Reviews

Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection

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QT's greatest hits, in a Blu-ray boxset

"I don't want my films to be disposable,” declared Quentin Tarantino in 1994. “I hope they last for hundreds of years.”

This Blu-ray survey of his first two decades is a good way to go about that, even if it omits a couple of titles one might expect to feature in a definitive chronicle of the maverick auteur’s oeuvre.

OK, so nobody will miss Four Rooms. But there is an argument to be made for the Tarantino-scripted From Dusk Till Dawn to be included, along with - sorry, Quentin - the Oliver Stone opus Natural Born Killers he has so strenuously disowned.

Minor titles they may be compared to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the twin pillars on which the big-chinned geek built his reputation.

Much as he would wish to deny it, though, they are part of the Tarantino story - one that’s sure to be retold more than once in the build-up to Django Unchained.

Tarantino XX is ahead of the curve in this respect, accompanying the eight movies it contains with five hours of bonus material spread over a pair of discs.

Neither ‘20 Years Of Filmmaking’ nor ‘Critics Corner’ - billed as an “in-depth critics’ discussion piece exploring the impact of one of the most influential writers/directors of our time” - were available at press time.

Together with the deluge of commentaries, featurettes and interviews to be found on the individual Blus, though, they should leave any self-respecting Quentin fan feeling more than sated, especially if they’ve only previously owned his work on plain old, extras-lite DVD.

No doubt they’ll find re-watching True Romance particularly poignant in the wake of Tony Scott’s suicide, an inexplicable tragedy sure to lend an additional resonance to one of Tarantino’s more overtly autobiographical screenplays. (What is Christian Slater’s film-mad nerd Clarence if not an idealised self-portrait?)

While not directed by Quentin himself, Romance was crucial pre-Fiction in showing the eye-catching Dogs was no flash in the pan.

Not only that, but it also features one of the quintessential QT stand-offs: a dazzling duologue between Christopher Walken’s dead-eyed mafiosi and Dennis Hopper’s ex-copper Clifford that pivots on the latter’s assertion that the former was “spawned by niggers”.

Like that word? Good, because you’ll be hearing a lot of it. It’s all over Pulp Fiction for one, most obviously in the speech delivered by the director himself in a cameo role as gourmet coffee drinker Jimmie.

And it’s also a favourite of Reservoir’s Mr Pink, Jackie Brown’s Ordell Robbie and Tracie Thoms in Death Proof. Maybe Spike Lee had a point  when he took Tarantino to task in 1997 for his “infatuation” with the racial epithet.

As quirks go, this is practically a fetish. Then again, why pick up on this and not his splattery violence, his casual misogyny or his puerile homophobia? Whatever you say about the Knoxville native, he’s nothing if not an equal opportunities offender.

Tarantino creates extreme characters who operate in a heightened universe, one in which life is cheap, gore is cool and it’s always good to talk.

(And not only in English either. Some of his finest scenes - the lengthy tavern set-piece in Inglourious Basterds, for example, or any sequence featuring Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 - rely extensively on subtitled dialogue.)

Isn’t the N-word just one more tool in his arsenal, a confrontational battery that also includes ear-slicing, eyeball-gouging and swastikas carved on Nazi foreheads?

Besides, it’s not as if it’s the only recurring signifier.

Indeed, if this collection reveals anything, it’s Tarantino’s skill at assembling a personal repertory company of players perfectly in tune with his cinema-literate, pop culture-savvy sensibility. Sam Jackson, Tim Roth and Uma Thurman are among the faces you’ll see more than once, pausing en route to give some of the most memorable performances in their respective careers.

(That Jackson left the Shrine Auditorium in March 1995 without a Golden Baldie in his grasp must surely rank as one of the all-time Oscar oversights.)

Just as significant, though, is Quentin’s ability to resurrect, with the likes of John Travolta, Robert Forster and Pam Grier all experiencing Lazarus-style comebacks thanks to his unshakeable belief in their undimmed talent.

He can make stars too, transforming Ving Rhames from bit-parter to Hollywood staple in Fiction and steering Christoph Waltz to global acclaim and a best supporting actor Oscar with Inglourious. For all the pleasures this set affords, though, a niggle lingers.

Is Quentin his own man, or is he the product of all the films he has so voraciously consumed?

Dogs arguably owes as much to Ringo Lam’s City On Fire as it does to its director, while Jackie, Death Proof, Basterds and the Bills are essentially pastiches of moribund genres (blaxploitation, grindhouse, war, kung fu).

Will Tarantino ever make an original movie, or is he destined to feast on and regurgitate the output of others?

Maybe we’ll find out in due course - after Django Unchained that is, a spaghetti western that takes its name from an Italian gun-slinging icon.

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