When thinking about classic movies of the late 1900s/early 2000s, most people will credit films like American Beauty, Clueless, The Breakfast Club, A Clockwork Orange, Donnie Darko, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, etc. However, it’s almost impossible to hold a conversation about this era of film without giving a nod to the works of screenwriter and director Quentin Tarantino. It’s undeniable that Tarantino’s earliest films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, are two of the biggest staples of the ’90s when it comes to film, and that they truly redefined “cult movies.”
I am a huge fan of Tarantino’s early films. I don’t think I could even tell someone how many times I’ve watched Kill Bill. I was always extremely drawn to Tarantino’s dark, comedic undertones throughout his films. He practically crafted (and mastered) the art of crime thrillers, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats and letting them escape the realities of everyday life. Tarantino has a particular way in which he introduces his film’s narrative that is unlike any other screenwriter. This signature, trademark narrative helps his movies stand out among others, and tends to draw viewers in.
Quentin Tarantino has continued to release box office hits throughout the years. Recently, I have discovered that I’m not enjoying his newer movies as much as I enjoy his older ones. I remember sitting down to watch Inglourious Basterds for the first time, thinking that Tarantino was pretty much above criticism, but when the movie was over I couldn’t help but think that I didn’t like it as much as his earlier movies, even Death Proof (2007), which is debatably his worst film. I felt similar after I saw Django Unchained. I couldn’t really figure out why the films didn’t settle right with me, and why they didn’t become an instant favorite of mine, as all his older ones did.
Last year, shortly after I watched Django Unchained, I found myself moseying through the aisles at Barnes and Noble and came across Roxane Gay’s book Bad Feminist (which is an absolutely amazing collection of essays which you can read more about here). Gay has an essay in her book titled “Surviving Django,” that specifically speaks to Tarantino’s recent films. In the chapter Gay writes, “Tarantino once again managed to find a traumatic cultural experience of a marginalized people that has little to do with his own history, and used that cultural experience to exercise his hubris for making farcically violent, vaguely funny movies that set to right historical wrongs from a very limited, privileged position.”
After reading Gay’s essay I realized I didn’t favor the newer movies because I love Tarantino’s crime thrillers, and not so much his political and historical commentary that comes from an insincere and privileged place. There’s no denying these are solid films, but the content and delivery differs from what was appealing in his earlier works.
Dear Quentin, please release a “Kill Bill, Volume III” before you release any more mildly offensive, exploitative films.
(This piece was originally published in “The Beat,” which is BU’s music and arts zine. See the full issue here.)