Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained was released in cinemas on Friday and was largely met with critical acclaim. Having watched it myself on opening night, here are some thoughts I was left with.
Django isn’t a bad movie by means – it was, in fact, rather good. But what I wanted to instead discuss here is the more interesting topic of how this is inescapably a ‘Tarantino movie’, what that means in terms of the viewer: how that affects audience perception (prior to and during viewing); but also in regards to the wider scope of all of QT’s films.
In fact, after thinking about it for a while, I‘ve come to the conclusion that no-one else could have even attempted to make a film like this.
The thing about Tarantino is that his movies and is name are inseparable. It’s almost impossible to find a single review or article about Django without his name being attached, usually within the first few lines. His style is so distinct that whilst it makes sense that his name is front and centre when marketing the film – when you really think about it, it’s almost crazy that one name can be such a succinct shortcut for a pretty clear idea of what to expect from watching the film, certainly in terms of its tone and direction.
It’s a marketer’s dream – all they pretty much need to do is announce that it’s Tarantino’s latest film and people will flock to see it, regardless of what it is about. Other directors such as Tim Burton may be able to claim this to a similar degree, but even his films lack consistent levels of quality and cannot guarantee the same consistent style and tone.
‘Tarantino-esque’ has become an adjective for aspiring film students who seek to ape his style, a shorthand for film reviewers, writers, and well, pretty much everyone when describing a film that contains similar and familiar characteristics from films of QT’s back catalogue.
Let’s run through the list shall we:
Homages to exploitation era and grindhouse films, typified by bloody ‘cartoon’ violence, strong themes of revenge and retribution; creating memorable characters from both genre actors and (now increasingly) Hollywood megastars, cheeky cameos and recurring actors, witty quick-fire dialogue exchanges and/or monologues, eclectic music choices, etc, etc…
It’s not that he invented these things - rather that his love for these things from the various movies that he himself has been influenced by, causes him to uses them all (to undeniably great effect) in his films and it is this resulting mash-up that has made QT stand out as a filmmaker. Box office success means that he is given the freedom to do whatever the hell he likes next – in other words carry on making these kinds of films - thus causing the emergence (and later perpetuating of) the idea of Tarantino’s ‘style’. It all feeds back into itself.
And thus, we have Tarantino making the same kind of film repeatedly.
“Yeah”, but you might say, “He has made other genres of films! He did a war movie with Inglorious Basterds, he did a western with Django Unchained…”
Well not really. These are merely the settings of the stories. Sure, certain tropes may be lent from those genres and homage’s paid, but the genre is unmistakably ‘Tarantino’ - the crazy mashup of all the aforementioned things he likes to do in his films - the stories just happen to take place in the setting of Nazi Germay or pre-Civil War America.
It's not that Tarantino can't make other types of film, he just doesn't particularly want to. More to the point, he doesn't have to - as his name attached to a project so assured what the end product will be like that the Weinsteins pretty much give him carte blanche to do what he pleases. And so he just keeps doing what he wants to do.
Is this such a bad thing? On the whole no – his films are never bad films and are enjoyable enough to watch. Hell, I’ve gone to see every new release of his in the cinema from Kill Bill onwards. They guaranteed to be entertaining, funny, tense and visceral experiences. But could the stigma of his ‘style’ actually sometimes be to the detriment to his films? I would say also say yes.
This most obviously rears its head when you throw in the controversial topic of slavery in Django. Apart from the very basic “Slavery is bad, look how horrible it was!”, the film doesn't really go much deeper than that, any serious messages or issues to be explored being undermined by the rest of the film’s irreverent tone and comic violence. But that's another can of worms that I don't have time to go into right now. Check out the forums on IMDB for such discussions and more.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Tarantino can get away with it – he’s that kind of filmmaker. Pretty much any off kilter choice he makes in his films can be explained away by his ‘style’ or ‘unwillingness to play by the rules’. It just gets a bit tiresome when the result means that his films go on a tad too long or him giving himself a cameo (he struggles to act fullstop - let alone do it with an ‘Australian’ accent). Perhaps he just need someone to reign him in a little or he may run the risk of his films ballooning to the point of becoming a parody of themselves.
As much as I enjoy his films and what he does, I would love for him to perhaps just do a straightforward, serious, dramatic picture - keeping his undeniable talent and flair as a director intact whilst resisting the urge to include the things that he so loves that have now become almost clichés within his own films.
But in all likelihood that’s never going to happen. That wouldn't be very ‘Tarantino’ of him now would it…
20 Jan 2013