Born March 27, 1963, in Knoxville, TN; son of Tony (a musician) and Connie (a nurse and later a health care executive) Tarantino.
Home—West Hollywood, CA. Office—A Band Apart Productions, Capra Bldg. 112, 10202 West Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Agent—Mike Simpson, William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2775.
Writer and filmmaker. Pussycat Theater, Torrance, CA, usher, early 1980s; Video Archives, Los Angeles, clerk, 1985-90; various film-related jobs, including production assistant on Dolph Lundgren exercise video, work at Cinetel Productions, bit part as Elvis impersonator on television show Golden Girls, 1990-92; screenwriter, filmmaker, director, producer, and actor, 1992—. Film and television roles include Golden Girls (television series), 1990; Reservoir Dogs, 1992; Somebody to Love, 1994; Sleep with Me, 1994; Pulp Fiction, 1994; All-American Girl (television series), 1994; Four Rooms, 1995; Destiny Turns on the Radio, 1995; Desperado, 1995; Saturday Night Live (television series), 1995; From Dusk 'till Dawn, 1996; Girl Six, 1996; Jackie Brown (voice), 1997; Full Tilt Boogie, 1997; God Said "Ha!," 1998; Jackie Chan: My Story, 1998; Forever Hollywood, 1999; Little Nicky, 2000; Lucy Picard Is Famous, 2001; All the Love You Cannes!, 2002; Baadasssss, 2002; Pulp Fiction: The Facts, 2002; Planet of the Pitts, 2003; Kill Bill: Volume 1 (voice), 2003; Once upon a Time in Mexico, 2003; Kill Bill: Volume 2 (voice), 2004. Director of films, including Reservoir Dogs, 1992; Pulp Fiction, 1994; Jackie Brown, 1997; Kill Bill: Volume 1, 2003; and Kill Bill: Volume 2, 2004. Co-founder of A Band Apart Productions, 1991, Rolling Thunder distribution company (subsidiary of Miramax Pictures), 1995, and A Band Apart Records, 1997.
(All best screenplay awards shared with Roger Avary) Cannes Film Festival Golden Palm, Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, National Board of Review award for Best Director, Los Angeles Times Film Critics Association Award; Best Director, and Best Screenplay awards from New York Film Critics Circle, Boston Society of Film Critics, Society of Texas Film Critics, National Society of Film Critics, and Chicago Film Critics Association, Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay, Independent Spirit Award for Best Director and Best Screenplay, British Academy of Film and Television Artists Award for Best Original Screenplay, and MTV Movie Award for Best Movie, all 1994, all for Pulp Fiction; Golden Slate, Csapnivalo Awards, 2000, for Jackie Brown; Screen International Award nomiation, European Film Awards, 2003, for Kill Bill: Volume 1.
(And director) My Best Friend's Birthday, 1987.
(And director) Reservoir Dogs, Dog Eat Dog Productions/Miramax, 1992, published with True Romance (see below) as Reservoir Dogs and True Romance: Two Screenplays, Grove Press (New York, NY), 1995.
True Romance, Morgan Creek/Warner Bros., 1993.
(Story) Natural Born Killers, Warner Bros., 1994.
(With Roger Avary, and director) Pulp Fiction, Miramax, 1994, published as Pulp Fiction: A Quentin Tarantino Screenplay, Miramax Books/Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.
(With others) Four Rooms (includes "The Man from Hollywood" segment), A Band Apart/Miramax, 1995.
(Uncredited; with Michael Schiffer and Richard P. Henrick) Crimson Tide, Buena Vista, 1995.
(With Robert Kutzman) From Dusk 'till Dawn, Miramax Books/Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.
(Uncredited; with David Weisberg and Douglas Cook) The Rock, Buena Vista, 1996.
(With Reb Braddock) Curdled, A Band Apart/Miramax, 1996.
(And director) Jackie Brown (based on the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard), A Band Apart/Miramax, 1997, published as Jackie Brown: A Screenplay, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
(Author of story) From Dusk 'till Dawn: Texas Blood Money, Dimension Films, 1998.
(And director) Kill Bill: Volume 1, (based on his novel; also see below), Miramax, 2003.
(And director) Kill Bill: Volume 2, (based on his novel; also see below), Miramax, 2004.
Also uncredited author of Past Midnight (television movie), 1992, and (with Julia Sweeney and Jim Emerson) It's Pat, 1994.
Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, edited by Gerald Peary, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MI), 1998.
(With Christopher Heard) Ten Thousand Bullets: The Cinematic Journey of John Woo, Lone Eagle, 1999.
Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, edited by Paul Woods, Plexus, 2000.
Kill Bill, (novel), Talk/Miramax, 2003.
Work in Progress
Inglorious Bastards, writer and director of movie, scheduled for 2005.
Writer and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's career "was a Hollywood dream story," according to Daniel Fierman in Entertainment Weekly: "a young video clerk from rough-and-tumble beginnings who wrote and directed a stylish, violence-packed film called Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and waltzed away with buzz and adoration at Sundance." Pulp Fiction followed two years later, earning the young filmmaker an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. That film, according to Fierman, "had a seismic cultural impact, taking the indie-film movement mainstream, spawning countless pale imitations, and turning its director into a global star." Following his early success, Fierman noted, "Tarantino simply disappeared," bringing out in the next decade the 1997 Jackie Brown, the mega-hit Pulp Fiction, and the sprawling Kill Bill, which was in production for 155 days, came in millions of dollars over budget, and finally was divided into two films, Volume 1 and Volume 2, released several months apart. Fierman went on to note that "it suddenly seems possible that Quentin Tarantino has finally gone gloriously, hilariously, irrevocably insane."
Few filmmakers have succeeded in building a mystique, and indeed an entire cinematic "world," to the degree achieved by Tarantino, whose critical reputation is based on the four movies he has written and directed. The filmmaker also played roles in all four movies, each of them successively smaller: from Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs, who in the opening scene delivers a memorable (and X-rated) exegesis on Madonna's 1985 hit "Like a Virgin"; to Jimmie in Pulp Fiction, a man irritable over a messy dead body in the back seat of his car; to a voice on an answering machine in Jackie Brown; to a disem-bodied voice in Kill Bill. Despite critical complaints regarding the diminution of his creative drive, the characteristics of Tarantino's art have propelled him to the status, as he observed somewhat derisively in a 1997 interview with the New York Times Magazine, of "an adjective": "Every third script out there," he said, "is described as 'Tarantino-esque.'"
The fact that Tarantino first emerged as an independent filmmaker is a crucial element of his abiding success. He came from far outside the Hollywood establishment, gaining his knowledge of the movies not by going to film school—he is a high-school dropout—but by feeding a long-term addiction to movies themselves. Born in 1963, in Knoxville, Tennessee, he was named after a character on television played by the actor Burt Reynolds in the television series Gunsmoke. Tarantino never met his biological father, an amateur musician. His mother Connie, then living in Tennessee while attending college, thereafter married a professional musician named Curt Zastoupil, earned her microbiology degree, and moved with her young son back to her native California, where she became a health-care executive and settled in Harbor City in suburban Los Angeles. Middle class, the town also bordered on rougher neighborhoods, and it was in those borderlands that young Tarantino liked to spend time, haunting a theater in the nearby town of Carson that "showed all the kung fu movies," Tarantino once recalled, "and the Allied International movies like The Van." Hyperactive, Tarantino did poorly in school, finally dropping out in the ninth grade after flunking for several years. As a teenager, he worked as an usher in a pornographic theater and later spent five years as a minimum-wage employee in what he recalled as "the best video store in the Los Angeles area," Video Archives.
There he met Roger Avary, another future director—Tarantino would be executive producer on Avary's Killing Zoe in 1994—who later worked with Tarantino on the story for Pulp Fiction. The video store became something of a film college for Tarantino. He, Avary, and others constituted an informal film club: "I basically lived [at the video store] . . . for years," Tarantino told David Wild in a 1994 Rolling Stone interview. "We'd get off work, close up the store, then sit around and watch movies all night. Other times Roger, our friend Scott, and I would take a Friday and plot things out so we could see all four new movies we were interested in. We always took whatever we got paid and put it right back into the industry."
Eventually, however, Tarantino began to feel like the character Clarence in the 1993 film True Romance, who, as Wild noted, "was based on Tarantino's younger days living near the Los Angeles airport. 'All day long he just sees people taking off and leaving, and he's going nowhere. I'm not that guy anymore.'" How he ceased to be "that guy" is the stuff of independent-film legend, a story that has inspired ambitious filmmakers ever since. In 1990 Tarantino and Avary went to work with producer John Langley, a regular video-store customer, and moved to Hollywood. There they started to develop the all-important contacts—most notably with producer Lawrence Bender—necessary in the world of filmmaking, and they raised $1.5 million. In film terms it was a shoestring budget at best; but it was enough to make Reservoir Dogs, a film that grossed many times that sum.
The resulting work brought out cautionary statements from several reviewers—Terrence Rafferty of the New Yorker, for instance, described Reservoir Dogs as "stylized mayhem and playground machismo"—but audiences, and indeed even many critics, were captivated. The story itself, modeled on Stanley Kubrick's 1956 film The Killing, is simple: an aging crime boss and his son gather a group of criminals, designated by colors (e.g., Mr. Blond, Mr. Pink) in order to protect their identities, and plan a jewelry-store heist. But one of them is a cop, and the robbery goes badly. The crime itself is not depicted, and much of the action takes place afterward in a warehouse where the robbers have gathered to square off against one another in an attempt to find the traitor. The film plays tricks with time, shifting backward and forward, and as Manohla Dargis in ArtForum observed, "The details [of the heist] surface only as retold by the robbers. . . . The effectis less the Rashomon point about rival truths than something akin to psychoanalysis: like the therapeutic process, Reservoir Dogs tells a story, is about telling stories, and depends on stories for its creation." As notable as the temporal tricks are the film's stylistic touches, which in retrospect appear as vintage Tarantino: the brutal violence against the 1970s soundtrack, the use of matching anonymous black suits by the color-designated robbers, and the long quasi-philosophical discussions which take place in the stage-like warehouse.
Tarantino, wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, "has a gift for writing great bursts of caustic, quirky dialogue," and even Rafferty, in the middle of a largely negative review, conceded that "Tarantino is a director to watch." Turan was also critical of the film, wishing it were not so "determinedly one-dimensional, so in love with operatic violence at the expense of everything else"; nonetheless he too credited "the undeniable skill and elan that Tarantino brings to all this." Likewise, Stanley Kauffmann of the New Republic wrote that while a "great deal of Reservoir Dogs . . . was difficult for me to watch" and faulted the director's penchant for violence but noted that "cinematically speaking, it's plainly the debut of a talent." Jonathan Romney, writing in the New Statesman, expressed concern for the way the famous ear-cutting scene incited audiences to want to see the violence unfold, yet he called Tarantino "a young director whose noir literacy is evident in every detail."
From Pulp Fiction to Jackie Brown
While many critics were concerned about the violence, they nonetheless admired Tarantino's abilities as a promising new talent. In the case of True Romance, directed by Tony Scott from a screenplay by Tarantino, reviews were less positive and some enthusiasm cooled. However, things heated up again when Tarantino once again took to the director's chair for the award-winning 1994 release Pulp Fiction. As with Reservoir Dogs, the storyline in Pulp Fiction moves back and forth along the time line, ending just a few minutes after the point at which it begins, but it is more complex than its predecessor. Whereas Reservoir Dogs takes place entirely in a world of men and features no female lead characters, Pulp Fiction involves at least as much male-female conflict as male-male. In terms of structure it has several plots, most of them surrounding a drug lord named Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). In the opening scene, a husband-and-wife crime team (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) plan a stickup in a restaurant; then the action leaves them, not to return until the end of the movie some two and a half hours later. In between, there are subplots involving two hit men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) employed by Marsellus; Marsellus's alluring wife (Uma Thurman), who suffers a near-fatal heroin overdose while out on the town with Travolta; and a boxer (Bruce Willis) who double-crosses Marsellus and flees for his life, only to find himself in a position to save the man who wants to kill him. In the final scene, after dealing with Plummer and Roth, Jackson's character makes a decision to leave his life of crime; already the audience has seen a segment that takes place later in time in which Travolta confronts the results of his own refusal to do so.
"The script," wrote Richard Alleva in Commonweal, "is put together with a jeweler's precision, and makes the writing of every American film I've seen in the past year . . . seem like so much child's play." Kauffmann, who in the New Republic had already expressed reservations about Tarantino's directorial debut, still found cause for alarm in the new film's violence, but held that "Pulp Fiction is Reservoir Dogs rewarded." Peter Travers in Rolling Stone described the film as "ferocious fun without a trace of caution, complacency or political correctness to inhibit its 154 deliciously lurid minutes." David Denby in New York, admitting that "I can't say I was a fan of . . . Reservoir Dogs," observed that in Pulp Fiction, "Tarantino seems to be goosing the entire solemn history of action cinema . . . . In the roundelay of violence and comedy that is Pulp Fiction, he has hilariously summed up an immense genre and gloriously achieved his exit from it. Life beckons from beyond the video store."
Several reviewers, such as T. J. Binyon of the Times Literary Supplement, noted that although the film's title seems to relate to books, Pulp Fiction is more about movies than literature. With Jackie Brown, released three years later, Tarantino took a step closer to literature by adapting an Elmore Leonard book; in the meantime, as he enjoyed the enormous fame and success that came in the wake of Pulp Fiction, he worked on a number of other projects. Along with three other directors, he contributed a segment to the film Four Rooms and worked with fellow indie filmmaker Robert Rodriguez on From Dusk 'till Dawn. Jack Matthews of the Los Angeles Times described From Dusk 'till Dawn as "a Frankenstein's monster of used movie parts" involving "a pair of murdering, bank-robbing brothers" who find themselves at "a topless biker bar in the middle of nowhere" and end up in a "chaotic, bloody, nonstop battle with ancient Aztec vampires."
Tarantino was in more familiar territory with Jackie Brown, a film more complex than Pulp Fiction in terms of character development and the double-crosses that move the plot forward, and less complex in its relatively linear use of time. The story centers on Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), an underpaid flight attendant earning extra money by helping arms dealer Ordell (Jackson) launder money. But when she is caught, Ordell, fearing that she will turn him over to the police, wants to eliminate her. On this backbone of plot are attached numerous other subplots involving Ordell's airhead girlfriend (Bridget Fonda), a henchman who has just gotten out of prison (Robert De Niro), the bail bondsman who comes to Jackie's rescue (Robert Forster), and the federal agents who goad Jackie into helping them (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen). All her adversaries underestimate Jackie, as a sequence involving the transfer of a bag—the only tricky use of time in the movie, involving the replay of a scene from three points of view—serves to illustrate.
Todd McCarthy of Variety faulted Tarantino for taking too long to tell his story—like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown clocks in at approximately 150 minutes—but held that the "film takes its own sweet time setting its gears in motion, with the emphasis on sweet when it comes to amusingly establishing its characters." Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, warned that "those expecting Tarantino to pick up where he left off [in Pulp Fiction] will be disappointed in Jackie Brown. Instead of rearranging audience's sensibilities, he's taken the typically twisty plot of Leonard's Rum Punch and run it through his personal Mixmaster. The result is a raunchy doodle, a leisurely and easygoing diversion." Anthony Lane of the New Yorker quoted with approval an example of Tarantino's dialogue: when Ordell warns his girlfriend that smoking marijuana will "rob you of your ambition," she says, "Not if your ambition is to get high and watch TV." Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that Tarantino "scores a knockout.... Loaded with action, laughs, smart dialogue, and potent performances, Jackie Brown is most memorable for its unexpected feeling." Tarantino, Travers concluded, charts new territory, and just as the film ends with Jackie "driving toward a life she can't define," listening to "a '70s song about busting out of ghettos"—Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street"—so the film "crackles with the fear and exhilaration of moving on."
The Tarantino Aesthetic
Certain aspects characterize the Tarantino directoral aesthetic, and though not as visible in films where his touch appears uncredited, they are nonetheless there for the discerning to see. One writer suggested, for instance, that his contribution to the 1995 film Crimson Tide could be summed up in two references to comic books which, the reviewer implied, seemed out of character when uttered by actor Denzel Washington. Comic books play a significant part in Tarantino's onscreen world, and numerous critics have likened his films to "cartoons" in the way that they transform cinematic violence—images that have become cliches through ceaseless repetition in B-grade films—into a form of postmodern humor. Tarantino himself, particularly during his five years as a clerk in a Los Angeles video store, has absorbed a vast store of film history, making his films almost encyclopedic in their references and cross-references.
While viewers are unlikely to find Ingmar Bergman or Jean Cocteau making cameos in Tarantino's movies, critics have found in Reservoir Dogs references to the works of both Stanley Kubrick and Jean-Luc Goddard. Tarantino's overriding interest is in pop culture, and his melding of this with a modicum of relatively high-minded material has won him the praise of numerous critics. There is little difference between Tarantino the screenwriter and Tarantino the man, as Wild noted in his profile. His home is a shrine to pop paraphernalia, the flotsam and jetsam of twentieth-century culture: "Along with items from his own movies," wrote Wild, "including the razor used in the infamous ear-slicing scene [in Reservoir Dogs], there's a frighteningly lifelike head of B-movie diva Barbara Steele, a pack of genuine Texas Chainsaw chili, a Zorro knife given to him by Jennifer Beals, a Robert Vaughn doll, cases by the dozen of bottled Pepsi, and what is undoubtedly one of the world's most impressive collections of film-and TV-related board games."
Wild described Tarantino as a "chatterbox," a fitting quality given the fact that, for all the blood and mayhem in them, his films are driven more by dialogue than by action. Ron Rosenbaum in Esquire examined the famous disagreement between Tarantino and director Oliver Stone over Stone's 1994 film Natural Born Killers. Stone had so altered Tarantino's story that the latter disclaimed all involvement in the resulting film and even delayed release of Pulp Fiction in order to further establish his distance. Rosenbaum portrayed the difference between the two men's temperaments as a "rival[ry of] sensibilities" not unlike that between Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Mythic Macho Outdoor Man of Nature versus Aesthete Analyst of Indoor Intrigue and Internal Self-Consciousness." Whereas Stone favored action, Rosenbaum noted, Tarantino's psyche found its natural home with dialogue: "If you watch Tarantino's films, if you read his screenplays, all that writhing and stewing of images is not so much war as dance. 'To me, violence is a totally aesthetic subject,' he once said. 'Saying you don't like violence in movies is like saying you don't like dance sequences in movies.'"
Whereas Stone's characters are figures of action, Rosenbaum indicated, Tarantino's are talkers, and what they talk about—albeit while on the way to committing shocking acts, or after they have done so—are the subjects that fascinate Tarantino. "The great defining moments in Tarantino films," Rosenbaum explained, "are almost always moments of literary criticism. The defining moment of Reservoir Dogs, . . . the scene that instantly distinguished it from all other violent gangster films ever made before, is the opening scene, in which his bank robbers are gathered around a breakfast table at a pancake house, deconstructing a Madonna song . . . . Oliver Stone, given that same group of murderous thugs, would have them facing off over urinals, comparing how long it took each to pee. Tarantino isn't afraid to depict his gangsters almost as if they were cultural-studies majors. And again, in Pulp Fiction, what's the defining moment? It's when Jules and Vincent (Jackson and Travolta), two hit men, are analyzing the philosophical implications of the way brand names for burgers—designations of value—shift in different linguistic frameworks. In his heart, Quentin Tarantino is an English major."
Though violence, pop culture, and endless discussions are two aspects of the Tarantino aesthetic, they are not the sum total of his world. Another facet of his work as a filmmaker is that he resurrects stars often perceived to be past their glory days. In the case of Travolta, who had enjoyed almost dizzying success in a number of roles during the 1970s, Tarantino's casting in Pulp Fiction resulted in a full-scale revival, making Travolta in the 1990s every bit the star he had been twenty years before. Similarly, the director cast Forster and Grier, both of whom had done little notable work in recent years, in Jackie Brown. Describing the onscreen romance between Forster and Grier—the latter of whom Tarantino had admired for her roles in numerous 1970s "blaxploitation films"—Lane wrote in the New Yorker: Forster "is fifty-six, she is forty-four; when was the last time you went to the movies—let alone a Tarantino movie—and saw a fond, unironic, interracial kiss between a couple who are a hundred years old?"
Lane's larger point is that Tarantino seems to have mellowed as his career has progressed. He shocked audiences in Reservoir Dogs with a gruesome scene in which Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) cuts off a police officer's ear while the 1970s hit "Stuck in the Middle with You" plays in the background. Likewise, Pulp Fiction featured a brutal S & M male-on-male rape scene, along with a large body count; by contrast, Jackie Brown, though it offers gore aplenty, and half the cast are dead by the end of the film, is more character-driven and—in places, such as a long tracking shot in which Ordell shoots an employee—restrained for Tarantino. The director himself has suggested that, although the shocking violence may get him the most headlines, its purpose is to illustrate a larger absurdity: the very deification of such bloodshed in American film. Thus the violence itself is a part of pop culture, inseparable from the references to B-movies and comic books, and this attitude has helped gain him a reputation as a witty and sardonic filmmaker simultaneously spoofing and glorifying the detritus of twentieth-century mass media.
His postmodern approach—Tarantino himself eschews the high-blown term—has earned him not only widespread admiration among critics, but also the allegiance of numerous stars. Jackson has appeared in two of his films, as have Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth; likewise Travolta, De Niro, Thurman, Willis, and Bridget Fonda have all played roles in Tarantino pictures. Keitel, a highly respected actor known for his interest in independent filmmaking, agreed to appear in Reservoir Dogs for a much smaller sum than his ordinary fee, simply because he believed in Tarantino's work.
A Long Hiatus
Tarantino was nowhere to be seen in Hollywood for several years after what was basically an anemic box office take for Jackie Brown. As Fierman noted, "'Where's Quentin?' quickly became an acidic Hollywood parlor game." Rumors abounded about his writer's block or supposed drug and alcohol abuse. In reality, Tarantino had reverted to his early love of acting, even playing a part in a Broadway play. He starred, along with George Clooney, in the 1998 film Full Tilt Boogie, and played in the 1998 stage revival of Wait until Dark. Reviewing that play, a contributor to Entertainment Weekly called Tarantino's performance "bloodless"; he was, as Rex Roberts reported in Insight on the News, generally "panned" by the theater critics. Jack Kroll, writing in Newsweek, remarked that the stage production of Wait until Dark is "so dense with badness that it swallows its own cast."
After these stage setbacks, Tarantino began working on another adaptation of an Elmore Leonard book, a Western, but gave up that project and then began work on a World War II script, which remained in the works through 2004. Meeting up again with actress Thurman (from Pulp Fiction) in 2000, he promised her he would have another script for her soon. It took a year and a half and he finally delivered the script for Kill Bill, a story about a reformed killer-for-hire known as The Bride (Thurman). Suffering a gunshot wound to the head on her wedding day while the rest of the wedding party is killed in a hail of gunfire, and surviving after a four-year coma, she vows revenge on the perpetrators: her former lover, Bill, as well as on his gang of foxy killers, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DIVAS), of whom she was once a member. These hired guns are a tip of the hat to a television show that Thurman's character describes at one point in the movie Pulp Fiction. The script was meant as an homage of sorts to the kung fu pictures Tarantino was addicted to as a youth, for the story is actually one extended fight scene from Beijing to Tokyo to Los Angeles as The Bride tracks Bill and his DIVAS. In addition to Thurman as The Bride, the movie also features actors such as Lucy Liu and Daryl Hannah as part of the DIVAS, and David Carradine as the enigmatic Bill. During the monstrous shooting schedule of the film, some of the actors and crew began referring to the production as the "traveling circus." Its production took twice as long as scheduled and the completed film's length was so prodigious that two movies were made from it. Part of this lengthy filming resulted from Tarantino mastering a new form of the directorial craft and getting down the balletic fight sequences of martial arts.
Kill Bill was released in two parts; Kill Bill: Volume 1 appeared in the fall of 2003 and Kill Bill: Volume 2 was released in early 2004. Variety's Todd McCarthy called it a "hypertalented American film geek's fever dream of complete immersion in the world of Asian martial arts pictures." McCarthy went on to note that this "strange, fun and densely textured work . . . gets better as it goes along." Time contributor Richard Corliss similarly dubbed it an "effusion of movie love by the prime nerd-curator and hip creator of action films." For Corliss, the film is Tarantino's "thank-you note" to various genre films, among them Hong Kong's kung-fu movies, the yakuza gangster films of Japan, and 1970s-style spaghetti Westerns. But, according to Corliss, Kill Bill is not simply a re-creation of such films; instead Tarantino "expands them into a daring new dimension" with a tone "at once playful and dead serious." Owen Gleiberman, writing in Entertainment Weekly, also had praise for the film, calling it a "delirious splatter opera of cruelty and revenge." Gleiberman added, "Each sequence in Kill Bill is like a detour that's more fun than the main road. . . . What a wizard Tarantino is!" Speaking with Newsweek's David Ansen, Tarantino commented on the pastiche quality of his film and its recycling of martial-arts genre movies: "It's recycled with a twist. It's me doing it, you know? With my point of view on it—which has never been done because mine is unique, all right? Not good or better. Just unique."
For some, Kill Bill was not so much unique as it was bloody. Writing in the New Statesman, Philip Kerr found the film to be "about 105 minutes of relentless slashing, stabbing, hacking, cleaving, chipping, riving, quartering, and carving." Kerr missed Tarantino's "blackly comic dialogue" that was so much a part of his earlier films, and further noted: "There was just blood and more blood" in this "disappointing" film. For People contributor Leah Rosen, there are "some electrifying fight scenes." However, "this is at heart a hollow enterprise," Rosen concluded. Likewise New Republic contributor Kauffmann found little to like in the film, calling it a "series of fights, little more." For Kauffmann these fight sequences were not "frightening," but "ludicrous."
If you enjoy the works of Quentin Tarantino
If you enjoy the works of Quentin Tarantino, you might want to check out the following films:
Dominic Sena, Swordfish, 2001.
John Woo, Broken Arrow, 1995.
Corey Yuen, The Transporter, 2002.
For Tarantino such criticisms are part of the growth process. "I do believe in growth as a filmmaker," he told Ansen, "but I don't think it's a daisy-chain—that you take the harvest from the last one and expand on it a little further, all right? If I were to just keep expanding on that Jackie Brown thing, you know, in 15 years' time I would be making some really geriatric movies. The thing is, I don't need to prove that I can do that with each new movie—because I've already proven I can do that. This time I wanted to grow as a filmmaker by what I consider exciting filmmaking."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bernard, Jimi, Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1995.
Clarkson, Wensley, Quentin Tarantino: Shooting from the Hip, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1995.
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 47, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Dawson, Jeff, Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool, Applause (New York, NY), 1995.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.
ArtForum, November, 1992, Manohla Dargis, review of Reservoir Dogs, p. 11; March, 1995, pp. 63-66.
Commonweal, October 22, 1993, p. 22; November 18, 1994, Richard Alleva, review of Pulp Fiction, pp. 30-31.
Entertainment Weekly, December 19, 1997, Benjamin Svetkey, "Jackie, Oh!," pp. 26-30; January 9, 1998, Owen Gleiberman, review of Jackie Brown, pp. 40-41; April 17, 1998, review of Wait until Dark, p. 64; August 7, 1998, review of Bloody Merry, p. 53; October 3, 2003, Daniel Fierman, "The Kill Zone," p. 26; October 17, 2003, Owen Gleiberman, review of Kill Bill, p. 57.
Esquire, December, 1997, p. 38.
Film Comment, January-February, 1996, pp. 83-88.
Insight on the News, May 11, 1998, Rex Roberts, review of Wait Until Dark, pp. 38-39.
Literature-Film Quarterly, January, 1998, pp. 60-66.
Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1992, Kenneth Turan, review of Reservoir Dogs, p. F1; September 10, 1993, p. F1; December 25, 1995, p. F12; January 19, 1996, p. F1; December 24, 1997, p. F2.
Maclean's, December 29, 1997, Brian D. Johnson, review of Jackie Brown, pp. 103-104.
New Republic, November 23, 1992, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Reservoir Dogs, pp. 30-31; November 14, 1994, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Pulp Fiction, pp. 26-27; January 26, 1998, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Jackie Brown, p. 24; November 10, 2003, Stanley Kauffmann, review of Kill Bill, p. 24.
New Statesman, January 8, 1993, Jonathan Romney, review of Reservoir Dogs, p. 34; October 8, 1994, p. 29; October 13, 2003, Philip Kerr, review of Kill Bill, p. 44.
Newsweek, April 13, 1998, Jack Kroll, review of Wait until Dark, p. 72; October 13, 2003, David Ansen, "Pulp Friction: Quentin Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' Is a Superstylized Bloodbath" (interview), p. 66.
New York, October 3, 1994, David Denby, review of Pulp Fiction, p. 96.
New Yorker, October 19, 1992, Terrence Rafferty, review of Reservoir Dogs, pp. 105-109; October 10, 1994, Anthony Lane, review of Pulp Fiction, pp. 95-97; February 5, 1996, pp. 75-77; January 12, 1998, Anthony Lane, review of Jackie Brown, pp. 83-84.
New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1997, p. 112.
People, January 12, 1998, Leah Rozen, review of Jackie Brown, pp. 21-22; October 20, 2003, Leah Rozen, review of Kill Bill, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, April 29, 2002, John F. Baker, "Novel First for Director," p. 16.
Rolling Stone, October 6, 1994, pp. 79-81; November 3, 1994, pp. 77-80; January 22, 1998, Peter Travers, review of Jackie Brown, pp. 61-62.
Time, May 18, 1998, Belinda Luscombe, "Wait unt . . . Duck!," p. 101; October 20, 2003, Richard Corliss, review of Kill Bill, p. 70.
Times Literary Supplement, November 11, 1994, T. J. Binyon, review of Pulp Fiction, p. 26.
Variety, December 22, 1997, Todd McCarthy, review of Jackie Brown, pp. 57-58; September 29, 2003, Todd McCarthy, review of Kill Bill, pp. 56-57.
Quentin Tarantino, A God among Directors (fan web site), http://www.godamongdirectors.com/ (January 4, 2004).
Quentin Tarantino Archives,http://www.tarantino.info/ (January 4, 2004).*
Nationality: American. Born: Quentin Jerome Tarantino in Knoxville, Tennessee, 27 March 1963; grew up in Los Angeles. Education: Studied acting. Career: Worked at Video Archives with Roger Avary; did telephone sales for Imperial Entertainment; began writing scripts for Cinetel; formed production company, A Band Apart, with Lawrence Bender; directed "Motherhood" episode of ER television series, 1994. Awards: Palme d'Or, Cannes Film Festival, for Pulp Fiction, 1994; Academy Award, Best Original Screenplay, and Golden Globe Award, Best Screenplay and Best Director, for Pulp Fiction, 1995. Address: A Band Apart Productions, 6525 Sunset Blvd. #G-12, Los Angeles, CA 90028, U.S.A.
Films as Director, Screenwriter, and Actor:
"Man from Hollywood" episode of Four Rooms
Jackie Brown (uncredited answering machine voice)
Past Midnight (assoc pr)
Natural Born Killers (Stone) (uncredited co-sc); True Romance (Tony Scott) (sc); Eddie Presley (role as hospital orderly)
Killing Zoe (Avary) (sc, exec pr); Sleep with Me (role as Sid); The Coriolis Effect (short) (role as radio disc jockey); Somebody to Love (role as bartender); Destiny Turns on theRadio (role as Johnny Destiny)
Desperado (Rodriguez) (role as pick-up guy)
From Dusk till Dawn (Rodriguez) (sc, co-exec pr, role as Richard Gecko); Girl 6 (role); Curdled (exec pr)
God Said 'Ha!' (exec pr)
From Dusk till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (exec pr);
From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (exec pr)
By TARANTINO: books—
Quentin Tarantino: Interviews, edited by Gerald Peary, Jackson, Mississippi, 1998.
Quentin Tarantino: The Film Geek Files, with Paul Woods, London, 2000.
By TARANTINO: articles—
"A Rare Sorrow," in Sight and Sound (London), February 1993.
"Gangsters in Hollywood," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), March 1993.
"Steve Buscemi," in Bomb (New York), Winter 1993.
"The Mouth and the Method," in Sight and Sound (London), March 1998.
On TARANTINO: books—
Bernard, Jami, Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies, New York, 1995.
Clarkson, Wensley, Quentin Tarantino:Shooting from the Hip, Woodstock, New York, 1995.
Dawson, Jeff, Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool, New York, 1995.
On TARANTINO: articles—
Hoberman, J., "Back on the Wild Side," in Premiere (New York), August 1992.
Ciment, M., and H. Niogret, "A chacun sa couleur," in Positif (Paris), September 1992.
Pizzello, S., "From Rags to Reservoir Dogs," in American Cinematographer (New York), November 1992.
Taubin, A., "The Men's Room," in Sight and Sound (London), December 1992.
Ryan, J., "Quentin Tarantino," in Premiere (New York), January 1993.
Atkinson, M., "Hype Dreams," in Movieline (Escondido, California), March 1993.
Deemer, Charles and Ira Nayman, "The Screenplays of Quentin Tarantino: Pop Go the Weasles," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1994.
Boon, Kevin A., "Stoning Tarantino," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), Winter 1994.
Deutsch, Joel, "The Feature Film Four," in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), April-May 1995.
Corsello, Andrew, "'Hello This Is Quentin - Your #&@ Tape Is Overdue!" in Gentleman's Quarterly, October 1995.
Fornara, Bruno, "Polpa e macinato. Il cinema in un film," in Cineforum (Bergamo), November 1996.
Leitch, Thomas M., "The Hitchcock Moment," in Hitchcock Annual (Gambier), 1997–1998.
* * *
Quentin Tarantino's meteoric rise to fame with the phenomenal critical and popular success of Pulp Fiction, his second feature, is not only the result of his considerable talent but of two forces operating within contemporary Hollywood: first, an economic mini-crisis brought on by the box-office and critical failures of many recent high-budget blockbuster productions (Waterworld is perhaps the most remarkable example) that has opened the door, as in the past, for young directors who are able to make successful films on small budgets (made for $8 million, Pulp Fiction earned almost $64 million at the box office, not counting video sales and rentals); second, the continuing popularity of neo-noir films, a popularity not limited to its most thriving subgenre, the erotic thriller. If Hollywood's economic hard times have given Tarantino (and others) a chance, it is the director's personal obsessions, so much in tune with what contemporary audiences want to see, that have made him popular.
The widely read and very cineliterate Tarantino has an obvious liking for classic hard-boiled pulp fiction (evidently Jim Thompson and W. R. Burnett in particular) and classic film noir (Huston's Asphalt Jungle probably served as a model for Reservoir Dogs). But like several of the prominent directors of the Hollywood Renaissance in the middle 1970s (especially Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader), Tarantino also owes a substantial debt to French film noir, especially the work of Jean Pierre Melville and Jean Luc Godard. Godard's modernist refiguration of noir themes and conventions (Alphaville is the classic example), however, would hardly please the mass audience Tarantino has in mind. The most substantial contribution of nouvelle vague anti-realism in Tarantino's films can be seen in their creative use of achronicities, disorderings in the storytelling process that make the narratives intriguing puzzles even as they uncover interesting ironies for the spectator, who must take an active role in the deciphering of the plot. The anti-Aristotelianism of this procedure, its disruption of emotional identification with the characters' plight, allows Tarantino to concentrate on thematic elements, especially the role violence plays in American culture.
Like the gang in Asphalt Jungle, the crooks in Reservoir Dogs assembled to pull a heist (itself never represented) are shown participating in what is simply a "left-handed form of endeavor." If Huston endeavors to demonstrate that criminals too have an ordinary life (households to run, relationships to pursue, bills to pay), Tarantino, in contrast, is more interested in moral dilemmas and conflict, especially as these are brought to life by situations of extraordinary danger and threat. In fact, the central conflicts of Reservoir Dogs carry a substantial moral charge and significance, even if, in the end, as the allknowing spectator alone recognizes, the characters are destroyed no matter if they are sociopaths with a yen for torture or men of good will who stand by their friends even at the cost of their own lives. And yet Tarantino obviously sympathizes with those who despise mauvaise foi and make the difficult choices that confront them. A Sartrean and Camusian moralism pervades this film.
Much the same can be said of the similar characters in Pulp Fiction, whose existential plights and difficult choices are here examined from a serio-comic perspective. A torpedo working for a drug dealer is given the assignment of looking after the boss's flirtatious wife. He tries to resist her various come-ons, only to be faced with a sudden, more demanding test: she overdoses on heroin, goes into a near-fatal coma from which he can arouse her only by jabbing a harpoon-sized needle into her heart. Amazingly, she recovers, and Tarantino finishes this sequence with a comic leave-taking scene that ends their "date". Once again, in Pulp Fiction difficult moral questions are raised. A boxer in the same drug dealer's pay refuses out of personal integrity to throw a fight as ordered. Fleeing town, he meets his boss by accident on a city street. Their confrontation, however, opens unexpectedly onto another moral plane. Both men wind up the prisoners of local sadists, who plan to sodomize, torture, and kill them. The boxer escapes, and, feeling the pang of conscience, goes back to free his erstwhile boss, who forgives the man's earlier betrayal before exacting a terrible vengeance on his torturers, one of whom is a policeman.
With their philosophical dimensions, unremitting representations of venality and depravity among the criminal under and over class, art cinema narrational complexities, and black humor, Tarantino's first two films are strikingly original contributions to an American cinema struggling to rebound from the artistic doldrums of the 1980s. As a screenwriter, he has been no less successful. Written for former video shop co-worker Roger Avary, Killing Zoe offers a romantic twist on the themes examined in Tarantino's own directorial efforts. In this case, a somewhat naive and easily swayed young criminal must make a moral stand against his lifelong friend to save the life of a prostitute he has come to care for; the gesture is reciprocated, and the two rescue themselves from a nightmarish world of self-destructive violence and addiction. Similarly, True Romance and Natural Born Killers offer outlaw couples on the run whose loyalty to each other is rewarded in the end by their escape from a corrupt and disfiguring America that attempts to destroy them.
Tarantino's third film as a director, Jackie Brown, proved less successful with audiences, though it shares much in common with his earlier work. Though at times almost sedate, Jackie Brown also offers a nuanced meditation on the Los Angeles criminal underworld. Adapting an Elmore Leonard novel replete with a complex plot of double and triple crosses, Tarantino here focuses on the attempts of an impoverished black woman, a petty criminal and part-time stewardess, to heist the laundered money of a psychopathic underworld kingpin. Much in the Leonard vein, the film is very detailed in its mise-en-scène, which is carefully calculated to reveal both the seediness of urban L.A. and the cultural wasteland of the outlying suburbs; the film is also devoted to the depiction of character rather than the relentless advancement of the plot. This accounts for its more than two-and-a-half hours of running time. Like Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown is also a complicated cinematic homage. Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton appear in cameo roles that gently parody their screen personas. Pam Grier as the title character reprises the role of the independent woman who turns on her oppressors that she successfully portrayed in many 1970s blaxploitation films. Less philosophically oriented and characterized by a more subdued cinematic style, Jackie Brown nevertheless shows Tarantino working interestingly and creatively within his chosen generic limitations.
—R. Barton Palmer