Drinking the Reservoir dry

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The Independent Culture
Recently, I went to see Hal Hartley's Amateur, in which two hit-men discuss the relative merits of mobile phones before blowing away their target. The next day, I attended the National Film and Television School's end-of-term screenings. Out of the five student movies I watched, four incorporated violent shoot-outs over a soundtrack of iconoclastic Seventies pop hits, two climaxed with all the main characters shooting each other at once, and one had two hit-men discussing the idiosyncrasies of The Brady Bunch before "offing" their victim. Not since the advent of Citizen Kane, (when, one assumes, every student movie had somebody dropping a paperweight while gasping "flower petal" or "lilac stem"), has one man appeared from relative obscurity to redefine the art of movie-making. In a remarkably short career, Quentin Tarantino has directed one great film, Reservoir Dogs (in which a bunch of hit-men say "Let's go to work," and rob a bank) and one decidedly mediocre one, Pulp Fiction (in which two hit-men say, "Let's get into character" and shoot some low-lives). He has also produced the terrible Killing Zoe in which a bunch of hit-men say, "We go in, we get what we want, and we come out," and rob a bank.

He has written two bad films, True Romance and Natural Born Killers (pallid reproductions of Terrence Malick's Badlands) in which beautiful couples / whores with hearts of gold fall in love and kill people. He has made two fabulous babbling cameos: as a movie geek in Sleep With Me, explaining the subtext of Top Gun, and as an Elvis impersonator in The Golden Girls. And he has spent the rest of the time giving fabulously babbling lectures and masterclasses at film festivals. His output may be patchy, butthe velocity of it is remarkable.

The organisers of the NFT's celebration of the movies that influenced him (which ended yesterday) seem to have set out to test his extraordinary stamina. He was to conduct a hugely enjoyable masterclass, introduce half a dozen films, sign a library full of books and still have time off to write a film about, one assumes, whores with hearts of gold who discuss Scooby Doo before robbing a bank.

Tarantino is the post-modernist. If you tell him that his films are stolen wholesale from Badlands, The Taking of Pelham 1234 and everything by John Woo, he will not only be flattered, he will organise a film festival to show them. And nowadays, taking post-modernity to its logical conclusion, you can add another name to the list of directors Tarantino steals from: Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction consists of little more than a bunch of Quentin Tarantinos talking to each other about hamburgers, constructed around a Reservoir Dogs-by-numbers plot, the lazy implication being that we the audience are obliged to buy into the assumption that Quentin is simply the coolest guy in LA.

All the adoration is making him, and his admirers, increasingly flabby. When I reviewed Pulp Fiction in a negative light, I received letters so ferocious that a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking I had stabbed the writers' parents.

Unquestionably, Tarantino has enormous talent. That's what makes his seemingly endless production of lousy products all the more upsetting. There are always moments of brilliance, even in the travesty that is True Romance (Christopher Walken's cameo is wonderful). But I can't help thinking that if I wrote a script based around a beautiful hooker who falls in love with her geeky comic store manager / client and goes on the run to LA with a suitcase full of stolen cocaine, I'd be drummed out of the Drew Barrymore College for Overactive Hormones.

Sadly, Tarantino has had to cut short his current tour of Britain (his new movie is having "problems." This is a shame. His lectures are very entertaining. He thinks and talks like a machine gun, tirelessly spouting hilarious and self-deprecating aphorisms. But perhaps it's for the best. If he desists in his unceasing whirlwind tour of film festivals and bookshops, maybe he'll find time to start making decent movies again.

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