I’m okay with people disliking Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I have no problem with those who find him annoying as a person. His films aren’t for everyone.
But those who call him talentless? These I have a major issue with.
It may be tempting to say that all Tarantino does is cut and paste old films into fan-wankery collages – he is in effect a collage artist, and you can watch almost any scene in any of his films and point to an original he’s ripping off – most likely some forgotten ’70s B movie of dubious taste. But like all the most compelling postmodernists, Tarantino knows that there is nothing new under the sun… except in the recombination of old things. Kill Bill, for instance, is a collection of hommages, clichés, parodies, pastiches, but Tarantino pulls all these disparate bits together in a way that invigorates them. I came out of both volumes of his worship at the feet of Uma Thurman feeling energised in ways that few other films have managed.
Is Tarantino self-indulgent? Definitely. But more than almost any director who can be accused of this, he’s also usually in great control of his material. The films are more tightly constructed than is usually acknowledged, in ways that make it easy for audiences to underestimate their sheer formal accomplishment. Yet, in spite of this, the films breathe freely.
Death Proof was much maligned when it came out, and it’s perhaps Tarantino’s most self-indulgent film. Its first half is misogynist, its characters unlikeable, its humour sadistic and misanthropic. But it’s almost a textbook case of postmodern pastiche vs. parody. Again, I fully respect people who dislike or even hate what Tarantino does, but he does it oh so well: the second part of Death Proof desconstructs the male sex-and-death fantasy of the first half. Stuntman Mike’s wet dream of fucking over sexy but annoying chicks with his car (and yes, sometimes a dick extension on wheels is not just a cigar) is turned on its head when the girls of the second half fight back. And god, is it exhilarating to watch as they turn the tables on Kurt Russell’s leathery prick of a man.
And then the ending comes. And it feels like Tarantino ran out of ideas and the script just read: “And then they beat the shit out of him.”
That they do, indeed. But, as so often in Tarantino, the rewarding bits aren’t the bursts of violence – his reputation of wall-to-wall, bloody violence is undeserved, but he likes to punctuate his films with bursts of it -, it’s the conversations leading up to the violence. People who say they liked such-and-such film of his, “if only there wasn’t quite so much talking”? You might as well say, “I like Michael Bay’s films, if only it wasn’t for the explosions. And the stupidity.”