A lot of what you need to know about Quentin Tarantino can be found in this quote: “When people ask me if I went to film school, I tell them, ‘No, I went to films.’” Quentin Tarantino was born on March 27rd 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is a man who literally spent his life engrossed in films. At a young age, he moved out to California with his mother where he assuredly became consumed by the golden pond of film culture. Dropping out of high school very early, Tarantino worked in a video rental store where he educated himself with the classics that we all adore today. In 1992, he came out of nowhere with the genre redefining Reservoir Dogs and the rest is history; Tarantino soon became a staple in American cinema.
Reservoir Dogs  - A bank robbery goes south and the criminals find themselves searching for answers at the agreed upon hideout. During that time, everyone defends their honor against the theory that there is a rat amongst their group.
Pulp Fiction  - Two hitmen, a boxer and a trophy wife all have a wild day that leads to plenty of interchangeable situations where loyalty, faith, and basic stupidity are put into question.
Jackie Brown  - When an airline stewardess finds herself in the middle of the law, gangsters and enough money to retire from her low-class lifestyle, it becomes difficult to choose a side and remain honest.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1  - When a woman wakes from a coma, she tries to regain her dignity by finding those who put her there and using her skills as a deadly assassin to exact her revenge. With the main goal to kill Bill.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2  - The conclusion of the deadly assassin’s goal to kill Bill as we learn more about her struggle of the past.
Death Proof  - A psychotic misogynist stalks women with his souped up muscles cars but he does not expect the retaliation from three women who are not gonna be harassed.
Inglorious Basterds  - The tale of a group of Jewish-American soldiers in WW2 whose goal is to find any Nazi soldiers and kill them. All along while a French Jewish woman tries her best to hide in plain sight in German-occupied France.
Django Unchained  - A German bounty hunter and a freed slave during the pre-Civil War era of America set out to collect bounties throughout the Southwest. With the ultimate effort to find the freed man’s enslaved wife and set her free.
The Hateful Eight  - Eight strangers find shelter during a blizzard in the middle of Wyoming. Little do they know there is something that connects every one of them to each other. But how?
Quentin Tarantino is a man who relies on the themes he is comfortable with in his films. There is not anything necessarily wrong with this since it gives him the opportunity to become overly sufficient with these specific themes.
Early in his career films made themes like Criminal Activity combined with High-Risk High-Reward the central focus for certain films. Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown are centered on both of these themes. With Reservoir Dogs, it is the group of robbers successfully being able to infiltrate the target and grab the goods. With Jackie Brown, our main character just wants to get a little more of an edge on life and participates in some drug running. With Pulp Fiction, there is another combination of these two themes with Criminal Activity taking control of the majority of the scenes.
Tarantino themes somewhat shifted as he came rolling through the 2000s and 2010s. Death Proof, Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight all explored Revenge as a central theme. It is even popular for fans nowadays to refer to Tarantino’s most recent work as the “Revenge Saga”. That is how you know a director has really used a theme to its full potential. Revenge can be seen in Death Proof with the women no longer taking any more harassment from Stuntman Mike. In the Kill Bill films, it is very clear that Beatrix Kiddo is solely driven by Revenge to murder everyone in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Inglourious Basterds is run by Jewish Americans who have a classic case of revenge bloodthirst for Nazi scalps. The same goes for Shoshanna whose entire family is murdered before her eyes at the hand of the SS. Django Unchained has Django Freeman getting back at all the abuse he suffered during slavery by “killing white folks and getting paid for it”. The Hateful Eight, although a bit of a mystery at first, becomes unraveled as a large plot of Revenge that strings between multiple characters.
There is a theme of Racial Exploration amongst most of the films. Tarantino has always implemented, whether on purpose or accidentally, the inclusion of racial issues in his films. Whether it be the use of Blaxploitation in his 90s films or the exploration of Japanese culture in the Kill Bill films. There are even hints of European culture in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained.
Quentin Tarantino trademarks are nearly endless. To hand picking music for his movies and starring in those movies as a minor character, Tarantino has trademarks in his films that create that auteur stamp. But there are at least four major trademarks that are in each film without a doubt. The expert utilization of these trademarks makes them the four staples of a Quentin Tarantino film.
The first trademark of a Quentin Tarantino film is the Trunk Shot. This is a camera shot that is angled up toward our character’s face from the position of a trunk. This shot is not always from a trunk. At times, there are some that are simply just an angle upwards without having the boundaries of a trunk but nonetheless this shot finds itself in every single Tarantino film.
The second trademark would have to be the presence of a “Mexican Standoff”. This trademark consists of a moment where Tarantino places his characters in a situation where all of them have their weapons pointed at each other and there is to be a fight to the death. In Inglorious Basterds, during the French bar scene, Lt. Aldo Raine directly references the situation as a “Mexican Standoff”, further cementing Tarantino’s purposeful inclusion of old western winks.
The third trademark that Tarantino has adopted would have to be the presence of that one incredibly Long and Unbroken Take. Other filmmakers do this but with Tarantino, it is special. This is mostly because it ties into the last trademark. There is a very good reason that Tarantino is careful with where and how he utilizes this trademark. Mainly due to the fact that this Take establishes the thesis of a Tarantino film. That’s right, the thesis. A Quentin Tarantino movie is an essay to his audiences and the topic of that Long and Unbroken Take is often the central focus of the film. This will lead into the last trademark which I myself have forever coined as “The Conversation”.
“The Conversation” is what I wait for in every single Tarantino movie even if I have seen it a hundred times. It is a significant piece of dialogue that supports the thesis of a Tarantino film. You can treat “The Conversation” as a primary source whenever you ask yourself, “what is this movie about?” In Reservoir Dogs, the long take in the beginning at the diner is supposed to show our audience the human nature of each character. Part of this is accomplished as Tarantino himself discusses the significance and meaning of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. Using a song that can be seen as a simple exploration or a vulgar symbol allows our characters to demonstrate their own moral compass. Mr. Brown becomes the more crude, masculine, scripted character whereas Mr. White proves himself to be the most traditional man at the table. Mr. Blonde is discovered to be maybe one of the most violent men at the table which contrasts with Mr. Orange’s more soft-spoken approach to the group of men. This scene closes with the brief discussion on tipping which provides Mr. Pink with the opportunity to express his character as a more cold and uncharitable person.
Jumping ahead a bit to the Kill Bill films we take a look at Volume 2. “The Conversation” in this film would be when Bill is explaining the differences between Spiderman and Superman. Bill maps out the purpose of Beatrix’s life in that conversation and how she can only be upset with herself on how things fell through. Beatrix left the assassin association and tried to live a normal life with normal people. But this was not who she really was and Bill uses the identities of the two aforementioned comic book superheroes to illustrate this point. Beatrix is Superman but she tried to be Spiderman. Peter Parker can easily jump out of the Spiderman suit because originally he is just a common citizen with nothing special about his life. Superman becomes Clark Kent, a depiction of the weakness that human society is in the eyes of the hero. Superman’s disguise is that weak human and Peter’s disguise is the powerful hero. Beatrix tried to be both and Bill would not allow that and by the end of his speech, she agreed that her life was a lie.
In Inglourious Basterds, “The Conversation” occurs in one of the best scenes in cinema as well as the best scene Tarantino has ever created on the screen. This is the opening scene with SS Hans Landa and Monsieur LaPadite The pain of LaPadite and the power of Landa makes this the conversation to end all conversations. The dialogue explores the nature of hatred. Hate is something we all experience and Landa breaks that emotion down to the fact that we do not know why we hate something, we just do. Landa’s cold interpretation of the Jew paints him as evil incarnate. What may be most impressive and also disturbing about Landa in this scene is that he is just doing a job and trying to get recognition. Landa has no interest in the war. He just wants to be famous for his actions during the war whether that be hunting Jews or being a critical part of the assassination of Hitler and his commanding cabinet.
All of Tarantino’s films have “The Conversation” but these three are the most powerful as the thesis of the film. It may take a few viewings to pinpoint “The Conversation". For example, The Hateful Eight, which is Tarantino’s best dialogue-driven work since Reservoir Dogs, is full of colorful and captivating speeches and exchanges makes it difficult to identify the true conversation that establishes the thesis.
Quentin Tarantino did not just wake up being the amazing film auteur he is today. He had to study and practice like all great film titans. This began at an early age when he moved to California with his mother. While there he discovered many types of film. Being in the heart of the 1970s there was a big push for the Blaxploitation genre of film and young Tarantino became a fan. This genre of film is a direct influence on Jackie Brown which is in a way his own effort at making a Blaxploitation film. There are even a few parts of Django Unchained that could resonate with this influence. Another influence of Tarantino’s would have to be the Western genre. Tarantino has always been very outspoken about his love of old Spaghetti Western films. The inclusion of the “Mexican Standoff” trademark that was mentioned earlier and the Revenge theme that captures many of his films is a direct link to Tarantino’s inspiration derived from the Western genre. And it is no secret that a filmmaking technique inspired by French New Wave styled films of the 50s and 60s can be found in nearly all of Tarantino’s work. French New Wave film style involved a more fast paced film that included jump cuts and a narrative that explored themes unlike other films of the time. If you are looking for a good example of this then look now further than Breathless (1961 - dir. Jean-Luc Godard). Early Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown make some use of this style but in later films, especially the Kill Bill films, this is seen in nearly every act of the film.
Since Quentin Tarantino has just been around for 24 years and just eight films (the Kill Bill films are often counted as one film together) it is surprising to see the amount of influence he has had on some of the more recent successes in the film industry. Two filmmakers that come to mind are Eli Roth and David Ayer. Eli Roth has starred in two of Tarantino’s films (Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds) but has been directing films since 2002. You will recognize his name as the director of Cabin Fever, Hostel, and The Green Inferno. Eli Roth has been coined as one of the master’s of horror in the last decade and he continues to crank out some of the most gut-wrenching (in a good way) films since the 70s. Now it can be hypothesized that Roth’s work could be inspired by Tarantino but it is without a doubt that one can say it is at least supported by Tarantino as he has produced or been an executive producer for more than one Roth film.
As for David Ayer, the influential connection is not as clear but one can be made. Ayer has been the writer or director or both of some of the more brutal films of the action genre in the last decade. Training Day, S.W.A.T., End of Watch, Sabotage and Fury are all great examples of the brutality that Ayer has brought to the screen. The influence from Tarantino here can be within that brutality. People today seem to get offended when someone gets their face blown away from a gun but men like Tarantino and Ayer understand something simple about that: it is fun. David Ayer may not be completely inspired by Tarantino but he at least is on the same page as the great auteur when it comes to violence and blood mixed with captivating dialogue.
Not many films in the last twenty years have been directly influenced by Tarantino’s work. Most mainstream film auteurs already have the way they like to make films so there is no point in borrowing from Tarantino. But in 2011, screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher made his only attempt at directing with Violet & Daisy. This is a film dripping with Tarantino influence that starts with the strong female assassin leads and ends with some of the more brutal and bloody shootouts a modern indie movie provides.
The great thing about the films of Quentin Tarantino is that all of them are so complex yet in a way they are very accessible to the average film goer. In general, if you can get through long runtimes then you will enjoy all of his films. The first films to watch if you are making your way through Quentin Tarantino’s filmography would be Death Proof and both of the Kill Bill films (I would suggest watching the Kill Bill films back-to-back in order to really feel the experience). These films are easy to watch and really just super fun. They provide a lot of laughs and plenty of action to keep you entertained. The next stage would be to dive into more popular films like Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and Inglourious Basterds. These three films have received the most attention as far as award ceremonies go and they have some of the best acting out of all the Tarantino films. But they are long and mostly talking so you have to like both. Lastly, I would finish up with Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful Eight. These films are a bit more difficult but not completely inaccessible for the common movie goer. Jackie Brown, in my opinion, is the most unique of Tarantino’s films. It is very different with an adapted script making Jackie Brown gain a type of authenticity that other Tarantino films do not possess. Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful Eight are so similar that it takes a good eye to identify the underlying differences in the films. The key to these films is paying attention to every single word. Concentration is crucial here so do not watch these with chatty friends!
Quentin Tarantino has already solidified himself as one of the best filmmakers in history. When reviewing his filmography a seasoned cinephile is inspired to discuss the impact of his films and the reinvented techniques used. His violent and abrupt style of filmmaking has already placed a stamp on cinema that others will not be able to erase. Students will study him and critics will glorify him. His writing will forever be some of the best in film. Hopefully he has a couple more classics waiting for us.