There's been a lot of anticipation for the Grindhouse movie since the first images from it started to leak last summer. As its release date grows ever nearer, so does the hype and the anticipation, and I've had some interesting conversations recently with people who are already skeptical of the experiment (namely, my editor at DVD Talk and Joëlle). These conversations have caused me to hone in on some of my own thoughts about all things Tarantino.
I've been a Quentin fan from the get-go. Seeing Reservoir Dogs in a small theatre in college was a remarkable experience. It was the first time I'd seen anyone walk out of a movie offended (granted, those people practically needed walkers to get out of the place). And naturally, I happily rode the pop culture wave that followed Pulp Fiction. Though I got sick of seeing Tarantino's face on talk shows, I never tired of the work. I also never minded his transparency. He's always very aware about what he's doing and very forthcoming in regards to his methods and inspiration.
Grindhouse is no different. This was always meant to be a fun project, nothing more. It's possible that Tarantino and his fellow director, Robert Rodriguez, may be taking the conceit too far. Trying to manufacture a feeling of the old school grindhouse films could backfire. It's like corporate punk rock: you're trying to recreate things that happened because people had no other option, artists who weren't allowed access into the biz and had to do something different with the resources available. They run the risk of being too slick, of being the big boys ripping off the little guy.
Which, I know many see Tarantino as nothing but a rip-off artist anyway. I've never had a problem with his appropriating elements of other films. To me, he was right in the heart of the zeitgeist of the times. His technique was the cinematic equivalent of hip-hop sampling. He wasn't trying to hide the fact that he was taking pieces from other films and reassembling them, he wore that on his sleeve. This was done to its utmost in the Kill Bill films. It's a masterpiece of Cuisinart cinema. And that actually brings us to a problem.
If "Death Proof," Quentin's segment of Grindhouse, is just a rehash of other B-movies about killer cars, I'll have to ask, "What's the point?" Kill Bill really should have put the lid on that part of Tarantino's filmmaking career. He's done it as well as it can be done, and it's time to stop.
Even beyond that, though, I am not sure how well the whole Grindhouse thing bodes for the future of Quentin Tarantino. Has he decided to be a B-movie director by choice? If so, it kind of misses the point of why B-movies have become such an important part of film history. Traditionally, directors like Robert Wise and Sam Fuller, when forced to work with smaller budgets, were inspired to new heights of creativity in order to get their vision across. They were also working under a lot less scrutiny, and thus could be more subversive, using studio funded pictures to experiment with technique and create coded messages in the guise of genre; this is clearly not the case with an event picture like Grindhouse. But why lower expectations, Quentin? Why say you'll do B-movies? Why continue to recycle? It fails to deliver on what you're really capable of.
Namely, what happened to the Quentin Tarantino of Jackie Brown? Though it may not have reached the box office success of Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown has been vindicated over time as exactly the right move for Tarantino to have made. It dialed back on the pop-culture glitz and showed that Quentin was a mature director who could accomplish deeper, subtler moods than he had shown up until then. Most importantly, it showed that he could work within genre and create something new out of it without falling back on any of his tricks or borrowing from others. Yes, he has some nods to '70s Blacksploitation in there, and yes, Jackie Brown is an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, but watch it again, there isn't much that can touch that movie. The only thing that can stand in the same room is that other quintessential Leonard adaptation, Soderbergh's Out of Sight.
So, why not be that filmmaker, Quentin? Why not do what you did in Jackie Brown and make smart, emotionally complex movies that use the trappings of genre for something greater than cheap thrills? "Death Proof" may be goddamned amazing, and I certainly hope I'll have the fun watching it that you've promised me, but I want so much more from you. You make us wait long enough for your movies, I'd love to see you give us something more than a lark. We know you can do it, and your next project, Inglorious Bastards, gives me hope. It's up to you to make good on that.
Current Soundtrack: Embrace, "Fireworks;" Timbaland, Presents: Shock Value
Current Mood: contemplative
All text (c) 2007 Jamie S. Rich