Director Talk: Quentin Tarantino

Posted: May 6, 2012 by PG Cooper in Director Talk

Ian: Welcome back to another Director Talk with Ian, Fogs, and PG Cooper. And this edition of DT we have a special guest: Alyson from The Best Picture Project! welcome Alyson. Today we are going to be discussing one of the most notorious Directors of the modern age, Quentin Tarantino. I’m going to start off by throwing this question out to the panel. When Tarantino first started, he had quite a lot of hype and hoopla around his films. Do you think he still has that kind of pull today? Do his films attract the same level of notoriety and popularity as they once did?

Alyson: First off, thank you all for inviting me for the Tarantino edition of DT. To answer the question, I do believe he still creates a good amount of hype. His work has been consistently great for 20 years now, and always delivering his unique, uncompromising style. His fans certainly get excited for his new films, and the general film community praises and can make immediate connections to most of his previous work. However, with his Oscar recognition it’s a little harder to be notorious, but he’s still pulling that image off. Basically, if a preview says “a Tarantino film” people sit up and take notice wondering what in the world he is bringing next.

Fogs: Ah. Love when these things start up.

Yeah, definitely. Django’s getting a lot of buzz around the hive… definitely. He’s put together a great cast, sure, but I don’t know that the excitement has anything to do with that – OR with the crazy bounty hunter/slavery story… People are excited for it because it’s Quentin Tarantino.

Cooper: Tarantino definitely still has a lot of pull. Film fans always tend to geek out over his projects and he has tremendous respect in the film community. I’d say that recognition extends to “casual” film viewers as well. Odd movies like Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds could have been flops, but Tarantino turns them into tremendous box-office smash hits.

Ian: It seems unanimous then, and I agree. When Grindhouse came out a few years ago, I wondered if his prestige was slipping. But Inglourious Basterds was a smash with critics and many Tarantino fans declared it as his best yet.
How do you think Tarantino will do with the western genre in this years Django Unchained?

Fogs: I’m sure he’s going to be fantastic at it. In fact, I’d say it has more recognizable tropes to mine than a lot of other genres he’s paid homage to. Because that’s one of Tarantino’s calling cards. Taking a genre staple and utilizing it within his film. Like a master DJ sampling an endless library of classic beats, Tarantino finds ways to take the familiar, shuffle it slightly and serve it up so it seems completely original.

Alyson: I agree, the way Tarantino can slip into different genres and still make a film distinctly his has me very excited for Django Unchained. The way he turned a “martial arts” movie into the amazing Kill Bill, and “war movie” into the mind blowing Inglourious Basters, has me itching for what he has in store for his western. I am expecting Django to be so much more than a western and yet nothing like it all at the same time.

Personally, I like to go into any film nearly blind and see what surprises me. So far, I’ve checked out the cast for Django (very exciting choices) but I’m making sure to keep away from spoilers.

PG Cooper: Django Unchained is one of my most anticipated films of the year. I don’t really know what Tarantino is going to do with the genre, but I’m eager to find out. What I like about a lot of Tarantino’s films is the way they embrace the more cliche and absurd aspects of the genre there in and yet still become exceptional. I’m pretty confident we’ll see some of that and Django. Especially considering at it’s core, Django is going to be about racism. So while I’m sure a lot of Western tropes and oddities will be sprinkled throughout, there’s still a very serious subject matter.

Ian: Yeah, I’m starting to get pretty excited about it. And it will be interesting to see how he tackles the racism PG. It won’t be conventional, that’s for sure. Perhaps how he dealt with anti-Semitism in IB? With gruesome revenge?
Westerns are not my favourite genre by a long shot, but I’m sure he will bring a distinct style to it.

Fogs, lets touch on what you said about homages. There is a criticism that Tarantino goes a little too far with his homages. And Alyson, in your Inglourious Basterds review you talked a lot about how ts a love letter to film history. Does this bother you guys, or do you find it enhances his pictures?

Fogs: I think it’s great, I think it’s because he’s so good at it. Even though I feel the familiarity and the similarities, it never gets me feeling like a straight up rip off, like, say… “Super 8″ had me feeling.

Not to off track us on that flick.

PG Cooper: It’s never bothered me. Mainly because he’s always paying homage to multiple genres at the same time instead of just one. The really impressive thing is the way he’s always able to blend these genres together and make it feel naturally. I’m sure it also helps that he often is referencing more obscure films like Lady Snowblood or something. When JJ Abrams borrowed from Spielberg in Super 8, it was obvious because everyone’s seen, or at least knows of, a few Spielberg films. How many people have actually seen Lady Snowblood?

Fogs: Point, Cooper!

Alyson: Agreed, very good point Cooper.

The way Tarantino borrows from other movies and uses motifs from other genres is now something I look forward to in his films. The problem with Super8 was that it was constantly Spielbergish through the whole film. With QT his big references only last a short while, then it’s back to his unique style. John Travolta dancing in Pulp Fiction always reminds me of Saturday Night Fever, but it’s a whole different feeling in that scene. And I just love the homage he pays to Vanishing Point in Death Proof. These two are more main stream than Lady Snowblood, but not so much that every casual movie goer will recognize them.

Cooper: Interesting bit of trivia, Tarantino insists that the dance scene was written before Travolta was cast in Pulp Fiction. Either way, you’re right Alyson, it’s impossible to watch that scene and not be reminded of Saturday Night Fever.

Ian: Another thing Tarantino is known for is his use of music in films. What do you guys think? Does he use music well, or is it too much?

One thing I can tell you is I can’t listen to Stuck in the Middle without thinking of Reservoir Dogs anymore.

Fogs: ABSOLUTELY. I have that razor blade dance locked into my memory banks now. LOL

He’s an awesome movie dj… I have the soundtracks for Pulp Fiction Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. He just has a way of finding the coolest choice for the moment. Nice point. It’s definitely a feather in his cap.

Alyson: I always love Tarantino’s music choices. When Putting Out Fire played in Inglourious Basterds, I remember thinking, “This is so not true to the time period, but I do NOT care.” Usually, David Bowie in the 1940s would irk me, but it was perfect at setting the tone. His music is usually a little off the beaten path, and I like the new songs I find in his films.
He seems confident about what kind of music works for him and his films. Fun fact, that jukebox in Death Proof is really Tarantino’s, containing some music from his previous movies.

Cooper: I love his music choices. “Misirlou” in Pulp Fiction, “Little Green Bag” in Reservoir Dogs, and of course the infamous “Stuck in the Middle With You”. How can you not love his music? I also particularly like his use of “Dies Irae” and “Seven Notes in Black” from Kill Bill. The first is played when Bud talks about how “That woman deserves her revenge…” and the second when the Bride attacks Buck.

Ian: I have to admit that sometimes I find his music choices pretentious. The David Bowie song in Inglourious Basterds is a good example of that. But he seems to go out of his way to find the most obscure stuff he can to show that he’s “in the know”. I mean, he does that with film references to, but that doesn’t bother me as much.

Alright, lets move on to our top 3. Now, Tarantino doesn’t have a very deep filmography, being one of those directors who takes long hiatuses, so there will probably be some overlap.
My list would probably look like this:
1. Pulp Fiction
2. Inglourious Basterds
3. Kill Bill Vol. 2

I always help Kill Bill 1 higher than the second, until I just watched them both again after buying the blu-rays. My opinion has changed, and I know believe that Vol. 2 is the stronger film.

Cooper: I prefer Volume Two as well, yet neither make my top three.

1.Pulp Fiction
2.Jackie Brown
3.Reservoir Dogs

Alyson: Ditto on Kill Bill 2, much better than 1, but also not in my top 3.

1. Pulp Fiction
2. Inglourious Basterds
3. Reservoir Dogs

Ian: Wow Cooper, I can honestly say I didn’t expect to see Jackie Brown in anyone’s top 3.

Cooper: I wasn’t crazy about it on my first viewing, but every time I watch it it gets better and better.

Alyson: First time I saw Jackie Brown, I was a little unimpressed. Second time, thought it was pretty great. Perhaps I need a third viewing, cause I would still put Death Proof above it right now.

Fogs: 1. Pulp Fiction
2. Resevoir Dogs
3. Kill Bill vol 1

Cooper: Death Proof sits at the bottom of Tarantino’s filmography, no question. I don’t hate it, but it’s his only film I wouldn’t call great.

Fogs: I’d agree there, but I would say that car chase scene is pretty awesome.

Alyson: Oh, I know it’s not great. But I have a real soft spot for fast cars, girls who kick ass and Kurt Russell being a creepy, murderous stalker. Jackie Brown is better done, but personally, I get so much more enjoyment out of Death

Proof. It’s like Tarantino knows how keep winning his audience over, even when he’s not at his best.

Ian: lol So if Kurt Russell was peeking into your window with a pair of binoculars at night, you’d be perfectly okay with it?

Alyson: Only if he winks at the camera and I get to kick his face in at the end.

Ian: I’m surprised Basterds is only on mine and Alyson’s lists. Whats up guys? Hans Landa not good enough for you two?

Fogs: No, well… you’re talking about one of my favorite directors. He’s made so many movies I love. Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs and Kill Bill are all VERY high on my list of favorites, with Pulp Fiction cracking my personal, all time top five. LOVE that movie.

Inglorious Basterds was very very good. I enjoy it, I like it a lot. But I see the flaws in that one a lot more than I do on his other films. The Bowie anachronism, the slow stretches, the focuse being on Soshanna, who is pretty much the least colorful lead character in Tarantino’s entire filmography. My big issue with it is it almost straddles the fence between being a standard dramatic movie and being a Tarantino Movie. There’s too many of his flourishes to let you forget that it’s Tarantino, but not enough of them to compare to his other films.

Does that make sense? Not that you have to agree, LOL. My position here isnt as heavily fortified as with Blade Runner or Fight Club, Ian. :D

Cooper: I love Inglorious Basterds, but I also love everything (except Death Proof) that Tarantino has done, so it’s tough compiling a list.

Ian: Now, this question I expect we will probably have more of a consensus on. Which movie do you think is Tarantino’s signature film? And for Alyson, signature films are the films we associate with a director most strongly. Its the one they are most recognized for and also which really stands for what they are all about.

Fogs: (Fogs answers by loudly playing Misirlou)

Alyson: A round of applause for Fogs! Can we interpret that as a vote for Pulp Fiction? Cause I’d have to say that is Tarantino’s signature film. No doubt in my mind.

Fogs: Exactamundo

Cooper: Pulp Fiction. Easy.

Ian: Yeah, that one is pretty straight-forward. Pulp Fiction really put him on the map and, to sound as cliche as I can, “defined a generation of film.”

Alright, as we wrap up, what are your favourite Tarantino moments and what part of his style do you like most?

For myself, I love the dialogue most. As a result, I love almost any Jules and Vincent scene, the Superman scene in Kill Bill 2, and both the nazi bar and French farmhouse scenes from Inglourious Basterds.

Alyson: I’m also a big fan of the dialogue. The farmhouse scene in Basterds had me on the edge of my seat and immediately sold me on Christoph Watlz’s Oscar nomination.

But it’s what this dialogue often leads up to that I love the most: intense Mexican standoffs, many of which end with explosive violence. So many times, Tarantino stretches the tension perfectly, but with each new film, I don’t know if he’s going to let that tension hang for a while (Reservoir Dogs), cut it fairly quick (bar scene in IG) or just let it dissolve (cafe hold up in Pulp Fiction).

Cooper: The dialogue is definitely a great thing. I could listen to his characters talk for hours. It’s also the characters he creates. I could list my favourites now, but really, I love all of them. If I had to pick a favourite character though, it probably would be Jules. Especially since the role made Sam Jackson’s career. I love the music choices he makes (forget to mention “Across 110th Street” from Jackie Brown earlier), I love the references and tributes to other films, I pretty much love everything about Quentin Tarantino films. He’s one of my favourite filmmakers.

Fogs: Nice, Alyson. I’m big on the dialogue, but I do have to admit there are times when it stands out just a bit TOO much. You know? It doesnt happen often, and certainly not in his best moments, but there are times when it’s trying too hard.

I like the homages to film, I like the fact he’s not afraid to interject a flourish here or there. And of course, who doesn’t love a good Mexican Standoff? :D

Fogs: Ohhhh Favorite character? Thats a good one, that could go on for awhile.

Jules wins hands down, going away. But the discussion for second place is kind of interesting. I like Aldo Raines, Butch, Vincent Vega, The Bride, god… so many good ones.

Alyson: Favorite character now? Oh goodness, that is hard to decide…let’s call it a tie between Jules and Hans Landa. I can’t get enough of either of them. Of course, some other favorites are Vic Vega, Aldo, Mia Wallace and Butch Coolidge. Even Stuntman Mike… ;)

Fogs: I need to shout out the Gecko brothers from “From Dusk til Dawn”, too, that movie is freaking awesome.

Cooper: From Dusk Til Dawn has one of the best lines in any of his films.

“Where we going?”
“Mexico.”
“What’s in Mexico?”
(Pause) “…Mexicans.”

Ian: Jules is my favourite as well. Beyond bad ass.

Well, that wraps up another Director Talk. We’d like to thank Alyson from Best Picture Project for joining us and throwing in her insight. And we’d like to thank you; our readers. And now we ask you your thoughts on Tarantino and his work. See you in the comments section!

Comments
  1. [...] topic, the notorious Quentin Tarantino!  I had a ton of fun talking Tarantino with the guys.  You can read the entire talk here at PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews.  Thanks again Ian, Fogs and Cooper. Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  2. [...] Mr Cooper’s turn to host this round, so you can find the discussion over at his blog by clicking here. Stop by and check it out and let us know what you think of Tarantino and his movies! Hook Us Up! [...]

  3. Mark Walker says:

    Excellent discussion guys. Tarantino is a director I have grown up with. I’m still wracking my brains to actually find answers to favourite questions you posed though. Very difficult to narrow his best characters, film’s and moments down.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I know what you mean. Despite his short filmography, all of his films have exceptionally memorable features. Even Death Proof, with all its flaws, has that awesome car chase and Kurt Russel.

      • Mark Walker says:

        Indeed. I liked Death Proof and Russell’s character was excellent but it is Tarantino’s weakest film so far. For me the Top 3 would be Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown. I think Jackie Brown in particularly is vastly underrated. If came off the back of the previous two which were hard acts to follow but through time it probably stands as his most mature film so far. As for memorable characters I think DeNiro was superb in it also. He’s brilliant doing virtually nothing.

      • pgcooper1939 says:

        Everything you just said is spot on.

  4. DB says:

    Not that it was ignored or disrespected in your discussion, but I have to make a stand for Jackie Brown. Such a great movie, yet underrated by audiences and even many Tarantino fans (critics loved it, though). Although it’s not an original screenplay, QT totally makes it his own. It feels as original as any of his other films. It has some of the most colorful characters of any of his movies, and flawless performances all around. Some people thought that Jackson was just doing the same thing he did in Pulp Fiction, but Ordell Robbie is a distinctly different character, and Jackson is both hilarious and scary in completely different ways than he was as Jules. Pam Grier, Michael Keaton, Bridget Fonda, Robert DeNiro…all so good. And Robert Forster…just wow. His last scene is a heartbreaker.

    Like all of Tarantino’s work, Jackie Brown has great music moments (including Strawberry Letter #23 and Across 110th Street – both at the beginning and the end); great dialogue scenes (including both of Ordell’s visits to Max Cherry’s office); and moments of unbelievable tension. The sequence at the shopping mall when the plan goes down…watching that in the theater for the first time, it was one of the most intense viewing experiences I’ve ever had. My stomach was in knots. In that department, it ranks up there for me with Seven, The Departed, Carlito’s Way and Match Point.

    Who else could make a movie that’s an homage to 70’s blaxploitation flicks, yet have an opening credits sequence that evokes The Graduate?? Who else would even think to do that?!?

    Jackie Brown has all the Tarantino trademarks we love, but also showed him stretching himself by putting more emphasis on character development. Not to suggest Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction lacked any; just that both of them are primarily plot-driven. With Jackie Brown, he tried for more of a balance between plot and character. And he came through with flying colors.

    Anyway…great topic and discussion.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Yes! I was hoping this piece would bring out the Jackie Brown fans.

      • I’m so glad that Jackie Brown ended up on some of your top threes, it’s a highly underrated movie that seems to get a bit of a bad rap.

        I’d agree with everything DB says, and even go so far as to say that this movie is as recognisably “Tarantino-esque” as Pulp Fiction, in that you could put it on in front of somebody who’s never seen it and within five minutes they would know Tarantino had directed it. It makes #2 on my top 3, for sure.

        This was a great discussion, guys. I’ve been a fan of QT almost my whole life. I saw Reservoir dogs when I was 6 years old (My Dad started me young) and, along with Robert Rodriguez, he’s been my favourite Director ever since, though you could probably have guessed that from my screen/blogger name.

  5. Yeah, Jackie Brown is underrated for sure. Although, in fairness, it would still be below my favorites of his – Pulp Fiction, Dogs, Kill Bill, Inglorious… I dont think its quite there. For me.

    But I hear you, I know what youre sayin’. :D

  6. Andrew says:

    Well, I’ve seen Lady Snowblood.

    I think Tarantino is one of those directors who should, for major film enthusiasts and aficionados, transcend his oeuvre. Personally, I dislike a huge chunk of his body of work, including Pulp Fiction, but most of all both Kill Bill films– neither of which blend all of the references together into something that’s more cohesive than a clip show– but I love the guy. And I respect him.

    Partly, that’s due to craft. Even when he’s making movies that I think are trash, he’s making them really, really well, paying attention to all of the classic rules of the discipline of making movies and turning out footage that just looks stellar. I think it’s possible to criticize an artist without necessarily taking issue with their artistry at a technical level, and I always raise an eyebrow over people claiming that he’s a bad filmmaker. He’s not. If Kill Bill volume 1 does anything, it proves the guy knows what he’s doing behind the scenes– that tracking shot in the House of Blue Leaves is magnificent.

    But I think more than anything Tarantino is just like us. He’s a cinephile. He loves the movies just like we do, and so he’s relatable on that basis. Maybe he has more knowledge and more access than the rest of us, but he’s basically the archetypal movie geek when you boil away the particulars. Add to that the fact that he’s also a champion of cinema– this is the guy who rescued the New Beverly, after all– and it’s hard to really find objective reasons to dislike the guy.

    For me, Inglourious Basterds easily stands in the #1 spot of “best QT movies”; I think it’s his most accomplished, most personal, and most restrained. Usually QT goes at full throttle with referential cinema and high volumes of violence, and while Basterds certainly is brutal, he also knows that that brutality is often harder to digest when we’re distanced from it. So he does things like zoom out on the Basterds while the Bear Jew talks about going “yardo” on a Nazi after caving his skull in quite viciously with a baseball bat, or keep us from seeing too much detail as Nazi soldiers gun down Shosanna’s family.

    And the film isn’t laden with homages to other movies. Sure, there are some, but I can’t think of any (apart from the obvious nod to Goebbels’ penchant for propaganda filmmaking) because they’re never the point and there are just so few of them. So we’re not just getting a synthetic blend of QT’s favorites, we’re really just getting him, unfiltered and with no referentialism between us and him. I think that says a lot about where he comes from as a filmmaker and, maybe, where he’s going, though it’s clear that Django Unchained is going to put him right back in his referential wheelhouse. Which is fine.

    Anyways. Great piece, great work, all of you.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Wow, you’ve got a complicated opinion of the man :P

      Interesting though. I like how even though you’re not as big a fan as some, you still recognize his talent.

      • Andrew says:

        I wrote a whole piece on it last year. Sometimes, a man’s just gotta work out his complicated feelings toward one of the day’s most influential and interesting filmmakers.

        If I ever could, I’d sit down and pick his brain for hours. He just seems like an awesome guy.

  7. brikhaus says:

    Interesting read, guys. I really enjoyed it. I agree, his signature film is (and will likely always be) Pulp Fiction.

    Here’s my ranking

    1) Inglourious Basterds
    2) Kill Bill (it’s supposed to be one movie)
    3) Pulp Fiction
    4) Reservoir Dogs
    5) Jackie Brown
    6) Death Proof

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I am curious, for the lower ranked films, is it because you don’t like them or because you just prefer the higher ranked films?

      • brikhaus says:

        For me, the lower ranked films aren’t necessarily bad, it’s just I preferred the higher ranked ones. In fact, I liked all of QT’s movies, except for Death Proof. That really was a steaming pile of shit.

    • ianthecool says:

      Kill Bill really isn’t one movie. They both have very different tones and styles.

    • I’d probably drop Inglorious down below Resevoir Dogs, put Pulp Fiction in the top spot, and replace Death Proof with From Dusk til Dawn, but aside from that our lists are exactly the same!! LOL :D :D

  8. Eric says:

    Fun stuff, guys. There’s no doubt Tarantino keeps putting out quality work, and Django Unchained is easily my most anticipated film this year. It’s also nice to see Jackie Brown getting some love. It has been years since I watched it, but it’s definitely a great movie, and one that is underrated by most.

  9. Great discussion, gang. Like I said in my review of Reservoir Dogs, I sometimes think Tarantino’s sole criteria for what constitutes quality film-making is whether he thinks what’s happening on screen is awesome. It leads to a lot of films that are essentially over-the-top violent fluff, but they’re a lot of fun.

    Sad to say, though, it’s sounding like Django Unchained is really getting derailed. Kurt Russell just quit, so once again there’s a major role that needs filling. I don’t see any chance of it being out in 2012 now… to be honest, I would have called it pretty unlikely before now if I had known it still had filming to do.

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