« My Brief Career as a Reviewer | Main | New REM Video! »

August 24, 2009

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Josh

I have to disagree with you on Kill Bill. I think it's Tarantino's masterpiece. It's like candy to me. I also really, really, really love Death Proof (an unpopular opinion because other people's opinions are insufferable.) The music! The costumes! Delicious.

I have to qualify this all by saying that for me a strong aesthetic- a visual language and a manners of speaking that are unique to the world of the film- trump anything and everything. This is how I loved Marie Antoinette when nobody else did. When people made valid criticisms about the movie my only retort was, "shut UP."

DJA

Isaac will not even entertain the idea that Death Proof is great, but it really is. It's also a lot more consistent than Inglorious Basterds, which is (deliberately) all over the fucking map. Sometimes this works -- the combination of suspense and comedy when Landa interrogates Bridget and the "Italians" at the movie premiere is really something -- but the incredible opening sequence gives you a sense of how great Tarantino could be if he could ever manage to exercise that kind of self-discipline for an entire movie.

(I guess Jackie Brown and Death Proof are his most disciplined movies, which is why I like them so much more than everything else he's done.)

Josh

@DJA

Thank you! Death Proof is amazing! I mean specifically the full-length version. The shorter version presented in Grindhouse is fun and fits in with the rest of that package, but the full version is so moody and delicious and really captures the genre while breathing new life into it.

DJA

Via (ironically) Newsweek's Seth Colter Walls, here is a surprisingly insightful review from Time's Richard Corliss:

Laurent, Kruger and Waltz (who earned the Best Actor award at Cannes in May) are the soul of the film. Their conversations percolate with menace because Tarantino plants plot elements that blossom later for maximum impact. When Colonel Landa asks one of the ladies for her shoe and, at a restaurant, orders milk for the other, you feel nooses tightening around their necks and yours. In these scenes and another in a basement bar where the smallest wrong gesture cues a bloodbath, Tarantino shows how to achieve drama through whispers and forced smiles. The parallel plot of a budding romance between Shosanna and a German war hero (Daniel Brühl) has a similar trajectory — the pot simmers, then the lid blows off — and the same artful mix of subtlety and surprise. These vignettes work much better than the big set pieces, with the Nazis in the movie theater or the Basterds in the field. You needn't scalp a man to make his hair stand on end.

It's just possible that Tarantino, having played a trick on history, is also fooling his fans. They think they're in for a Hollywood-style war movie starring Brad Pitt. What they're really getting is the cagiest, craziest, grandest European film of the year.

Also, in the Seth Colter Walls-Choire Sicha convo, there's also some interesting anecdotes about Tarantino fanboys -- who were reportedly grumbling about "too many bullshit talking scenes" (in foreign languages, no less!). No wonder Tarantino wanted to compare his audience to Nazis and burn them alive.

isaac

and lets not forget the Cannes fan service of "We respect directors here"

DJA

and lets not forget the Cannes fan service of "We respect directors here"

Sure, although I do love that line, and it works for the character -- who, I should note, grew up on a French farmhouse without electricity or running water, then as a teenager, fled to Paris where she became a cinéaste by working in (eventually taking over) a movie theatre. It's like a hyper-dramatized rendition of Tarantino's own Knoxville-to-Manhattan-beach, video-store-jockey-to-rockstar-director journey.

"Hello, Mary Sue, I'd like you to meet Quentin Tarantino, he's a big fan of yours from way back."

Thomas Garvey

I'm struck that you're a Tarantino fan, Isaac, when it's always seemed to me his strongest work ("Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction") ran on a vein of homophobia. Indeed, surely the homophobic bullies you've railed about in the past have all seen and studied the fantasy straight-rape scene in "Pulp." I'm also intrigued by Tarantino as probably the prime mover in the mainstreaming of torture into American culture. Wouldn't you agree he primed the public for the Bush response to 9/11? That seems to me pretty much inarguable. Indeed, some CIA/Blackstone operatives seem to have been working directly from the Tarantino/Roth playbook.

sashanaomi

I was initially concerned that the film had the potential of making Americans and Jews look just as bad as Nazis, then I remembered, ah but this is Tarantino. It's a sickeningly cathartic revenge fantasy. It's what would have happened if the Greeks had put the big violence on stage.
And, yes, I truly appreciated those goose bumpy moments with Colonel Landa.

Malachy Walsh

I had a great time at the movies when I sat down to watch Inglourious Basterds. Of course, it's also a completely silly movie, but the first scene/chapter was also totally enthralling for me - I really felt Landa's threatening charms there. It was just great.

I also discovered that quite a few people I know really hated the movie. Some for the same dramaturgical reasons Dargis poo-pooed it in the Times, and others for reasons that made me wonder why they even bothered to go see a Tarantino flick (they seemed to hate all his films).

Thomas - I think you give too much weight to the influence of Tarantino's movies. I, for one, was sickened by the torture scene in "Reservoir Dogs" and frightened by the idea of "the Gimp" in "Pulp Fiction". Neither made me think torture was cool. Or okay. In my opinion, the public's receptiveness (which is debatable, anyway) to torture came from other, much more direct sources - the fear of a second 9/11 being a very big one, while the other big source was the continuous harping on/milking of that possibility from the Bush administration.

Thomas Garvey

Wes Craven, of all people, walked out of the torture sequence in "Reservoir Dogs" with the trenchant comment, "He's getting off on this." I think there has never been a more succinct review of a Tarantino picture. Torture sequences were the centerpieces of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction," and have figured or been referenced in just about every Tarantino picture since; the director has also produced Eli Roth's "Hostel" pictures, which are widely considered, with the "Saw" movies, to constitute an entire genre unto themselves, i.e., "torture porn." Sorry, but whether or not you felt the torture in those movies was cool, history tells a different story. And it's impossible, I think, to claim that Tarantino is a major director, and not admit that his great obsession has had an effect on the public; what else could being a "major director" mean? I still recall the moment when Ving Rhames promises the gay men in "Pulp Fiction" will be tortured to death with a blowtorch and a pair of pliers. I saw the movie twice, and both times the movie theatre erupted in cheers; teenage boys pumped their fists in the air in triumph. Compare, if you will, to the complexities of the similar scene in "Deliverance," and you'll understand why Tarantino can hardly be considered an artist at all. And the argument that those boys didn't leave the theatre imprinted with the idea that gay men rape straight men, and that this crime deserves torture, strikes me as at best amusingly stupid. Tarantino is certainly the pivotal cultural figure in mainstreaming torture. I could go on about his politically reactionary views about unions, and egalitarianism, etc., but space restricts me. But whatever you say, please don't tell me the sadism in his movies is intended "ironically." He himself has insisted the opposite, and I take him at his word. He's an infantile sadist, and he has helped turn this country into a nation of infantile sadists, too.

Abe Goldfarb

Thomas, I respect the visceral reaction you have to Tarantino's violence, but I am conflicted about the substance of that reaction. Tarantino's movies are not necessarily about violence so much as they are about how they are about violence. Have you watched Reservoir Dogs recently? It gives an emotional life to the victim of that notorious scene, such that any reaction of "getting off" is mitigated, if not obliterated. The scene is blackly comic at best, frightening at worst. Or how about the women in Death Proof? Tarantino spends almost an hour giving us complicated, interesting portraits of self-possessed women only to break trust with the audience and rub them out. Do you think that, perhaps, his interest lies not in the act of violence but in how the audience responds to such an act? Which response is right, and which is wrong? Have you SEEN both parts of Kill Bill, which fetishize the very act of FILMING violence, and not the violence itself? Tarantino made what could LITERALLY be called the mother of all revenge pictures, revealing the tenderness of heart that marked Jackie Brown (a film with almost no violence at all) in a simple exploitation exercise.

It doesn't wash, Thomas. Tarantino cares about his characters, and he wants you to as well. A sadist doesn't care about the object of their torment. They care about the torment. You could argue that Pulp Fiction is homophobic, but any attempt to argue that the film is even TRYING to say anything about homosexuals in real terms is ludicrous. The rapists in that film are no more or less insane than many of the other characters.

The idea that Tarantino in ANY way hastened the public bloodlust that accompanied the acceleration of hostilities in the Middle East is farcical. The premise of our activities there relied on taking a face away from the aggressor and turning them into the victim. This is the opposite of Tarantino's method. In his world, everyone has a family, everyone has friends, everyone has a reason to keep living.

The man, then, must be said to get off not on violence, but on drama, the substance of which is creating interesting characters, and putting them in situations where their worldviews are expressed through conflict. Some directors work in the domestic mileu. Some make westerns. Tarantino works in violent situations, and his characters are defined by the ways they engage. Some are forced, some are reluctant, some engage gleefully. It is never simple, and never infantile. And, no, it is NOT ironic. It can be a joke, it can be dead serious, it can be an operatic gesture. If you don't like violence, don't see his movies. But don't accuse him of being a childish sadist. It only means you haven't actually considered the work. In fact, Kill Bill is the only over-the-top violent film of his career. The rest are more or less dialogue driven, with the threat of violence around every corner. A key distinction.

In the case of his patronage of Eli Roth, I can only say that Tarantino is a genius with absolutely awful taste. His love of exploitation pictures makes his ability to craft superior art all the more mystifying.

Perhaps the true object of his sadism is the audience. In which case, don't buy a ticket. It appears you've already made your choice.

James

Yeah, I’m with Abe here, Thomas. Your argument, self-righteous as it is, doesn’t quite hold. It would make sense if Tarantino’s films were just awash in mindless and consequence-free violence and not dialogue and story-driven, but that’s clearly not the case. Consider many other action films that come out (Ronin springs to mind), where bystanders are killed without thought or care. They’re not even characters, and no one seems to notice or care after they’re dispensed with. They’re extras getting mutilated solely for upping the body count.

Tarantino clearly cares about dialogue, storytelling, and keeping the audience in suspense as well as about violence (I’d actually go so far as to suggest that he may be dealing with film violence in a responsible way, since his films acknowledge the pain, horror and consequences involved with violence, but that is very debatable and another can of worms altogether).

No, I don’t think Reservoir Dogs “inarguably” (inarguably? Seriously?) paved the way for atrocities committed by the Bush Administration and the public’s response to said atrocities. Nor do I think Pulp Fiction turned its viewers into violent homophobes. That’s…that’s kinda silly. You realize that, right? I dunno. Abe? Joshua? You guys saw that movie (as did I). Were we all in a, “let’s destroy those evil gay-doers?” Hey, if so, you may be right, Thomas.

Anyway, as I said on my corner of the blogosphere, if you’re not into Tarantino’s movies, then this movie is most definitely not for you. Which is perfectly fine. I dug the hell out of it and will most likely see it in theatres again. You don’t have to join me, Thomas.

Thomas Garvey

Abe, I'm afraid it's you who rather willfully doesn't understand Tarantino. Of course he wants to create full, human characters whom he can then torture - that makes the sadism more pleasurable; I think there's even a quote from him on the set of "Reservoir Dogs" to that effect. So you're arguing against the director himself.

Likewise your claims about the mass audience relating to your personal critical theory, therefore obviating Tarantino's impact on pop consciousness, is pretty silly - as is obvious once you're forced to back away from his protegee, Eli Roth. Surely you can see that. When your argument requires a sudden U-turn into "mystery," you've got a problem, professor.

And I'm sorry, but I stand by my analysis of Tarantino's homophobia (although in recent movies it's been replaced by his foot fetish); the gay men in "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" are obviously at the bottom of the director's driving obsessions, which are, rather transparently, all about being objectified - i.e., fucked, literally in the case of "Pulp Fiction," figuratively via the torture in "Reservoir Dogs" (remember the psycho asks his victim, "Was it as good for you as it was for me?").

Likewise, don't kid yourself that I'm somehow so disturbed by "violence" that I can't accurately analyze an obvious head case like Tarantino. Far more challenging pictures, like Funny Games or Irreversible (which also "climaxed" with violence against gay men) have been made recently, and have been far harder to watch, but which are of considerably more artistic value than Tarantino's "oeuvre."

As for James's even more clueless response - which is more self-righteous, of course, than anything I wrote: no, I don't have to join you in the theatre, but I do have to live in the same trash culture you and your favorite director love to play in.

And I have a question for you two San Quentin fans - do you believe that America's embrace of torture somehow occurred in isolation from its pop culture? That would be an interesting thesis, certainly. Discuss.

Josh

Perhaps I'm missing something here. Anybody who knows me knows that I have a hare trigger when it comes to homophobia, but it never occurred to me that Tarantino might be homophobic. Never.

I might be going out on a limb here, but am I the only one who never considered the rapists in Pulp Fiction to be gay? The same goes for Deliverance, actually. Those dudes weren't gay. They're psychopaths who get off on power. Maybe it's just me.

I actually think Garvey's point about homophobia is interesting. Like I said, it never occurred to me and I'm a huge Tarantino fan. I suppose it deserves more thought, though I'd argue that douche bag comedies like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers do more damage to the LGBT community than anything else.

As to the point about torture, I just don't see it. The Romans were doing that shit in the Colosseum.

Malachy Walsh

My point had nothing to do with homophobia in Tarantino pictures.

My point was simply that to ascribe the public's acceptance of torture in the post 9/11 world to "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" is to give too much weight to the influence of Tarantino films and the fantasies therein. And not enough to what actually happened on 9/11 and how the Bush administration milked it in the years following.

Now I took "acceptance" here to mean acceptance of torture in the political sense with regard to the interrogation of terror suspects... and why wouldn't I since that (and not torture-porn) is what Thomas referenced to begin with.

I stick to my initial statement as I wish Thomas would stick to his initial point, which he does not.

And in his broadside reply to my statement, he suggests I agree with things I haven't even vaguely referred to.

Thomas Garvey

Okay, so the "hillbillies" in "Pulp Fiction" (a direct ref to "Deliverance," of course) were actually, like Roy Cohn in "Angels in America," "heterosexual guys who fuck around with guys." Uh-huh.

Perhaps you didn't think Jar Jar Binks was derived from Caribbean stereotypes, either. But did it ever occur to you that there was a odd parallel to gay men (and their growing political power) in Tarantino's strange constructions? Or that there was likewise an odd correspondence between them and the Chris Penn character in "Reservoir Dogs"?

I believe you, though, when you say the subtext of the movie never occurred to you. Indeed, often when I discuss Tarantino with his fans, I can see their faces grow stunned as they realize what they've actually been watching and enjoying. Why is it that so many seemingly sophisticated people are so easily snowed by this particular provocateur? Why do their "critical thinking" skills seem to stop at the boundary of their own subconscious anxieties? And why does the stretch wrap of Tarantino's pop surface seem to effectively obscure for them his true themes and interests? Indeed, many observers (see "Abe" above) naively construe the intensity of his effects as evidence of actual art! I'm going to have post on all this in greater depth on my own blog.

99

I'm glad I saw Thomas' post at the Hub Review and came over here for this. I was staying away because I really, really want to see this movie and didn't want any spoilers. But this is a great conversation and brings up a lot of things.

I'm a HUGE Tarantino fan, and have seen all of his movies, multiple times. I think they're smart, vicious, funny and, on occasion, powerful. That doesn't separate them from being, often, racist, misogynistic and, yeah, homophobic (though my radar isn't very well-attuned to that, I think). And it doesn't separate that from the kind of unsavory quality of Quentin Tarantino the person.

I know that easy way out is that he is writing about a world and characters that are racist, misogynistic and homophobic, but that's weak tea. He dives in enthusiastically and definitely revels in it. But, as I said at Thomas' place, I think what moves his work from the place of someone like Michael Bay, who is equally racist, sexist, misogynistic and homophobic, into what I consider art is the worldview. I never feel from Tarantino that we should be celebrating these people. The two heroes from Pulp Fiction are vicious, heartless killers, not to mention, sloppy, drug-addicted and dim-witted (most particular Vincent Vega). His movies exist in a world of grey areas and tarnished goals. Jackie Brown, his most soulful movie, is a bittersweet tragedy because the two actual decent characters can't get together because of the world they're in. That's a great human truth that he gets at.

I think, to condemn Quentin Tarantino, is to condemn D.W. Griffith. Art doesn't have to be politically correct or even politically tolerable to be great. But I do agree we have to look at it with open eyes.

Becky

Mr. Garvey-

I'm assuming when you refer to the homophobia in Reservoir Dogs you're talking about the scene in Joe's office immediately after Vic Vega has been released from prison. I have seen Reservoir Dogs many, many times, and so I think you’re missing the point of that scene. Those characters are homophobic, yes. But to have those characters espousing forward thinking social values would be absurd. That would simply be poor story telling. What you are getting in that scene is truly inspired storytelling. Here you have two men who undoubtedly love each other. If you question that statement at all skip to the final scene of the film and just look at Nice Guy Eddie’s (the Chris Penn character’s) face- it says it all. That being said, living within the culture they do, they have no other means to express their love and affection except through violence, and verbal assault. It’s amazing how Tarantino is able to have characters spewing some of the filthiest, cruelest dialogue imaginable with the subtext being so clearly, “I love you.” And that scene exists in order for the final showdown of the film to happen. So calling that out as homophobia means you’re getting caught up in the shock value, and missing the real human drama that’s happening in front of you.

As for the violence in Pulp Fiction- again you’re missing the point. The whole build of that movie is showing you violent image after violent image and in the end you get this one beautiful moment of non-violence; this one nugget- that out of all of this horror can come a moment of forgiveness, of turning the other cheek. And as a result is a much more hopeful and compassionate view of humanity than you get from say Funny Games which is a pretty bleak condemnation of humanity and the movie going audience at large, and essentially functions as an assault on the audience from beginning to end.

Josh

99, that was very thoughtful. Like I wrote to Thomas, it really hadn't occurred to me that Tarantino's films were homophobic. I'm a big fan, so maybe Garvey is right when he suggested I was blinded to the subtext(although I certainly didn't deserve such a snide response.)And I'm a gay rights activist! It's certainly something I'll have to think about. I'd still argue that the characters he mentions in "Pulp Fiction" and "Deliverance" aren't gay at all, and not even in that Roy Cohn was (because Roy Cohn WAS gay) but that's another argument.

As for torture, I stand my ground. I don't think Tarantino can get credit for something that's been a form of entertainment since the beginning of mankind.

99

Josh, I do agree with what you say about the rapists in Pulp Fiction (or Deliverance) not being "gay." It's very clearly about power and control and cruelty. And the torture they receive in return is about revenge. In most of his movies, that's what torture is all about (oddly, the off-screen torture in Kill Bill isn't...not entirely). It's a different beast. But the scene that Becky mentions from Reservoir Dogs is spot-on (as is her commentary).

For an, um, interesting perspective on torture in film and television, take a look at everyone's favorite Doughy Pantload's thoughts here: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=M2FhYmQ0MDk0OTMwNjVhNWUwMGQ2MTViNWI0NTI1NTY=.

I think the question of separating the art from the artist from even the unintended consequences is a key one. I always found it interesting that Spike Lee stopped using the n-word in his films, even in the mouths of racists, because of its overuse in Pulp Fiction.

Abe Goldfarb

Guys, GUYS. It's okay. Thomas Garvey is a total troll. He couldn't be more of a troll if he lived under a bridge. He's not interested in a debate. He's interested in pissing people off. Let's not feed the animals.

Oh, and my name is Abe, not "Abe". I was born without quotation marks.

Thomas Garvey

Ah, you know you've won the match when they start thrashing around helplessly like "Abe" is . . .

But to 99 and Josh and Becky - I know you're posting sincerely, but you've got to realize that hookers have been repenting and bad boys have been finding Jesus in the last reels of mellerdrammers since time began. This transparent trope didn't transform that trash into art, and it doesn't transform "Pulp Fiction" into art, either. Ditto all this "love through violence" and "real human drama" crapola - please, save it for Mom; only she could misread a filmmaker as thoroughly as you have.

And when it comes to all this bleating about how the rapists in "Pulp" are not gay - uh, why aren't they gay, exactly? Because they're called "hillbillies" by Marsellus? Is that it? Because oddly, they have gay leather gear and toys, and keep a pathetically willing boy toy in the basement, and even fuck a man in the ass on-camera. Weighing all that against one line, I'd argue that - yes, they're gay. They're just macho leather gay, that's all, which is a weird subculture within the gay community.

And ponder, please, for a moment, the milieu into which Tarantino released this little fable. Gay citizens had just been slapped down from the Democratic administration's first attempt to give us rights, but we were making steady inroads culturally, and the first discussions of gay marriage were already appearing in print. At this cultural moment, Tarantino produces a fable in which gay men kidnap and rape a black man, who is saved by a white man, but who then allows the black man (a killer himself) to torture the gay men to death. I mean seriously people - every angle of that story is so obviously loaded with Tennessee-cracker reactionary political content that for you to claim that it's really all about a shining moment of forgiveness is just hilarious.

And 99, if you're going to combat my argument about Tarantino's importance as the prime mover in mainstreaming torture, you've got to look at movies that appeared BEFORE Tarantino, not AFTER.

Jimmy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Splatter_film

The above exploration of the splatter film genre does a good job of suggesting what kind of films got us to the "torture-porn" genre.

None of the Tarantino films TG discusses are mentioned. Why? Because none of Tarantino's films are about torture. Not one. Nor is torture central to any of them. Revenge is the central theme in most of QT's work. And anyone with common sense will not be led astray by TG's intentional misreadings of the films. And film history.

The only Tarantino film mentioned in the article is KILL BILL, when it is described, accurately, as a "revenge-thriller".

QT's films are exploitative, bloodlust-fueled fantasies, to be sure, peopled by some characters who are sadists and homophobes. That does not make the films or the filmmaker homophobic or sadistic - any more than Arthur Penn is a bank robber and an advocate of bank robbery for making BONNIE AND CLYDE.

99

I guess the question is what do you mean by "mainstreaming" torture. What's interesting about Doughy Pantload's list is the inclusion of movies like Patriot Games, which has a scene where the hero tortures someone. Or Lethal Weapon, which has a long torture sequence (though the heroes are the victims). Not to mention movies like I Spit On Your Grave or the original Last House of the Left, any number of slasher films. Even when you add into it that, in that particular scene in Reservoir Dogs, part of what makes it effective is that Tarantino is juxtaposing very intense torture with a light comical song, you can say that combination of torture and humor runs through all of the Nightmare on Elm St. films. Depictions of torture aren't new and weren't new in 1992. And to connect, directly, Pulp Fiction and Hostel, while skipping over the intervening years and the context of the time, undermines your argument. Let me say this: I don't necessarily disagree with your argument. I just don't find it persuasive. Look at Eli Roth's work, in and of itself: his film, Cabin Fever, in much the same over-the-top vein, came and went as a B-movie in 2002. Three years later, Hostel was a hit, following in the footsteps of Saw. Yes, Q produced Hostel and championed the work of Eli Roth, but there was also something in the zeitgeist. 24 was already a hit and that's done far more harm than Hostel or Saw.

As to the rape in Pulp Fiction, would you describe the actual "hillbillies" in Deliverance as "gay?" Was that movie about an attempted gay bashing? I don't want to get too grad-school here about the use of language and all, or whether the Gimp is necessarily a willing partner in Zed and his friends' escapades. But still...it is quite the assumption to say that they're not. I'll grant you that.

But, I think you're missing the point of what I was saying: again, I'm not disagreeing with you that Quentin Tarantino might very well be a reactionary, homophobic racist, and that there are unquestionable tones of those things in his movies. I'm not sure where you got this idea that his movies are redeemed by any moment of forgivness, or the hooker with a heart of gold. What I was trying to say is that, for all of their racism, homophobia and misogyny, he captures a kind of humanity as well. Not redeemed humanity, but flawed and, surprisingly, honest. That's what makes him a good director. For me, dismissing the quality and power of his films (at least the good ones...I may be alone, but I don't rank Deathproof as one of them) because the content is politically objectionable is akin to rejecting the work of Truman Capote because he was gay or Spike Lee because he's black. It is important information to understanding his work, but it doesn't (and shouldn't) negate its worth.

Thomas Garvey

I see, Jimmy - so your argument is "it's not true because wikipedia says so." Right. For the record, of course, Tarantino does not, indeed, make splatter films. Like many sadists, he has superb taste, and he's always known precisely how far he could go without giving away the game - thus the camera drifts away in "Reservoir Dogs" from the ear being severed to a piece of graffit that says "Watch your head!", etc., etc.

I am really struck, however, by the number of you guys who are so clueless as to the vibe that all but rolls off these movies, and off QT personally.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad

# of Visitors Since 11/22/05


  • eXTReMe Tracker