For nearly thirty years, the work of Quentin Tarantino has inspired copious discussion among movie fans. Some of the most copious discussion, as well as some of the most insightful, has come from no less avid a movie fan than Tarantino himself. Every cinephile has long since known that the man who made Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown — and more recently pictures like Django Unchained, The Hateful Eight, and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood — is one of their own. Now the subject of numerous video essays, Tarantino could, in another life, have become that medium’s foremost practitioner. In the Now You See It video essay above, we have the next best thing: an analysis of Tarantino’s work narrated, for the most part, by the man himself.
“It’s as if a couple of movie-crazy young Frenchmen were in a coffee house, and they’ve taken a banal American crime novel and they’re making a movie out of it based not on the novel, but on the poetry they’ve read between the lines.” So goes New Yorker critic Pauline Kael’s review of Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à part — as remembered by Tarantino in an interview in the 2000s.
These and other such clips comprise “Quentin Tarantino and the Poetry Between the Lines,” or at least they comprise the parts that don’t come straight from Tarantino’s films or the films that inspired them. From Bande à part Tarantino took not just the name of his production company but also the imperfect style of dancing he had John Travolta and Uma Thurman show off in Pulp Fiction, one of the many acts of cinematic “stealing” to which he gladly cops.
In describing the rule-breaking work of Godard, the first big cinephile-filmmaker, Kael inadvertently bestowed a revelation upon Tarantino: “That’s my aesthetic!” he remembers thinking. “That’s what I want to achieve!” That goal has inspired Tarantino to a number of acts of cultural transposition, and this video essay also brings together the comments several other figures have made about his achievement: Inglourious Basterds star Christoph Waltz remarks on the characteristic way that Tarantino, “the product of the culture that made the Western possible at all,” would “take the genre once removed into the Italian and bring it back to America” as he does in his repatriated spaghetti Western The Hateful Eight. To that picture, and to Quentin Tarantino’s greater cinematic project, applies the observation Gene Siskel made on Pulp Fiction just as it was becoming a cultural phenomenon in its own right: “Like all great films, it criticizes other movies.”
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.