It might be that Tarantino’s signature style is more of a signature hang up that he can’t escape.
Discussing Tarantino can be challenging. He’s a controversial director that is a critical darling for the most part, but more often than not, his work is alluded to as complex, interesting and compelling without summoning decent arguments as to why. Particularly given that most adolescent dudes see Fight Club or Pulp Fiction and think they’re intellectual, dismissing thoughts about Tarantino (and other “edgy” directors) is just lazy and bad for the discourse. We discuss Tarantino’s legacy as the ultimate reference re-mixer, the place of violence in his films, and how Reservoir Dogs fits in to his filmography. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.
David: I mean obviously one of the things that is big in his film making is concealing a really big, crucial event. Just not showing it. So the bank heist in this [Reservoir Dogs], the boxing match in Pulp Fiction, The incident that goes wrong in the Hateful Eight. All those kinds of things and while originally not showing the highest in the script was budgetary, Tarantino said since quote:
“But I always liked the idea of never seeing it, and I kept that. Although it’s not exactly `Rashomon,’ you do get a sense of the characters’ different perspectives when they talk about what happened. For the first half, you wonder if you’ll ever see the heist. In the second half, you realize the movie is about other things.”
David: You know when you watch other Tarantino films like Pulp Fiction, I mean, it [Reservoir Dogs] is such a touchstone because it’s his biggest film after that, right?
Ben: Yeah, even like Kill Bill is about like Revenge, ostensibly, and like Pulp Fiction is just a genre bash.
David: Django is also about kind of Revenge but also Southern profiteering and like blaxploitation. And those kinds of things. But Reservoir Dogs… I don’t know what it’s trying to say? One of my big questions that I have is he’s obscuring this heist, so it’s just this kind of low-budget, cool, crime clever thing where everyone dies at the end. What’s it even about you know what? I mean?
Ben: it’s kind of just like a screen test — it’s like a demo reel right and it’s got some well-known actors but they’re all good actors, especially Mr Pink [Steve Buscemi]. He obviously goes on and does things but even just, you know, the decision to not give them any names and just call them by their aliases you never find, at least for a few of them, most of them, you don’t find their actual names. It just seems like it was just like I just want to have just these characters kind of bash heads with every with each other based on this situation that you never actually see. It’s very similar to 12 Angry Men. 12 Angry Men is this 50s, maybe earlier. I think it’s 50s, late 50s, film based on the stage play and it’s 12 guys who are on a jury to convict this like younger… you know, kid. It’s implied he’s like Mexican, and convicted of murder and the idea is that they have to get a unanimous decision on whether he’s guilty or not guilty because that’s how the law works, or how like, a jury works.
David: The premise is that one guy doesn’t believe he’s guilty?
Ben: He doesn’t think he’s not guilty, but he just doesn’t believe he’s guilty. Yeah, and everyone else is like “Just call him guilty and get out of here” but they go to a vote and it’s like all right, 11 of us think he’s guilty and one of us thinks he’s not guilty and the whole film is just him convincing everyone else… Well, not convincing everyone else, but them just going through the motions and early in the film when they do the first vote and one of them says, I don’t think he’s guilty. It’s just like let’s sit down and talk about it. That’s all they do for the rest of the film. They just sit down and talk about it and slowly over time. They all sort of come they all realize are you know, it’s not — he’s not one hundred percent that he’s guilty. So I’m going to say not guilty and that’s the progression throughout the film. For me with this: It’s a similar thing. Where it’s like this is group characters in a room. Some of them are there, some of them are not. There’s been some incident that’s preceded them.
David: And they know that one of them is a snake.
Ben: Yeah, that’s that’s the thing. It’s just like: one of them is a cop.
David: Same conceit as Hateful Eight actually. Yeah, which is interesting. And to dovetail your thought there: it’s interesting that he started his career this way went huge and big budget which Django Unchained and then was like, okay, let’s do something [Hateful Eight] simple again: bunch of dudes in a room. Eight guys in a room, one of them is —
Ben: I think hateful eight is a bit more contrived. For me Reservoir Dogs is so simple and it immediately tells you the stakes and immediately sets up these characters. I think the breakfast scene is really important for that, a lot of people consider it —
David: Tarantino kind of proving a point.
Ben: You know, the fact that Tarantino was in it, and then this character is immediately killed off, you… “he just wanted to give himself a cameo” and it’s just yeah, but the breakfast scene is pretty important because it means you’re not just thrust immediately into this random fucking warehouse with a dude bleeding out. You’re just like that’s a bit weird. It actually gives you a bit of a standing point.
David: I yeah, and it also means that you’ve seen all the phases like — yeah, okay, so it means you’ve seen all the faces of both the robbers and Joe — it means that when people start arriving you go
“I kind of vaguely remember them.”
Ben: Yeah 12 Angry Men actually starts the same way where it starts out with them sitting in the jurors section of the of them of the courthouse and then they move into the room.
David: Which is interesting you mentioned that because one of the things that Tarantino does, and we’ll get to in a bit, is — the main thing he’s good at is referencing and using it to kind of synthesize something new, but I guess touching on your earlier point there is something very rustic about this. It does have the start of his trademark stylistic features. One of the things in this that took a lot of people off guard was the violence. Looking at it now —
Ben: It’s just so much fun, Jan! Oh my God, sorry, that’s a deep cut reference.
David: Looking at it now though, like it didn’t surprise me that much because you know, like we obviously violence now is very different. I played Ninja Gaiden. This is small fry, but there was something like awkward and kind of… not… when you watch The Walking Dead for instance, that is a brutal show to watch because the violence is just very visceral. There’s something awkwardly non-staged about the violence in this [Reservoir Dogs] where they are — the cutting scene in particular caused a lot of viewers at the time to actually leave the film, similar to what you experience in Alien.. was it? Which Alien?
Ben: Prometheus. The problem with Prometheus is they show it. They show it happening. In this one they pan away. You just see his gross ear for the rest of the film.
David: But at the time that was a lot for people —
Ben: At the time: yeah. But I think, you know, this is a case of nowadays the violence of this film is still pretty like rough and still, like, heavy but it’s almost a bit… I don’t know. It’s kind of like how Kill Bill is also very violent, but it’s just kind of really jokey. Well, you cut someone’s arm gets cut off and it’s like a fucking sprinkler.
David: I guess the difference would be that in that it’s trying to be those kind of wushu films. I guess with this it’s not it’s not emulating anything. It’s just him [Tarantino] being like “I did a violent scene that was trying to have an impact.” For me at least, the thing that really drove it home was that Kirk Bultz who plays the cop, he ad-libbed the line “I’ve got a little kid at home.” He added that just during one of the takes and as you know with Tarantino he keeps a lot the whiffs in where people start different lines and they fuck it up in the keep going. So like a classic one that everyone points to is in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta crashes the car into the front of the his drug friend’s hous and he starts to start a sentence, something like “I’ve got his wife” and then he fucks up he starts again. They keep that with him because it adds to the scene. Yeah, whatever but I mean that’s like an ad-lib. That’s a cool ad-lib line that just makes that scene really drive home. And in 1992 in a Seattle Times article, John Hardin was talking to Tarantino about this kind of thing and the fact that people were walking out, and if he was bothered by it. Because as a filmmaker, you always want people to see your whole film.
Ben: He would not be bothered by it.
David: Tarantino said quote:
“For some people the violence, or the rudeness of the language, is a mountain they can’t climb. That’s OK. It’s not their cup of tea. But I am affecting them. I wanted that scene to be disturbing.”
David: And I guess if we’re talking about like violence a kind of prevailing theme in Tarantino’s work, yeah, and awkward violence too. The fact that Vincent Vega gets killed coming out of a toilet in Pulp Fiction. There’s a lot of violence in these films that are just — they don’t really — it’s not Hollywood violence is just the kind of violence in weird places to weird people.