Two decades ago, the man fired a bullet into the head of status quo filmmaking. A volatile combo of creative arrogance and innocence, Quentin Tarantino is an absolute original. His movies don’t look or sound or move like anyone else’s in the world; he transforms action, character, and landscape into something iconic, beautiful, strange, silly or sublime, like a glimpse of an alternative universe where everything is always becoming … more. Forget assembly-line art, grinding out product to stay famous and rake in the big bucks. No, Tarantino takes his own sweet time writing and directing: only six movies have followed Reservoir Dogs, his 1992 bombshell. Surely the most blasphemous Christmas gift ever, Django Unchained makes eight.
Q.T.’s pictures are gorgeous mutations of style, genre, classics and cult faves. Like James Joyce, who fished streams of language for meaning, Tarantino “samples” eclectically from the well of cinema. No other working director takes — and offers — such exuberant joy in the sheer sensuality of movies, reveling in action choreography that transforms physical violence into modern dance and abstract art; salty dialogue and the art of the yarn; bold color design, dynamic composition and cutting; stylized performances; music as narrative bloodstream. Gleefully fracturing chronology, he manipulates memory and immediacy into a new species of narrative form — such as the shape of a woman’s vengeance.
For Tarantino, style is signature, spelling out who you are and what you’re worth. When David Carradine’s Bill, rising to meet his end, drawls, “How do I look?” he’s referencing an aesthetic that’s a gloriously profane form of morality. Looking good is, for Tarantino, the art of cinema.
‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992)
After selling a couple of tasty scripts to Tony Scott (“True Romance”) and Oliver Stone (“Natural Born Killers”), Tarantino crashed out big-time, writing and directing a movie that was the antithesis of everything square. Story’s simple: A wild bunch of colorful hard cases hires on for a jewelry store heist. The caper goes south in a big way, thanks to a gun-crazy colleague (sexy psycho Michael Madsen), and the undercover cop (nervy Tim Roth) who sets them up. “Dogs” sizzled with a new way of seeing and talking and acting; moviegoers got their first bite of the Tarantino template. The “Dogs” (Tarantino himself; Lawrence Tierney, old-school tough guy on screen and off; Scorsese-baptized gangsta Harvey Keitel; neurasthenic Steve Buscemi; the late lamented Chris Penn, pudgy, volatile) were far from pretty but, man, could they talk a blue — very blue — streak; and also bleed redder than red (Q.T. follows Jean-Luc Godard’s aesthetic: “There is not a lot of blood in my film — there is a lot of red”). Conversation’s as loaded as the gang’s guns, as actionful as body blows. We never witness the actual heist, just prequel and apocalyptic aftermath, all the action shaken up into one deliriously explosive now. The absurdist roundelay of extreme violence and stylized dying in “Dogs” (recalling, for starters, Leone’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire”) heralded the beginning of Tarantino’s career-long commitment to fleshing out the concept of what’s transcendently “cool.”