Quentin Tarantino has a new film out. If you stop whatever you are doing right now, look away from your screen, cock your ear to a jaunty angle and just listen . . . you hear that distant burr that lies beyond the traffic noise or the lowing cattle (and I am pleased to be able to correctly use the word “lowing” outside of the month of December)? That is the sound of people shouting that Quentin Tarantino has a new film out.
Lots of people are shouting because they like it very much. Lots of people are shouting because they don’t like it all. And above even that, you can hear Quentin Tarantino himself just shouting. Because that’s what he does. A big shouty film director shouting about the film he’s just directed. And why not?
I haven’t yet seen Django Unchained so I can’t comment on the current furore surrounding its depiction of slavery, use of the “N” word etc. etc. I will watch it and then perhaps write about it, in a reversal of the sequence of events favoured by some commentators.
I first encountered the work of Tarantino via an illegal VHS copy of Reservoir Dogs. At this point in the mid 90s the film had not yet been given a “home media” release, presumably due to its graphic depiction of torture – although looking back now ‘that’ scene appears rather tame. I mean, did you see what they did to Lightening McQueen in Cars 2? That made the ear-slicing jig of Mr Blond look like a Bank Holiday stroll across Elysian Fields with a pretty girl on your arm, a bottle of exceptional red packed in the hamper and a soundtrack by The Carpenters. (Actually, the biggest torture inflicted by Cars 2 was its actual existence; hands down the worst Pixar film by a clear distance).
Anyway, I was studying at (Name Removed) College at the time and in the Media Studies department there was a corridor, half way along which was a sort of stable door marking the threshold of “technicians territory”. As a student, you were required to knock on this door each time you wanted to borrow some equipment. You’d then have to wait at least a minute, often considerably longer, before the top of the door would open and a bald man in a blue M and S shirt (but no tie) would appear and glare at you. Next you’d give him your order, perhaps you needed one of the MASSIVE VHS video cameras for your Media Studies project which you were planning to shoot in Sainsbury’s car park, perhaps a microphone cable, and he’d then silently demand to see your student ID, before making you sign a form on a clipboard. Then the door would be shut nosilily in your face and thus another wait of indeterminate length would commence. After an ice age or two had passed the top door would reopen and you’d be handed your order in a big black case and the day of return would be barked at you in a single syllable, even though all days of the week are polysyllabic. So far, so predictable. However, the technicians also ran a presumably profitable sideline by making illegal copies of illegal films for anyone willing to pay them three pounds for the service. And thus, having parted with the asking price plus a blank Philips E180 VHS cassette I was able to see Tarantino’s debut feature.
It left quite an impression. The combination of glamour and violence, torture music, plus what at the time seemed to me almost magical dialogue meant that despite the wobbly, strobing quality of the image, each moment of that film is lodged indelibly in my memory. It thrilled me and upset me in equal measure.
I will watch it again at some point soon. I want to see if it retains its power.
Then of course came “Pulp Fiction”, a film that I saw in the cinema with two friends and we sniggered like the boys when the opening caption appeared, defining the word “Pulp” – A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter and Chris whispered loudly enough for the entire cinema to hear “like your cock”. Oh such sophisticated wit! For me Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece. I think Jimmy would disagree but nevertheless the combination of dizzying and glamorous violence, hard drugs, sexual depravity and quotable dialogue thrust me deep into my seat and repeatedly smashed my naive, Westcountry sensibilities until they shattered into a thousand pieces. An unforgettable experience.
I can understand why Tarantino tires of being asked about the link between film violence and school shootings and the like. I don’t suppose anyone asked the same question of Hieronymus Bosch or indeed Homer. (“Bloody hell! have you read The Illyiad? It is the end of society as we know it! We’re screwed I tell you, we’re off to Hades in a handcart”). But old Quentin does not make things easy for himself sometimes. Up until the point he went A BIT MAD, he was giving a decent, likeable performance in his recent interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy (or, for me, the bloke who used to be on Newsround). His points about Django Unchained provoking necessary debate about America’s “second holocaust” and the need for “Afro-American” Western heroes were perfectly respectable.
But then this happened:
And thus his earlier good sense is forgotten. It is a shame.
I am also not sure if QT has any jurisdiction over the butt of KGM. Maybe things are different in American and he has licence to pound the streets of LA, shutting down people’s butts willy-nilly? But things are different here in Albion. All our butts belong to the Queen and we won’t have colonials coming along and threatening to shut them down as if they’d won the War of Independence or something (we did win that one, right?).
If QT really wants a successful strategy for shutting down the butt of KGM here in Cameron’s Britain then I have a few suggestions (WARNING- CLUMSY SATIRE ALERT):
1. Tell Michael Gove that KGM’s butt is guilty of an unacceptable drop in performance at both KS3 and KS4 and should be shut down immediately. (It would then be swiftly reopened as “The KGM Shell Oil Bum Academy” with one of Gove’s shady friends as the highly-paid and entirely unaccountable Headteacher).
2. Open up a branch of KGM’s butt on an average British high street. Pay reasonable wages to its staff but be forced to charge customers significantly higher prices than can be found online. After a few weeks, the receivers will be called in and . . . QT will be happy.
3. Play KGM’s butt as a pacey left-back for Plymouth Argyle with a brief to get forward whenever possible . . . . ..
I will stop now.
In conclusion. Film violence is not “real”, especially in the work of Tarantino. To propose a direct, unequivocal connection between acts on screen and the terrible, sickening damage humanity heaps upon itself on a daily basis is not only misleading and reductive but also shows a worrying ignorance of history. As a director he does not have to justify or answer for his work. That’s his right as an artist, even though he often comes across as just a shouty buffoon.
However, could he please follow appropriate butt-shutting procedures next time he’s in the UK?
Thanks very much.