quentin tarantino’s real problem

We got into a bit of an argument about Django. I agree that Quentin Tarantino has issues, though I stand by Django, but I am surprised that no one has pointed out that Quentin’s in a rut. Think about Quentin’s films and their underlying themes. And I ain’t talking about trash talk and pulp novel violence. I mean Themes, like you used to talk about in English class:

  • Reservoir Dogs – betrayal
  • Pulp Fiction – redemption
  • Jackie Brown – aging/redemption
  • Kill Bill Vols. 1-2: revenge
  • Death Proof – revenge
  • Inglorious Basterds – revenge
  • Django Unchained – revenge

Of course, these aren’t the only themes. Some are obvious, like love – which is a big deal in Pulp Fiction and Django. Some themes are quite subtle. Every QT film has involved people faking their identity in some way. But when you think about dominant themes, QT’s definitely stuck in revenge territory. I think it got stale for me, and QT needs to move on. There’s a lot more in that video store clerk and we need to see it.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 6, 2013 at 12:01 am

13 Responses

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  1. From a sociological perspective, I don’t give a rat’s ass about any given director. I suppose I saw one of his films (Pulp Fiction), but what bothers me is the complete lack of critical discourse about the entire production process. Why is this individualized to some particular actor within the cultural production of film? Who cares about some rich boy who makes movies about banal and redundant themes? What the sociology of culture needs is a healthy reintroduction of genuine critical inquiry. Whither Horkheimer? Last night tens of millions watched a game they can’t play and don’t even understand in a sporting sense (the actual content of sport as culture). And most of the analyses of popular culture reify fleeting narratives and ignore how these cultural products are generated by a particular class, using the means of cultural production to amplify themes that conveniently express the perspectives comfortable for the producers. But then again, I don’t even watch television…



    February 6, 2013 at 1:19 am

  2. @sherkat. i don’t know, i think there’s a pretty sizeable audience for “critical discourse” on pop culture. articles from Slate, New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, New York Magazine, etc. that focus on cultural matters are oftentimes the most widely circulated articles (like, they’re usually in the “most emailed/most read” column on the right side of the webpage).

    that doesn’t mean that the critical discourse offered up by the writers in said outlets represents the “ideal” of critical discourse as offered by Horkheimer/Frankfurt School, but at least it’s there. and the ideas from said articles, as well as the online discussions around said articles, often trickles down into the general discourse.

    i’m not disputing that there are aspects of culture nowadays that are problematic, but rather arguing that our culture is a lot more homogenous – with ever-more proliferation of cultural “niches”, etc. that contribute to the “general” culture


    Andrew B. Lee

    February 6, 2013 at 2:46 am

  3. Re: QT’s “rut” because of lack of fresh cinematic themes.

    I don’t know if that’s what it really is (I have no idea), but I do agree with Fabio in that I personally feel that QT’s movies fell off after the Kill Bills. Django is much better imho than “Death Proof” or “Inglorious”. And I’m not sure why wrinkle my nose at “Death Proof” and “Inglorious” while liking QT’s other films.

    Enjoyment of a film need not always come down to how it deals with social/cultural issues – we can appreciate the cinematic execution.

    That being said, I’m not quite advocating some unattainable “pure” enjoyment of films that ignores social/cultural issues at the expense of perpetuating the status quo/dominant discourses, etc.


    Andrew B. Lee

    February 6, 2013 at 3:04 am

  4. QT is stuck in adolescence. To the extent that we grow up, well, we start finding him tiring. I haven’t bothered with the last three. I liked the first four when I first saw them, but when I went back to watch Reservoir Dogs again, I noticed how childish it was. There’s no doubt QT is more technically proficient than some random kid with Tourette’s, but the plot we are getting isn’t much different.



    February 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm

  5. Reservoir Dogs – $14,661,007
    Pulp Fiction – $213,928,762
    Jackie Brown – $72,673,162
    Kill Bill Vols. 1-2 – $180,949,045 + $152,159,461 = ~330,00,000
    Death Proof – $25,422,088
    Inglorious Basterds – $321,455,689[
    Django Unchained – $309,179,000

    Some rut…



    February 6, 2013 at 5:58 pm

  6. The following posts prove my point. Horkheimer would puke. Audience is critique—the only evaluative criteria is how well it titillates the masses. Commenting on the vacuous product is considered “critical.” Not gonna pass comps with that kind of thinking skills….



    February 7, 2013 at 12:32 am

  7. You sound like an out of touch snob…. In this culture, you know, cash $$ is a big deal….. Can’t blame him for the streak, at least!



    February 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm

  8. This is Tarantino, not Balzac. He makes popular films that reconfigures low status genre exploitation films for popular audiences not witnessed since Verhoven’s Showgirls. The fact he does it with such finesse is astounding, but come on — we don’t need withering critiques of the Culture System borrowed from long dead German critics to understand this stuff. In fact, really the best comparison (to paraphrase Wendy Griswold) would be between the prouction of films and the production of pork bellies. The real “critical” idea is that culture isn’t special in an age of mechanical reproduction, it’s just a basic commodity.



    February 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm

  9. This “sherkat” thing is growing on me…brings back fond memories of the old usenet days of my youth!



    February 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

  10. @August

    “There’s no doubt QT is more technically proficient than some random kid with Tourette’s, but the plot we are getting isn’t much different.”

    I have Tourette’s. There is a difference between the repetition associated with Tourette’s and the repetition associated with someone lacking a creative edge. I understand your point but do not appreciate your equating Tourette’s with incompetence. Even if Tourette’s were a cognitively impairing disorder, you can critique Tarantino without caricaturing an already stigmatized group.


    Uncontrollable Idiotic Expletive

    February 8, 2013 at 10:29 am

  11. @Fabio – I apologize for the criticism of the Kung Fu before. I was out of line. Please keep more amusing things coming, especially the jazz.

    I wrote what I think is a nice response over on my blog. I argue that problem is not with Tarantino, but the audience.



    February 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm

  12. Tarantino is a coward when it comes to depicting violence. He sets up these cool, macho dudes but when they are about to inflict violence on a helpless person his camera cuts away. Reservoir Dogs: Michael Madsen cutting off the ear of a tied-up cop. Inglourious Basterds: Eli Roth bashing in the brains of a kidnapped Nazi, or Brad Pitt mutilitating another Nazi. When your badass character tortures or kills a helpless person, you don’t want to make them look small and pathetic by actually showing them carrying out the act, so you cut away and show them joking about it afterwards.



    February 8, 2013 at 8:22 pm

  13. Unsorted observations…

    Revenge has a simple narrative structure with nicely timed emotional payoffs and clarity of roles. The bad things that formed your hero weren’t caused by the universe but by someone you can call evil, an embodied enemy on whom you can [vent rage | seek justice | stop further harm | exact retribution]. This works for visual storytelling.

    T’s mashup post-modern directorial style also exploits the long history of revenge tropes in literature, animation, comic books, TV, and cinema; the precedents let him reference the past stories, wink at the audience, and make ironic twists on standard revenge elements.

    Violent revenge works well across many cultures, where others (political intrigue, romances, musicals, road trips) don’t often travel as well.

    You’re right that the revenge plot provides a nice scaffold for character development and other subplots.

    As for a rut, revenge is handy if you want to suggest people should respond forcefully to the world’s evils. Genocide, slavery, battered wives, serial killers.

    For all of this, what I’d like to hear from you is how well you think Tarantino models organization structures, norms, rites, etc. in his films. You have tongs that fight to the death, bands of weakly cohered criminals, a squad of Jews recruited to fight back against the Nazi menace, a slave-trading business ecosystem… Rich fodder for soc undergrads.


    Phil Wolff

    February 20, 2013 at 12:21 am

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