Over the course of his career, Quentin Tarantino has more than left his mark. His eight feature films spanning twenty-four years have left a trail of blood, profanity and style as far as the eye can see, permanently changing the landscape of modern cinema. With the recent announcement of his retirement, here’s a look back on what made Tarantino’s films so great.
Aristotle claimed that art is imitation. Tarantino’s films certainly seem to support this idea.
Take Kill Bill (Volume 1: 2003, Volume 2: 2004). It follows ‘The Bride’ (Thurman) as she seeks revenge on Bill (Carradine) and the members of his ‘Deadly Vipers’ after they shoot her and leave her for dead on her wedding day.
Both films hugely borrow from various cinematic traditions: the cheap action of grindhouse cinema, the idea of revenge common in spaghetti westerns, the over-the-top and heavily choreographed fighting from early martial arts films. Even the yellow tracksuit The Bride wears resembles Bruce Lee’s in The Game of Death (1978).
This common theme of imitation and homage isn’t specific to Kill Bill. Django Unchained (2012) draws heavily on the tradition of spaghetti westerns. In particular, he was inspired by the Italian film Django (1966), hence the title.
Jackie Brown (1997) fits within the tradition of blaxploitation films, such as Foxy Brown (1974) and Shaft (1971). It even stars Pam Grier, the lead in several Blaxploitation films from the 70s.
Likely Tarantino’s Best known film, Pulp Fiction (1994) borrows from the traditions established by trashy pulp magazines popular in 1950s and 60s America. It puts heavy focus on seemingly meaningless conversations, not being afraid to dedicate 5 minutes of screen time to a conversation about milkshakes or foot rubs. This style of dialogue was also utilised heavily by the French New Wave directors, particularly Godard.
However, it would be doing Tarantino a massive disservice to claim that his films are simply homages. What makes his films so magical is the way in which he utilizes these traditions for his own purposes.
Tarantino’s inspiration often seem to come from traditions that are held as being, for want of a better word, trashy. The grindhouse films, the pulp magazines, the cheaply made westerns – these were cheaply and quickly produced to get a kick out of their audiences. Little thought was given to artistic integrity, with profit being the primary goal.
Tarantino’s films, however, are held as high art. His debut Reservoir Dogs (1992) tops Empire’s list of the greatest independent films of all time, while Pulp Fiction ranks highly on numerous greatest films lists.
Tarantino elevates his films beyond the traditions they’re routed in by adding more artistic, experimental elements. Many of his films including Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown and his most recent The Hateful Eight (2015), make use of non-linear narratives.
The Hateful Eight uses this non-linear style to keep the audience in the loop, while keeping other characters out of it. Oftentimes the audience is more informed than many of the central characters, creating a sense of dramatic irony and a constant anticipation of conflict.
The Hateful Eight is also perhaps Tarantino’s most visually beautiful film. It was filmed on 70mm Ultra Panavision film allowing Tarantino to capture massively wide sweeping shots of the snowy mountain range in which the film is set. The endless white of the snowy terrain and the (near) endless red of the blood create a beautiful contrast between the gruesome and the beautiful.
Striking visuals such as these are commonplace in Tarantino films. A combination of retro fashion, bright colours and blood-pack gore crop up in all eight of his films. Even Death Proof (2007), a film which Tarantino himself admits is his worst, is undeniably visually sleek.
But what is it exactly that Tarantino is trying to achieve in these films? If these cinematic tropes are being used to communicate some message or another, what exactly Tarantino’s end-goal is must be analysed.
It seems that Tarantino’s films are made to be just that – films. It is cinema for cinema’s sake. Even Inglorious Basterds (2009), a film centred around a band of Jewish-Americans in Nazi Germany, manages this. If any other director made a film with the same subject matter, it would feel like a war film. Under Tarantino, it feels like a Tarantino film. The fact that style comes to the forefront ahead of subject matter doesn’t detract from the artistic merit of Tarantino’s work at all; style is his ultimate goal, his purpose for filmic creation, and he is a master at achieving it.
Some directors make films to comment on society. Some make films to raise questions about human nature. But when you watch a Tarantino, it is a film made for the love of film.
Always gripping, stylish and visually remarkable, Tarantino’s filmography will stand the test of time.