“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” goes a line we often attribute to Pablo Picasso — even those of us who know little of Picasso’s work and nothing of the work from which he may or may not have stolen. Quentin Tarantino’s version of the line adds another observation about great artists: “They don’t do homages.” The director of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown may well have spoken those words in frustration, the frustration of having his every picture described as an “homage” to some element or other of cinema history. He puts it more bluntly: “I steal from every single movie ever made.” A bold claim, to be sure, but if anyone is likely to have seen every film ever made, surely it’s him.
“How Quentin Tarantino Steals from Other Movies,” the INSIDER video essay above, surveys the range of his cinematic sources, from The Searchers to The Warriors, Band of Outsiders to City on Fire, Metropolis to The Flintstones.
In each of his ten features so far, Tarantino has bundled all this material into packages describable most succinctly with the adjective Tarantinoesque, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “characterized by graphic and stylized violence, non-linear storylines, cineliterate references, satirical themes, and sharp dialogue.” Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (subject of its own INSIDER video essay) exhibits all those qualities, and both critical and audience response so far suggests that we have yet to tire of the Tarantinoesque.
How has Tarantino’s cinematic sensibility, practically textbook in its postmodernism, worn so well? As this video’s narrator puts it, Tarantino “never steals from one source. He rather steals from multiple sources spanning decades, and then stitches them together to create something new,” fortifying the process with his strong understanding of the source material (honed during his pre-fame days as a video-store clerk) and his “unique vision and writing.” Roger Ebert once wrote of Lars Von Trier, another notable filmmaker of Tarantino’s generation, that “he takes chances, and that’s rare in a world where most films seem to have been banged together out of other films.” But Tarantino takes his chances precisely by making films out of other films, and as even his detractors have to admit, it’s paid off so far.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.