An Appreciation of…Quentin Tarantino (1963 – present)

The Cinemaholic

I mean what I am about to say – Quentin Tarantino is the reason I watch movies. Quentin Tarantino is the reason I adore and have devoted so much of my life to cinema – quite simply, there is not any figure in all of filmmaking that I respect and revere more than Quentin Tarantino. When I set out to begin this blog about four years ago, I was not sure on what to name it. Having just seen Django Unchained, it occurred to me that there was not any other way to approach the creation of my online cinephile presence than to include Quentin Tarantino in it, in a huge way. Movies Unchained, and myself, owe so much to Tarantino, and while there have been myriads of filmmakers that I absolutely love, Tarantino has been the one that has meant the most to me.

Many people foolishly disregard Tarantino’s films for their profanity, their racist undertones and most popularly, their over-the-top, excessive and utterly extreme violence. This has caused a considerable dismissal of Tarantino’s work from a large part of the population, who fail to see the brilliance that underlies Tarantino and his work. There is not a single moment in any of Tarantino’s films where racism or violence is applauded or celebrated, and much like many filmmakers, Tarantino simply uses these as cinematic tools, in the same way a romantic comedy director would use schmaltz, or an action director would use explosions. Out of all the conversations I have regarding cinema, the most tedious and boring is when I am forced to defend Tarantino to those that dismiss his films as merely exercises in extreme violence, and attempting to make the shallow and inconsiderate understand that below the surface of the violence and profanity, there is a filmmaker that is one of the very best working today, and one of the best of all time, and one benefit of having to constantly explain why Tarantino is so brilliant has allowed myself and many other fans of his to become immune to the bizarre and very shallow ways of those who despise Tarantino. However, please note that I am only talking of those who dismiss his films for being too violent, and those who refuse to see his films because they feel they are pure violence (many of whom only have this opinion of Tarantino through hearing of his films rather than seeing them). If you just legitimately don’t like him, and you find his films uninteresting, or have something else against him, that’s perfectly fine. The problem is that too many people disregard his films for something they aren’t willing to actually look at from a different angle.

Like all great film directors, Tarantino is not only a filmmaker – he has built a brand around his name. Only the best (and often, the worst) directors become a brand all on their own. Spielberg, Scorsese, Fellini, Kurosawa – the list of cinematic geniuses is unending. Many of these filmmakers built up their careers on originality and unique stories and concepts. I mean what I am about to say in the best way possible – Quentin Tarantino has built a brand out of borrowing. That is not to imply that Tarantino is a thief, or someone unable to come up with interesting or unique ideas. Rather, he is a filmmaker that borrows so extensively, from the world of music, television, history and obviously cinema, and blends them seamlessly to create films that are unique and unlike anything ever seen before. Tarantino rather liberally borrows aspects of everything, ranging from mainstream horror, popular westerns and the most obscure foreign films that wouldn’t be known unless he mentioned them in one of his glorious tirades about the film industry. He mixes influences and bends genres, creating freakishly mesmerizing Frankenstein-type films. Each scene in each of his films seem to have at least three influences apiece. That is part of of the allure of Tarantino – he isn’t afraid to pay homage to the masters, those who provided entertainment to him, and through his own unique visual style, he creates such entertaining films.

Perhaps the most endearing thing about Tarantino is that he isn’t an elitist filmmaker – he doesn’t believe himself to be this unique and special artist, but rather he is just like us – a committed, dedicated and film-crazy cinephile that enjoys watching films just as much as he enjoys making them. He is just a huge film nerd, and he represents the film-geek in all of us that actually rose up to the opportunity and became what we all dream of becoming. This is evident in all of his films – Quentin Tarantino enjoys making films. He may only make one every few years, but he clearly has a blast making them, which is refreshing considering how many filmmakers claim to enjoy their work, but harp on about the difficulties in getting a film made – which is most definitely true, but to see someone with status like Tarantino clearly just having the time of his life is really reassuring – he may be a big-shot, acclaimed filmmaker that will certainly go down in history as a brilliant filmmaker, but at heart, Tarantino is just like us – he was that kid watching classic films and being inspired by them. The moment that one realizes that is the exact moment when the brilliance of Tarantino comes out in volumes.

As usual, I want to make a short list of the essential seven films from the honoree’s filmography – but Tarantino has only directed eight films, and each of them are absolutely essential. I will bend the rules a bit (much like Tarantino has done with cinema), and rather list something else. One aspect of Tarantino’s filmmaking that truly stands out is the fact that no one quite uses music quite like him, and his films are just elevated by the fantastic musical moments that are in each one of them. Therefore, I will list the seven greatest uses of music throughout Tarantino’s filmography.

  • “You Never Can Tell” (Pulp Fiction, 1994). Probably the most iconic moment in any Tarantino film. Pulp Fiction if Tarantino’s crowning glory, and the greatest moment in that film comes near the middle, where Vincent Vega (a never better John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (the mesmerizing Uma Thurman) engage in a beautifully choreographed dance scene in a diner. It is iconic, memorable and just the perfect combination of sensual flirtation and cheesy comedy.
  • “Across 110th Street” (Jackie Brown, 1997). Jackie Brown was a flawed, but still very good, film, and Pam Grier was fantastic. The opening scene to the film sees Grier moving along on an airport treadmill, while the catchy and angst-filled blues song plays over the credits. It is hypnotic and sets the tone for the rest of the film, and that opening scene is still the greatest part of the film, simply because of its abundant simplicity.
  • Ennio Morricone’s entire score (The Hateful Eight, 2015). Ennio Morricone and Quentin Tarantino were a match made in heaven. In Tarantino’s most recent film, Morricone scored an entirely new soundtrack, and it shows Maestro’s unique ability to absolutely defy all conventions of film scoring. Tense, beautiful and wonderful, it was tailor made for a Tarantino film, and everything from the bombastic score to the simple ending is unique and wonderful.
  • “Twisted Nerve” (Kill Bill, Vol. 1, 2003). Absolutely haunting and terrifying, and undoubtedly unsettling. Darryl Hannah walking down the corridor of a hospital, whistling this song, remains the most terrifying and disturbing moment in any Tarantino film. Good luck getting the terrifying tune out of your head though – it remains there, for eternity, never to leave, always there to disturb you. That was exactly the intention behind its use, and it does it well.
  • “Stuck in the Middle with You” (Reservoir Dogs, 1992). Another iconic moment in a Tarantino film, and his debut one as well. Michael Madsen puts on his most disturbing and sadistic exterior yet, and does a hilariously terrifying torture-dance, where a cop is badly mutilated. The combination of intense violence with the bouncy and cheesy pop song is genius, and launched Tarantino’s career full-steam ahead, and for good reason.
  • “Cat People” (Inglorious Basterds, 2009). Probably my favorite use of music in any Tarantino film – loud, scary and bombastic, the explosive and maliciously delicious song, juxtaposed with the beautifully photographed scene of espionage is awe-inspiring, and one of the best-directed moments in any Tarantino film. It is loud and terrifying, and just proves how Tarantino uses music to make the audience feel something.
  • “I Got a Name” (Django Unchained, 2012). The most tender use of music in any Tarantino film. It is really out of place in the Tarantino universe, because it is a soft and sweet song that really does fit the nostalgic melancholia of the first part of Django Unchained. It is out of place, but not badly used at all, and the soothing voice of Jim Croce is a strange but fitting aspect to a fantastic film.

So there we have it – my testament to the great and wonderful Quentin Tarantino. I love him as a filmmaker, and I hold him in the highest regard. No matter how much I praise other directors, Quentin will always have a special place in my heart, and I will continue to show up for his films, and will defend his unique methods of filmmaking, because beneath the violent sheen of his films lies some truly extraordinary cinematic flair, and Tarantino is quite simply a god amongst filmmakers, and I adore him, and he deserves the immense acclaim he has accumulated over the years, because if there is a more fascinating filmmaker, I have yet to find him or her.

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