Since the time I started Celluloid Cinema there has been one article that I have wanted to write but have been putting off every week because I wanted to make sure I could discuss his work in the proper way and really get across why he is such an important filmmaker. In celebration of the 50th article on Celluloid Cinema, I figured there would not be a better time to write said article. So here is my article on my favorite filmmaker and arguably one of the greatest filmmakers in film history, Quentin Tarantino.
When you really think about filmmaking, as an art form, the entire history of it is not that long compared to other art forms such as painting or music. In fact, the first film ever shown at a theater with paid admission was only 121 years ago. What this really shows is that as a medium the true interworking of filmmaking are not even close to being truly understood. While much progress has been made in filmmaking since its inception, in some cases we are only on the surface. It’s worth noting that we do not have a proper name for the art form yet. Of course, while most people would just like to refer to it as film, with the way the medium is progressing digitally, will that name make sense in the coming decade? Most people have decided that it will not, and as a result have begun connecting film back to its French origin by using the word cinema and dropping the celluloid connotation all together. Yet, what exactly does cinema describe? Is it referring to only narratively driven stories? Does it encompass only movies or are television shows also part of this group? While many of us struggle to grasp what connotations cinema has, ironically, the filmmaker that would rather us use the term film creates artwork that bleeds cinema. Which is why after nine months of trying to articulate why Quentin Tarantino’s films are special I have come to the realization that because of his understanding of cinema he is able to create a pure cinematic experience.
The idea of what cinematic means is just as heavily debated as the word cinema. But for this argument I will attempt to contextualize cinematic and express what I think it means in terms of filmmaking. Since the early days of filmmaking, cinema has been at war with itself. When the Lumière brothers showed the first films in 1895 they presented the realistic world that was unaltered. These films became known as “Slices of Life” where they would show people doing mundane daily events such as leaving for work or waiting for a train. While these films entertained audiences who had never seen anything like a moving picture before it was not long until the opposing style came into play. Like the Lumière’s, another Frenchman by the name of Georges Méliès was a prominent filmmaker in the early days. However, unlike the Lumière’s, Méliès made fantastical films that manipulated reality and sent magicians to the moon to battle monsters. While there are many reasons as to why each type of film is enjoyable they are clearly polar opposites. Now, it is my belief that since the introduction of these filmmakers, every filmmaker that has followed must pick a place where they land in the spectrum between these two filmmaking styles. Will there film have fantastical elements like a space adventure or will it follow realism? No matter where a film lands on the spectrum it has the possibility of being good. But in order for a film to create the larger than life moments that we all can recall from our favorite films they must have the proper combination of each. This sought after place on the spectrum is precisely the point where Tarantino centers his films.
The reason that I like films and the reason why I think most people like to watch films is because it offers them a window into a different type of world or lifestyle. Again for some this is a very fantastical world where people have super powers and for others it’s a very similar world just seen from the gritty eyes of a homicide detective. Now what Tarantino’s films do is combine elements from both ends of the spectrums in order for audiences to explore fantastical lifestyles in the realistic framework of the world that we live in. This is the reason that Tarantino’s dialogue is so revered. While many admire Tarantino’s dialogue because of his inclusions of pop culture that is not fully the case. The reason Tarantino’s dialogue is so beloved is because he writes how audiences want people to talk. From Pulp Fiction to Death Proof, and from English to German, every time a character in Tarantino’s universe talks they speak, for lack of a better term, coolly. Each line of dialogue carries wit or some snappy remark that is its own violent act. There does not seem to be a moment in the Tarantino universe where a character will ever come up with a better comeback hours later because each line fits the moment perfectly. The reason audiences cling to this is because being able to say the right thing at the right time all the time is a fantastical thing in itself. It is the thing that most of us spend all daydreaming about whether it is in an argument with our boss, a joke with a friend, or a tender moment with a lover. In most cases a film riddled with sharp replies would be too fantastical for the audience to digest and would simply remind the audience that they are watching fabricated audiences on the big screen. This is where Tarantino then draws from the other side of the spectrum and grounds the film in the more realism base. Instead of just having the film have several sharp lines throughout or have one character who utters all of the sharp lines, he is able to craft these lines for every character nearly every time that they speak. In doing so it does not create such a big rift in the audiences suspension of disbelief when they here the lines since they are constantly being hit with them in rapid succession instead of being able to sit and think about them with moments in between. This is where the cinematic moments arise. Instead of just having one line of dialogue for fans of the film to quote outside of the film, Tarantino’s films leave them with entire conversations that they are able to quote. As a result, these scenes are able to live outside of the film and continually build on the audience’s memory of the scene so the next time that they rewatch the film and see the scenes they are larger than life and truly act as an escape for the audience into cinema.
Clearly one could discuss the writing of Tarantino all day, it is obviously important that his visual style is also touched on when speaking about how he can make films cinematic. It is not secret that Tarantino’s films ooze with violence but perhaps this would be better referred to as action. While most like to say that no one captures violence as well as Tarantino, the real merit of these bloody affairs comes in his depiction of on screen action. Just as the logic behind Tarantino’s dialogue being good because of pop culture references is surface level, the logic behind his violence being good because it is graphic is shallow. The true success of his violence lies in the choreography around it and how the meanings the blood evokes. Just as audiences like the fantastical element of having the right line to say, they also like the element of being able to pull off any physical action that they want whenever they want. In the same vain that Dr. Schultz’s words cut through Calvin Candy in Django Unchained, The Bride cuts through O-Ren Ishi with her sword in Kill Bill. Every action preformed by the leading characters in Tarantino’s films is deliberate, concise, and perfect for the situation they are in, playing off of the same feelings evoked with perfect dialogue. But again, in order for these action moments to truly be accepted from the audience, then they must also have the polar opposite grounding. While one would not describe the amount of blood coming from wounds in Tarantino’s universe as realistic, the mess and destruction that the blood sprays cause to the environment remind the audience of the humanism that is involved in the scenes and that the action that the characters are committing do have recourse and that there are people that are affected by these magic like action. This combination of methodical action and lavish blood serves as the perfect combination to remind the audience they are watching a film while still allowing them to live through actions they themselves could never commit.
While there is so much more that one could say when analyzing Tarantino’s films that I have not even touched on in the article, what I presented to you today is an insight into the fantasy Tarantino clearly embraces but is never really discussed among film critics. Most of the time when people talk about what makes a film good they often leave out the entertainment that one gets from watching a film, even though it is the only reason that most people watch films to begin with. By having such cinematic moments in his film’s the audience is truly able to just sit back and have fun exploring the what if’s of the lifestyles and worlds they dream about while also having a real world application of them. Maybe if filmmakers understood that audiences want to just have fun watching a film then there would be more cinematic films in the world.
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