Some may find it hard to believe that Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature film, Reservoir Dogs, is now a quarter of a century old. Such a landmark in independent cinema, it spawned a vast range of copycats and an entirely new style of filmmaking. One of the first things that a film student will remember learning is the world’s most famous use of contrapuntal sound, and it all started here.
The film follows a group of robbers after a failed heist as they try to figure out what went wrong along the way, with the story unraveling through the use of flashbacks. None of the group must know who each of them really are, and the struggles which ensue is what drives the film along. It is essentially a character and dialogue driven film, with the added extras of a great soundtrack and intense violence. Generally, with first time filmmakers, the lack of budget can really hinder the lengths an auteur can achieve to show the world who they are, but Tarantino’s distinct writing and directing styles enabled him to overcome this hurdle and deliver a masterpiece in independent film. It is stylish, funny, violent and raw. It laid down the blueprint for Tarantino’s career – he was making a statement saying this is who I am, and this is what I do, and this is kindred to what makes Tarantino such a remarkable filmmaker.
Expertly cast (with the exception, perhaps, of Tarantino himself) with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Chris Penn to name a few, it is an ensemble cast to be envious of. The best moments in Reservoir Dogs are the so-called meaningless conversations amongst the characters – these create the humour and the realness, and set the audience up for what is to come in the climactic scenes. These men are defined by their struggle with power and masculinity and their fight to be the dominant alpha of the group – and this is the root of the conflict between them throughout the film.
Tarantino really came out full throttle with his Reservoir Dogs. Again, most first time filmmakers may tend to hold back to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but Tarantino pulls no punches. The violence aside, which is infrequent but horrific, the use of profanity is at its glorious worst. Fast forward to 2012’s Django Unchained and Tarantino gives us probably the most profane western ever created, with the ‘n’ word used approximately 116 times. This was to many people’s disgust, yet it went on to win 2 Oscars – proving that despite the controversial nature of Tarantino’s work, it is still seen in high regard and critical acclaim.
If we look to the Kill Bill films, arguably the most violent films of his career, we can see how Tarantino really draws inspiration from Asian cinema in his style and use of violence. Some of the world’s most violent movies are Asian – such as Ichi the Killer and Battle Royale – and Kill Bill is as much an homage to them as it is a love letter to Asian filmmaking, being so deeply influenced by Manga and the martial arts. Woven into the stylistic quality of the movie, the violence in Kill Bill is cartoonish and something straight from the pages from a comic book.
One of the things that Tarantino has consistently come under fire for throughout his career is the idea that the kind of violence in his films incites similar behaviour in real life. One will no doubt remember a certain interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy in which he attempts to push an answer from Tarantino as to why he believes there is no link between movie violence and violence in real life. Tarantino refuses to answer, stating that his opinions on his issues can be found by looking back over his career, and it’s frustrating for the director and the audience alike to have his legendary work reduced to criticism over violence when there’s so much more to marvel at.
As exemplified in Django Unchained, and as told by Quentin Tarantino himself in the above-mentioned interview, violence can be cathartic for the average viewer. It is something we could never fulfil ourselves and would never want to see, but in the context of a film, it is liberating – whether it be a revenge thriller like Django, a horror or even a crime film. Films like Django Unchained cover such serious historical issues that some forms of violence cannot be avoided – Tarantino set out to show people how brutal the violence was at that time, not to glorify it.
You could say that the controversy that surrounds Tarantino’s work is, in fact, what makes him so legendary. All you need to do to see his brilliance is look at the cast lists of each of his films. Every single one contains such a huge array of the world’s greatest actors, including Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Lucy Liu, and one of the best ensembles ever put on screen has to be Pulp Fiction.
Pulp Fiction is often hailed as one of the best movies ever made. It is arty, funny, stylish, violent and unique, quotable and timeless, and will always appear on ‘films to watch before you die’ lists. Potentially the greatest of Tarantino’s works, it is effortlessly cool and solidified the director’s position in the film industry. It was his second feature film but the first time we got to see his combination of wacky music selections with edgy visuals. His love of the 70s is conveyed throughout his films, especially Jackie Brown, and Pulp Fiction has one of the best soundtracks in history – who can resist dancing like Mia and Vincent at the sound of Chuck Berry’s iconic ‘Never Can Tell’.
With Tarantino’s most recent film The Hateful Eight being released only just over a year ago, we can’t expect to be seeing anything from him soon – on average, he releases a film every three years, and with only rumours of the third instalment of Kill Bill being announced so far, we may have to wait a while. But, as is always the case with Quentin Tarantino, it is about quality not quantity, and whenever we see what he’s working on next, we can be sure there’ll be plenty of that.