Such was the clamour amongst movie executives to “pre-buy” maverick director Quentin Tarantino’s new film The Hateful Eight this week, it was reported that one set of executives went as far as offering the director’s backers a vial of blood to show that they were in deadly earnest.
But perhaps the clamour was all the more ferocious as the 51-year-old director has – not for the first time – threatened to retire.
The movie, which will star Channing Tatum and Samuel L Jackson, will be Tarantino’s eighth feature and now perhaps his antepenultimate.
“I don’t believe you should stay onstage until people are begging you to get off,” he told the audience at the American Film Market in Santa Monica. “I’ve got two more to go after this,” he continued.
“I like that I will leave a 10-film filmography. It’s not etched in stone, but that is the plan.”
This isn’t the case of an ageing wunderkind who has outstayed his welcome and wants to quit before he makes a fool of himself. In box-office terms at least, Tarantino is on a roll. His most recent feature Django Unchained (2012) was his most successful ever, making well over $400m (£252m) in cinemas worldwide.
In pictures: Tarantino’s eight films so far
In pictures: Tarantino’s eight films so far
1/8 The Tarantino canon
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
2/8 The Tarantino canon
Pulp Fiction (1994)
3/8 The Tarantino canon
Jackie Brown (1997)
4/8 The Tarantino canon
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
5/8 The Tarantino canon
Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
6/8 The Tarantino canon
Death Proof (2007)
7/8 The Tarantino canon
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
8/8 The Tarantino canon
Django Unchained (2012)
Nor are the negative reviews getting to him. Tarantino remains a critics’ darling. They love his irony, his formidable knowledge of pop culture and movie history, his flair for dialogue and the slick and gruesome way he choreographs the violence in all his movies.
Perhaps he has a vision of himself as a gunslinger riding off into the sunset the way that little Alan Ladd did at the end of Shane. If he stops now, his mystique will be preserved. He will forever remain in popular memory as the young, hip motormouth who gave the film industry such a jolt when he emerged in the early 1990s with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
On a more dispiriting level, it seems that Tarantino, the ultimate movie geek, is falling out of love with cinema in the internet age. He was extremely irritated when advance copies of the script of The Hateful Eight were leaked online. (At the AFM, distributors who wanted to read it had to go and sit inside the offices of the backers the Weinstein Company to do so.)
Tarantino isn’t happy, either, that films are almost all shot and distributed digitally. When he was a young video store assistant, cinema still had a sacred and secret feel about it. Films were made on celluloid; movie lovers had to work very hard to see rare features and build up their knowledge base. Now, everybody knows everything.
If you want to find out about Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti westerns or Fernando Di Leo’s crime movies, Wikipedia will tell you all you need to know and you could probably buy them with next day delivery on Amazon. That’s all to the good but it means that the Jesuitical devotion that cinephiles once needed no longer matters so much.
Traditionally, Hollywood’s maverick directors aren’t given the chance to step away from the system. They are spat out instead. Late in their careers, film-makers such as Sam Fuller and Orson Welles simply couldn’t find backers. For Tarantino, by contrast, financing films has never been easier. When foreign distributors are queuing up to buy your latest film sight unseeen, you can’t very well play the part of the misunderstood visionary in the wilderness.
There is one good reason why, however, it seems unlikely that Tarantino will follow through on his threat. The Weinsteins, with whom his career is so closely linked, won’t let him. They won’t want to see their favourite cash cow put out to pasture quite yet.
Besides, in film-making terms, Tarantino is still a greenhorn. The genre-hopping pioneer Allan Dwan, (1885-1981) a Tarantino of his day, made more than 400 pictures. The Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira is still working today at the age of 105. To retire in your early 50s when you’ve only made 10 movies would be defeatist in the extreme.
Two to go? Tarantino’s films so far
1 Reservoir Dogs (1992)
2 Pulp Fiction (1994)
3 Jackie Brown (1997)
4a Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
4b Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)
5 Death Proof (2007)
6 Inglourious Basterds (2009)
7 Django Unchained (2012)
(Won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay)
Also one of four directors to contribute to Four Rooms (1995)Reuse content