Quentin Tarantino - Auteur or Amateur?

Ever since Reservoir Dogs came out in 1992, the name Quentin Tarantino has been held up as a minor deity in the Pantheon of Film Directors in the late 20th Century.  I didn't see the film when it came out because I was told that it was very violent and suspenseful and I had, at the time, a very strong aversion to violence/suspense of any kind in film. (As a point of reference, E.T. was too suspenseful for me.) I did, in a very ill-advised move, decide to see Pulp Fiction in 1994, which sent me into an apoplectic fit of rage that emanated from every pore of my body so virulently that the people who went with me couldn't enjoy the film.  Now, I couldn't tell you at the time in Quentin Tarantino knew what he was doing in directing this film, blinded as I was to it.  But, I had the sense that this was a storyteller who loved sensationalism.

During the past few months, my film-buff girlfriend and I have been spending Sundays watching three or four films back to back.  We've watched some really great films, Foxcatcher, Death to Smoochy, Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, along with many others.  Then last weekend we decided to watch The Hateful Eight.  Not 10 seconds into the film, I made a snarky comment about Tarantino leaving the screen black for 30 seconds while the music swelled - no credits, no introduction, just a black screen.  "Show us something, Quentin!" I yelled at the screen.

I'm kind of sorry I asked for that.

What Quentin Tarantino decided to show us was a terrible melo-drama/who-dunnit.  It was terribly acted, terribly written, terribly shot.  The only thing I liked about the film was its setting: "sometime after the Civil War."  I thought that was a very interesting time period to set a film.  What was ABUNDANTLY clear about Tarantino from this film is that he LOVES using the word "nigger."   According to Gawker's "Complete History of Tarantino's using the word "Nigger," he used the word less in The Hateful Eight than he did in Django.  And I would put money down that one could not go 90 seconds in the former 3 hour and 7 minute film when the word is not used. Oy fucking vey.

So, as a way of trying to establish if QT has lapsed in his talent as a director or whether he was always a charming hack, we decided to go back and watch Reservoir Dogs.  [SPOILER ALERT.]  This was my first time seeing the film and it was...unimpressive.  Of course, it's been 24 years since it was made and I've seen so many heist-go-wrong films since then that probably weren't made until after 1992, so it being unimpressive, is not surprising.  I thought the dialogue was quite good.  The shooting was - eh - he stole a lot from Woody Allen and from Frances Ford Coppola.  Really the only part of the film that was truly artful was when Tim Roth reveals he's a cop and tells the story of how he rehearsed and then sold the 'anecdote' he's given to memorize in order to pass as a 'bad guy' with the other thieves.  The way QT shot that sequence was fantastic -- he went from showing Tim Roth receiving the anecdote from his police contact, to showing him rehearsing it, telling it to the bad guys and then showing Roth in the fictionalized anecdote, living it out.  It was a piece of artful shooting. So beautiful.  

But the rest of the film was predictable and testosterone-filled and, yes, the "n" word was bandied about inappropriately.  Honestly, I don't know what the big deal about the film was except that it looks deep.  It looks like Dog Day Afternoon.  But it doesn't have the heart of Sidney Lumet's masterpiece.  And none of the actors get anywhere close to the performance Pacino and Cazale deliver.  

My jury is in on Tarantino and the verdict is guilty of impersonating an artist.

p.s.. I have also seen Jackie Brown and the Kill Bill films. So, I've given him at least five chances.


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