In the middle of that Quentin Tarantino interview that everyone’s losing their heads about, there’s a simple statement that betrays a Hollywood mindset that we sometimes pretend is new to the scene. After interviewer Lane Brown asks Tarantino to play What If by putting himself in the shoes of the new indie directors who have a Sundance-level hit and instantly level-up to the big, blockbuster leagues, Tarantino remarks that he was drawn back into that sphere after his biggest flop.
After years of branding himself a visionary instead of a yeoman, studios were keen to smell blood in the water.
At a certain point, you don’t get offered anything anymore. But when I did Grindhouse and it didn’t do well, I started being offered scripts for big projects again. It was like, Okay. I get it. I’m on my ass, and they know that. I am definitely less confident than I’ve ever been in my career right now.
Some of the big projects he was offered after the inauspicious 2007 release include Green Lantern, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a Westworld remake. In other words, Warner Bros. really wanted to be in the Quentin Tarantino business. You can’t really blame them. The opportunity to pull strength like that into your blockbuster orbit is one you can’t let sail by, but the tacit message behind it all (one that Tarantino obviously picked up) was, “Sorry the indie dynamo thing didn’t last. You’re ready to play ball now, right?”
Like a lot of alternative universes, trying to envision Tarantino’s Green Lantern is confounding. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. less so, with Westworld being the least troubling. Still, when you remember all of this would happen inside the machinations of the studio Toy Sales and Whimsy Department, none of it particularly makes any sense. Anyone who genuinely wishes they could have seen Tarantino filtered through the Barry Meyer/Alan Horn-led WB is probably a masochist.
Death Proof is a strange artifact from Tarantino’s career. The temptation is to mythologize it as the cave of despair that he crawled out of to claim ultimate victory, but the truth is that, while it lost a lot of money and boasts his worst critical scores, it didn’t exactly hobble him. Or even trip him up. Almost exactly a year after its release, The Weinsteins were pushing for an accelerated production schedule for Inglourious Basterds, which represented Tarantino’s largest budget up to that point. For a guy facing a massive commercial failure and calls from studios wishing to tame him, he dusted himself off pretty quick.
As he notes, it put him on his ass, but he wasn’t there for very long. Still, its failure helped fuel the comeback narrative behind Inglourious Basterds, as if we all thought one bad picture from a perfectionist was reason enough to cue up the Chariots of Fire theme song. When all’s said and done, the movie earned a 67% RT score. His worst-rated film would still earn a D+ in any generous high school class. Ask the director of Hook (what’s that guy’s name again…) how he’d feel if 67% was the lowest he’d gone.
Then again, everything about Tarantino seems bathed in mythos. A cult has formed around him since Reservoir Dogs, his attitude is no-nonsense, he cuts through bullshit, we often look to him as a freelance film critic, and his bombastic nature suggests that you’re either with him or against him. Like all directors with devoted fanatics, discussions of his films tend to swing wildly into Love and Hate territory too quickly. Naturally, that makes sense for a filmmaker whose filmography is hard to sift through because of all the “Special Thanks” and “Holy Shit Seriously Big Huge Thanks” credits he’s scored.
If you wade through all of that to focus on the movies he’s directed, Death Proof stands almost dead center (Hateful Eight makes for an even number) like a beacon separating Old Tarantino from New Tarantino. One more indicator of the epic saga that is his career. He crashed and burned for a moment only to rise up out of the ashes with a big-ass knife to carve swastikas in everyone’s foreheads. From his biggest flop, to his biggest success, followed by an even bigger success. We’re basking in the Golden Era of Tarantino, which came shortly after the Other Golden Era of Tarantino.
As a final thought, the thing I love most about that Brown/Tarantino interview is that it tells us almost nothing about The Hateful Eight. In an era fueled by as many bread crumbs about upcoming releases as possible, the wide-ranging conversation is wonderfully, refreshingly devoid of spoilers and teasing nonsense about a movie that 1) we’ve already seen a trailer for and 2) we don’t need to know anything else about until Christmas.