At the Jerusalem film festival earlier this year, Quentin Tarantino announced that he would retire after making his 10th film, which meant he’d be making two more. If the number suggests he has made only eight films, it’s because he counts the Kill Bill instalments as one, and does not include larky detours like his episode of Four Rooms .
Anyway, with Tarantino, numbers are never a straight line. They’re more like a forest, and like a forest, it’s easy to lose your way. (Is Death Proof its own movie or merely one half of Grindhouse ?) And numbers aren’t the point. The point is that we have just two more Tarantino movies to look forward to, something the filmmaker confirmed last week, at the Adobe Max creativity conference in San Diego. Of course, he didn’t say, “I am going to stop after my 10th film.” He wouldn’t be Tarantino if he did. He said, “Drop the mic. Boom. Tell everybody: Match that shit .”
So I began to tick off the genres he’s dived into. There’s the pure psycho-killer movie ( Death Proof ) — but then, you could make the case that they’re all movies filled with psycho killers. There are the gangster-flavoured psycho-killer movies ( Reservoir Dogs , Pulp Fiction ). There’s the psycho-killer movie as crime thriller ( Jackie Brown ), as a Western ( Django Unchained , The Hateful Eight ), as a wartime adventure ( Inglourious Basterds ), as a martial-arts movie ( Kill Bill1 and 2 ).
One part of me, the serious moviegoer in me, wants No. 9 and No. 10 to be different. Maybe something like what The Age of Innocence was for Martin Scorsese — after years of physical violence, an exploration of emotional savagery, where class structures and social mores prove deadlier than Uma Thurman on a mission. But nah! The other part of me just wants more of the same, but with the twisted variations we can only expect from Tarantino’s mind.
Here’s my vote for a psycho-killer movie with a scene set in a classroom, a flashback narrated by the character played by Samuel L. Jackson, about where he first picked up a gun: “There was this white-ass teacher, man, and she said she was going to teach us a rhyme, man. You know what the first line was? Baa baa black sheep , have you any wool ? Are you freaking kidding me? Why not ask a white sheep, brother? It blows the mind. Even with freaking farm animals, it’s always the freaking nigga that gets shafted. And this stupid-ass sheep says, Yes, sir; yes, sir, Three bags full, One for my master, one for my dame… It’s Uncle Tom’s pasture, man. And what does the fleece-as-white-as-snow sheep do? It follows Mary to school, man. It makes the children laugh and play. It’s all ha-ha-hee-hee. The black sheep, meanwhile, is getting its ass sheared so the master can get his ass rich.”
Or how about a James Bond movie? It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine — 007 is, after all, some sort of cold-blooded psycho killer himself. Plus, there’s kinship in the way the characters announce their names. “The name is Bond, James Bond” is just a step removed from Django Unchained ’s “D-J-A-N-G-O. The ‘D’ is silent.” What excites me most is the villain. The megalomaniacs in Bond films are contractually bound to deliver a monologue about the nature of the evil they are about to inflict on the world — the prospect of Tarantino writing these lines quickens the pulse.
Here’s the villain of GoldenEye issuing a threat to Bond. “Why can’t you just be a good boy and die?” The line sounds as though spoken between sips of Earl Grey. Imagine the same scene playing out with this line from The Hateful Eight : “Oh, you believe in Jesus now, huh, bitch? Good, ’cause you ’bout to meet him!” Or this one from Reservoir Dogs : “Are you gonna bark all day little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?”
Even without psycho killers on the prowl, the mind runs wild at the possibilities. Tarantino reinvigorating the courtroom drama, that most talky of genres, and stuffing his brand of street poetry into the mouths of belligerent lawyers. Tarantino imbuing Shakespeare with his unique colours: Caesar’s death comes from the application of the five-point palm-exploding heart technique, and is followed by Mark Anthony’s oration. He sees a Roman not lending him his ears — he slices it off and begins talking to the severed appendage: “Can you hear that?” Or think of Tarantino diving into a doomed-ship romance. Only it’s World War II, Rose is German, and Jack is an “inglourious” member of a Jewish extermination posse.
What else? Horror? An epic like The Ten Commandments ? Only, it would have to be nine commandments. I really cannot see a Tarantino character adhering to “Thou shalt not kill.” Or maybe eight. I don’t see much use, either, for “Honour thy father and thy mother,” especially when Jackson is on screen. I give up. There’s a reason the prospect of every genre, in Tarantino’s hands, ends up looking like “a Tarantino film.” This is what happens when you’re such a path-breaker. You end up becoming your own genre.
Baradwaj Rangan is The Hindu’s cinema critic.