Neil Calloway on the films Quentin Tarantino scripted but didn’t get behind the camera for…
Everyone knows Quentin Tarantino went from geeky video store clerk to geeky film director, but he didn’t just explode onto the scene with Reservoir Dogs (which, and this has been airbrushed out of history now, he developed at the Sundance Institute) in 1992. Though they were both released after his directorial debut, he’d previously sold the scripts to Natural Born Killers and True Romance, which would go on to be directed by Oliver Stone and Tony Scott respectively.
Both Natural Born Killers and True Romance are similar; messed-up, post-modern, lovers-on-the-run films that are 1990s updates of Bonnie and Clyde or Terrence Malick’s Badlands (True Romance is very much a pastiche of Malick’s film, right down the female voice-over and the score). Natural Born Killers went through several different revisions and other screenwriters taking a pass at it before it went into production; the whole experience is covered in producer Jane Hamsher’s terribly entertaining memoir Killer Instinct, in which neither Tarantino or Stone come out well, and it’s worth noting that Tarantino and Hamsher’s producing partner Don Murphy (who would go on to produce the Transformers movies) were involved in an altercation some years later. True Romance, however, more or less stayed intact between writing and filming, though Scott did change the ending so it was more upbeat.
They are both films that are recognisably Tarantino’s work; pop culture references, Mexican stand-offs, character names – a character called Donowitz in True Romance must be related to Eli Roth’s character of the same name in Inglourious Basterds, and in Reservoir Dogs Mr White is asked about a girl called Alabama; Patricia Arquette’s character’s name in True Romance. Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Walken and Chris Penn would all star in films Tarantino directed, and Tom Sizemore appears in both Natural Born Killers and True Romance. Christian Slater’s character, Clarence, in True Romance goes to a Sonny Chiba triple bill, and Chiba himself appeared in Kill Bill. Clarence is as close to Tarantino has got to writing an autobiographical character; he works in a comic book shop, not a video store, but the same pop culture encyclopaedia geekiness is there.
After True Romance, director Tony Scott used Tarantino to rewrite some dialogue for Crimson Tide, a submarine based cold war action thriller is not really Tarantino’s usual fare, but you can tell which scenes are his; an early one features characters (including a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini, who also appeared in True Romance) discussing submarine films, another that has his hallmarks all over it is a light hearted argument about which version of the Silver Surfer comic is the best, and a scene where Denzel Washington compares himself and another character (named Russell Vossler, after Rand Vossler, who worked on the Natural Born Killers script with Tarantino) to Captain Kirk and Scotty from Star Trek. All the scenes he worked on are light relief in a tense film that takes place almost entirely in a submarine.
To date, the last film Tarantino wrote that he didn’t direct was From Dusk Till Dawn, the gangster/vampire hybrid directed by Tarantino’s frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez. He took special effects artist Robert Kurtzman’s story and polished it into a fun project for Rodriguez to direct and for him to star in (it also features Juliette Lewis, who starred in Natural Born Killers). What starts off as a getaway film takes a crazy turn as two brothers and their hostages find themselves in a bar full of vampires. If Natural Born Killers and True Romance are lovers-on-the-run films, then so is, in a way, From Dusk Till Dawn, with the Gecko brothers – played by Tarantino and George Clooney – replacing Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers and Clarence and Alabama from True Romance. Bizarrely, though at first glance it might not seem it, From Dusk Till Dawn is arguably the most successful film Tarantino has been involved in; two sequels and a TV series followed it, not bad for a schlocky exploitation flick.
Over the past few years, Quentin Tarantino has frequently mentioned quitting directing after making ten films. Personally I’d love to see him write some more scripts for others; his early script work shows he’s at least a good as writer as he is a director.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive.