My feelings about Quentin Tarantino have always run hot and cold. Reservoir Dogs quickly became my favorite film for a number of years after first seeing it in high school. Yeah, I was that dweeb who liked to walk around in suits and sunglasses afterward. That is, when I wasn’t in my usual army jacket and jeans cranking The Clash. High school…where “fitting in” isn’t even an option for some people.
Anyway, the dialogue in Reservoir Dogs blew me away, and while I already knew I wanted to write at that point in life, this movie made me want to write for actors. I joined theater productions in high school, and then I studied theater in college in Texas for a year before becoming, well, the nice way to say it is “academically suspended.” After that my passion for writing went back to more common forms: fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, etc. Screen/playwriting fell by the wayside, but for a while, Dogs helped push me along my creative path, and I’ll be forever thankful.
His other films, for a long time, were hit and miss for me. Pulp Fiction was fun but I never got too into it, only watched it a few times all the way through. Jackie Brown, only saw it once. I enjoyed both Kill Bill flicks, but again, I never re-watched them the way I did Dogs over and over. Death Proof was enjoyable (I love Kurt Russell as a bad guy) but almost too dragged out with some long dialogue scenes that didn’t feel like they added much, juxtaposed against really intense bursts of crazy and amazingly awesome action scenes. This kind of hot and cold within a film itself peaked for me in Inglourious Basterds.
Basterds was a film I had really high hopes for. I am a fanatic for WWII movies and fiction, especially when mixed with noir and espionage elements. For Tarantino to make a film about soldiers behind enemy lines, well, that sounded like a dream come true.
Except, it was almost a nightmare. It’s currently my least favorite Tarantino film (granted, I owe it a re-watch) because while much of the film retained the great writing, witty acting, and edgy feel we all love about Tarantino’s flicks, huge portions of the film again felt drawn out or so over-the-top with camp that it was embarrassing, making the film (in my eyes) fall well short of its potential. Two scenes alone killed it for me: pumping Hitler full of lead, and the random, pointless David Bowie music video. I know people that loved both, and that’s fine—but I hated both. Maybe because I take the war too seriously, maybe because I love the noir genre to the point where adding so much camp and humor almost feels like mockery, but whatever my deal was, neither scene worked for me at all. I feel like Hitler was made into a clown, and I recall people laughing hysterically when they shot him all to hell. I cringed, thinking about all the people who actually died trying to kill him or by his own hand, and the laughter in the theater didn’t jive with the horror he inflicted in the real world.
So, yeah, that’s me taking it all too serious and being all grouchy about Tarantino’s revisionist wish-fulfillment for entertainment’s sake, his middle finger to a truly vile human being.
However, the one thing I’ll give the film is that it has an amazing soundtrack. All his films do, and I love that about him. Basterds was actually the film that made me begin creating soundtracks for my novels, which still helps me through the first and second draft stages. I speak about that process more in this blog post, and it’s really fun to do.
Anyway, because I had so many issues with Basterds, because I was so let down, I wasn’t ready for how excellent Django Unchained was. Total opposite of Basterds. It maintained the right balance of humor and seriousness throughout and the acting and music was spot-on, just a great film, and that is why I’m so hopeful for The Hateful Eight. Tarantino used western aesthetics in his war film, which worked in some scenes, not in others, and while I still think it was an admirable and fun idea, his use of western tropes in western films just works perfectly, because westerns, in my mind, always lent themselves to a camp vibe anyway. They can be a little silly, over the top, and they still work. Even John Wayne was goofy when he wanted to be, and Eastwood made some pretty trippy westerns (High Plains Drifter is basically Fear and Loathing on the High Plains). But most of all, Tarantino just has a great eye for both western detail and homage, and with so many of his usual suspects involved in this one, as well as some great former western stars, The Hateful Eight is primed to be one of his best yet.
And considering I have a western novel of my own outlined and in the works (hoping to start it in full in 2016), you can bet I’ll be taking notes when The Hateful Eight hits the big screen. How about you?