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DECONSTRUCTING THE TARANTINO MYTH
by Noel Wood
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, came a filmmaker whose bold style challenged the grain of the movie industry. His first film was a huge critical success and a (then) rare independent hit. Soon, his scripts became sought after prizes for established filmmakers to direct. And his second film blew the roof off of Hollywood and shoved a big fat thumb in the eye of the Academy.
Of course, I am speaking of Quentin Tarantino, the energetic writer/director who sprung a love/hate relationship with violent crime movies in America. Not even Scorcese blurred the line between good and evil the way Tarantino did in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION, and he even showed how well he could adapt a major novelist's style in to his own in JACKIE BROWN. The public took notice, and of course there are critics. Some felt he glorified violence. Many felt the Scorcese and Hong Kong influences were too obvious. Others called him unoriginal in lifting the RESERVOIR DOGS idea from Ringo Lam's CITY ON FIRE. But more prevalent than the criticism of Tarantino directly, there was a new wave of bashers who tarnished Q's image without even reflecting on his own filmmaking abilities.
First, the obvious: Q's big head. Not the physical size of his cranium, which is pretty impressive in its own right, but his ego. People suddenly forgot that Tarantino had made great films because of the way he began to spread himself around. The gratuitous talk show appearances. His questionable acting talents in DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO and SLEEP WITH ME. His production company, Rolling Thunder, which looked as a simple excuse to put his face on the cover of movies he felt deserves a second chance. People got tired of Q, and it reflected on people's view of his actual films. I'm as guilty as anyone for this. I got so sick of seeing Tarantino that I forgot that I liked PULP and DOGS enough to see them over a dozen times apiece. But every once in a while I'll pop in my deluxe widescreen copy of PULP FICTION and realize how good it really is.
But a large part of the flak that Q caught wasn't even from his own doing at all. It was the fault of a motley crew of johnny-come-lately young filmmakers who all raced to be the next big thing in Hollywood. After the sleek critical performance of DOGS, PULP, and the Tony Scott-helmed TRUE ROMANCE, the Hollywood carbon-copy machine began cranking out anything they could to cash in on the wave. At first this was nothing outrageous, as it is often the case in Hollywood. For many a quirky and successful film, there's a wave of copycats that try to duplicate its success. Often these are B-movies and video fare, but occasionally you get a big studio trying to catch the rage. After DAZED AND CONFUSED followed THE STONED AGE. MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING spawned WEDDING BELL BLUES. GORDY tried to beat BABE to the punch. Ditto for ANTZ in reference to A BUG'S LIFE. Even the little cross-dressing film that could, THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA..., caused the big Hollywood bust TO WONG FOO... to see print. But with Tarantino, this is a rage that carries on to this day.
The myth seems to be that Tarantino's style is easy to duplicate, that they pretty much write themselves. But that's simply not the case. Part of what seperated Q's films from standard crime fare was the extraordinary scripting and compelling dialogue. And most of the followups are lacking in that field severely, as well as in other areas. The following is a list of films in question that tried to ride the wave of success that Tarantino forged. My goal is to try and strip some of the stigma that has practically ruined an enjoyable style of filmmaking. Some of these are good movies, some are average, and some are absofuckinglutely horrible. Some are blatant ripoffs of the style, and others were just marketed that way.
LOVE AND A .45 (1994, C.M. Talkington) One of the first noteable movies to employ Quentoligy, this was actually enjoyable in the most mindless way possible. Using a cast of hip young stars (most stolen off of the set of DAZED AND CONFUSED), this is a simple young-love-on-the-run action flick. On the video box, it reads, "In the tradition of RESERVOIR DOGS, TRUE ROMANCE, and PULP FICTION..." I mean, can you get more blatant than that?
FALL TIME (1994, Paul Warner) I never saw this film, and mostly it's because I have a screenplay that someone said reminded me of this movie. But it appears to be rebounding from the RESERVOIR DOGS robbery-gone-afoul premise and the antihero idea.
S.F.W. (1994, Jeffrey Levy) More of a comedy than anything Tarantino's ever done, but still riding that wave of violence and slackerism that Tarantino and Richard Linklater made popular. Not a good film, but it won't make you cringe either.
KILLING ZOE (1994, Roger Avary) Considering Avary was a cowriter on PULP FICTION, I was almost about to omit this from the running. But the fact that the box says "From the creators of PULP FICTION" (even though that's a bit of a stretch) gave me the reason to include it on this list. The employment of PULP cast member Eric Stoltz doesn't help much either. Julie Delpy naked does.
SHALLOW GRAVE (1995, Danny Boyle) A really cool movie from the guy who would later helm TRAINSPOTTING. It's nothing at all like a Tarantino film, actually, but was marketed with the phrase "PULP FICTION fans, have we got a movie for you..." so I've included it on the list.
BOTTLE ROCKET (1995, Wes Anderson) This is a great first feature by the future director of RUSHMORE that was unfairly lumped in to the post-Quentin mania that was going on at the time of its release. It's about as close to PULP FICTION as STRANGE DAYS was to HACKERS.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996, Robert Rodriguez) This doesn't really count, considering Tarantino starred in and wrote it and pal Robert Rodriguez directed it. But the fact that this is a really bad movie that just screamed "Hey, look at me! I'm Quentin Tarantino and this is the guy who did EL MARIACHI so go see it even if it is a stupid vampire movie!" qualifies it. But it does have a really killer scene with Salma Hayek, a snake, and a bikini, so that alone is worth the price of admission.
THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD (1996, Gary Fleder) I really liked this movie, more than most people apparently. A great ensemble cast with fine dialogue and a dark atmosphere helped make this memorable. While this isn't a direct ripoff of Tarantino's style, you can bet your last peanut that it wouldn't have seen print without the Q-man's aura begging for more of the crime drama genre.
FREEWAY (1996, Matthew Bright) I didn't see it. I did see Bright's earlier film GUNCRAZY, which wasn't very good. I heard good reviews from a few people. I also heard this had Quentoligy written all over it.
2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY (1996, John Hertzfield) From what I saw of this movie, it was pretty bad. I had to turn it off halfway in because I was bored. But yeah, this reeks of Quentoligy.
UNDERWORLD (1997, Roger Christian) I missed this film as well, and for good reason. I actually heard critics (yes, plural) say this was the worst film they had ever seen. And I hate to see Denis Leary and Joe Mantegna do that to themselves. Definitely riding toward the end of the wave of "look-there's-a-guy-with-a-gun-on-the-box-so-let's-rent-it".
KEYS TO TULSA (1997, Leslie Grief) Look! ANOTHER indie crime flick with James Spader and Eric Stoltz! Doesn't that remind you of 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY? And didn't that remind you of PULP FICTION?
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENSES, N.M. (1997, Kiefer Sutherland) The critics didn't like this movie, and niether did the few intelligent people I know who actually saw it. I didn't see it, but it has Kevin Pollak in it, and that automatically assures it two stars. From all the hype I've seen surrounding it, it looks like it has Quentoligy running through it.
PALOOKAVILLE (1997, Alan Taylor) Not a bad little comedy, and a chance to see Vincent Gallo before he thought he was Orson Welles crossed with David Lynch. A little along the lines of BOTTLE ROCKET, but not completely. But I kept thinking of Bruce Willis from PULP FICTION when he calls John Travolta "Palooka", and by this time there wasn't much to compare to Tarantino, so it was just kind of a random pick.
CITY OF INDUSTRY (1997, John Irvin) Here's the fucking guilty party right here: The most gratuitous and overtly unoriginal film that I may have ever seen. I felt so dirty after seeing this film just because the back of the video box said "If you liked RESERVOIR DOGS and THE USUAL SUSPECTS..." This movie is uneventful, uninspired, unmemorable, and unentertaining. This is directed by the same John Irvin that made such passed over crap as HAMBURGER HILL and WIDOW'S PEAK. It was bad enough when he tried to cash in on the Vietnam film boom of the late 80's and ENCHANTED APRIL-inspired romance boom of the early 90's, but this was fucking reprehensible. Harvey Keitel looks like he was forced to make this movie because he lost a bet, and Timothy Hutton just looks like he's wondering what happened to his career. Stephen Dorff is terrible as usual. Famke Janssen looks nice in her cut-off Jean shorts, but she can't even make this piece of shit entertaining. This movie was a pure reach of the last dying embers of the Tarantino Dynasty, and it falls flat in every possible way. By watching this film based purely on its tag line, I became the lowest of statistics. Next time, I won't be so stupid.
SUICIDE KINGS (1998, Peter O'Fallon) Not a terrible film, but way too influenced by Q.
THE BIG HIT (1998, Kirk Wong) Actually, Kirk Wong is responsible for some of the Hong Kong action movies that probably helped to influence Quentin, so this could be disqualified for that reason. I didn't see it, but it looked like the same marketing team that got crap like CITY OF INDUSTY and S.F.W. to see print.
VERY BAD THINGS. (1998, Peter Berg) Very Bad Movie. That's all I'll say. I don't feel like writing anymore because that CITY OF INDUSTRY review drained me.
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