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Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Film Snob Focus: Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino.

The mere mention of his name makes little pee stains in the trousers of casual and obsessive film fans alike.

He's the Prince of Pastiche. The God of Geekery. The D-something of Dialogue.

There's not much you can say about Quentin that hasn't already been said, but whether you love him or hate him, Tarantino's mark on modern cinema is as undeniable as Scorcese's influence on him. Tarantino made a splash with his debut film. When the Hollywood establishment, still coming off a decade of coke-fueled disasters, continued to turn out generic and predictable action flicks, Tarantino thrilled audiences with one of his best, and certainly most original works, "Reservoir Dogs" (I say this with some irony as it's heavily influenced by the Hong Kong thriller "City on Fire"; it's original in the Tarantino sense as it basically borrows from only one movie). Whereas your average late 80's/early 90's thriller pushed for bigger, faster, and easier-to-understand action, "Dogs" is slow and deliberate, like the old wives' tale about throwing a frog in a pot of water before bringing it to a boil. As he would do time and time again throughout his career, he painstakingly doles out information and gently increases the tension to its breaking point, which is as brutal as it is brief.

With "Reservoir Dogs", Tarantino established his most oft used trademarks - extended scenes of dialogue, playing with time, and brutal violence, either explicit or implied [Tarantino shot his famous ear-cutting scene from three total different angles, but decided it was most effective when we didn't see the actual act]. In each successive film, though, Tarantino slowly reveals his passion for pastiche and commentary on movies and movie making.

"Pulp Fiction" takes cues from some obscure sources - the adrenaline needle part is taken from an interview in a documentary Scorcese directed in 1976, "American Boy", the dancing scene with Travolta and Thurman bears distinct similarities to Goddard's "Bande a part", the watch scene was lifted from the "Bubble Boy" episode of "Seinfeld"... the list goes on and on. As his career progressed, Tarantino's film-nerd references became more diverse and obvious, most successfully with "Kill Bill", which pays homage to basically every genre of film since 1895's "Train Pulling Into Station". So far as his commentary is concerned, "Jackie Brown" with its reflections on blaxploitation films of the 70's by turning those conventions on their head with their same star, Pam Grier, is his most successful and challenging work.

Perhaps the best tribute to Tarantino's legacy is how his work has affected films of the last two decades. It's said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and since his rise to prominence in the mid-90's, you can't seem to get away from seemingly (or actually) pointless dialogue, intense violence, dark humor, genre bending, and film references. Of course, Tarantino was far from the first to use any of these techniques, but his flair and distinct touch with each is undeniable.

Love him, hate him: most refined movie goers feel a little bit of both for the most original, and plagiarising, director in Hollywood.

BASIC TARANTINO: "Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction", "Kill Bill", "Inglourious Basterds"

INTERMEDIATE TARANTINO: "Death Proof", "True Romance" (written by)

ADVANCED TARANTINO: "Jackie Brown"

"Friday Film Snob Focus", sure to be an immensely popular feature, will focus on a director, actor, or genre of film that will get you thinking the way a film snob does. Depending on your circle of friends, this will either lead to you being the life of the party, or you spending the party alone, angrily sipping your beer and judging the hosts' DVD collection. We're betting on the latter.

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