Every director has a specific style that sets them apart from all others; however, there is one director who, when you see his style, you know is calling the shots on set. Quentin Tarantino is known for his use of music from previous generations, riveting stories, innovative shots, high rate of drug use, attention deficit disorder, and, the most important element, Samuel L. Jackson. The over-the-top attitude that Tarantino brings to all of his films is created through unordinary sound effects, abilities of the characters, and odd special effects. The style that this director, proudly, parades to his audiences is not one that appeals to everyone but rather to a select few who open their minds to new and innovative ideas. Quentin Tarantino has slowly but surely progressed his stylistic stance on the film world from his time directing, the Oscar Award-winning, Pulp Fiction (1994) to, what can be called his rebirth in filmmaking, Kill Bill (2003, 2004).
To understand the films Tarantino creates, you have to understand the man himself. Quentin Tarantino is an extremely high-strung, over-the-top, sadistic-minded, slightly arrogant, high school drop-out. If you have ever seen an interview with the man, you know that he can get very caught-up in the topic at hand, generally being his new film. Not only is he a director, but he also has served as a producer, actor, cinematographer, and screenwriter. As a matter of fact, Tarantino got his start in the world of filmmaking, after working in a video rental store, by co-writing a movie called “My Best Friend’s Birthday” in 1987, however due to a fire that broke out in the editing studio that held the final finished version of the movie, it was lost. This screenplay helped to serve as the basis for another movie that was also written by Tarantino called, True Romance that was released in 1993. By writing this movie, he was able to gain connections with other filmmakers which would lead to his opportunity to direct his first movie entitled Reservoir Dogs (1992). From there he would go on to direct even more films and become one of the most highly successful filmmakers in the history of the art form.
Tarantino’s next film, which was released in 1994, entitled Pulp Fiction, referring back to cheap books centered on stories about crime, would come to be one of his most successful films and earn him multiple nominations and awards. This would be the film that would engrave Tarantino’s style into film history and establish him as a force to be reckoned with. There are multiple story lines centered on one set of characters at a time and plays with the time frame in which the film takes place. Playing with the story line is one of many attributes that Tarantino would come to show off in many of his films (“Quentin Tarantino”). Sometimes it can be hard to interpret what is happening in the story by organizing it this way, however, Tarantino adequately develops the characters before moving on to another portion, which may come at a much later point in the story or before the scene would take place according the normal laws regarding filmmaking. There are three sections to the story of the movie; Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife, The Gold Watch, and The Bonnie Situation, that all happen respectively. However, in order for these parts of the story to happen chronologically, The Bonnie Situation would have to go at the beginning of the movie. Also, at the beginning of the film there is a glimpse at what happens in a scene that takes place at the end of the film. This scene, however, takes place at the end of the section called The Bonnie Situation. This is very confusing when trying to explain the appropriate chronology of the film but when the movie is viewed in its finished state, everything still makes sense, and the audience is still able to draw connections in what happens in the story.
Another instance in which Tarantino plays with the conventions of storytelling is in Kill Bill. This film is a story of a former assassin that has deserted her organization of assassins called, “The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad”; in order to raise her daughter whom she is pregnant with. After her desertion the other members come after her to ensure no information about the group is leaked to any unsolicited sources. The group finds her and shoots her in the head but this doesn’t kill her, it only puts her into a coma for four years, she then goes after the group who tried to murder her for her own revenge and the vengeance of her, thought to be dead, unborn child. The film focuses on the time that the character, “The Bride”, spends going after her former colleagues.
This film is divided into ten chapters, like that of a novel, and is even divided into two volumes putting half of the story into one reel of film and the second half on another. Also, within the movie there are flashbacks to a time before that of the story of the film, when the leader of The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, Bill, played by David Carradine, confronts The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, at her wedding. Tarantino also distorts the timeline of the story at the beginning of the film by having what would be the second section in the story come first, reminiscent of the movie Pulp Fiction. The idea of using flashbacks goes so far as to make an entire chapter in the film a flashback to a time long before the time of the story. These flashbacks help the audience to understand more about the origins of the characters and, therefore, care about them more, specifically, The Bride.
This toying with the conventions of how the story should be told, or any convention in film, is branched from the French New Wave of filmmaking which was a trend that first started in the late 1950s. Quentin Tarantino owes much of his career to the work that was done during the French New Wave; so much so that he named his production company, A Band Apart, after a film by director Jean-Luc Godard called Bande à part. He also pays homage to the great French film in Pulp Fiction during a dance scene with Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, and Mia Wallace, played by Uma Thurman. They dance in a 1950s style restaurant called “Jack Rabbit Slim’s” while in Bande à part they three main characters dance around in a café.
Tarantino also makes many references to popular culture in his movies, whether it is with the music that he uses in his movies or the 1970s television shows that are referred to in the dialogue between characters. Throughout both, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, there are songs used that are almost never original scores but go back at the very least twenty years prior to the release of the film to audiences. The most famous choice of music that shows up in Pulp Fiction is the song “Misirlou” by Dick Dale that can be heard at the beginning of the film. Concerning the choices of music that are used in the majority of Tarantino’s films, he often picks the songs that will go into the movie before actually making it (Tarantino). In Kill Bill the most famous musical choice is the theme from the movie Twisted Nerve (1968), a film about a mentally psychotic teenager who becomes engrained with gaining the attention and affection of a young lady and in the process ends up murdering her mother and his step-father (IMDB). The music used is a song that is whistled as the character Elle Driver, played by Daryl Hannah, walks down the hall of the hospital that The Bride is checked into during the time of her coma, to kill her with a poison while she sleeps but then aborts the mission at the orders of Bill.
Reporter, Naomi Green, states: “Tarantino has said that he doesn’t believe in adding music to hide slow cinematic moments; it should either enhance the action or ‘take it to a whole new level'” (2). This ideology is applied in Kill Bill when The Bride takes on, Lucy Liu’s character, O-Ren Ishii’s personal gang, The Crazy 88. During this scene, however there is no epic score but rather a song from the 1960s called “Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz, which sounds like early pop music similar to The Beatles. This intensifies the action of The Bride while she is spinning around on the floor with two katanas, or samurai swords, slicing off the lower extremities from the members of The Crazy 88 as well as adding some humor to the mix because of the repeated lyric “Nobody” which can also be taken as “no body”. In Pulp Fiction, the song “Flowers on the Wall” by The Statler Brothers plays as Bruce Willis’ character, Butch Coolidge, who has just murdered Vincent Vega, gets in his car to drive away. This shows just how much he cares about what he has just done to another man, who happens to be a hit man. The way in which Tarantino uses music is superb and truly shows purpose as well as sometimes adding humor to the situations presented to the characters.
There are other trademarks that Tarantino exhibits in his films that set his apart from others, such as made up or discontinued companies or brands of a specific product. The reason for these fake or discontinued products that Tarantino utilizes in his movies is that he hates product placement in film (Green 2). One of these companies that are shown in Pulp Fiction is “Big Kahuna Burger”, a fast-food restaurant similar to McDonald’s. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, comes to take retrieve a suitcase for his boss, Marsellus Wallace, played by Ving Rhames, and makes small talk with the person who has it, Brett, played by Frank Whaley, about his hamburger which is from Big Kahuna Burger. Big Kahuna Burger is also featured in Tarantino’s first successful movie, Reservoir Dogs. Another instance in which a created product is featured is in both Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, with “Red Apple Cigarettes”. Multiple characters in Pulp Fiction, like Mia and Butch smoke these cigarettes as does Sofie Fatale, played by Julie Dreyfus, in Kill Bill. Often times Tarantino will use the same products in multiple movies which help to create a sort of “Tarantino Universe”, helping to distinguish his movies from others.
Other portions of the “Tarantino Universe” are things like the trunk shot. This is a part of the cinematography of the majority of his films. It was used in Pulp Fiction when Jules and Vincent are talking to one another behind their car and in Kill Bill when The Bride is interrogating Sofie in the trunk of her car. Also, the characters in some of Tarantino’s movies are supposedly related, with a connection in the names of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction and Michael Madsen’s character, Vic Vega, in Reservoir Dogs. This causes using characters multiple times in different films which has been done most frequently with Samuel L. Jackson who has appeared in both Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, as well as Jackie Brown and in the upcoming Inglorious Basterds. He also brings some actors back into the industry after their heyday like David Carradine in Kill Bill. Also the great filmmaker may have a bit of a foot fetish in that he likes to incorporate shots of feet into the story as in the serious conversation about a foot massage discussed between Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction and in Kill Bill when The Bride is sitting in the back of a truck trying to regain movement in her limbs after losing use of them during her coma. These do well in creating a separate universe in which these movies take place almost separating them from anything that would happen in the actual world.
Quentin Tarantino has a great way of going about creating his work of art and has certain qualities that make a film his own. Whether it’s the interesting choices in musical accompaniment, the reuse of characters, or the creation of a product in order to stay away from product placement, when an audience is shown a film by Tarantino they will always be able to tell who did it because of these elements. With great intentions and an insanely genius mind for filmmaking and, of course, Sam Jackson, Quentin Tarantino has earned his spot among other great directors like Coppola, Godard, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Spielberg, and Welles.
Green, Naomi. “Tarantino’s Directing Style One of the Most Imitated.” Washburn Review 22 Sept. 2008. 27 Apr. 2009
Internet Movie Database. 1990. 26 Apr. 2009 .
“Quentin Tarantino.” Wikipedia. 20 Apr. 2009. 26 Apr. 2009
Tarantino, Quentin, dir. Inglorious Basterds. Perf. Brad Pitt and Samuel L. Jackson. Weinstein Company, 2009.
—, dir. Jackie Brown. Perf. Pam Grier and Robert Deniro. Miramax, 1997.
—, dir. Kill Bill Vol. 1. Perf. Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu. Miramax, 2003.
—, dir. Kill Bill Vol. 2. Perf. Uma Thurman and David Carradine. Miramax, 2004.
—, dir. Pulp Fiction. Perf. Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis. Miramax, 1994.
—, dir. Reservoir Dogs. Perf. Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel. Live Entertainment, 1992.
Tarantino, Quentin. “Interview with Quentin Tarantino.” Pulp Fiction: Music From the Motion Picture. MCA, 2002.