It's Time for Quentin Tarantino to Go Back to His Roots
According to past interviews, the fifty-year-old Quentin Tarantino only has ten years left in his filmmaking career before his retirement at 60. At this rate I think it’s for the best, and I’m pretty sure Tarantino’s feeling the same way, given what he had to say about aging directors in an interview with Playboy: “Directors don’t get better as they get older. Usually the worst films in their filmography are those last four at the end. I am all about my filmography, and one bad film fucks up three good ones.” Thankfully, I don’t think Tarantino has put a single true smear on his filmography, but I’m also not a huge fan of post-1997 Tarantino as a whole.
Tarantino regards his latest efforts as his masterpieces, particularly the Kill Bill series, which he seems to view as one four-hour epic. I enjoyed those films, the indisputably entertaining two-part homage to anime, kung fu, grindhouse and splatterpunk films, but in spite of the trademarked Tarantino dialogue and his obvious stylistic choices, they – like his last two films – felt more like high-octane action films with the naïve imagination of a ten-year-old in many aspects. The perfect scene that illustrates that naiveté is one in Inglourious Basterds [sic], in which Hitler gets mowed down by Eli Roth and Co. The problem: Tarantino just feels like he’s simply having fun with the last building blocks in his filmography, instead of making his classic style and fictional universe feel bigger—though there have arguably been many hidden connections made to his past characters in his latest films.
Django Unchained was more enjoyable for me, with a few of the most memorable and brilliant scenes in his career appearing in it. One scene in particular involves a pre-KKK racist mob that decides to put sheets over their heads to hide their identities before going after Django (Jamie Foxx), but simply misplaced eyeholes make for some hilarious dialogue. The film felt classier than Inglourious and Kill Bill, but still felt like a more grindhouse version of a spaghetti western, much in the way Inglourious was a grindhouse version of a war film, but none of those matched the gusto of his 90’s era glory.
I managed to see Death Proof in theaters, which was part of the 2007 Grindhouse double feature shown in theaters. To this day, that double feature was the most fun I’ve ever had in a theater, and was the first and only time I ever enjoyed watching a movie with an audience, fake trailers and all. But I think that Death Proof perfectly displayed what style Tarantino decided to implement for the last decade, except with his last two films it was in a more elegant way and with context in world history. I firmly believe 1997's best film Jackie Brown was Tarantino's last foray into elegance in his career, with a permanent lack of mellowness and subtlety to follow in its wake.
The element I feel that’s missing from his latest films is what made Tarantino a Golden God in the 90’s. He’s always been able to place a nostalgic old school touch in a modern-day setting, which has produced true movie magic. What’s more is that I’ve always seen him as a crime film director, a surreal and quick-witted Martin Scorcese. I don’t want to see him tackle other genres with his flavor, I want to see the subgenre he essentially coined with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance and Jackie Brown—the fast-paced pop culture crime film. Hell, even his section of Four Rooms exemplified what Tarantino was about: people making trivial conversations engaging, using semi-outdated lingo while somehow still sounding cool, with a chill-yet-uneasy atmosphere. I miss hearing the 70’s funk and rock that pervaded his soundtracks, making the score appear as a character itself, seamlessly and calmly filling the gaps between the brief peaks of violence and the rapport in the dialogue. Those old films are Tarantino, even if he paid homage to so many genres; his films were culminations of multiple genres with his own personal spin, not focusing on a single one. And even though he didn’t direct True Romance (and it shows at times) it still carried that unmistakable vibe of his through the impenetrable writing; I'll always carry Dennis Hopper's “Sicilians were black” monologue with me.
I think Django Unchained speaks to his “Hollywood success audience,” an audience that makes me loathe going to the theater whenever he puts a new movie out. I hate to sound like a thick-rimmed-glass-wearing hipster, but I just can’t help but feel that it’s special knowing his 90’s resume over his modern career. Tarantino felt grungy, underground and truly controversial in the beginning, a time when the issues characters faced in his films made arguing about their use of a certain n-word word seem completely ridiculous. Now, yes, the major issues in Inglorious and Django were serious--the Holocaust and slavery, respectively--but I'm talking more about the general transgressive nature of his older films' plots. He didn’t need a lot of action, and there was a total air of nihilism I enjoyed, only aired out by temporary shards of spiritual hope, like with the anti-hero Butch in Pulp, whose luck and skills miraculously outweighed his misfortunes. Of course, Pulp Fiction is arguably his most surreal and hopeful film in the 20th century.
In the spirit of his old films, I would have liked to have seen the unplanned Vega Brothers film, starring Michael Madsen and John Travolta reprising their respective roles, understanding how both Vic and Vincent Vega became the people they were in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It's just a shame both actors grew too old before anything could materialize. Instead, Travolta wound up in Old Dogs and Madsen hasn't managed to make a name for himself beyond the Kill Bill series as that "alkie piece of shit" Budd.
My biggest hope is that Tarantino returns to his old ways, at least for a while. Remember the great intro of Bobby Womack's “Across 110th Street” as Pam Grier's beautiful profile rode the moving walkway along the 90's-yet-70's patterned background in the beginning of Jackie Brown? Do you recall Samuel L. Jackson putting on his killing gloves to "Strawberry Letter 23" in that same film? I fondly recall the feeling of wanting a nice soda to go with those presumably Big Kahuna fries as much as Vic Vega did in Reservoir Dogs. I want to see a movie of Tarantino's that brings us back to those kinds of visuals and feelings, simple as that. Quit focusing solely on fitting clever dialogue in different decades, and instead set up a contemporary scenario with that familiar tone.
One thing is more hopeful, however: if we don't see a return to the man's older material on-screen, we can always hope that when he becomes a novelist at 60 (as he said he would) he will write some material on par with Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, something that will inspire me like his silver-screen presence.