in a lot of films.
While I didn’t mind him acting in his own work or in Robert Rodriguez’s films, seeing him in crap like Destiny Turns on the Radio as it became parody. While I appreciated for opening the doors of what film could be. I was ready to move on as I would see other things during that time. By the time Jackie Brown was going to come out, I wasn’t sure about seeing it as I ended up going to see Titanic like everyone else did. The people who I thought were my friends in school that had loved Tarantino didn’t see Jackie Brown either as I wondered why. I think it was because either everyone got burned out by him or it was the fact that it was something different.
I guess I could say it was either 1998/1999 or 2000 where I first saw the film on TV. By that time, my view on films where of two different spectrums as there were the comedies that were out at the time like the South Park movie and American Pie but also the films that were coming out by Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, and Alexander Payne. I’m not sure what channel I first saw Jackie Brown but my initial viewing was warm but it didn’t have the same effect as it did with Tarantino’s other work. I liked the performances and the story as well as how restrained it is. Yet, I was aghast by how different it was and the lack of really graphic violence where it was baffling though I understood exactly what Tarantino was doing considering that everyone else was ripping him off at the time.
It didn’t grasp on me until years later as this is why re-watches of films are important. This is a film that definitely not only got better every time I would see it but it would be the film that stayed with me for a very long time as it’s currently my second favorite film by Tarantino. It’s got moments that are just astonishing such as the scene where Max Cherry is to pick up Jackie as he sees her for the very first time and instantly falls in love with her to the music of Bloodstone’s Natural High. It’s a moment where it is clear that Tarantino is creating something as a filmmaker where he is allowing himself to take some new steps into what he wanted to say as a storyteller. I think one of the detriments to his career is that because this film didn’t do as well as others. I think it forced him to stick with what works in terms of what audiences wanted but it did prove that there is more to him than gratuitous violence and such though his subsequent films do prove that he still doesn’t play it safe.
By 2002/2003 where I was starting to become more immersed in cinema and go to art house theaters for the very first time. It was also around the time where I was developing myself as a critic writing music and film reviews for Epinions.com at the time when it was a viable community. I was more into music than film at the time though the films I was discovering at that time were different. As for Tarantino, I had kind of moved on from his work at that point and was discovering other things including what would become my all-time favorite film in Lost in Translation. It was around that time that I heard that Tarantino was returning with Kill Bill but I was disheartened to learn that the first part would come out in the fall and the second part would come out in spring of 2004. I speculated that something forced him to split the films into two parts as I wasn’t sure about seeing it.
Yet, I would hear initially mixed reviews about the first film until it came on TV through Starz in 2004 where I was gripped by it as it made me fall in love with him all over again. Not just because it was insane but it had this intriguing story of revenge where Tarantino wanted to say something that he’s not done. It wasn’t just the craziness of the violence that I found enthralling but also the way it looked as I think Tarantino hit pay dirt in getting Robert Richardson as his cinematographer where the scenes at the restaurant O-Ren Ishii and her Crazy 88 yakuza would battle the Bride. It’s among one of the most stylish and violent sequences that I had ever scene but it also had an air of beauty that would climax with the eventual showdown between the Bride and O-Ren outside of the restaurant. I was just enraptured by not just the look and the beauty but also the sense of patience Tarantino had in creating the showdown where it is clear that he too has evolved.
By the time the second film came into television, it was something far more different as it showed not just Tarantino’s maturity but also in how much he’s evolved as a filmmaker while showing that he had a love for the western. It served as a reminder of his gift as a screenwriter in how he would play with narrative but also have this amazing payoff for the film’s climax. Notably as it showed that Tarantino still had some tricks up his sleeve while his approach to choosing music in film was becoming more diverse. Not just in his usage of music but also in the film scores he would bring in from other films. If it wasn’t for these two films, I probably wouldn’t had the chance to explore genres such as the westerns and samurai movies where it’s among the reasons why Quentin Tarantino is so lauded.
Through him not just his work but also in interviews and appearances in documentaries such as Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, it showed that there is an entire world of films that is beyond not just genres and countries but so much more. Through him, I learned more about the French New Wave, the films of Sergio Leone, the Korean New Wave beginning with Chan-wook Park’s Vengeance trilogy, and the samurai movies of Akira Kurosawa.
Grindhouse: Death Proof
In the years between Kill Bill and Death Proof, I would say that I had cultivated a massive taste for films as it was clear that even though Tarantino was among a group of filmmakers that I love. There was still a lot to explore as I spent I think 2005 and 2006 not just exploring music but seeing all kinds of different films. Yet, there was still that void into the fact that because I was so young when his films had come out that I never got to see them in the theaters but I knew that I had to wait. Even as I read that his next film was to be Inglourious Basterds and it was going to take a while but I realized that good things will come for those who wait. When I heard about Grindhouse and what Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez wanted to do. I was totally on board.
I like zombie movies and I like movies about cars so what kind of fool would I be to not see this? I knew it might not be anything as good as some of Tarantino’s other work as I figured it would be just a stop-gap release of sorts while the fans wait for Inglourious Basterds. It was April 9, 2007 at an afternoon screening at my local multiplex where I would see the film as I knew it was going to be different. The screening wasn’t a total sell out as I think about half or less were at the room where I was in seeing the film and after Planet Terror, I think half of the audience had left probably unaware that there was another film coming. It definitely indicated exactly how aware I was as a filmgoer but also the growing disconnect between the audience and films as it was clear that the Grindhouse did flop unfortunately that year succumbing to such awful films like Wild Hogs.
By the time Death Proof was on, it was a wild ride as the small audience including myself that were seeing it were obviously having a good time. Even as there were some squeamish groans during the car crashes and all of that as it was very brutal to watch. By the time the film went into its second half where Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike character decided to stalk Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, and Tracie Thoms who were doing their own things. What happened was that he fucked with the wrong bitches as it was one of those most exciting moments where it was filled with laughter and cheers. I will never forget the look in my face when I saw Mike finally get what was coming to him as he screamed like a bitch. The scene where he gets his ass kicked had the audience go “oh, ah” and then the final coup-de-grace as myself and everyone cheered and went “yeah, fuck yeah”. There were claps and cheers once the credits rolled as it is still one of the best experiences I ever had watching a film as I went home and bought the biggest, greasiest burger I could get. It may not have been a Kahuna burger but it will do.
Two years would pass by as my love for cinema grew bigger than it already had been where I had become a devotee to Tarantino’s work by that point. While I also devoted myself to filmmakers like Sofia Coppola, Lars von Trier, Wes Anderson, and Terrence Malick. I also had the chance to experience other things in film as early 2009 saw me experience my first roadshow theatrical viewing in Steven Soderbergh’s Che which would also become one of those great film viewing experiences. If you were a fan of cinema, it was obvious you were following any news of what was happening as I too was waiting for the screening of Inglourious Basterds at Cannes in 2009. Despite the fact that I was on shitty dial-up connection and with a computer that was on the fritz for some of the time. I was eager to see what was going to happen as I followed all of the coverage of what was happening at Cannes.
For much of that summer, I spent time just watching films and writing about them as I waited for the day for the film to arrive as I was hoping for something good to happen. Even as I waiting to see the fuss about this guy I had never heard of Christoph Waltz as he had won an award at Cannes for the film. I would finally see the film on August 23, 2009 at a morning screening because it’s cheaper to see it in the morning. I wasn’t sure what to expect but then again, I didn’t have any high expectations as I go to every film with low to zero expectations. It was really unlike anything and it fulfilled everything I wanted it to be and more. Plus, it was funny and it had amazing action. Moments that made the audience want to cheer and just let it be gory and nuts without any kind of compromise.
One of the things about Tarantino that I think he should be lauded for is casting as he always had great casting directors to help as credit should go to Simone Bar, Olivier Carbone, Jenny Jue, and Johanna Ray for not just assembling the cast but also make some big discoveries for the film. It wasn’t just Christoph Waltz that stood out for me as Hans Landa but it was the film where I really took notice of some other European talent in the film such as Melanie Laurent as Shoshanna as I thought she got overlooked in awards season. I also noticed Lea Seydoux for the very first time in that opening scene as one of the daughters as I was like “who is that gorgeous young thing?” It was also the film where I took notice of Michael Fassbender as I did see him before in 300 but didn’t exactly remember who he played in that film but I was impressed.
In what was kind of a whirlwind summer where I saw a lot of films, it was definitely the icing of the cake for me though it would also start the beginning of an end of an era for me. One of which saw me starting to realize that I was growing more and more as a writer but not having the platform to grow even more which was one of the reasons why I left Epinions.com. I felt constrained and unappreciated for my efforts as I also noticed that my paychecks were arriving late and it just the first in a series of things that made me leave for good in July 2010.
Years have passed where I went on my own as a blogger full-time and began to grow even more where I discovered a lot of other filmmakers and such where the timing of Django Unchained couldn’t have come at a better point in my life. Especially as the Auteurs series was becoming a regular thing I was doing as the timing of it couldn’t have been anymore perfect as I was anxious for not just a new film by Tarantino. It was in the fact that it was going to be a western directed by Tarantino which to me is $$$$$$$$$$$$$.
I also noticed that it was 20 years since the release of Reservoir Dogs which sort of gave me the chance to not just revisit the films that Tarantino was involved in but also the chance to see things that he was involved in that I hadn’t seen. All in anticipation for a film that I was very excited to see as that was the Xmas present for me. So it was Xmas day 2012 in the morning as I was able to get a ticket before the screening sold out as it was full crowd. Everyone was anxious to see something that was bloody and exciting as it was largely an African-American crowd as many of them were Tarantino fans. The film starts as I’m sitting at second-third row in front of the theater as it was going to great where everyone was having a good time. There wasn’t any texting or anything that was happening.
I was just into everything while I was amazed at some of the drama including the scene where Leonardo diCaprio’s Calvin Candie does this monologue while his hand was bleeding. Two hours had gone by and then during this very big moment, the screen suddenly went blank and I was like “what the fuck?” Then I realized that the projector crashed and everyone got pissed off. It led to what was definitely one of the worst experiences I had in watching films where myself and everyone had to wait 20 to 25 minutes for the projector to be rebooted and we had to tell whoever was running the project to fast-forward to the scene that we were on and such. It ruined what could’ve been a great film experience and it still stings. This is why I favor film over digital projection as you know with film that there is someone there that is watching over everything at least. With a digital project, you just push a button and that is it. I’m still not over it.
The Hateful Eight
Having been through all sorts of experiences with Tarantino in the course of over twenty years, there is always some kind of anticipation for anything he is doing as a filmmaker. Of course, going to a Tarantino film is an event and you always wonder what he will to make it an event. For this film, the fact that he shot it in 70mm and present in 70mm which is a format that isn’t seen very often in the age of digital vs. 35mm film. For me, this is one in several things in my bucket list as I really hope to see this film in 70mm.
These are the reasons why I think Quentin Tarantino is among one of the best filmmakers working today and why he fills that void that a generation of filmgoers needed in the age of bloated blockbusters and teen-based movies. He knows that making great films takes a lot of time and he usually delivers where it becomes more than just seeing a film but to make it something special. Another thing about Tarantino that makes him so great is that he’s just like all of us film buffs as he loves film and will tell you what film he likes and what film he doesn’t as he is so passionate about it. In many ways, he is the guy every film buff wants to hang out and then take you to a see a film and then discuss it. What more could you ask from a filmmaker and that is why Quentin Tarantino is the man.
Quentin Tarantino Films: Reservoir Dogs - Pulp Fiction - Four Rooms-The Man from Hollywood - Jackie Brown - Kill Bill - Grindhouse: Death Proof - Inglourious Basterds - Django Unchained - The Hateful Eight - The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino
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