Quentin Tarantino – A Novel Screenwriter and Pastiche Filmmaker

Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino

Before entering Hollywood, Tarantino was a cinephile, working at a video store as a sales boy and clerk. He used to recommend films to buyers. While he was working at the video store, he met quite a few influential people, and one of those was Lawrence Bender, whom Tarantino met at a Hollywood party and was encouraged to write a screenplay. He wrote “My Best Friend’s Birthday”, prints of which were burned to ashes in an accidental lab fire which happened in the editing room. However, the screenplay of the film made the basis of 1993 film True Romance.

If there is a filmmaker who had got recognition from his very first film and soon went on to become a celebrity artiste, it is Quentin Tarantino. This filthy and foul-mouthed filmmaker entered Hollywood when it was shifting from the modern era of Cinema to the post-modern period. It would not be an overstatement to say that he contributed to the fact. His postmodern sensibilities come to the fore in his earlier films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It became an essential element in all his films. There are some common elements in all his films. The films depict digital violence (which is more often than not glamorized), non-linear structure of screenplay, ensemble cast, pop culture references and a perpetual undercurrent satire.

In his career spanning over 25 years now, Tarantino has filmmaker has made 9 films. He has touched upon different themes and style of filmmaking. It’s inconsequential to rate his films from worst to best. It would rather be interesting to dig into his screenwriting, filmmaking style and know why Tarantino is a pastiche filmmaker.

Here’s the list of films written and directed by Quentin Tarantino –

1. Reservoir Dogs [1992] –

Reservoir Dogs Poster
Reservoir Dogs Poster

Reservoir Dog is a heist film that has influences from films like Hong-Kong filmmaker Ringo Lam’s ‘City on Fire’, and also from John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle in bits and pieces. The film is the story of 6 men who plan to rob a jewelry store, but when the things go terribly haywire, they suspect one of them is an informer of police. Since the identity of all the robbers is unknown to one another, the protagonist’s friend refuses to believe that his friend is a traitor. All hell breaks loose during discord between the gang members and everyone gets virtually killed in a bloody shootout.

The iconic frame of Reservoir Dogs
The iconic frame of Reservoir Dogs

While ‘City on Fire’ tells this story in a linear way, we observe Quentin Tarantino’s affinity towards non-linear structure in this one. Tarantino had mimicked many aspects of ‘City of Fire’ but had tweaked the style of storytelling. His storytelling in this one is rather centripetal. So, Reservoir Dogs looks more like pastiche homage to ‘City on Fire’ rather than blatant plagiarism. The film was remade in Bollywood as Kaante, which according to Tarantino, is the best recreation of his work.

2. Pulp Fiction [1994] –

Pulp Fiction Poster
Pulp Fiction Poster

Pulp Fiction is perhaps the most audacious attempt at filmmaking in the history of cinema. With all due respect to Orson Welles, this film makes even Citizen Kane look a little less in terms of ambition. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino uses convoluted narration technique to tell 4 different stories with 7 narrative sequences with non-linear storytelling. The film is again full of satire. Quentin’s dialogue writing forte is at top level in this crime flick as the dialogue exchange between the main leads in John Travolta’s Vincent Vega and Samuel Jackson’s Jules Winfield is bitter and hilarious at the same time.

Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction
Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction

Quentin Tarantino makes snarky remarks on pop culture like Television shows when Vega retorts TV and despises some brands like Burger King and praises Big Kahuna Burger. It’s something that he often and advertently does in his films for different cultures and brands. The film pays homage to Jean-Luc Godard’s Band e Part and he introduces a dance sequence, Jack Rabbit Slim’s contest to pay homage to John Travolta’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’, which critics and public assumed was introduced to make Travolta dance. However, Tarantino denies the insinuation telling that the sequence was already there at the time of writing. Pulp Fiction is and perhaps will remain the best film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre.

3. Jacky Brown [1997] –

Jacky Brown Poster
Jacky Brown Poster

Jackie Brown is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1992 novel Rum Punch and is the only film that Tarantino has adapted from literature. The narratives used in this film are simple as compared to Tarantino’s previous works and less flamboyant per se. The film tells the story of a middle aged woman who gets entangled in a mess, which would either make her rich or have her dead. The film focuses more on characters, their psychology, and the worldly problems that they go through. As an audience, it becomes enriching to watch them conversing, arguing, fighting or even killing for their own reasons.

Jacky Brown Poster
Jacky Brown Poster

The film pays homage to Blaxploitation films of 1970s, Coffy and Foxy Brown , nd both of them observed Pam Grier in title roles. Best thing about Jackie Brown is the performances of the supporting cast in Samuel Jackson, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton and Robert De Niro (one of the five best performances by him). The film wasn’t well received by the audiences at that time, because it was dwarfed by the charm and opulence of his earlier films. However, it was enamored by film critics like Roger Ebert and Mark Kermode.

4. Kill Bill Volume I and II [2003 & 2004] –

Kill Bill Vol. I & II
Kill Bill Vol. I & II

Kill Bill is a vengeance flick which tells the story of a woman who survives an attack, and goes on to take revenge from the assassinators. Kill Bill I & II collectively had influences from Blaxploitation cinema, martial arts films, western movies and Samurai films. In short, the film had all the elements of a grindhouse cinema. The films display lot of digital violence and bloodshed.

The first part of Kill Bill was fast paced as Tarantino had placed the first plot point at a very early stage in the screenplay. As the film progresses, it becomes less about story and more about storytelling and mimicking filmmaking styles, but the fast screenplay chiefly helps to keep the audiences intact. The fight sequences performed by Uma Thurman are some of the best that you will ever watch in world cinema.

The Iconic Swashbuckling Fight Scene of Kill Bill
The Iconic Swashbuckling Fight Scene of Kill Bill

However, Kill Bill Volume II became only about Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking fetish and the narration gets too slow. It becomes difficult for audiences to drag themselves to the end. The very affinity towards pastiche filmmaking throws the main narrative thread out of the window and what we see is some kind of inventive and also playful experiments with filmmaking. Moreover, Tarantino’s use wry humor and (sometimes) obnoxious levity detaches audiences from the film’s plot and characters. It’s the performance by Uma Thurman that stands out and becomes the backbone of both the films.

5. Death Proof [2007] –

Death Proof Poster
Death Proof Poster

With Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino forayed into exploitation horror genre. The film appeared as a part of the double feature along with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror collectively titled as Grindhouse. The film tells the story of a stuntman, who uses his death proof cars to pursue his heinous motives. The stuntman executes some murders by following attractive women and arranges accidents that only he can walk out of. Even though the film was an embarrassing failure at the box office, but there is more to it in terms of pastiche filmmaking and how Tarantino masters it in this one.

A Still from the Movie Death Proof
A Still from the Movie Death Proof

The film takes influences from different genres of 1970s American cinema – psycho-thriller, southern gothic and chicksploitation movies, in which voluptuous women are often followed by someone. However, even after mimicking so many cinema forms, Death Proof displays its own authenticity and seriousness like Jackie Brown, which makes it even more entertaining, except for the incessant and in this case impetuous indulgence of extended dialogue exchange. In this film, Tarantino pays a lot of attention to the technology of sound and visual effects as compared to his previous, the kind of diligence he carried on to make his future films.

6. Inglourious Basterds [2009] –

Inglourious Basterds Poster
Inglourious Basterds Poster

Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s homage to war movies, but is perhaps the most inventive of his directorial ventures after Pulp Fiction. The film is set up in the backdrop of Second World War – Nazi-occupied France. The film tells the story of a unit of Jews whose plans to kill a Nazi unit and it coincides with the plan of a theatre owner. Tarantino has an undeniable affinity towards tinkering genres and weaving different kind of story using rather strange narratives. That quality of the filmmaker along with his impeccable screenwriting prowess comes to the fore in this war movie.

The Jew Hunter
The Jew Hunter

The film is meticulously divided into chapters and those chapters often infuse some kind of mood shifts, but Tarantino has directed the chapters in such a way that they are perceived as parts and the sum of them converges as a complete whole. Unlike other Tarantino movies, the dialogue exchange in this one depicts seriousness rather than visceral levity. For example, the dialogue exchange between the Nazi officer and a family man staying in the countryside, leaves a serious impact on the audiences.

We can say that Tarantino’s writing is much controlled compared to his other films. Moreover, every character in the film plays a vital role. The best part of the film is Tarantino breaks the fourth wall by showing cinema as the medium that connects people but in a scene when there is a shootout in the auditorium wherein everyone kills each other, he probably conveys that hatred supersedes all other things.

7. Django Unchanged [2012] –

Django Unchained Poster
Django Unchained Poster

The film tells the story of a slave named Django who meets a bounty hunter and goes on to emancipate his wife from a cruel Mississippi plantation owner. In this film, Tarantino amalgamates Blaxploitation concept with the elements of revenge flick and more importantly Spaghetti Western Cinema. Tarantino yet again indulges into handling serious matters with a pinch of impishness. The mere use of bounty hunter angle in the black slavery context takes out the essence of Blaxploitation and thereafter it switches its archetype from revenge flick to western cinema style.

A Still from Django Unchained
A Still from Django Unchained

The film has some terrific performances in Jamie Fox, Christopher Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio with Samuel Jackson playing a pivotal role as the sycophant of the brutal white guy. What gives this film a playful tone is the indulgence of avarice in the bounty hunter angle. There are many signature style sequences indigenous to Tarantino’s filmography in this one. Yet again, Tarantino uses his original style of writing dialogues that evoke humor. The best thing about Django Unchained remains the use of background score, the grandeur element and the resolution part of the screenplay.

8. The Hateful Eight [2015] –

The Hateful Eight Poster
The Hateful Eight Poster

This aptly titled film tells the story of a bounty hunter who finds shelter in a cabin. There are some wicket characters who already live there. The film has an archetype of Western Cinema set-up in the time of post-Civil War America. The Hateful Eight boasts of a great ensemble cast characterized more like the ones from an Agatha Christie novel. Tarantino was going to conceive this film as a novel. However, the film script got leaked, but he still decided to make this film.

A Still from The Hateful Eight
A Still from The Hateful Eight

Tarantino’s screenwriting reaches the zenith in this one. He again comes back to giving characters their form through dialogues that are expository and define their choices and affinity. The performances by the cast mainly Samuel Jackson and Christopher Waltz are terrific. The best part of this film is its background score. For the first time in a career that spans over 50 years, Ennio Morricone composed music for a Western film. Moreover, the widescreen shots in the film are worth watching.

In many books about filmmaking and screenwriting, the mentors ponder the fact that dialogues play an expository role or they are used to define future events, but “you are not what you say, but what you do.” Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue writing is perhaps the best example of the above fact. The dialogues spoken by Tarantino’s characters play a tangential role. They are just undercurrent conversations that have no relation to the events or do not depict what characters will do. He uses dialogues to define the character or his/her choices and the way he/she appears to be. However, the actions are always the natural disposition in the context of events.

Quentin Tarantino is a very rare breed of filmmaker who indulges more into filmmaking and storytelling rather than an exploration of the real world. He doesn’t get more into depicting the reality of situations or politics of the period or even morality issues. He is pretty indifferent to all those factors. Also, the filmmaker has an eye for using the style of filmmaking and he does that so brilliantly and often unexpectedly which makes him a perfect pastiche filmmaker. His style of writing a screenplay is also different. He writes novels and then converts them into a screenplay.

He indulges in every department of filmmaking be it directing, sound recording and editing. He makes sure that every frame in his film leaves a signature stamp of his own. His films are immediately recognizable and this makes him an auteur.

Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’ is expected to hit the silver screen in July 2019 and fans are just finding it difficult to wait for.

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