Jordan Schwarzenberger on ‘The Tarantino Factor’…
Since 1992, Quentin Tarantino has been an everlasting light in cinema. Post the release of his quirky, cleverly written and still brilliant Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino has risen in both power and international prowess to become one of the most recognized directors of our time, and to me, the most overrated.
Tarantino is like the Kanye West of cinema. He can say as he pleases, treat people with an ego assertive nature and have people adore him as a Godlike figure. Much like West, his early work landed him a few modern classics under his belt, and Tarantino showed that he possessed some actual talent and individuality; however again, much like West, his work since his early days has severely declined. Tarantino has now become a lazy artist, producing films where the actual quality is overshadowed by the backbreaking arrogance and carefree persona of the man himself. His two career defining works, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, won him critical acclaim, early, and gave first impressions to the world that he was one to watch. This, plus his quirky and strangely immersive personality, became fundamental elements of his current success, as without this he would still be proving his worth.
I believe strongly that the fact a film like Pulp Fiction can get a 9/10 rating on the IMDb, beating classic works of art such as 12 Angry Men, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Taxi Driver (need I go on?) is ludicrous, and the film world needs awakening. Reservoir Dogs, it has to be said, is a good film, very well written and superbly played, that cannot be questioned. Pulp Fiction on the other hand, is simply fun with no substance, as the title defines, and it’s this which personifies Tarantino – style over substance. The actual depth and quality of Pulp Fiction is thin, yet it is considered one of the best ever. It is pure ‘pulp’ entertainment, at its finest, which honestly doesn’t deserve as much praise or the “classic” status as it has achieved. Tarantino is the master of producing a slack yet quotable script and hiring cool looking guys in suits to attract an audience, yet these are simply stylistic features that blind us from a lack of vigour. Due to the fact that he gathers a cast of headliners and manages to gain the rights to every soul/funk track from the 70s, Pulp Fiction is somehow seen as the 4th best film of all time on the IMDb Top 250. I cannot comprehend this madness.
Over 22 years, Tarantino released 8 titles, and what resonates throughout each one is what I like to call the ‘Tarantino Factor’. Try and picture this as a Nike tick, indelibly scratched into every shot, line and the use of the word “fuck” in a Tarantino film. This essentially leads to an acceptance of needless gratuitous violence, pointless profanity driven scenes which drive around in circles, and stories which lose momentum after they’ve 20 minutes. What this does is allow Tarantino to take an average film, and turn it into something Oscar worthy, simply by having his name on the directing credit. This is prominent across his entire catalogue of work, from the tiresome Jackie Brown to the trashy Death Proof, but most notably in his more recent releases.
Take Inglourious Basterds for instance. I found watching this to be a very disappointing experience on first viewing. The concept of the story was initially very interesting to me (revenge-hungry Jewish Nazi killers is exciting for any teenager), but my attention faded as the film initialized “Tarantino” rage mode, to destroy any hope I once had. The closing sequence of Inglourious, I must say, from a cinematic perspective was incredible, very well shot and very well edited, but for me, too little too late. It was sad to witness a glimpse of Tarantino’s true quality as a director, only for half an hour of a two and a half hour film. What shocked me the most about Inglourious Basterds however was the incredulous amount of awards it was nominated for in the 2010 Oscars – 7. Had I missed something? This film was average at best, a 70% B-movie / 30% A, with a big name cast and a flashy budget. How could this warrant its 7 nominations? This justified my Tarantino theory for me, as once more the actual cinematic quality of his work was overlooked by its true lack of substance.
The fact is however, that the academy love Tarantino and this love seems never ending, as shown with his most recent picture, Django Unchained. Django was possibly the most overrated piece of cinema in recent years. It tasted as bad as a ‘Big Kahuna’ burger on my first viewing, as I left the cinema with a feeling of being let down from the high horse I had put it on. The problems with Django lay predominantly in the scenes of extended dialogue and a lack of overall direction, rather than specifically in the performances. All four of the leads were indeed played very well, however the talent in this cast was wasted.
The length was another issue, with Django lasting a near 3 hours, which would be fine if the pace was consistent. However in many scenes it just dragged on and on, most notably in ‘Candie Land’, as the momentum and its edge – like in Inglorious – was lost. 40 minute scenes at a dinner table do not make a film more substantial; this feels like such a routine for Tarantino, as he has bored us with needless conversations for years. Like all of his films though, denying its positive features would be an injustice, as there were some very interesting characters that he constructed – for example Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie; this was for me, one of DiCaprio’s finest performances. On the whole however, Django Unchained was just purely average, and its 5 nominations and 2 wins at the Oscars make it another clear example of this Tarantino Factor.
It feels as if, with every film, Quentin Tarantino’s class diminishes, and his ego expands. He represents the declining quality in mainstream modern cinema – very much style over substance. He has found a winning formula in his filmmaking, which means the focus detracts from the actual quality of the piece. He has grown in status and gained massive respect over the years from the movie going public and guilds, to the point where he is allowed to do whatever he wishes, however he wants. To me, he is a somewhat parasite on the progression of cinema’s truly talented, who wish to bring depth and substance back into an industry which is losing it. Honestly, I am not convinced that he truly cares anymore, and it’s that attitude which makes him someone whose worldwide respect and worship I cannot fathom. Yes, he has made some good films this cannot be denied. Yes, he assembles a big name cast, this cannot be denied; and yes he has big budgets to make everything look good, this cannot be questioned, but the raw underlying depth and cinematic quality continues to lessen, and why? Because he doesn’t need to prove his ability anymore. Over the last 22 years, Tarantino has carved his way through the industry to reach a point of indestructibility, and sadly, I doubt he’ll be taken down anytime soon.