On Wednesday 22nd January, the award for ‘Best Hissy Fit’ went to Quentin Tarantino, for his infantile sulking and selfaggrandising affirmation of his own creative brilliance. This tantrum came in the wake the script for his latest project, a second Western named The Hateful Eight, being leaked.
The self-indulgence of this tantrum can be traced back to single moment – 5th March 2003, when Tarantino released Kill Bill Vol. 1., and his career veered violently off-course. Prior to that fateful day, his work was inventive, sassy and comparatively restrained; this was his classic period. Now, a Tarantino film is merely a shadow of its predecessors, characterised by its excess, self-congratulatory tone and inexplicable running time.
What could possibly have caused such a dramatic drop-off in quality? The decline shows all the signs of a director preened and pampered as the hip darling of the art-house scene – a true auteur with mainstream appeal. But those compliments went straight to his head. The fact that Quentin now struts around Hollywood with an ego the size of a small moon does much to explain why his films have gone off the rails.
Humour has always been an integral part of all of Tarantino’s works, but it’s very difficult to do humour from such a position of over-confidence. Thus, it’s no coincidence that the wry, black comedy of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs has devolved into middling one-liners and supposedly snappy comebacks. Any director who thought that an interminably long cameo of himself, doing a fantastically bizarre and perplexing attempt at an Australian accent, would be an amusing addition to Django Unchained blatantly no longer has a sense of humour.
You can even quantify the decline in Tarantino’s sense of cinematic focus, and the growth of his self-inflated importance, if you chart the ever-increasing running time of his films. Remember that Reservoir Dogs was a paltry 99 minutes; a mere blink compared to Django’s 180 minutes and the combined running time of Kill Bill 1 and 2, which manages to stretch itself to a scarcely believable 250 minutes despite lacking even the semblance of a story or half-finished characters. (And if you think it’s unfair to compare the two films, remember Quentin originally visualised it as one movie before realising the extent of his own brilliance).
The problem seems to be that Mr Tarantino, with all his tremendous talent and torrential love for cinema, has forgotten the meaning of the word restraint. He has surrounded himself with people who only pander to his whims; flunkies who are as in love with his films as he is with himself, meaning that no-one is around to crack the whip or say no.
Look at Inglorious Basterds, for instance, a film that more closely resembles a montage of individual sketches than a coherent narrative arc. I’m convinced you could rearrange those sketches and you wouldn’t even notice. Even the most enjoyable of those singular moments, and Christoph Waltz’s great performance, cannot save you from watching Inglorious and at every moment asking ‘where is this going?’ The answer is to confusion and immense anticlimax. That was a film that needed to have a lot more left on the cutting room floor and a drastic revision of the script – but obviously no-one was around to tell Quentin that.
Maybe we should cut him some slack. This might only be the terrible teens of Quentin’s career and the period to come when he must rediscover his cinematic identity and direction. There’s no doubt he is talented, with an ability to get performances from his actors that few other directors can. John Travolta, for the first (and last) time in his career, didn’t seem abundantly weird in Pulp Fiction, a sign of Tarantino’s talent if ever there was one. To all the Tarantino fans, there is hope. And we can all rest a little easier knowing his second attempt at a Western has been canned for the moment. But if you see Kill Bill Vol. 3 in a cinema near you, run. And don’t look back.