Quentin Tarantino may well be the best bad filmmaker that there has ever been. He has more talent than most directors have arrogance. His visual imagination is tremendous. His ear for sound is uncanny. His ability to produce the best from his actors is incredible – especially considering that he works with people of the, er, calibre of John Travolta, Leonardo Di Caprio and Eli Roth. His love of films, meanwhile, has ensured that he is that rarest thing: a major Hollywood director who works hard. He is, in some ways, a technical traditionalist and shows a heartening willingness to drag his ass from the studio and find and shoot on locations.
He is really something.
Yet, somehow, despite all this, he produces horrible films. This is partly due to his insistence on writing as well as directing them. Tarantino films do not tell stories as much as scenes. He has a good understanding of how to produce emotions within a three minute period but little idea of how to develop them over the course of a film; still less to build coherent plots and form compelling characters. What was intriguing ambiguity in Reservoir Dogs looked like laziness in Pulp Fiction and was revealed as incompetence in the endless emptiness of Inglourious Basterds. A Tarantino film is a cinematic sketch show, complete with homages, grotesques, in-jokes, riffs and catchphrases.
Then there is the violence. It is not that he includes bloodletting that is obnoxious but that his films are so often vehicles for his desire to relish its portrayal. I cannot judge the extent to which this has corrupted viewers but it has corrupted the filmmaking industry. He produced Hostel – the apparent nadir of the American horror genre that was promptly outdone by the Tarantino-backed Hostel II and somehow spawned a raft of sick-making imitators.
What made me hate Tarantino as a filmmaker was his supposed maturation. He is not just telling stories now – he is “tackling” them! He is, like, totally saying things about Nazis and slaves and stuff. I will grant that I have not seen Django Unchained but nothing I have heard suggests that it will contradict the view that Tarantino does not explore themes and questions because if he explored them he might come to answers that he did not always intend to reach. And the answer, of course, as there is never any doubt, is violence on a grand scale. The thematic ornamentation is an elaborate excuse for the splatstick that he adores, and one cannot have a film of moral gravity in which the questions are not “will they kill” or “why will they kill” but “where will they kill” and “with which implement”. It is the pretence that grates. At least Hideshi Hino and Lucio Fulci did not pretend to be more than cinematic sadists.
We are promised a third in his trilogy of films in which victims strive to outdo the barbarism of their bullies. Who, one wonders, could they be? The Chinese, karate-kicking Japanese infantrymen? Alan Turing’s zombie, ripping off the scrota of his judges? Martin Luther King, explaining that he had a dream in which a thousand Southern racists got their asses whupped? It’s easy to bask in the redemptive power of violence when the closest you have been to suffering is the cinema.