Monday, October 20, 2003

Kill Thrill
Call me the turd in the punchbowl, but I'm not much of a fan of Quentin Tarantino. I won't be making plans to see Kill Bill in the theatre and will be mildly interested to view this film when it becomes available on DVD. While I won't deny that he is a talented filmmaker, I will deny that he makes talented films. People are amazed at his use of dialogue, but what they fail to notice is that it's less of a compliment to him and more of an indictment against the majority of popular movies and how far down the quality of dialogue writing has sunk. Tarantino uses words in the way Britney Spears uses her navel. Both are in your face and stylishly framed but offer little in the way of substance.

That's my problem with Tarantino. The obsessive elevation of style in his movies using elements mostly borrowed. What do I mean by that? For starters, the Tarantino template revolves around a basic list of ingredients: normally unlikable characters who he makes likable through the use of banal, everyday, culturally referential and identifiable dialogue; straightforward crime setups derailed in some manner; non-linear storytelling; hip musical soundtrack; and intense scenes of shocking violence made to be laughed at. Tarantino takes this template and then tints it for each individual movie by applying a gloss of the 70's he wishes to pay homage to. Pulp Fiction & Reservoir Dogs call to mind the 70s cop picture motif (Dirty Harry, Mean Streets, Serpico) with elements of urban decay, disco lighting, and images of cars w/ vinyl bench seats and stylishly dressed villains in retro clothes and hairstyles. Jackie Brown riffs on the funk and blaxploitation aesthetic of the 70's while Tarantino's Kill Bill borrows heavily from Bruce Lee and 70's Kung-fu. Clearly Tarantino is obsessed with the 70's in the way that Oliver Stone is obsessed with the 60's. Both are also similar in the way they sledgehammer you with style.

Keg parties at UNH were incomplete without the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. The popularity of Tarantino as director is due in large part to his skill as DJ. Tarantino's Pulp Fiction soundtrack scored big because it arrived at precisely the moment during the early 90's that a retro-70's fad was taking place. Pimp wear was fashionable at parties, bell bottoms were back, Parliament-Funkadelic samples were remixed into gansta rap anthems. No wonder Pulp Fiction was as popular as it was - it was giftwrapped for the moment. Conversely, this explains why Jackie Brown was less popular and why Tarantino has taken such a long time in between that and Kill Bill. He can't let go of the 70's, but we can. From the time of Pulp Fiction's release to now, we have seen the retro 70's thing; a retro 30's swing/zoot-suit with touches of 50's Rat Pack martini thrown in; hidden appreciation for the 80's; and a continuing onslaught of the latest nu-metal, teen, and techno offerings of the prevailing trend machine. The challenge of Tarantino is to identify what elements of the 70's will resonate with audiences today. His Pulp Fiction hit paydirt with the timing, the funk element of Jackie Brown was perhaps a year or so too late. With Kill Bill, Tarantino may have successfully timed his kung-fu homage with our current Matrix-induced fascination with scenes of operatic, highly choreographed swordplay and acrobatics. Lost in all of this however is the question whether Tarantino is offering us anything new and original. It seems to me his great talent resides in his ability to repackage elements that originate from others; whether he's riffing off of blaxploitation movies, the operatic and stylish violence of Sam Peckinpah and John Woo, or now the Brothers Wychowski and their Matrix offerings. Ultimately, this is why I am not greatly interested in Tarantino. He offers nothing original.


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