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No. 9, September 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

Quentin Tarantino
biography and films
 


 

Reservoir Dogs, 1992. Get it from:
- Amazon.com
- Amazon.fr
 

From Dusk Till
Dawn
, 1996.
Get it from:
- Amazon.com
- Amazon.co.uk
- Amazon.de
 

Pulp Fiction, 1994.
Get it from:
- Amazon.com
- Amazon.de
- Amazon.co.uk


Quentin Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963. His mother, 16, named him after the figure Quint, played by Burt Reynolds, from the television series Gunsmoke. According to other sources, he was named after the girl Quentin from William Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury. Tarantino grew up in South Bay at the southern end of the city of Los Angeles. He watched a lot of television, liked going to the cinema and read many comics. He was a hyperactive and highly intelligent kid with several (step)father's and legal guardians. After the early divorce of his parents, Quentin had no more contact with his father Tony. Despite this fact, he later adopted his family name: Tarantino. Quentin had difficulties with reading and writing (in German: Legastheniker). He hated school and quite it after the tenth grade in order to work in a porn cinema, the Pussycat Theatre in Torrance, where he checked tickets at the entrance. At the same period, he began to take acting lessons. Tarantino spent five years as a video clerk in a shop called Video Archives in the Californian Manhattan Beach before he had become a script writer and widely acclaimed director with cult status. He even spent a (short) time in prison because he could not pay a parking ticket.
 
Peter Körte points out to the fact that Quentin Tarantino has introduced some fictitious elements into his biography. He attributed himself a guest appearance in George Romero's Knightriders (1980) and in Jean-Luc Godards King Lear (1987. On the other hand, he neglects to mention his appearance as Elvis impersonator in the television series Golden Girls. As somebody once said: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend...
 
From 1984 to 1986, Tarantino worked on the film My Best Friend's Birthday, which remained unfinished. But already his first released film, Reservoir Dogs (1992), on which he worked as screen writer, director and actor, made him a cult star. Shortly before, on a one month workshop at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute in Utah, he had learned the basics of the director's and cameraman's work. Without having attended a film school, he shot Reservoir Dogs, which opened him all doors. Produced with a $1.5 million budget, it made only $3 million at American cinemas, but was still profitable. It was only after the success of Pulp Fiction that video cassette sales sharply increased and his debut movie started to make a lot of money worldwide. In England, the video of Reservoir Dogs had been on the index for almost two and a half years for excessive violence.
 
Quentin Tarantino wrote several screen scripts. Between 1987 and 1989 he wrote for True Romance (1993) by director Tony Scott. Tarantino criticized the happy end Scott added later. Quentin was also the author of the script of Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994), but later he openly distanced himself from the movie. The screenplay of Natural Born Killers was based on The Open Road by Roger Avary, one of  Tarantino's colleagues at Video Archives.
 
Together with Lawrence Bender, born in 1958, Tarantino founded the production company A Band Apart in the early 1990s. In 1997, the two also established a record company, A Band Apart Records, in order to release the - mostly sensational - soundtracks of Tarantino's film's. Madonna's Maverick Records is in charge of distribution.
 
In 1994, Tarantino shot his second movie, Pulp Fiction, which won him a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. Made with a budget of $8 million, it brought Miramax a profit of $100 million. The film largely lives from the unforseeable nature of its ingenious story. Both the plot and the music are fresh and unusual and for itself an object of cult. Even the book behind the movie became a top ten bestseller in England where more than 165,000 copies were sold. The construction of Pulp Fiction follows the maxim "answers first, questions later". Tarantino catches and maintains the viewers interest by his surprise attacks. In a second viewing, the film is less sensational and the imperfections become evident. Still, for a second film, the result is great.
 
Tarantino has created a movie based on a series of film quotations rooted in the world of killers, dealers, crooks and boxers. Tarantino confidently commented the fact by saying that great artist's steal, do not make an homage, which itself is based on a remark by somebody else and is itself, therefore, a transformed quotation. But Tarantino does not simply copy scenes from previous films, he makes them into ironic quotations which create a certain tension. A critic wrote that Pulp Fiction belongs to the category of geek movies. Back in the days of Vaudeville, the geek was the lowest job in show business. It was the guy who bit off the chicken's head for a place to sleep and a bottle of booze. John Travolta responded rightly to critics that his disco film Saturday Night Fever was pop culture, whereas Pulp Fiction is a reflection on pop culture. Herein lies a big difference. Tarantino was inspired by Hollywood's B-pictures, by the French Nouvelle-Vague and the action cinema from Hong Kong, especially films by John Woo and his fetish star Chow Yun-Fat,. Quentin has used all these styles and put them evenly together. A lot of the characters in Pulp Fiction come from the American hard boiled literature of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, and others, e.g. the killer, the gangster boss, the femme fatale, the boxer and the men for special tasks. For these different roles, Tarantino uses a lot of stars from the respective genres. In this way, he creates a comic, but one that does not make stars like John Travolta, Bruce Willis or Harvey Keitel look ridiculous.
 
The story is about two killers, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), their boss Masellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), and the boss' wife Mia (Uma Thurman). Other characters are the boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) and his French girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Madeiros). Other stories are built into the main one, such as the one about a golden watch, which captain Koons (Christopher Walken) tells a small boy, or the one about a specialist for special tasks, Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel), who has to give the two killers indications on how to clean the unnecessarily blood stained car. In a small part, one can see actor Dick Miller as Monster Joe. Miller has been part of more than 130 cheap horror, western, motorbike, high school and beach party movies by producer Samuel Z. Arkoff. His appearance is Tarantino's tribute to B-Movies.
 
After Pulp Fiction, Tarantino did not only make hit movies. He tried too much to use his popularity and experienced some setbacks: Four Rooms and Destiny Turns On The Radio were a career backlash after too much Pulp Fiction hype.
 
For From Dusk Till Dawn, the young American director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado) teamed up with Quentin Tarantino, who not only wrote the screen script, but who also plays one of the main characters. The result is an original mix of a gangster, action and a horror movie. The film is great fun, but superficial. But From Dusk Till Dawn is not as "stupid" as it seems. It is clever to see how the action movie changes from one moment to another into a vampire film. Also in other moments, Tarantino has the spectator expecting one thing - and then he does something else. He repeatedly disappoints expectations and ironizes Hollywood genres such as action, family, police and vampire movies. All that is impertinent, surprising and new.
 
Quentin Tarantino plays Richard Gecko, a psychopathic gangster who, together with his brother Seth (George Clooney), leaves a bloody trace behind him trough the state of Texas. Richard frees Seth from prison. They rob a bank and on their flight, they live an orgy of destruction. Richard is uncontrollable. He just wants to get a road map in a shop and ends up killing two people. Afterwards, the two brothers kidnap the former Baptist preacher Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his family. After his wife's death, he had given up his office and seems to have lost his faith. He travels from one place to another, together with his two children (Juliette Lewis und Ernest Lui). Richard promises Jacob to release him and his kids, once he has smuggled the two gangers to Mexico. There, they all end up at the Titty Twister, a strip bar for horny boozing companions, mostly truckers. Richard only intends to meet a Mexican gangster with whom he wants to make a deal, but the Titty Twister, after an erotic snake dance performed by Salma Hayek, turns out to be a place of terror. Vampires with the unpleasant habit to suck their guest's blood run the place. But the Gecko brother's and their hostages are not in a mood to surrender without fighting. Seth's argumentation for the proof of the existence of God is logical: Since they can see that there is hell, God must exist too. This should convince Jacob, because only a devout priest is a substantial help in the fight against the vampires. The Titty Twister is open from dusk till dawn, hence the film's title. In the final scene, one can see the backside of the place of horror: the strip bar is built on a slope, on the top of an Aztec temple. The abyss is filled with decaying trucks and motorcycles.


Get Jackie Brown
from:
- Amazon.com 
-
Amazon.co.uk
-
Amazon.de
- Amazon.fr
 
Jackie Brown is based on Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch. Pam Grier, born in North Carolina in 1949, was a star of the blaxploitation movies of the 1970s, among them Foxy Brown (1974). She plays the lead role. Rum Punch is about a white woman. Tarantino chose an African-American, but this has no great effect on the movie.
 
Jackie Brown is a woman who, until now, has had no control over her life. She has lived a shabby existence as a stewardess for a second-rate airline (she had to give up a job in a good one after she had a run in with the law). Now, she has decided to break out. Samuel L. Jackson, born in Washington, D.C. in 1948, plays the black arms dealer Ordell who has only one more objective in his career: secretly bring back to the United States the $500,000 he has made in Mexico and then settle down afterwards (little does he - or Tarantino - realize that half a million would not be enough).
 
Therefore, Ordell needs the help of his former cellmate, Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). Beaumont (Chris Tucker), who should have helped him before, went into trouble and risks to go to jail for quite a while. Ordell knows Beaumont could never keep quiet and would talk to the cops in order to get out of the prison. Ordell has no choice, he has to liquidate Beaumont in order to protect his hidden money. Ordell tells Louis about the situation in order to make clear who is the boss. He also explains to Louis why he chose him as partner: because you are "as serious as a heart attack".
 
The movie Jackie Brown contains two "love stories". One is between Louis and Ordells little white girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda), as far as "love" is something Melanie can experience. Louis had last seen Melanie some six or seven years ago, when she was a teenager. Melanie knows what Louis needs after years spent in prison. She offers him a "quickie" - and he accepts.
 
The police officer Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton), together with a partner, wants to get Ordell. Therefore, he needs the help of the stewardess Jackie Brown. The woman in her mid-40s makes him believe that she accepts his offer to help him - otherwise she risks to be sentenced to jail. At the same time, Jackie also pretends to be on Ordell's side. Nicolette, an average cop, thinks he is a clever guy and has everything under control. But he overestimates himself.
 
The "pearl" of the film, as Tarantino rightly remarks, is the second love story, the one between Jackie Brown and Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a bail dealer who had already gotten Beaumont out of jail and who, again on Ordell's behalf, has to get Jackie Brown out now. For him, it is love at first sight. These two characters are real, a man and a woman of flesh and blood, no stereotypes as most of the other characters who fill Tarantino's films. Robert Forster, who had started his career a long time ago in a theatre in Rochester, N.Y., has rightly been nominated for an Oscar for his performance.
 
Tarantino chose Robert De Niro for the small but important part of Louis because he needed an actor who, only through his body language - since Louis is a man of few words - could express a lot. De Niro perfectly fits into his role as a dim loser, one of his best performances in recent years.
 
As in his earlier films, Jackie Brown contains quotations of other films, but not whole scenes. Tarantino also plays with quotations of himself. The dress Jackie Brown buys at the mall at the moment of the money exchange is the same Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) wore in Pulp Fiction. As Jackie Brown enters the prison, the song Long Time Woman can be heard, which Pam Grier once performed in the film The Big Doll House. In contrast to Tarantino's previous films, the soundtrack of Jackie Brown is not outstanding, with the exception of Bobby Womack's soul song Across 110th Street, which can be heard in the long opening as well as in the closing scene of the film. The music by the Delfonics, which Jackie Brown loves and, therefore, interests Max Cherry so much, is trash, but fits well into Jackie's and Max's characters.
 
In Jackie Brown, Tarantino has again made a series of "goofs". A series of them is explained on the DVDs extra features (not all of them are real goofs, such as the remark on the walls between the changing rooms in the mall is mistaken - no goof): the film takes place in the year 1995, but the calendar in Jackie's kitchen is from 1997. Despite the goofs, Jackie Brown is Tarantino's most mature work until today. Real people with authentic feelings play a key role. Last but not least, a lot of films are ruined with the last scene. Not so with Jackie Brown. This movie is a masterpiece - better than the generally more highly regarded Pulp Fiction.

Some films by and/or with Quentin Tarantino:
- My Best Friend's Wedding (unfinished, 1984-86)
- Reservoir Dogs (1992)
- True Romance (screenplay, 1993)
- Natural Born Killers (screenplay, 1994)
- Pulp Fiction (1994)
- Four Rooms (episode: The Thrill of the Bet, 1995)
- From Dusk Till Dawn (screenplay, actor, 1995)   
- Jackie Brown (1997) 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 9, September 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.