Auteur theory was started by a group of influential French film critics in the 1950s and explores the idea of individual creative vision and cinema control. Hence the director brings his unique style and interpretation to the film.
Francois Truffaut’s comments that “there are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors” (Truffaut 1954) shows film needs to be a signature of a creative individual.
This hypothesis was developed a couple of years later in the United States through the articles written by Andrew Sarris, critic for The Village Voice. Sarris insists that to be a true auteur, there are three areas of criteria that need to be met.
Firstly, the director must prove to be technically proficient in film making. They must ensure that they have technical skill and knowledge of technical apparatus.
Secondly the director should develop an individual mark that is identifiable over every single movie that he directs. This identification frequently originates from repeating themes and distinctive, qualities of style. This identification often comes from recurring motifs and habitual characteristics of style.
Thirdly an auteur should have an influence on the in depth meaning of a film and so making it his own interpretation of that distinct moment in time.
Quentin Tarantino’s films are characterized as having non-linear storylines, stylistically excessive violence, satirical subject matter and being littered with repetition.
If his films are that recognisable does this make him an auteur? Does Quentin Tarantino fit that mould? The above examples are, along with other qualities is ample proof of Quentin Tarantino’s auteur status.
Many filmmakers remix and reuse parts of existing films without any acknowledgement of their influences. This can not be said of Quentin Tarantino who provides some of the best examples of appropriation in film by copying, transforming and combining past texts and movies to create ingenious and original films, and then speaks openly about his influences passionately and with great reverence. “I steal from every single movie ever made. If my work has anything, it’s that I’m taking this from this and that from that and mixing them together.” (Empire magazine interview, 1994.)
This inspiration from previous work, together with his ability to challenge mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterisation while also seemingly destroying the audience’s suspension of disbelief in order to convey his desired meaning and style, would then make him a postmodernist director.
Appropriation is the process of using elements of previously published texts or artwork and reusing them, by changing or tweaking the context or story, which ultimately leads to producing new works. Once again Quentin Tarantino is certainly agile at doing this. But his films can never be described as simple remakes.
So is Quentin Tarantino a hybrid of all three?
Taking inspiration from other films and directors and interpreting them in his own inimitable style. The debate surrounding Quentin Tarantino as an auteur or the ultimate postmodernist rages on and on. His supporters argue that creation actually requires influence and his critics accuse him of being uncreative. “The tragedy of Tarantino is that he could have been so much more than the Schlock and Awe merchant that he has devolved into.” (Johann Hari, Independent, 2009), “Quentin Tarantino, the Most Overrated Director in Hollywood.” (David French, National Review, 2015)
I will be analysing three of the most important Quentin Tarantino films, Reservoir Dogs (1992), named as the greatest independent movie of all time by Empire Magazine, Pulp Fiction (1994), regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time (Sander, 2010), and Django Unchained (2012), Quentin Tarantino’s biggest commercial success.
Reservoir Dogs, is a gangster film and pays homage to films such as Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976). It has a non-linear narrative, and plenty of gore and guts. Quentin Tarantino references pop culture with the inclusion of Madonna’s song Like a Virgin. There are many elements in the film that show his love for comic books and pop culture in general which he uses to extenuate his “cool” persona.
Pulp Fiction, is a criminal burlesque and is situated in Los Angeles and follows the lives of mobsters and criminals. The plot is non chronological which in turn makes the film complex and difficult to follow and a favourite technique of postmodernist directors. Quentin Tarantino’s affection of different film genres can easily be seen in the film. He weaves together his influences and connects seemingly unconnected films to create Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino, was inspired by gangster and other crime films as well as inexpensive fiction magazines, (commonly known as pulp fiction) and is known to have an exceptional, encyclopaedic knowledge of all films of every genre as a consequence of working in a video rental shop where he admitted watching films continuously. Quentin Tarantino uses this knowledge to great effect and perhaps still feels that he should recommend films to his customers to watch in the same genre and mirrors this by referencing them in his films. This film does not rely on pyrotechnic displays and special effects and instead leans towards using humorous conversations, which are used to distract from gruesome points in the story. Quentin Tarantino utilises long extended shots and tries to use minimal editing he also keen on mirror shots, feet shots and humour, which are all characteristic of the majority of his films.
Django Unchained, is an American Western film, in which Quentin Tarantino manages to combine film noir, entertainment, melodrama and pays homage to spaghetti westerns by using almost comedic violent fight scenes. The film begins with a distinct nod to Sergio Corbucci’s cult classic of almost the same name “Django” (1966) by using exactly the same song, typeface and colour pallet for the opening credits. There are lengthy dialogues along with sanitized blood scenes and soundtrack – a narrative in itself (Denby, 2013).
Each of these films show Quentin Tarantino’s passion for storytelling and each one borrows heavily from other films. However, in spite of Tarantino’s propensity towards pastiche, there are many reasons to name Tarantino an auteur. His personality, innovativeness and creative energy are dependably part of the movies he makes. By considering each film individually, I will then draw conclusions from the research I have found on Auteur theory and post modernism and apply it to each movie in turn.
CHAPTER ONE: RESEVOIR DOGS
What Quintin Tarantino tries to create in all of his films is o touch upon real life issues for the audience. In Reservoir Dogs, he does this by reflecting on the audiences own encounters with authority and the establishment, and considers the climate of violence, by showing these effects, upon the characters in question and ultimately upon society.
When Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough film Reservoir Dogs was released, it established a new trend of realism. The film begins with a group of men curiously discussing, the meanings of Madonna songs, the identity of the killer in Vicki Lawrence’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”, the identity of Toby, a name in an old address book of joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), and whether or not you should always tip waitresses. The characters are not dressed in tailor made Italian suits they are in simple, cheap, suits with skinny ties. The boss, Joe Cabot, does not wear a suit in this sequence, neither does his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn). Apart from this subtle difference, Joe and his son are for all intents and purposes equals with the Dogs during this conversation. Before Joe orders them to leave a tip, there is no indication in the sequence that he is the boss, merely an older member of the group every bit a subject of teasing, as everyone else. Indeed, there is little indication that the Dogs are anything more than men in suits. They are definitely lads first, and criminals second.
The music throughout the film comes from a fictional radio station K-Billy, and its Super Sounds of the Seventies, hosted by a DJ played by comedian Steven Wright. The narrative is non linear, however, this is shown using flashbacks and hence, it is easy to follow. The flashbacks show the Dogs wearing loose Hawaiian shirts and jeans, prior to the job. The criminals collective identity as Reservoir Dogs are suit wearing professionals going to work, it just happens that their profession is organized crime. Is this realism? It arguably is, as far as György Lukács theoretical developments of realism states: “realism springs from the relations of the characters.” The Dogs all have a sense of loyalty but this is not overplayed. Joe is their boss, not their king; Eddie is their supervisor, not an heir to the throne.
The narrative of Reservoir Dogs is nothing new, in fact, it is fairly typical of a crime film. A professional criminal organizes a group of hoods to pull a heist. However, one of the hoods is an undercover cop. It all ends when everyone in the group is either dead or under arrest. But the structure of the film is arranged so as to give a new emotional spin We are given a puzzle, which we have to piece together as the story unfolds. Just as the Dogs struggle to pick up the pieces after the unseen heist has resulted in chaos. The result is a case study in subjectivity and changing perceptions. All we know is what we see and hear on screen and the structure of the film keeps that abundantly clear. Consistent to with the stylistic theme of a postmodernist film.
The Dogs themselves are co-workers, and in some cases may be friends. This is not to say that Reservoir Dogs has abandoned stylization, Tarantino’s films are well known for being what Dawson’s biography of Quentin Tarantino is titled “the cinema of cool”. He makes sure all the characters are harshly pragmatic and nihilistic something usually the preserve of edgy teenagers looking for some way to rebel, and hence being cool. The pragmatism issue deserves emphasis. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) constantly reminds the others of the importance of “acting like a professional” even if that could mean leaving the severely wounded Mr. Orange to die, so the other survivors of the heist gone wrong can flee to safety. Mr. White, by contrast the oldest of the Dogs lives by codes seemingly arising from a classical theme of, honour among thieves. Therefore, he will not abandon Mr. Orange, developing something akin to a father son relationship with him. Mr. Pink condemns Mr. White’s “first year thief” pretentions, warning him it would get him in trouble and unfortunately, Mr. Pink’s fears turn out to be vindicated. Tellingly, his pragmatism is rewarded when the film’s seeming constant bloodbath is over, Mr. Pink is presumably spared death. However, Quentin Tarantino decides a background audio chase will ensue with sirens and gunshots meaning he may or may not have been captured by the police or even killed, while Mr. White pays a fatal price for his stubborn adherence to honour among thieves.
The issue of how the Dogs define honour is itself deconstructed and shown almost from the beginning to be ambiguous, at best. For all White’s proclamations of moral standards, he has no qualms whatsoever about killing or torturing the police to the point where, in a telling discussion with Mr. Pink early in the film, they both distinguish the police from real people. Ironically enough, Mr. Orange himself is an undercover police man and when Mr. White, following the off screen heist, unloads both his guns at a group of police without batting an eye, Mr. Orange can only watch in pained, anguished silence as his comrades are murdered before his eyes. A few minutes later, Mr. Orange himself gets gunned down by a woman who only shot him to defend herself and her car, and can only show a brief flicker of shock and regret. And yet, he still feels a loyalty of his own to Mr. White, who has taken him under his wing and effectively mentored him. In a contrast to the crime films of old, both Mr. White a noble criminal, and Mr. Orange a cool undercover cop can lay a valid claim to the title of main protagonist of the film and both are equally sympathetic in their characterization and their goals. Mr. Orange is not played as a mere traitor or rat any more than Mr. White is a mere criminal. Thus, when the two of them are left, bleeding, to be arrested by the police in the final scene. Mr. Orange ultimately confesses to being a police man, even though he knows honor among thieves will demand Mr. White kill him for the betrayal. Mr. White, in the meantime, is forced to accept that his stubborn adherence to the old ways has led to the final downfall of what remained of the Dogs. And though he has already killed an enraged Joe and Eddie during the Mexican stand-off scene as used in city of fire, directed by Ringo Lam, to protect his protégé, his code demands that he now kills Mr. Orange to preserve honour rendering his earlier action utterly meaningless. Despite everything, he remains stubborn, following the code to the end. After killing Mr. Orange an immediate barrage of police gunfire ensues and he falls out of frame presumably dead.
The audience changes its viewpoint towards Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Apart from his interactions with the other Dogs in the introductory sequence, our first perception of him comes from the conversation Mr. White and Mr. Pink hold regarding his behaviour during the robbery. They both agreed that he behaved like a violent “psycho” and should never have been involved in the heist. When he finally reunites with them, however, he provides a cool head and a seemingly rational voice, and Mr. White and Mr. Pink are for a time pacified, particularly with his delivery of the police man in the boot of his car, to interrogate. We then cut back to Blonde’s flashback and we learn he is a loyal person who went to prison, refusing to testify against Cabot. He is shown as deeply loyal to his boss, in the tradition of crime films of old. And through all of this, the audience are meant to have an increasing doubt as to whether he truly did act psychotically during the heist, or whether Mr. Pink and Mr. White were exaggerating things. We had already seen, that they were unable to agree to a strict chronology of the events of the heist. After we cut back to the present, Mr. Blonde offers what sounds like a perfectly rational explanation for his behaviour during the robbery, and we are for the most part satisfied. But then he tortures the police man, cutting off his ear, all for sheer pleasure. Our opinion of him shifts again, he is a “psycho”, for all his loyalty, and his cool head is just a show. Quentin Tarantino copies this knife scene where Mr. Blonde cuts off the police mans ear, from a scene in Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci.
The questions of subjectivity and realism are brought to the forefront in the memorable sequence of Mr. Blonde’s torment of the police man. The song played amid the sequence, Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You”, is portrayed as being diegetic to the scene. But is it? It begins after Mr. Blonde turns on the radio, and tunes in to K-Billy. Form the offset, lethargic American comic Steven Wright’s introduction of the song adds to its effectiveness, providing a realistic, non-diegetic feel to the scenario which emphasizes the fact that the song that could happily accompany your morning drive to work is also being used to soundtrack the torture of a policeman. This effect continues as the song temporarily stops as Mr. Blonde leaves to get the petrol to cover the policeman with only to continue on his return, echoing the way in which a song continues to play on the radio as you temporarily leave a room. This as well as the changes in volume signifies a clear and simple defiance of the diegetic concept. (Bordwell-Thompsson, Film Art, Reize-Millar, The technique of filmediting)
The genius of the song choice comes from the fact that it can’t be analysed. Quentin Tarantino’s expertise, comes in his ability to cover a terrible situation with an everyday situation through his use of music. Choosing not to use something dramatic in this scene maintains the light tone the film possesses throughout, amid mass violence and Quentin Tarantino shows that songs can be used in more creative ways than simply as the key tools in the art of dramatic emphasis.
Reservoir Dogs has effectively expanded the potential of crime cinema by deconstructing and reconstructing it, for a new generation of filmgoers and filmmakers.
CHAPTER TWO: PULP FICTION
Postmodernism is founded on the rejection of the notion of “high art”, something that ‘La Politique Des Auteurs’ is very often critiqued for holding in high esteem creating a hierarchy within art, so can a postmodern auteur even exist? Quentin Tarantino proves it can in Pulp Fiction by creating a parody of reality, which is in fact, the truth. The excessive violence, drug use, casual racism, and borrowing from a diverse range of available films of the past may seem to create a setting which is unreal, but is in fact a highly accurate commentary of the modern world.
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fictionis seemingly a complete narrative which has been taken apart and rearranged into a chaotic jumble. It is essentially a crime film but unlike most crime films is missing a single policeman. It’s contains a number of bizarre characters, a black gang leader with a strange plaster on the back of his head, two sexual perverts with their own pet gimp, mobsters dressed in immaculate black suits and a dinner suited problem solver who seemingly attends breakfast dinner parties.
The way that Quinton Tarantino established realism in Reservoir Dogs continues in Pulp Fiction, near the beginning of the film, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) drive to an apartment to retrieve a briefcase, and typical of usual crime based film, they should be discussing the killings that were going to happen, or boasting about their past experiences. But this is a Quentin Tarantino film, with his unique style injected into the “realism” concept of a crime film, and therefore they discuss Vincent’s observations on European cultures and in particular how these affect the naming of McDonald’s hamburgers in France. This creation of hyper reality is something Baudrillard the French sociologist, philosopher and cultural theorist, argued was a significant aspect of postmodern media. Tarantino has repeatedly stated, that this conversation’s sole purpose is to show that they are essentially just two men going to work which they consider mundane and totally normal.
Throughout the film there are deviations and distractions in both narrative and dialogue which create a sense of realism. The creative ability of Tarantino as an auteur by making these deviations and distractions make for compelling viewing, an intricate balancing act that creates a vivid picture of the film’s world.
After the initial introduction the film is split into three chapters. This fits in with Lyotard’s theory of the declining meta narratives over time, along with the increase of “mini-narratives”.
This not only follows Lyotard’s theory but also adheres to one of Strinarti’s five ways to identify postmodernity, “confusion over time and space,” making the audience think hard to work out where the narrative actually began if it were in chronological order. This demand to involve the audience is another example of postmodernism.
Quintin Tarantino takes traditional stories that have been commonly used and have become clichés in crime films, and gives them a narrative that makes them appear original. “Vincent Vega & Marcellus Wallace’s Wife” is the first chapter and tells the typical story of a gangster respected by his boss who is asked to entertain his wife while he is away. But should he fall for her will suffer the consequences that historically have been administered. He does however inevitably fall for her but rather than the usual love story we see Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) mistakenly snort heroin thinking it to be cocaine, which in turn leads to a race against time to save her in a dark, comical, entertaining fashion.
Quentin Tarantino’s vision of being able to reference other films in this chapter allows him to bend film boundaries and shock and inform audiences in a way that they were not expecting to experience with references from other films;
Federico Fellini’s ,8 ½ (1963); Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part (1964). Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) re-enact the dance scene in 8 ½.
The Flintstones (1960-1966). Just before the dance scene, Quentin Tarantino references The Flintstones when he has Mia tell Vega not to ”be a square” and Mia draws a square in the air to illustrate her words.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and Pulp Fiction. Quentin Tarantino has Vincent Vegas looking into a bag just like in Kiss Me Deadly, directed by Robert Aldrich.
The Warriors (1979). Quentin Tarantino uses the close up of the lips and microphone, which is also used in The Warriors, directed by Walter Hill.
The second chapter is “The Gold Watch” once again a typical story of a boxer on the mob’s payroll is bribed to lose a fight in the fifth round. However, after taking the money he decides not to throw the fight and so must endure the repercussions. The two usual endings are either the boxer and his lover escape and live happily ever after or they get caught by the mob and a bloody fight follows. But this is a Quinton Tarantino film and hence does not conform to the norm and we see Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) the boxer kills Vincent Vega and runs down Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) the boss. An amusing fight ensues and they both stumble into a den of perversion, where they are made to confront a common enemy, a sadomasochism double act. When Butch escapes he
picks up different weapons to defend himself with. By doing this Quintin Tarantino pays homage to classic films. First he picks up a hammer – The Toolbox Murders (1978), followed by a baseball bat – Walking Tall (1973); The Untouchables (1987), next a chainsaw – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974); The Evil Dead II (1987), and finally selects a samurai sword – Seven Samurai (1954); The Yakuza (1975); Shogun Assassin (1980)
By including these references, makes the audience feel included in the “joke” which Tarantino is making.
The third chapter is “The Bonnie Situation” another typical story of the criminal underworld with two hit men sent to recover a briefcase belonging to their boss, however, rather than the inevitable plotlines (they deliver the briefcase back to their boss and are subsequently given a more complicated assignment. Or else, they are curious why the boss values the briefcase so much, and decide to abscond with the briefcase themselves), Vincent and Jules find themselves descending into a comedy of errors which includes them enduring considerable humiliation. The epilogue features another typical story of a husband wife duo of robbers Pumpkin, aka Ringo (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny, aka Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) heavily influenced by Bonnie and Clyde, deciding to pull yet another heist. This goes horribly wrong but instead of their inevitable downfall through a shootout or arrest, Quinton Tarantino decides to introduce a hit man going through a “transitional period”. A man looking for redemption, and so he spares their lives. Once again Quentin Tarantino references a number of films in this chapter, including, the Mexican stand off in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and his own reservoir dogs (1992) “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.” (Jean-Luc Godard)
Pulp fiction is strangely really all about morals and doing the right thing. This is plainly shown in Vincent’s response to Mia’s overdose. He urgently tries to save her, not on account that she is a kindred human of significant intrinsic worth, but since she is Marsellus’ wife, and he will be stuck in an unfortunate situation on the off chance that she dies. Mia has a value because Marsellus owns her, this shows Vincent lacks morals, and as a consequence, he dies.
On the other hand, Butch comes back to the basement to help Marsellus, the savagery for the first time has a justification: as a demonstration of respect and kinship, he is saving Marsellus, once his adversary, from men they believe are worse than they are. Butch escapes his problem of being a wanted man, not by becoming similar to his foe, i.e., ruthless, but rather in actuality by sparing his enemy. And so gets pardoned
Finally, Jules works as a deliverer of retribution, and only changes his ways after seeing the light that God provided through his close encounter with death itself. Jules recites Ezekiel 25:17 embellished by Quentin Tarantino to be more fitting for a gangster, to Ringo.
He tells him that he’s memorized it and has been saying it for years, but had never really focused on the meaning. He just “thought it was some cold blooded shit to say to a motherfucker” before he “popped a cap in his ass.” He discusses three possibilities of its meaning, and decides that the best interpretation is that Ringo represents the weak, and that Jules is the “tyranny of evil men”. If Jules and Ringo’s encounter had taken place at the beginning of the film, it would be reasonable to assume that Ringo wouldn’t lived. But, Jules tells Ringo he’s trying to become the shepherd, not the tyrant. When Jules says this, it’s clear that this admission pains him to say aloud. Jules has never been one to forgive, and although he’s trying to change, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. His encounter with Ringo was a true test of his conviction, proving how strongly he feels about changing his ways. However, Vincent stays true to his beliefs and exclaims: “Jules, you give that fucking nimrod fifteen hundred dollars, and I’ll shoot him on general principle.”
Through the audience’s sense of identification, Quinton Tarantino makes us reflect on the fates of the characters we like and dislike, hence through our connection with what we see on screen, we interpret the film world as the world in which we live and so reject the film as “high art”.
CHAPTER THREE: DJANGO UNCHAINED
A grand narrative is built from politics, science, religion and genres, and Django Unchained is certainly a grand narrative being set in the 1850s when slavery was prevalent in the southern states of America. The term ‘grand narrative’ was introduced by philosopher Jean-François Lyotard. Lyotard summed up a range of views which were being developed at the time, as a critique of the institutional and ideological forms of knowledge. Media genres are divided into sub genres. Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino, contains different elements of postmodernism that stand out to an audience who can recognise the intertextual and visual references Tarantino has taken inspiration from to create the film. The title ‘Django Unchained’ was created from inspiration provided from existing texts such as Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966), Hercules Unchained (Pietro Francisci, 1959) and Mandingo (Richard Fleischer, 1975). The film pays homage to Django through the opening titles which uses the same backing track as well as almost identical imagery and text. Django starred Franco Nero as its lead actor and he also has a cameo in Django Unchained. During one scene he asks Django (Jamie Foxx) how his name is spelt Django responds by saying “the D is silent” Franco Nero mumbles “I know” referencing his previous role.
Both Django and Hercules Unchained helped to influence the name of Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained, but the film Mandingo, became inspirational for some of the events that occur during the film. Curiously however, the idea of Mandingo fighting is not necessarily historically correct as there is no historical proof that this type of fighting actually existed. However, Quentin Tarantino uses this to highlight the violent horrors of slavery and encourages the audience to believe that these events existed during this time in America.
The film follows the story of a bounty hunter (previously employed as dentist) Doctor King Schultz, who is searching for a trio of men named ‘The Brittle Brothers’. Schultz understands that Django is familiar with the brothers as he was once a slave to them, and realizes he must free Django for him to assist on the journey. Schultz mentors Django, and offers to pay him for his services while helping Django to live as a free man. The pair begin finding and killing various wanted men. Django explains he wishes to rescue his wife Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington, the characters name is a reference to Broom-Hilda an American newspaper comic strip created by cartoonist Russell Myers), and is determined to find her. Schultz agrees to help Django on his mission to release Broomhilda, who they later discover is a slave of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) at his plantation, CandieLand. The two men begin their journey to CandieLand and adopt a strategy in the hope to free Django’s wife. It is a combination of different genres, spaghetti western (subgenre of Western films), western and Blaxploitation (ethnic subgenre of exploitation films). The main hero of the film is Django, a black character, and this contrasts with other 19th century Western movies where the central hero is often white, such as John Wayne’s character in The Searchers. It is also uncommon for a German character to be shown as the hero in this film genre. Django’s main goal is to locate and save Broomhilda from the slave trade. Although the film is violent in nature, comic relief is used throughout, for example, when Broomhilda faints at the sight of Django after he says “Hey little troublemaker”, to which Schultz replies “you silver tongued devil, you”. Pastiche is apparent and Quentin Tarantino pokes fun at the Ku Klux Klan in one of the film’s funnier scenes in which a Ku Klux Klan group mount an inept attack on Django and Doctor King Schultz. The attack is accompanied by The Ride of the Valkyries, undoubtedly inspired by its use in Birth of a Nation (D. W. Griffith 1915). Where Griffith opted to celebrate the Ku Klux Klan and portray them heroically. However, Quentin Tarantino ridicules them and uses the music to directly parody Griffith’s cinematic representation of the Ku Klux Klan. Humour is used as a tool to help the audience cope with gory imagery and the overall negative themes. However, Quentin Tarantino disagrees with the statement that the film is too violent and says; “It can’t be more nightmarish than it was in real life. It can’t be more surrealistic than it was in real life. It can’t be more outrageous than it was in real life” (WIRED, 2012). Quentin Tarantino goes on to say in Django Unchained production notes about the historical setting, “It’s unimaginable to think of the pain and the suffering that went on in this country, making it perfect for a Spaghetti Western interpretation. The reality fits into the biggest canvas that you could think of for this story” (Interview with Emanuel Levy, 2012).
The film references in Django Unchained also go further back in film history than Spaghetti Westerns, with the oldest reference probably being a nod to The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter 1903), with a wanted poster for Edwin Porter appearing in the background in a scene. Tarantino also undermines and ridicules Hollywood’s previous approach to civil rights when Django and Doctor King Schultz enter Mississippi. The text ‘MISSISSIPPI’ fills the screen and scrolls from one side to the other. This certainly appears to be a joke at the expense of Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), which opens with a very similar title sequence. However, where Gone with the Wind portrayed a rather idyllic view of the South Quentin Tarantino lays the text over slaves trudging in mud.
Hyperreality, is evident in Django Unchained as the film mimics a fictional world (Jean Baudrillard argues that the audience live in an artificial world just like Disneyland, drawn in by images and media; this is not reality and leads to ‘hyperreality’ he goes on to state “Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America, which is Disneyland”. 1983). CandieLand constitutes the same type of illusion which hides the workings of a simulation.
Schultz tells Django about the famous German myth concerning a princess named “Broomhilda” who is held in captivity by a fierce dragon, until she is finally saved by her hero. This relates to Django’s main objective to free his wife and adds to the fairy-tale notion.
Calvin Candie’s estate is referred to as ‘CandieLand’ which has rather positive connotations however the harsh reality is that CandieLand is where Broomhilda and other slaves are kept as prisoners. Another aspect of postmodernity is the costume design, and in particular the scene where Schultz encourages Django to pick his own clothes. His first ‘freedom outfit’ is extravagant, and the blue suit mimics the famous painting The Blue Boy (Gainsborough, 1770). Consequently, this painting inspired the German filmmaker F.W Murnau to make the film Der Knabe in Blau and was a pioneer of the ‘Unchained Camera Technique’. By including such small details like this, Quentin Tarantino is paying homage to his predecessors and also showing his extensive knowledge of the filmmaking industry.
However, not everyone considers Quentin Tarantino a postmodernist and some believe he is just a plagiarist. The filmmaker was named a defendant in a lawsuit filed on December 24, 2015 in a federal court in Washington, D.C., by Oscar Colvin, Jr. and his son Torrance J. Colvin. The Colvins assert that the defendant has infringed on the copyright of their screenplay “Freedom,” citing what they allege are extensive similarities to Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning script for Django Unchained. However, there was a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal filed on January 25, 2017 meaning this has never been proved.
In Django Unchained like in many Quentin Tarantino films, revenge plays a huge role. And like the other films, the revenge happens on two levels, the level at which one character or group of characters gets revenge on a villain or villains, and the level at which that revenge is a metaphor for the comeuppance of an oppressor of a disenfranchised minority. Morals are also adhered to when Django and Doctor King Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organization closes in on them. If Django and Doctor King Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between survival or taking the moral high ground. The latter is chosen, and Doctor King Schultz dies.
There were many critics of Django Unchained. Donald Trump said the film was “totally racist” and Spike lee refused to watch the film as he “already knew it was racist”. The word nigger is used in the film more than 100 times, and the fact that it’s set amongst a background of slavery it certainly can be described as racist and disrespectful to African-Americans. With such offensive language and circumstances coalescing around a single film and director it’s easy to understand why people came out in full force across to attack the film. These critiques are a result of mixing Blaxploitation with postmodernism. Samuel L Jackson said in defence of Quentin Tarantino “I always tell people…I can’t understand why they can’t look at his work and realise that every character he’s given me has pretty much been the smartest character in the film. They have the most dignity and respect and kinda runs things…not a fool of any sort and understands a whole lot of what’s going on in life and in the world. For Quentin to write characters like that for me would be impossible for a racist to do.” (2017)
Fredric Jameson is an American literary critic and describes postmodernism as being “vacuous” and “trapped in circular referencing” which justifies Quentin Tarantino to constantly use the word nigger to describe every black person as it would be historically accurate. The setting, of America in the 1850s unfortunately did involve slavery, so once again is historically accurate and so is justified.
Tarantino completely gets away with racism, slavery and misogyny in Django Unchained. He lets Django get revenge over racist, slave-owning white people. However, he is also shown to be a racist when Django comments on his new line of work as a bounty hunter, “Kill white folks and they pay you for it – what’s not to like?”. These subjects are not easy things to turn into cinematic romps. But yet he does with such fervour that audiences always seem to want more. Part of this has to do with the fact that as a writer and director, he is an unparalleled storyteller who just happens to make hyper-violent films about sensitive subjects. Although topics like racism, slavery and misogyny are extremely hard to make real revenge films about, because there is usually no lone perpetrator, Quentin Tarantino however, has a gift for creating these characters and heightened scenarios that serve as metaphors for the whole problem.
In conclusion, all three Quentin Tarantino films that I have analysed show his passion for filmmaking and storytelling. It is not difficult to ascertain that Quentin Tarantino’s films are distinguished products, and recognisable in that that are so simple yet extremely complex. Pulp Fiction is regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time (Sander, 2010), Django Unchained was Quentin’s biggest commercial success and Reservoir Dogs is named as the greatest independent movie of all time by Empire magazine.
Despite Quentin Tarantino’s penchant for pastiche in his films, there are many reasons to name Quentin Tarantino as an auteur. His personality, creativity, imagination as well as constant repetition is ever present in all of the films he creates.
Film critic Ron Lim accused Quentin Tarantino of plagiarizing a Hong Kong film entitled City On Fire (Ringo Lam, 1987). And goes on to argue that some sequences in Reservoir Dogs, especially the plot, are identical. Actuality, the last twenty minutes of City On Fire are certainly the basis for Reservoir Dogsas a whole but the term plagiarism should not be used to describe postmodernist films. For example, if Quentin Tarantino can be accused of plagiarism regarding Reservoir Dogs, can William Monahan be accused of the same regarding his Oscar winning script for The Departed(2006), which is based on another Hong Kong film entitled Infernal Affairs(2002)? No, Monahan cannot be accused of plagiarism because he has acknowledged he used Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s script in order to formulate his remake. If one acknowledges the sources, then is it safe to assume that they have avoided plagiarism and instead are postmodernists in appropriating previous work.
Even the non-linear narratives in Tarantino’s films have come under closer and closer examination, especially by Ingeborg Hoesterey author of Pastiche Cultural Memory in Art, Film, Literature. Surely being inspired by a certain film or filmmaker is a cog in the creative process. Non-linear narratives date back to Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus or even the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. So should we assume that everyone who writes a non-linear story has to cite these as sources? No of course they don’t.
There are definitely some similarities between certain aspects of his film plots but the same can be argued about many contemporary films. His work is infused with pop-culture references, and engageable characters, and by mixing all these references Quentin Tarantino avoids plagiarism and his films should be described as referencing films, and even more importantly, positive appropriation. In his book Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Frederic Jameson explains that pastiche and appropriation is the defining trait of the postmodernist filmmaker, “films restructure the whole issue of pastiche and project it onto a collective and social level, where the desperate attempt to appropriate a missing past is now refracted through the iron law of fashion change and the emergent ideology of the generation” (Frederic Jameson, 1991) So I can conclude that Quentin Tarantino is without doubt the quintessential postmodernist filmmaker.
Throughout his career, Quentin Tarantino has had complete control over his films and immerses himself in every aspect of his filmmaking. He is able to produce significantly different and unique films while still maintaining common threads throughout, which not only elevates his status as both an outstanding director and screenwriter, but as an auteur as well. He has become the master of humorously dramatic violence, and frequently uses non-linear narratives. Quentin Tarantino often emphasises individual initiative as worthy of glorification in many of his films and hence revenge and taking a moral stance become well known common themes throughout his films. However, this indicates a lack of faith in government or authority to effectively engage in justice and the righting of wrongs, and so emphasises individual action to do what they know is right. Other recurring elements include: similar camera angles and shots (car boot POV shots, mirror shots, close ups on lips and feet), the usage of black and white imagery, violent awakenings, simple dance scenes, Mexican standoffs, and recurring props together with fake brands. Furthermore, Quentin Tarantino frequently uses the same actors and technical crew. Quentin Tarantino also has multiple cameos in his films, he is Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs, Jimmie in Pulp Fiction and as an employee of the LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. in Django Unchained. In each of his films he also uses a non bespoke but never the less distinctive soundtrack. I recently watched a celebrity edition of “gogglebox” a British reality show aired on Channel 4. The show featured a number of celebrities including Jeremy Corbyn (politician), Andrew Flintoff, Jamie Rednap (ex sportsmen), Jessica Hynes (actress), Ozzy Osbourne, Liam Gallagher, Example, Big Narstie, Ed Sheeran (all musicians), Sharron Osbourne (media personality), ordinary families and groups of friends from around the United Kingdom who react to British television shows from their own homes. A piece of music was played and the question asked was what film it came from. All of them said it was definitely a Quentin Tarantino film but not all of them could name the film. I feel that such a diverse range of people all knowing the music had been used by Quentin Tarantino, without doubt shows his signature mark and makes him a true auteur.
Quentin Tarantino is described as a walking film archive. His knowledge of film spans over all genres: classics, cult, exploitation, b-movies, anime, blaxploitation, Asian, indeed everything. Quentin Tarantino has never hidden the fact that his films have always been inspired by the innumerable movies and television shows he has watched as well as the novels he has read. Although Tarantino remains authentic to the hybrid style he has spawned, he is trapped in his love of film to the extent that he will continuously be a slave to citing what has been done in the past, therefore “parasitory on another system” (Jameson). Quentin Tarantino celebrates his references by infusing his visual style with every aspect of film history he possibly can and combining it with his intricately written scripts and use of pop-culture dialogue, and also celebrates cinema as a whole, by creating films that are “double-coded, appealing to teenagers and intellectuals alike” (Hoesterey 2001).
Where Tarantino is truly guilty is through his ability to rejuvenate past genres styles. The French New Wave harboured cultural and political implications, but Tarantino’s take on this is to almost ignore reality and instead concentrate on hyper-reality to ensure a good story. The specific period when events took place are simply ignored and replaced by aesthetic style. In doing so, Tarantino creates a new breed of nostalgia film that is stylistically accurate but remains bereft of any cultural and political ideology that was present at that period in history. In doing so, Quentin Tarantino does what Jameson explains is the displacement of ‘real’ history by the history of aesthetic styles (Jameson 1991). He does this because the conventions of no one established genre could serve the stories he wishes to tell, or the style he wishes to convey.
James Robert Jarmusch an American film director, screenwriter, actor, producer, editor, and composer has summed up exactly what Quentin Tarantino believes in with the following quote from an interview with Movie Maker in 2004; “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”” As a result of this “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past” (Jameson 1991), and Quentin Tarantino’s approach to the film genres he invokes, together with the elements he samples from both cinema, literature and from philosophy, means that the questions his films raise may be specific, but they lead to general answers.
I believe that Quentin Tarantino is a careful shopper of antiques, picking through cast offs and relics, weeding the junk from the gems, and having the wisdom and vision to know which parts and pieces can be reused or repurposed to create something new and useful.
The interpretation of his films are left to the audience to ponder over, whilst Quentin Tarantino’s work is to be considered that of the archetypal auteur, postmodernist, master of appropriation and most popular filmmaker of a generation.
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