With his new movie, The Hateful Eight, on its way to the big screen, Quentin Tarantino has now amassed a large cult following for his unique films. Since making his directorial debut in Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s outlandish humour, casual violence and unforgettable dialogues have become trademarks no other directors could recreate with the same quality. Throughout the years of watching Tarantino’s distinct approach to film, people have wondered whether or not he should be credited for inventing his own genre. The question itself is difficult to assess, since we’re aware of how different styles and genres play into his films. However, it’s worth seeing why Tarantino might be regarded as the maker of his own genre, and to see what elements spark this debate.
The concern on everyone’s minds regarding The Hateful Eight is if the movie will uphold the same fresh and explosive entertainment we’ve seen in his last two historical films, Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. What is also expected is the signature presence we’ve seen in all of Tarantino’s other films. Fans will wish to see some dry jokes amidst a violent world, they’ll want to see memorable taglines with expletives (courtesy, most likely, of Samuel L. Jackson) and most of all, they will want confrontations with a tension so vivid you could cut it with a knife, or shoot it with a shotgun, or slice it with a katana sword.
Tarantino has mastered the art of naturalising the gruesome like no one else. We’ve seen it in Pulp Fiction when Marvin is accidentally shot in the face, we’ve seen it in Inglorious Basterds when the Bear Jew treats clubbing someone to death like a baseball game, and we’ve seen it in Reservoir Dogs when Mr Blonde dances to “Stuck in the Middle with You” before cutting someone’s ear off. His style has always been to underplay the extreme and overplay the tedious, complementing the chaos of life.
Another great asset of Tarantino is his ability to make his writing sound good on screen. In his time as a director, Tarantino has made some of the most quotable films of the twentieth and twenty first century. Fans continue to quote Mr Pink’s bickering about his name from Reservoir Dogs, or Aldo Raine’s command to his soldiers who owe him one hundred Nazi scalps. And who could forget Pulp Fiction’s immense list of memorable lines? Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield alone holds several different lines in the film that have echoed in conversations about Tarantino, be it his satisfaction for the name “Royale with cheese” or the harrowing Bible verse he repeats before killing his victims. These lines, among Tarantino’s great filmmaking, have accentuated his films as accessible as well as impressive.
Many of the choices made towards the style or circumstances of Tarantino’s films are indebted to his influences. Growing up, Tarantino was exposed to Spaghetti Westerns, Blaxploitation flicks and Italian crime films. All of these subgenres are more than evident in his works, through the glorification of fighting, the films’ links to crime and the unforgettable quips and phrases thrown about in the mix. What is different in Tarantino’s work, however, is the way action, suspense and crime are fused into a catchy, fast-paced film. These conventions function less as the be-all and end-all genre of the film and more as the resonances sprinkled throughout his modern depictions of life.
Some of Tarantino’s most famous themes in his films are his use of casual violence, the out of place conversations about ordinary life, the aforementioned underplay and overplay of things, his sense of humour amidst all the disorder and his collection of morally ambiguous characters. All of these are consistent in his films; some stand out more than others depending on the film. It might be good to separate Tarantino’s major works into two different waves. The first wave contains the movies where he was able to explore different genres and techniques, films at the birth of Tarantino’s inventiveness. These are: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and the Kill Bill films. Tarantino uses each of these films to modernise and revolutionize the films he was growing up with. Reservoir Dogs is the heist film where we don’t see the heist, Kill Bill is a love letter to martial arts films and Jackie Brown, as put by Samuel L. Jackson, is a “wonderful homage to black exploitation films”. The second wave, so far, contains Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, movies where Tarantino has chosen to distort history by employing the methods he has practiced in all of his previous films.
In the first wave Tarantino explores technique, building cold-blooded characters and employing themes that return in every film. Reservoir Dogs is the first major film that attempts the oscillation between the chaotic and monotonous, but the plotline is in a rush to uncover a traitor after a bank robbery. Pulp Fiction takes the idea of this back-and-forth dance with disorder and tones it down into a more discrete approach. The pressure to take things seriously decreases, yet the presence of sheer brutality is stronger and, at times, overwhelming. Tarantino takes this dance further into historical contexts in the second wave; he places his morally ambiguous characters in Nazi Germany and the American South at the peak of the slave trade. His exploration of his recurring themes turns into an exploration of different ideas through said themes. In Inglorious Basterds we see alternative dynamics of honour in the plight of Nazis against Allies, where radical and partially insane soldiers on the side of “good” kill honourable, hardworking men on the side of “evil”. We see the same approaches to anti-climactic violence and comical characters immersed in the horror of their setting; the only difference is these techniques go even further in his historical films to hold some kind of message rather than simply being stylistically impressive.
Tarantino is ultimately creating absurd worlds his audience are more than happy to invest in. Whether these worlds fit into a single category well enough to be labelled as a new genre is up to the audiences as well as Tarantino’s upcoming films. As the reputation for each of his films grows, the touches added by Tarantino become more and more visible. Perhaps his latest movie and the end of his historical trilogy, The Hateful Eight, will finally show Tarantino employing his methods to an extent where audiences will finally agree on whether or not Tarantino should be as much of a genre as a name.
By Thomas Rososchansky.