“This movie (Reservoir Dogs) was never meant to be everything for everybody. And I don’t mean that as a slam. I’m just saying I made this movie for myself and everybody else is invited.” – Quentin Tarantino
The Pulp Fiction poster is displayed proudly on my office wall beside my signed Samuel L. Jackson photo of Jules and Vincent. iTunes tells me I’ve listened to Pulp and Death Proof more than any other soundtrack, and most pop albums at that.
QT so informed my young, exploding creative brain that when I first became a film critic, his hard-edged ultra-stylized sensibilities made it tougher to take more commercial-minded studio movies seriously. His adaptation of Jackie Brown led me to Elmore Leonard, who quickly became my favorite author. And I still get that kick of adrenaline when I watch any parts of True Romance or Reservoir Dogs.
I’ve grown up. My tastes evolved. Tarantino still gets a pass with me the way certain ex-girlfriends can always get me to answer the phone when they call out of the blue.
And there’s just no nice way of saying it.
His latest opus, The Hateful Eight was a flop.
He has tasted failure before. His Grindhouse double feature with Robert Rodriguez assumed audiences would simply love getting to see two movies for the price of one.
It seemed like a nice gimme after charging us twice to see Kill Bill. Fun fact: anytime you see a Hunger Games or Divergent sequel arrive in two parts, we have Tarantino to thank for that.
After the failure of Grindhouse, and in particular his half, Death Proof, Tarantino ripped up the formula and delivered Inglourious Basterds, a movie that became his biggest international hit at the time and somehow inexplicably reflected the auteur’s unique style as well as telling a taut WWII period piece. Okay, so he dropped Bowie’s 1983 hit “Cat People” into a crucial scene, but can you blame him?
“Some people will like Inglourious Basterds. Some people won’t. But it was made with all the passion I’ve made everything with – except maybe my first film, which was probably made with more passion than I’ll ever have again.” – Quentin Tarantino
Important moment in QT history: his longtime editor and collaborator Sally Menke died unexpectedly from heat exposure in 2010. Menke had edited all of his films and was probably able to nudge him away from the all-important line.
On this side, a bold directorial choice … on that side, total self-indulgence.
That long take in Jackie Brown of some sinister shit going down set to “Strawberry Letter #23?” Brilliant. That violent montage in Django Unchained set to Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name?” To quote Jules Winfield, it “ain’t the same ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same fuckin’ sport.”
“As far as I’m concerned, digital projection is the end of cinema. The fact that most films aren’t presented in 35 mm means that the world is lost. Digital projection is just television in cinema. I’m very hopeful that future generations will be much smarter than this generation and realize what they lost.” – Quentin Tarantino
I suppose there was something absolutely brilliant and very Tarantino-esque about the way he positioned The Hateful Eight as the movie that would rescue film. His 70MM “roadshow” presentation ran completely counter to a digital-dependent theater industry that’s grown used to pushing a button at showtime.
The 3-hour film would have an overture and an intermission. It would look better than ANYTHING else on the big screen. It would be an event. The pre-release roadshow would certainly create a must-see vibe for the film, right?
The roadshow had its share of issues because nobody is trained to be a projectionist anymore. But even after pushing the 2500+ digital screen national release up by a week, people still barely showed up. That’s a tough outcome for a movie that came very close to not happening at all.
THE FATEFUL EIGHT
After seven weeks of release, The Hateful Eight has only made $53 million in the states and $131 million worldwide. Granted, it only cost $44 million but let’s be honest here. Hateful runs the length of a football game and mostly takes place in one room, and I don’t care who you are … that’s going to put a few people off. Also for perspective, his two previous films made $321 million and $425 million globally.
When I hear “70MM,” I think epic. The chariot race in Ben-Hur. The grandeur of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the cast of crazies in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. But not an intimate talky (albeit violent) chamber piece. Reservoir Dogs told pretty much the same story but was only 90 minutes long.
No, it wasn’t because Tarantino said unpopular things about police officers and it wasn’t because Star Wars was playing on all the other screens – even though that’s what he might have you believe.
In the end, it’s never a good sign when you hear a LOT more about the film stock than you do the actual movie.
By the way, I liked the film. The score from Ennio Morricone was sensational, and a number of the performances were among the best of the year. Yes, it was gorgeous to look at. It just felt like a first pass that could have benefited from a lot of tightening.
And now, the most notorious thing about it is that unfortunate incident with a 150-year-old guitar.
“My plan is to have a theater in some small town or something and I’ll be manager. I’ll be the crazy old movie guy.” – Quentin Tarantino
ROYALE WITH CHEESE
Quentin Tarantino is a visionary, a goddamn walking encyclopedia of film who looks at cinema differently than any of us mere mortals, and film history is all the more richer for it. He is brazenly confident, which is why no other filmmaker has dared to deliver a finale in which Hitler is killed at a movie premiere.
He also gave us John Travolta as a dancing gangster, and reintroduced us to Pam Grier, David Carradine, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The Gimp. Jack Rabbit Slims. Sam Jackson. Christoph Waltz. All good things. It’s also pretty awesome that all of his films inhabit the same universe.
Side note: Why in the name of all that is holy is Jack Rabbit Slims not a real restaurant?
Having the balls to go over the line doesn’t automatically mean knowing exactly how far to push it.
He’s never going to read this, nor would he care if he did. But this fan who still regards his early filmography as the most influential work of the late century – and who will buy a ticket sight unseen either way – is starting to see that six-year gap between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill as the period in which Tarantino devolved, went full genre, and started believing his own press.
Reservoir Dogs, True Romance (Tarantino wrote the script), Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and even Kill Bill seemed like they were made by someone who LOVED movies. That’s why audiences and critics responded. Tarantino was one of us.
Basterds upped his game as a filmmaker, but the slave revenge opus Django Unchained – despite becoming his biggest hit and winning Tarantino his second screenwriting Oscar – was a clear case of the wheels starting to wobble. It was long, ponderous and odd. Sure, it was packed with great performances and striking visuals, but it was too arty for its blaxploitation genre and too busy rolling around in the mud to elevate the conversation. Although, I do find it amusing that people still pronounce the title “Duh-jango.”
“Novelists have always had complete freedom to pretty much tell their story any way they saw fit. And that’s what I’m trying to do.” – Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is at a very interesting crossroad in his career. He’s already announced his plans to retire from making films after his tenth. Hateful Eight was his eighth. So he’ll do whatever he damn well wants to for two more movies and then move on to directing plays and writing books.
He could very well burn through his last two movies by giving us Kill Bill Volume 3 and this 1930s-set Australian outlaw flick he’s been talking about. He’ll advocate for shooting and distributing on film, but might not find many takers on the distribution end.
I always look forward to a new Tarantino joint, but I fear the halcyon days of Sam Jackson having a crisis of conscience and Big Kahuna Burgers are behind us. Inglourious Basterds is probably the highest he will ever reach for, and that’s too bad. Yes, you can make genre films. Yes, you can push the boundaries of taste, social conversation about race, and even the way we view history. Go for it!
But please, Quentin, remember that there is an audience out here, too.