Quentin Tarantino - The good, the bad and the movie geek

Quentin Tarantino has finished writing his script for a spaghetti Western. Can it ride high with the greats, or match his own career peaks? Geoffrey Macnab investigates

Late last month, the American film-maker Quentin Tarantino finished a first draft of the screenplay for Django Unchained. Following a familiar routine, he handed it over to his regular backer, Harvey Weinstein, and then had a party at his house where his friends could read it, drink champagne and celebrate with him. This now looks set to be his next movie. No one at all is surprised that the 48-year-old Tarantino has finally decided to make a spaghetti Western.

"The spaghetti Western is one of the greatest genres, as far as I know, in the history of the world cinema and definitely in the history of the Italian cinema. The fact is that they've [spaghetti Western movies] never been truly appreciated," the director pronounced when he hosted a massive season of spaghetti Westerns at the Venice Festival in 2007.

When he is asked to pick his top films of all time, Tarantino regularly plumps for Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as the absolute summit of film-making craft and endeavour. "I think a case can even be made that with Leone and [Ennio] Morricone that they are the best director-composer team in the history of film," he commented.

His movies are full of spaghetti-Western riffs and motifs. The bravura introduction to Inglourious Basterds (in which we see the Jewish family hiding out in the Alpine country farmhouse as the Nazis close in on them) owes an obvious debt to the early sequence of the slaughter in 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West. The gangsters in Reservoir Dogs have the same strutting walk as outlaws in Leone's movies. The mix of sadism, comedy and violence found in Kill Bill runs through the Leone trilogy, as well.

Having nodded in the direction of the genre, paying homage to it indirectly, he is to make a full-blown spaghetti-Western of his own. He told one film trade website that the movie was to be a "Southern": that is to say, a Western set in the Deep South. The title echoes the 1966 Sergio Corbucci Western, Django, and its many successors, among them Takashi Miike's Japanese variation on the spaghetti format, Sukiyaki Western Django (2008), in which Tarantino himself had a small role.

Somehow, the screenplay for Django Unchained was leaked on the internet earlier this month. This was the occasion for Tarantino fans to whip themselves up into a mini-frenzy. As always with this particular film-maker, opinion was sharply divided. Some acclaimed the script as a masterpiece. Others (notably the website Obsessed with Film) called it ponderous, excessive and "WAYYYY too long". If the web speculation is correct, the new film will be about a freed slave-turned-gunslinger. There is apparently a plum role for the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as a Klaus Kinski-like German bounty hunter. The script reportedly deals with racism and the legacy of black slavery in an unflinching manner.

The absurdity of judging a film long before it has been cast, financed or made is self-evident, not least to the director himself. "I just wrote it Tuesday. I wrote it Tuesday. I'm not even directing it yet! I just wrote a script Tuesday, all right? It's just a script. A piece of paper, a lot of pieces of paper – 366, to be exact," he protested a few days ago when the internet speculation about the film and its casting reached its peak.

Nonetheless, the debate surrounding the leaked Django script hints at the dilemmas facing Tarantino at a pivotal moment in his career. He is approaching the project on the back of the commercial success of Inglourious Basterds, which made more than $300m worldwide. The hit came after a string of films that had underperformed, at least by the standards of Pulp Fiction. The fansites haven't hesitated to warn him that for younger, non-Tarantino, non-Leone devotees, a spaghetti Western with a political undertow may not be an obvious box-office draw. Meanwhile, for a film-maker approaching his 50s, it must grow ever harder to summon up the zest to make yet another bad-ass action movie.

In spite of the pop-culture riffs in his work, and the way he proselytizes tirelessly on behalf of trashy movies, Tarantino is not a trashy film-maker. There are layers of subtext and sophistication in his movies that you simply don't find in, say, Robert Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Machete. (Nor can you easily imagine him directing a franchise such as Spy Kids.) Festivals fete him and critics savour his work as much because of the brilliance of his dialogue as because of Uma Thurman's aptitude with a sword in Kill Bill or the ear being lopped off in Reservoir Dogs. Alongside the genre directors he so admires, his early enthusiasm for the work of Jean-Luc Godard has been well chronicled. (His production company was called Band Apart, after Godard's film Bande à Part.) Like Godard, he rarely sticks to linear narrative. That adolescent romanticism found in his screenplay for True Romance or in the dance sequence in Pulp Fiction isn't something you'd find in a Mario Bava horror film or in one of the original Django Westerns. The knowing irony and humour that runs through all of his work likewise distinguishes it from many of the B-movies he champions.

No one is expecting Tarantino suddenly to turn his back on genre movies and start making well-heeled costume dramas. By the same token, it must be burdensome to play out the role of the ageing enfant terrible. When it comes to action set-pieces, he has set himself such absurdly lofty standards that it is hard to see where he can go now other than toward feeble self-parody. Once you've shown Uma Thurman dispatching 88 bodyguards and a chain-wielding Japanese nymphet (as Tarantino did in The House of Blue Leaves sequence in Kill Bill), or you've staged the definitive movie car-chase (as he did in Death Proof), there aren't many new stunts left to pull.

It is instructive to compare the filmographies of Tarantino and of Woody Allen. Since his debut feature in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, the former has directed only seven features. In the same period, Woody Allen has made more than 20 movies. Arguably, this is Tarantino's curse. He has never been the kind of film-maker who can just take a script out of his bottom drawer, dust it down and start shooting. Every new movie he makes is an event, surrounded by hype and bombast. The pressure is always on him to trump what he (and everyone else) did before. In trespassing on Sergio Leone's turf, he is arguably setting himself his biggest challenge yet. How do you go beyond The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West? This is the question that must be tormenting him now.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?