Episode 8: Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the release of Pulp Fiction, Nate and Ryan invite their good friend Tim Yoder in to point guns at one another while screaming about the polarizing figure that is writer/director Quentin Tarantino.  Pulp Fiction is a brilliant film that marked a change in American film, especially American independent film.  Spawning several imitators and even more debates, Pulp Fiction solidified Quentin Tarantino as an important filmmaker. It also left many questioning whether he was a genius or just a provocateur.

Nate, Ryan, and Tim discuss Tarantino’s full catalogue as a way of better understanding who he is and how we might receive his work.  If you haven’t seen all his movies, or haven’t seen them in a while, we suggest watching and re-watching them.  It’s an interesting exercise and you’ll probably find that the films aren’t quite what you remember, for good and bad.  However, we’d suggest spacing your viewings out a bit.  Too much Quentin Tarantino can be quite Tarantiring.

In the episode, Tim mentions a video by Tony Zhou that analyzes the visual comedy of Edgar Wright, but also mentions Tarantino and is a fantastic, interesting video nonetheless.  Zhou does an amazing job explaining quickly and simply why Edgar Wright is on another level when it comes to comedy film-making.  A must see for fans of Edgar Wright.  And if you aren’t a fan of Edgar Wright, what is wrong with you?

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  1. You guys nailed why Kill Bill 1 is my favorite (way more fun and engaging than 2), and why Reservoir Dogs is one of my least favorites (though I haven’t seen Death Proof). Now it sounds like I need to go watch Jackie Brown.

    • Yes, catch Jackie Brown when you get a chance. FYI, it is streaming on Netflix if you have a subscription. In fact there’s a whole lot of Tarantino to stream on Netflix.

      Also, a couple years ago our frequent guest host Evan Mather wrote up a review of Jackie Brown on Gather Round The Mic. Check it out before or after viewing.

  2. I think I’ve talked to Ryan, at least, about this in the past so I apologize for repeating myself to him at least.

    My first and last Tarantino movie was Kill Bill Vol. 1; I went and saw it knowing nothing about it, was really disturbed by it and felt scarred by it for several days, having a hard time getting certain disturbing or horrific scenes or images out of my mind. Shortly afterward I wrote a paper about it that involved reading some interviews with Tarantino, wherein he said something to the effect that he loved “to f*** with people’s minds,” and enjoyed deliberately setting people up so that the laugh at something and then suddenly are horrified that they laughed at something or vice versa. I decided right then that I hated him, would never watch his films again, and would punch him in the face if I ever met him.

    I’m a little calmer now, probably wouldn’t punch him, but I held to my one-person private boycott of Tarantino films. Listening to this podcast I realize I may have a better time watching his earlier films, particularly Pulp Fiction?, but I think I was right at least about his later ones.

    You guys hit on a lot of what bothered me about it (and what I perceive has continued to be the case in his films through reviews I’ve read and more interviews with him). It’s not the violence, but the (intentionally) stylistic and attractive depiction of terrible acts and terrible motives that really bothers me. My logical half sees whats going on and knows I should be repulsed but the presentation is so stylistic and well-portrayed that you want to love or enjoy what you know you ought to be repulsed by – and I really hate that, because it feels grossly manipulative in a very bad way.

    I probably had such a strong reaction to Kill Bill because I lacked the maturity at the time to distance myself from it like Nate was describing, but I think I hit on something real about Tarantino that I just would have arrived at later. I agree with the sentiments expressed near the end of episode where you all concurred that the motives behind the violent actions have an effect on you even when you’re distancing yourselves from it, by subtly shaping your values as you are lead to empathize with choices the protagonists make. I don’t know if I can unplug myself from Tarantino’s movies to the extent that I could enjoy them, because there are so many layers that I would be holding at arm’s length to avoid being negatively influenced by them that I wouldn’t have any brain left to appreciate them or be entertained.

    What do you guys think? Has Tarantino changed since then, or is he still intentionally reveling in manipulating film-goers’ emotional responses to evil acts and motives? Did I over-react? Would I enjoy his earlier films?

    • I’m with you, in that when I heard that Tarantino likes manipulating the audience, it rubbed me the wrong way.

      To answer your question, I think, if anything, he enjoys manipulating more than ever. It didn’t make the episode, but when we talked, I wondered if Jackie Brown is analogous to Weezer’s album “Pinkerton,” that is to say, it was a deeply personal work that the artist was initially proud of, but was so tepidly/poorly received by audiences, that the love of praise became more important than real artistic expression (I don’t think this is a perfect analogy, nor is it 100% on-the-nose, but I think it’s not totally wrong), so he tends to avoid areas that are really up to interpretation, and he stays with style over substance.

      I am able to disconnect myself from depicted violence, but also feel like I am very sensitive to artists intents or mindset, so that it isn’t just the level of violence being depicted, but the feeling that comes along with it that I respond to. The violence in Kill Bill is that “cool, slick” type, but it doesn’t get to me because the movie has a point beyond that, and doesn’t muddle the two. I feel like he started mixing the cool with the heart and lost the heart, rather than the cool.

      I think you’re not wrong about his later films (though we apparently disagree on Kill Bill), but I don’t necessarily think that you’ll love his earlier films, nor do I think anyone has to. If I recommended any early one, I think it would be Jackie Brown. It’s probably his least violent, and the violence is all utilitarian, never for style. Pulp Fiction is one of the best movies of all time, but you might still find him manipulative in an off-putting way.

      I hope I haven’t missed your point or spoken around it…

      • Hey Dan (and Ryan),
        Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I don’t have much to add to what Ryan said. I think he’s right about his recommendations, but I’m also not confident that you’d like his earlier stuff any more.

        One thing your comment got me thinking about is whether or not I’m just coming at this from a different angle. I’ve never been bothered by the idea of a director manipulating or even messing with an audience. It seems that to some degree this exists in all relationships between the artist and the audience. When we go to a movie, concert, or read a book we’re along for the ride and we either like where the author is going, or we don’t. A good horror director knows how to build the suspense. A good comedy director knows how to pull the laughs. These cinematic triggers are in any director’s toolbox and I expect them to use them.

        I am curious, is it the fact that Tarantino sets out to get very specific reactions from his audience that’s troublesome? Is it that he isn’t as discreet about it as most directors? Is it that you don’t like the reactions he is trying to pull out of what he’s depicting? Or am I completely misreading this?

        I think Ryan’s great Pinkerton analogy (sorry it got cut) might work on yet another level, because I’ve always considered Tarantino to have a very “rock and roll” style. One of the reasons I like Tarantino is because there is a sense of dangerous enjoyment I can only compare to some of my favorite musicians- Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Nick Cave. Its a sense that I really shouldn’t be enjoying this, but to hell with it. Right now this is exactly what I want! Its self-indulgent yes, but its also a moment where I can be completely honest with myself and confront some rough areas within my own psyche.

        That’s a specific in-your-face brand of Rock and Roll that I think Tarantino brings to cinema. Its not easy to do, as the poor imitations prove. Its provocative to be sure, but also sly in that way. Is it just meant to shock or is there something deeper going on between the artist and the audience? This brand of art is engineered from the ground up with the audience in mind. But really any artists that tell you they don’t have an audience in mind is kidding themselves.

        • Re: “These cinematic triggers are in any director’s toolbox and I expect them to use them.

          I am curious, is it the fact that Tarantino sets out to get very specific reactions from his audience that’s troublesome? Is it that he isn’t as discreet about it as most directors? Is it that you don’t like the reactions he is trying to pull out of what he’s depicting? Or am I completely misreading this?”

          Nate, I agree that any director/film-maker is involved in manipulating emotions, but I would draw a distinction between two different kinds and one kind deserves the term “manipulation” more than the other. Most “cinematic triggers” are leading us into /evoking emotional responses that, to some extent, we want to have, and probably expect to have coming into the film. When we go to see an action or comedy flick we expect some laughs. When we go to a drama we expect to be sad, challenged, or encouraged in various degrees. A horror film will probably horrify you. And our emotional responses in most situations fit the cause. Maybe less so in comedy where situations can be funnier the more inappropriate it feels to be laughing at something you shouldn’t laugh at; but again you typically know what you’re getting into, and want to laugh.

          What I feel like Tarantino does (again, based on limited actual exposure) is evoke emotions that you do not want to have, and evoke emotional responses to things that you would in your right mind not want to respond to in the way he leads you to. I’m thinking of finding something “cool” or entertaining that, viewed objectively, is sadistic or tragic or horrific or perverted. Which I feel better earns the term “manipulation” because in his case the film-goer is feeling things perhaps against their better judgment or volition, whereas most directors’ goals are more in line with what people expect to feel.

          I’m sorry I can’t remember more concrete examples, because I feel like that would make it easier to discuss with you guys, but it was a long time ago now when I saw Kill Bill. Two things stand out in my mind, though; a scene where the Bride is almost raped while in a coma, and it is implied that she has been raped previously while unalert, but the film’s pacing wants to make you feel a thrill of vengeance that she stops this last attempt and forget how just unacceptable the entire situation is; and a scene (in an anime style) where a girl hides under a bed and blood drips onto her face from a blade piercing her…parent?…in the bed above her, and it’s played more for the cool/gritty style and setting you up to feel sympathy for the horrible person the child grew up to be than for how terrible and disturbing the situation was. I felt like he was trying to entertain me in the context of a rape attempt and a seriously emotionally abusive situation for a child, and I just couldn’t bite.

          I get where you’re coming from, Nate, with the “I really shouldn’t be enjoying this, but to hell with it” feeling. I guess I have an easier time doing that with dumb action flicks (like “Godzilla” this summer, or that time you and I went to see “Transformers”) or even serious action flicks where the violence is horrific but portrayed as tragic in a realistic context (like mob/crime movies, thinking of the Godfather or Heat). Tarantino went places in Kill Bill, at least, that went too far beyond my ability to mentally unplug from.

          • I found that you guys got inglorious wrong. In that film he was showing violence in cine and how people react to it. When we see the Americans killing natzis we are okay with it and think it is great. But in the case of the Jews getting shot we are sad. In the case of the film that the natzis are watching we are angry “oh those natzis are terrible likening violence like that” yet that is the same thing we did. The same with the theatre shooting. These are helpless people who are Being shot down like the Jews yet we enjoy watching the Jews being killed. Inthe case of kill bill though the violence is there for violence. Most of the action was not nesisary did we really need the crazy88 sequence not really. I am a teenager and most of my friends only have seen kill bill and django so people just want the violence and do not care for when he has reasons behind it.

  3. Dan, I completely respect your private boycott. I think its fair to say that a lot of provocation in Tarantino’s work comes from exactly what you detail- his attempt to “evoke emotional responses to things that you would in your right mind not want to respond to in the way he leads you to.”

    Fundamentally, it seems like we come down differently on what we’re comfortable with in that regard, but truth be told I also don’t believe Tarantino’s work is important enough to push onto anyone.

    I don’t want to narrow it all down to a matter of taste, but in a sense if we’re both aware of what’s happening, that might be all we’re left with. Nevertheless, this podcast shows, even on matters of taste there can be mountains of discussion worth mining.

    Thanks again for all the feedback.

  4. I remember seeing ‘Pulp Fiction’ in the theater and thinking on my walk back to the car after, “That was fun, I think.” It was one of those movies that was intriguing, fun, disturbing, etc. After ‘Pulp Fiction,’ Tarantino became one of those: “household names, legends in cinema, worked at a VHS rental store, small guy making it big doing it his own way” kind of stories, and EVERYONE loved Tarantino. It is really the story of so many artists who “make it” and what are the repercussions of fame. Tarantino has never apologized for himself or his movies (that I know of) and I can respect him for that, but I get tired of always trying to do things to the extreme, without a clear reason. This is how I view much of Tarantino after Pulp Fiction. I will be the first person to defend that “art” does not have to have some underlying (or obvious) meaning, but I do need to see an intentionality and purpose, and for me Tarantino has lost that intentionality and the moments of brilliance I see in his films now feel like he may be getting lucky. I am not a Tarantino fan, and lost complete interest when it became cool to “love Tarantino.” Tarantino, flip/flops, jelly bracelets, tank tops . . . not for me.

  5. You’re hitting on something important, there, Drew, and I think “intentionality” is a good word. His intentions for the last 10 years have seemed to be cool, rather than meaning. Though his later films have left me cold, I would still say that I’m a fan, and I’ll see his stuff, even though it’s been appropriated by frat boys and misunderstood. I still hold out hope that he’s got some of what made Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown great, but at the same time, I see no indication that he’s going to head back in that direction…

  6. Matt- thanks for commenting on the episode! Its great that you are taking the time to consider purpose behind violence in film. That was certainly a major theme we wanted to discuss in the Tarantino episode, so I hope you got something out of our discussion.

    We might have gotten Inglourious wrong. Full confession, its one I did not have time to watch before recording the episode, so I should probably give it another chance sometime soon.

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