The downside to being one of the most beloved filmmakers of a generation – or at least making a handful of the generation’s most beloved films – is that every interview you grant becomes a culture manifesto. Take Quentin Tarantino. Yesterday, the New York Times ran a long profile by Bret Easton Ellis, where the director touched on a variety of topics, including his peers, representation in his films, and the current state of the film industry. Unsurprisingly, he was bearish on anything that did not involve himself. Here’s a typical excerpt:
We touch on this year’s Oscars and the supposed Oscar snubbing of Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King movie ‘‘Selma,’’ which caused a kind of national sentimental-narrative outrage, compounded by the events in Ferguson, and which branded the Academy voters as old and out-of-it racists – despite the fact that ‘‘12 Years a Slave’’ had won Best Picture the year before. Tarantino shrugs diplomatically: ‘‘She did a really good job on ‘Selma’ but ‘Selma’ deserved an Emmy.’’
While it might be tempting to cast Tarantino’s commentary as either racist or sexist – he does offer the most back-handed of compliments to both Kathryn Bigelow and Ava DuVernay – this isn’t an attack on his peers so much as sneak peek at the Tarantino world view. He is intelligent, thoughtful, and critical, but also incapable of stepping outside himself and viewing a film from the perspective of someone who isn’t… well, Quentin Tarantino. He’s been very successful at making movies for people like himself; why would anyone do it any other way?
There has always been a weird disconnect between Tarantino’s own thoughts and the way he demands his own films be treated. Tarantino is a diverse and well-read fan of film – perhaps the closest thing the film industry has to a Professor of Practice – but he tends to evoke and emulate the sort of films that would have gladly taken advantage of cheaper distribution models back in the day. Can you imagine a 1970s western that wouldn’t have taken advantage of a day-and-date model? Or a 1980s slasher that would have turned down a secured Netflix release in favor of theatrical distribution? Few film fans work harder than Tarantino to protect the experience of watching a movie in theaters; at times, though, the director sounds like someone trying to open a gourmet Peanut Butter and Jelly store in Brooklyn without a shred of irony.
If you’re inclined to dislike Tarantino for his comments about other filmmakers, then you also have to remember that we helped create this particular filmmaker. Like the good Doctor Frankenstein, we wanted to breathe life into bygone movies and genres that we grew up loving, and when Tarantino found a way to rework familiar tropes with a post-modern cool, we have only ourselves to blame for the monster we created. We have spent the past two decades extolling Tarantino as a person who single-handedly ushered in a new era of film – an emphasis on independent cinema and the beginning of the video store generation of filmmakers – so it might be just a tad disingenuous to criticize the man for letting our praise go to his head.
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