At Film School Rejects, we like to have the final word, even when we’re arguing with ourselves. Although mostly, we just like to yell the loudest. We figured we should channel that energy into a new feature we like to call “Shouting Match.” This week’s contenders? Conrad Rothbaum and Robert Fure. This week’s point of contention: Quentin Tarantino.
CONRAD: It makes me want to weep when I think of what the world has come to. It’s no longer safe for the children of the United States’ golden age: the world has been torn apart over conflict in the middle east, Barnes and Noble has a monopoly on the bookselling business and our nation’s economy has sunk into the proverbial toilet. But here’s what gets me most of all: some people just don’t appreciate the great American filmmakers.
Let’s talk about Tarantino. The man is one of the essential artists of today—his dialogue is always entertaining, sometimes even rewarding, his cinematic style/composition is always inventive and unique. Every time I see one of his films, I understand it; from a few of them, I walk away with more than I had when I came in. The films are genuinely entertaining, and it’s no wonder: Tarantino is passionate and literate when it comes to his craft. He always looks for interesting ways to present things, and I, for one, am always interested.
ROBERT: Talk about Tarantino? I thought you said we were going to talk about great American filmmakers? The two are mutually exclusive. Sure, Tarantino made a good flick or two – with help from Roger Avary – but the guy should by no means be included in any list of all-time great directors. If you think meaningless pop culture references that don’t advance the story one iota qualify as “always entertaining,” then I guess QT is your guy. I would agree that he is always looking for interesting ways to present things, and he always finds them – in other movies. He then “homages” or gets “inspired by” them, which is apparently slang for blatant theft. Inglorious Bastards – Remake. Kill Bill – Tons of things taken from Sonny Chiba’s films. Call it a ‘love fest’ but I call it unoriginal. I’m sure we’ll get to his betrayal of Avary later, which pretty much leaves Death Proof as his “most original” work. Also his worst. In all your infinite wisdom, please, win me over, defend this Inglorious Bastard.
CONRAD: Ah, Rob. I suppose I should name it and claim it: it’s true that Tarantino has lifted many aspects from the films of his youth and called it “homage”… but can we really call it “theft?” I cite an old saying that I first heard from J. Michael Straczynski: “Bad writers borrow, good writers steal.” That is to say, you don’t take someone else’s idea, use it and call it a day—you take it, you change it, and you make it your own. As long as Tarantino continues to name and thank his influences, I have no problem seeing him adding fresh, creative, entertaining spins to classic ideas. Reservoir Dogs—a hybrid of City on Fire and The Taking of Pelham 123? Sure—but also a memorable experience of breathtaking storytelling and compelling dialogue. Pulp Fiction—stock noir plots? Of course, but look how he melts your heart with Vince and Mia, scares the shit out of you with the Gold Watch, and makes you laugh out loud at two men cleaning up brains from the backseat of a car. I won’t sit here and apologize into my keyboard for all of Tarantino’s faults, but I will go to see his next movie full of the same excitement a Tarantino-hater gets when they browse the DVD section of Wal-Mart. Now, let’s hear your bellyaching about Death Proof.
ROBERT: Ahahaha. You don’t want to give me the softball of Death Proof. Can you say boring? Masturbatory? Overly long? A tremendous let down? Are we speaking the same language? He took what was supposed to be a thrilling horror film and removed most of the thrills and all of the horror and instead we got some girls talking. Too easy. As for the JMS quote, sure, it’s clever, but you said they have to change it and make it their own. Tarantino has stolen dialog from Karate Kiba, The Killers, Band of Outsiders, Lady Snowblood, and he straight up has taken shot-for-shot “inspiration” from The Graduate and Branded to Kill. When the list of films you’ve “sampled” is longer than your resume, you might be thieving.
You consider Pulp Fiction a Tarantino film? Roger Avary laid nearly all the ground work for that and did much of the writing. Word on the street is that Tarantino bartered money against writer credit which ended with Tarantino being the “Writer” of Pulp Fiction with Avary only getting “Story” credit. Bummer. Take it back a few years, and we’ve got True Romance, another script that Avary was all over in turning it into a workable film rather than a rambling diatribe. Accounts indicate that Tarantino, true to form, turned out a rambling 500 page mess of pop culture references that was virtually unsellable. Only after Avary’s doctoring was True Romance really born.
You’d think that with all that “borrowed” material, he’d actually manage to make movies on a regular basis, rather than just talking about making movies for years on end. Right?
CONRAD: Wait, wait, wait, Fure. We’re getting off-track. I could talk about how Pulp Fiction changed film in the 90s, brought about the whole “Cinema of Cool” movement (google it), but what we’ve been talking about – what you’ve been saying between bench-pressing small children is completely valid: Tarantino has certainly been in the wrong in the past. Mostly due to his excessive egotism. But he is not a hack: there is no denying his talent. So, let’s center our debate: should he continue to make films, be they derivative, stylized, whatever? A world without Tarantino, is that what the haters call for? Let’s talk about the influence and sway he has on the potential filmmakers of tomorrow. He has inspired and informed the vocabulary of these directors. If his material is not sufficient, is his influence equally useless? Should Tarantino shut up?
In the gospel according to Fure, the only words that come out of his mouth string together to form pop-culture references. False. How can you not appreciate Tarantino dialogue? Listening to the scenes find themselves through the voices of the characters is one of the best things about his movies. Tarantino is a great storyteller. think about the opening of Reservoir Dogs, when they go from “Madonna’s big dick” to the agonized moans of a man bleeding to death in the backseat of a car. Think of Butch’s eyes fixing on the Israeli submachine gun on his kitchen counter. Think about Samuel L. Jackson leaning over, a bang and Robert DeNiro recoiling, blood splattering the windshield. Think about the Bride walking away from the blind girl writhing around in Budd’s white trash trailer. And I know you hate Death Proof, but think about that long leg sailing through the air, catching the moonlight and hitting the pavement with a wet packing sound. Think about those images, and then tell me Tarantino isn’t worth the trouble.
ROBERT: I Googled Cinema of Cool, and all I got was one book that had mediocre reviews. Not that Cool, I guess. If you want to say Pulp Fiction changed film, go ahead, but recall that Tarantino directed it and finagled a lot of credit for story away from Avary. His name is barely mentioned. I still stand by the assertion that most of his dialog, especially the memorable stuff, is just pop culture drivel, which a lot of people seem to like. If they didn’t, Kevin Smith wouldn’t have a job, either. But you can’t call Tarantino an original story teller. You helped my argument by remembering the “Madonna’s Big Dick” story – did that move the plot forward at all? No. Did we really learn anything about any of the characters? No. It was just a delivery method for Tarantino to scream “Look how fucking hip I am, I’m talking about dicks and Madonna!” Right.
I would like to see some originality out of him. Stop going shot for shot and get a little more inventive. Can he though, I guess, is the question. Are all of his cool shots merely “homages” to other cool shots? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that most of his shots are his own creation, though we’ve already talked about how several notable movies have been ripped off for his film. Should he stop making movies? No, he should actually start making them rather than just talking. While he may have good visuals, his stories are derivative, pop culture masturbation sessions and he “borrows” exceedingly too much. Also, as a person, he really comes off as an egotistical, creepy, dickbag, which isn’t helping his case.
We’ve kicked and screamed and clawed at each other with our fingernails, and, as in true stubborn FSR fashion, neither of us will back down. So, we’re leaving the final verdict up to you: Is Quentin Tarantino worth the hype?