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Against Tarantino

I've had it with his myth, mouth, and morality-free movies.

By David Berner 31 Aug 2004 | TheTyee.ca
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He's rich, very rich. And he's famous, and he's powerful, and he's in demand. Did we mention rich?

He's also a colossal shmuck. And he hasn't made a movie worth watching in years.

Mr. Tarantino is now complaining bitterly (between private jet excursions to jury one film festival after another) that his two new movies, Kill Bill, Volume One and Kill Bill, Volume Two, will not be eligible for the Academy Awards. Ditto, his beautiful swordswoman star, Uma Thurman. We can only say, "The man is flat nuts."

While Quentin Tarantino is listed in the Internet Movie Data Base under several headings (actor, writer, producer), it is as Director, Auteur, and Opinionator that we know him and love him out of all reasonable proportion, or, more properly, recognize him for the Emperor's New Clothes that he is.

An overrated star is born

Mr. T's first two movies were Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994). Both were hailed at the time of their release as being rich, dynamic originals. And they were fun, spooky fun. Uncommonly violent, brightly photographed and carved into time-juggling fragments, both movies were hugely successful in all of the usual markets - domestic and foreign first run theatres, VHS, DVD and sale to television.

Most important, these two movies gave birth to not one, but several modern Hollywood fables and legends. First, the very name, Quentin Tarantino, was burned into the public's consciousness. He was, on the basis of those two gun-toting comedy thrillers, instantly in the same firmament with Hitchcock, Fellini, Truffaut, Nicholas Ray, Woody Allen.

Second, he single-handedly made Mirimax Films, the tiny independent distributor run by manic Harvey Weinstein and his quieter brother.

Third, Hollywood's favorite home-grown fairy tale - Lana Turner was discovered sitting at the soda fountain counter at Schwab's Drug Store - has been completely erased and replaced by The Quentin Tarantino Story. The story goes like this: Quentin spent all of his adolescence behind the counter at a neighbourhood video store. He watched every movie ever made, at least twelve times. And he watched the most obscure kung fu movies from every obscure principality in Asia, and he watched those at least 30 times each. And cartoons and porno and…well, you get the picture.

He raises the dead
Now, so pervasive is this mythology that today you will recognize the symptoms in every video store in the land. There is not one pimply-faced screen-addicted geek that does not fashion himself the next Q.T. These kids know every shot and cut in the cinematographer's lexicon, and they live with the happy conviction that their first film will break big on the opening weekend and have serious legs into the third month.

And finally, there is the myth called "All the Actors Whose Careers were Finished, but To Whom Tarantino Gave Second Life." Much like God, you know. These fortunates include John Travolta, Robert Foster, Pam Grier and Harvey Keitel.

Now, like all urban legends, these juicies contain some small elements of truth. But behind all this yellow Brick Road stuff lingers a dreadful -dare we say, it? - moral question. What's it all about, Alfie?

And therein lies the problem.

Movies about movies

Tarantino's movies are never about anything so much as they are about movies and the history of movies. Now you could say the same thing about Steven Spielberg. But at some point, Mr. Spielberg went beyond his own technical proficiencies and began making movies with content. You know, story, characters, all that silly, old-fashioned stuff.

Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2, are brilliant, hollow, fevered childish homages to every movie every made. Arms and heads fly through the air. Blood pours, spills, spurts, pumps, comes, bursts and explodes every few seconds, even in cartoon form.

Mr. Tarantino is not unlike the legendary German filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. Ms. Riefenstahl's most infamous work is the 1934 documentary of the Nazi party's rally in Nuremberg, Germany. The movie, Triumph of the Will, stars Adolph Hitler, all his favorite henchmen (Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels, Herman Goring, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, and The Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich), thousands of marching jackboot soldiers, and hundreds of thousands in the adoring crowd.

Cinephiles have been rhapsodizing about composition, lighting, editing and music in Triumph for seventy years now, just as today's new generation of de-sensitized video-geeks carry on about the composition, lighting, editing and music in the Kill Bill movies. Never mind that Riefenstahl's film has been, since its first viewing, rightly considered an intricate part of the Third Reich's propaganda machine. Never mind that Tarantino is slicing and dicing a mother in front of her wide-eyed child.

Cue the violence

Here in a recent New Yorker piece, he talks about Stanley Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange. This is his vision. "I always thought Kubrick was a hypocrite, because his party line was, I'm not making a movie about violence, I'm making a movie against violence. And it's just, like, Get the fuck off. I know and you know your dick was hard the entire time you were shooting those first twenty minutes, you couldn't keep it in your pants the entire time you were editing it and scoring it. You did it for those first twenty minutes. And if you don't say you did, you're a fucking lair."


So, is it fair to ask, "Quentin, have you ever actually seen or experienced any real violence?"

Has he seen or experienced anything that might be considered remotely real? Anything that wasn't already cartooned, or matted, or pixelled, or simply installed in the illusion of a frame?

Life as the Seven Genres.

When do we get the musical?

David Berner is a talk show host and CKNW and a regular contributor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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