What makes a Quentin Tarantino film, Tarantino-esque?

Here are some essentials that usually inhabit the director's modern classics — from 'Pulp Fiction' to 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood'

Updated - October 15, 2019 01:34 pm IST

Published - August 27, 2019 06:57 pm IST

Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta in ‘Pulp Fiction’

Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta in ‘Pulp Fiction’

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, the marvellously mellow Once Upon a Time in Hollywood , is rather different from his other eight films. After binge watching Tarantino’s films from Reservoir Dogs (1992) to The Hateful Eight (2015) with delicious stops in between for Jackie Brown (1997) and Inglourious Basterds (2009) (not in order, because that would not be the way) we have come up with a list on what makes a Quentin Tarantino film, Tarantinoesque.

Mind your language

If expletives had to be bleeped out of Tarantino films, there would be insanely long bleeps through the film! The films also revel in the N-word, which provoked an angry reaction from director Spike Lee. While Tarantino’s films could be lauded for the innovative use of the four-letter word as noun, adjective, phrase, conjunction and verb, the films are also about conversations. Whether it is Jules (Samuel L Jackson) and Vince (John Travolta) talking about Royale du cheese ( Pulp Fiction ), SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) discussing the hawk and rat analogy ( Inglourious Basterds ) or Jackie Brown talking about how difficult it is for a coloured woman to start over at 44, in Tarantino movies conversations are not utilitarian. They do not merely further the plot, they are like a waltz, a character in itself, revealing things about the characters, their inner life, their fears and anxieties as well as what makes them tick. The use of words such as loquacious ( Inglourious Basterds ) or caterwauling and astronomy aficionados ( Django Unchained ) are a pleasant discovery as those are not the words you would normally associate with Nazi hunters like Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) or bounty hunters like Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).

A still from ‘Inglourious Basterds’

A still from ‘Inglourious Basterds’

There will be blood

Violence — sudden, shocking and graphic is an essential part of a Tarantino film. Whether it is Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen) cutting off the policeman’s ear ( Reservoir Dogs ) or the Bride taking on the Crazy 88 ( Kill Bill Volume 1 ) there is blood, guts and gore by the barrel full. If Landa’s conversation with the dairy farmer in the beginning of Inglourious Basterds is filled with menace and the tension ratchetted to unbelievable levels, the sudden shooting of Marvin (Phil LaMarr) in Pulp Fiction is shocking on so many levels. While women do not fare very well inTarantino’s films, to be fair, men do not either. For every woman who is beaten, shot, hung or stabbed, there is similar and equal violence done to man.

‘Kill Bill’, Uma Thurman, 2003, (c) Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection

‘Kill Bill’, Uma Thurman, 2003, (c) Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection

Juke box

Before Pulp Fiction was released in India, there was a CD of the soundtrack, which like Sholay had dialogues as well. So along with ‘Girl You’ll be a Woman Soon’ (Urge Overkill), ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ (Dusty Springfield), ‘Jungle Boogie’ (Kool & the Gang) and Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ for the Jack Rabbit Slims Twist Contest, there was Pumpkin and Honey Bunny holding up a diner to ‘Misirlou’, Royale with Cheese, Zed’s Dead and Ezekiel 25:17 from Samuel L Jackson. Music is the beating heart of Tarantino’s films. Obscure and well known pop tracks run through his movies like a scintillating skein of sound.

Tarantino has been quoted as saying he finds the personality of the opening sequence through the music and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ sets the tone for the roaring rampage of revenge that is Kill Bill . Jackie Brown prefers vinyl and ‘Across 110th Street’ and ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ echo her taste. Reservoir Dogs has a music countdown happening in the background, while Inglourious Basterds is operatic. For Django Unchained , there is a spaghetti western riff and The Hateful Eight has an original score by Ennio Morricone; his first Western in 34 years. Apart from being a visual treat, Tarantino’s films are an aural delight as well.

A still from ‘The Hateful Eight’

A still from ‘The Hateful Eight’

About time

Apart from what is in the briefcase Jules and Vincent are carrying for their boss, the question that has fuelled many academic dissertations and dinner conversations alike is the chronology of Pulp Fiction . While the movie begins with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny holding up the diner, that is not the start of the narrative. In most Tarantino films, time is a rubber band — stretching, looping back upon itself, seen through different points of view and many other things besides. There are oddly-named chapters to add to the fun and frolic. Given all the quantum leapsTarantino’s films blithely undertake, Once upon a Time in Hollywood with its linear, six month-time frame is positively sedate.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.’

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.’

Meta marvel

Each of Tarantino’s films can be looked at as loving subversions of a particular genre. To subvert, one has to be a master of the genre and just like Tarantino can play with time only because he has such a tight control of it, so it is with his genre games. If Reservoir Dogs is a heist film turned on its head, Kill Bill joyfully dives into Kung Fu territory. Gangster films get Tarantinotreatment in Pulp Fiction as do westerns in Django Unchained . The Hateful Eight is a spiritual sequel to Django Unchained and plays with the conventions of a classic closed-door mystery. The Second World War complete with evil SS colonels and jolly Americans are revisited in Inglourious Basterds, while Death Proof (2007) plays with genre conventions of a slasher film. Now we could wait while Tarantino turns his eye on a children’s film? Or perhaps a superhero film? It would be fun to see what he does with Batman!

Christoph Waltz as Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django in ‘Django Unchained’

Christoph Waltz as Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django in ‘Django Unchained’

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