The Tarantino Problem
Quentin Tarantino is regularly mentioned among the great directors working today. His films are released to breathless anticipation. Yet does his output justify the ejaculatory praise he receives?
Think about those directors you would consider to be the greatest of all time. For myself, I would choose Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, and Alfred Hitchcock. They are all directors with a signature style, yet the stories they tell are always front and center. Even a directorial style as eccentric as Kubrick’s manages to work in service to the story.
And that is my basic problem with Quentin Tarantino, and the instantly ejaculatory praise he regularly receives from fanboys and the media. He doesn’t deserve the immense praise he receives because he doesn’t care about telling an engaging and complete story.
Let’s look at Tarantino’s meager output in the fifteen years he has been making movies:
RESERVOIR DOGS – His first film contained electric dialogue and dynamic shot selection that kept the viewer’s eye off the low production values. Unlike CLERKS, Tarantino made his low budget film look professional and intentional.
PULP FICTION – His one true masterpiece. This is the film that catapulted him to the level of automatic auteur. It has style up to its eyebrows, yet the characters and situations are engaging. It also helps that there is an underlying point to the snappy dialogue and mixed-up structure.
JACKIE BROWN – A fine film that was unfairly castigated because it was not PULP FICTION 2. It might be Tarantino’s most “normal” and accessible film overall, although it lacks a discernible amount of energy.
KILL BILL 1 and 2 – Utterly pointless besides the magnificent cinematography. The story is as simple as it gets, and could have been made as one short film, rather than two very long ones. It simply doesn’t get any more self-indulgent.
GRINDHOUSE / DEATH PROOF – Awful in almost every way. While Robert Rodriguez blew the roof off in the opener, PLANET TERROR, Tarantino indulged in a 90 minute talk fest. Not to mention the lack of a cohesive or engaging story behind it all.
INGLORIOUS BASTERDS – We shall see about this one, although initial reviews are indicating another talky, referential traipse through the filmic memory of Tarantino himself.
Like an only child that has been given everything it wants except discipline, Tarantino firmly believes that any idea he has is worthy of filming. Rather than tell a story, Tarantino would prefer to engage in tributes and references that scream out: Look at what I’m doing now! Isn’t this genius?? You never see the great directors act like this from behind the camera.
Here’s the question that nags at me : Does Tarantino actually have a story to tell? Does he have a point to make besides references to other films?
One might argue that, after his first two films, Tarantino is simply having fun with his material, requiring his audience only to go along for a fun ride. That might be true, but isn’t that basically the same aesthetic that Michael Bay employs? Why is Bay castigated and Tarantino glorified?
Extending the Bay comparison, I would contend that Bay’s last few films (TRANSFORMERS, TRANSFORMERS 2, BAD BOYS 2) are better films than Tarnatino’s last few films. They are structurally sound, well-made, and entertaining. Even more, Bay’s films are not trying to be anything other than a cohesive thrill ride. I despise all of Bay’s films, but at least they do not pretend to be something they simply are not. Tarantino’s recent masturbatory output certainly does.
To make my point, the best comparative example I can give is Kevin Smith. Like Smith, Tarantino managed to create a film that touched a nerve with the community, garnering massive press and attention. And while I admit that Tarantino’s subsequent output is of much higher quality than Smith’s – of course, a wet mop could do that, too – it certainly reveals a director whose overall body of work is vastly overpraised.
It would have been interesting to see what Tarantino might have made had PULP FICTION remained in semi-obscurity, or if the press had reigned in their adoration. Unrestrained as he is, Tarantino has become the art-house version of George Lucas, a promising yet unfulfilled talent in desperate need of fewer yes-men and stronger ideas.