Thursday, July 17, 2008

Overheard While Listening to K-Billy's "Super Sounds of the Seventies"

I listened to part one of the Quentin Tarantino discussion on An Alan Smithee Podcast (episode 3) last week. It amounts to a rather scathing indictment of Tarantino's career. But, I never got a clear picture from the hosts -- Matthew Hurwitz and Andrew Wickliffe -- why they were savaging the filmmaker's body of work. They admit to enjoying his work when it first came out, but they clearly despise those same films and the filmmaker now.

It seems one day film buffs were winking right back at Tarantino because they were in on the fact that the filmmaker was lifting from other films. The next day they were cutting off his ear and pouring gasoline on the wound because of it. Where this sensibility shift took place, and why, would have been a more insightful topic to explore.

I enjoy
Tarantino's movies, but I didn't come to his body of work until six years ago when it was getting the special edition treatment on DVD. Because of my enthusiasm for the DVD medium back in the early 2000s, I picked up True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown when they were released in August and September of 2002. Those first four movies were blind buys -- I had not seen them prior to purchasing them. I bought them on the strength of the reviews I read on DVD forums touting both storytelling and technical quality. All of these movies still entertain me. And so does Kill Bill, Volume 1 and Volume 2, the only Tarantino movies I've seen in the theater.

Tarantino takes a lot of crap for lifting source material and plopping it down in his movies. But by the time I came to Tarantino's work, his borrowing was well-known and self-acknowledged. So I never held it against him. In fact, I'm glad he uncovered for me these other genres and styles I might not have been exposed to otherwise. Hero, a "Quentin Tarantino Presents" movie, is another DVD blind buy. And it's a gorgeous, lush film I never would have known about if I hadn't been in the throes of the DVD culture and enjoying Tarantino's movies so much at the time.

Unaccredited appropriation of another's work is a slippery slope of ethical and legal problems. But it doesn't sound like that's what the Alan Smithee boys are up in arms about. It sounds like they are kids who enjoyed Tarantino's stuff, then grew up to be on-line film critics and are embarrassed about their past taste in movies.

I started to listen to part two of their Tarantino podcast (episode 4) yesterday, but at the 12-minute mark, Hurwitz said that around the time Kill Bill was released Tarantino was "losing the affections of the elite, like us" [my emphasis]. I turned it off right there and switched over to some music. I don't have a problem with changing and evolving tastes. What I don't understand, though, is the scathing rebuke of something one admittedly loved once upon a time seemingly for the sake of waving a self-important critic's flag.

I don't know either of the podcast hosts personally, but I enjoy Andrew's work on his two sites, The Stop Button and Comics Fondle, and have corresponded with him on occasion. I will tune in to An Alan Smithee Podcast again to hear what the hosts have to say, but I'm hoping future episodes are more than soapbox rants.


Andrew Wickliffe said...

You didn't tell me it'd be that scathing!

It's too bad you didn't finish the second part, because when I get to the pseudo-feminism, de facto misogyny in Death Proof, I have a ball (and Matthew disagrees with me).

I still think Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are good films, probably even great. I haven't seen Dogs in ten years--apparently only the first DVD release is accurate and my dad's the only person I know who'd still have it (it's legal to email DVD images through gmail, right?). But the last time I saw Fiction, I was fully expecting to despise it, but rather the opposite. It's a great film.

My problem with Tarantino is he's become too involved with his media image and unable to write characters like he used to. It started with Jackie Brown and... well, it hasn't stopped.

But reading your post, I guess we should have laid out why we were doing the show.

I'm not embarrassed I used to love Tarantino movies (the first two are still good, True Romance has its moment and I never liked Jackie Brown). I mean... I used to love Highlander. I'm embarrassed about that one. Or owning G.I. Jane on laserdisc. That one too....

AB said...

Thanks for the additional insight, Andrew.

My point was not whether or not I agree with your feelings about Tarantino (because I think I understand the argument against his work), but rather that the Tarantino podcast episodes seemed far too reactionary. I get that art is about passion and emotion, but as a critical thinker I also want to know the "why." Maybe my expectations were wrong going in to the podcast (although given the "critic" banner that was flown and what I heard on the John Carpenter episodes, I don't think my expectations were inappropriate).

But you're right, there was a sense of foundation missing from the podcast, explaining (as you put it) why you were doing the show. Perhaps that clear mission statement might have helped either guide the discussion or better prepare the listener. I think if you guys had explored why your feelings for Tarantino the filmmaker and/or Tarantino's films changed, you could have gone to a lot of the same places you did with this podcast, expressing personal feelings about the man and his work, without coming off as harsh. Or if you had approached this as a look at why critical approval of Tarantino's work has changed (has it? I don't know, but that's the impression I got from listening to the podcast), there would have still been opportunity for personal observations without the conversation devolving.

I would love to hear more about why you feel Tarantino's become "too involved in his media image" and what that means to you and if you think that has a direct impact on your belief that he is "unable to write characters like he used to." You may have touched on those topics in the podcast, but if so they may have suffocated under the emotion.

On the other hand, it's your podcast, man. And you're free to do what you want with it. Regardless, it's all good. I'll keep on reading your stuff, and I'll give future podcasts a listen… and maybe even wade back into part two of the QT episode to hear your Death Proof comments!

Andrew Wickliffe said...

Following Pulp Fiction, the Tarantino imitators--this label applies to practically anyone writing dialogue to sound cool versus sounding realistic for characters and situations--started popping up. Now, maybe I'm just a little pissy because it eventually got into my writing courses (both undergraduate and graduate), because my classmates grew up during this period.

Tarantino-style became its own thing and Tarantino, with Jackie Brown, became Quentin Tarantino doing Elmore Leonard. That meant Sam Jackson, Pam Grier, De Niro, Robert Forster and so on. It became a gimmick... kind of like how Passenger 57 was Die Hard on a plane... Tarantino's movies have become Quentin Tarantino does Grindhouse or Kill Bill, instead of a movie about a guy who likes his bosses wife or the boxer who does his thing with Zed.
He's become hostile to the idea someone should like his narrative more than his approach (sort of like Frank Miller). This self-involvement happens a lot, but usually takes a lot longer than it took Tarantino... Spielberg and Scorsese both, gradually, started making movies for Roger Ebert to review. They dance for the critics (like Kevin Smith dances for his fans), but rarely dance for themselves. If ever anymore.