CRIES & WHISPERS: Watch out, Quentin's about

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A STARK, chic new poster is about to cover the rising damp in student houses up and down the country. An old actor is about to add a nought or two to his pay cheques. A forgotten rock band is about to be hoisted to the height of fashion. In short, a new Quentin Tarantino film is about to open, and it will have one effect even more pronounced and welcome than the ones mentioned above: the critical genre of Tarantino analysis may start to make some sort of sense.

Judging by all the QT dissertations we've had to struggle through over the past few years, all the oceans of newsprint, the months of pub pontification, the comparisons and the theories, the condemnations and the defences, you'd think that Shakespearean scholarship had been superseded by this mature and sophisticated field of study. You'd think we knew everything there was to know about the Tarantino canon, and that we could predict, without hesitation, the style and content of his every forthcoming movie. But for all the man's ubiquitous influence, for all the scripts he has written and the profiles that have been written about him, he has directed just two feature films that have been released in Britain. That puts the QT overviews on a par with rating Woody Allen after Take the Money and Run and Bananas, or foreseeing everything from ET to Schindler's List having seen Duel and The Sugarland Express. If people have to hang him, can't they wait until he's woven a bit more rope?

After the screening of Jackie Brown at the National Film Theatre in January, Tarantino was asked why the bodycount was lower than it was in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, as if anyone who had made two bloodsoaked movies couldn't possibly want to make any other kind. Similarly, we say that Tarantino's characters always talk about Madonna songs and hamburgers when we're thinking of the innovative dialogue of just two films. Or rather, we should be basing our assertions on nothing more than those films. In fact, QT theses tend to be predicated on what we haven't seen on screen at all.

A lot of what has been said about Tarantino stems from what we know of him as a person, and a lot of that stems from what he has told us. It's amazing how often you'll read a snide aside that relies on Tarantino's own facetious dismissal of himself as a "film geek", as if this were a signed confession of crimes against the cinema. But what's wrong with having work- ed at a video store (shocking! And Philip Larkin worked in a library!)? And why has the scandalous revelation that a film-maker may have actually watched a lot of films been distorted to imply that he has no knowledge of anything else?

Things would have been different if Tarantino hadn't been so eager to explain himself. In documentaries and magazines, he has happily guided interviewers through his video collection, fast-forwarding to scenes which inspired a particular snippet of his own dialogue. He has revealed the mechanism behind his creative process. And it's easier to denigrate a conjurer's skills when he's told you where he hides the rabbit.

As a counterbalance to all the QT generalisations his first two films have spawned, it's worth remembering that Harvey Keitel is on record as saying that when he first read the script of Reservoir Dogs, he assumed that the author had underworld connections. That sounds almost laughable nowadays, when Tarantino's every word is supposed to give away that he isn't connected to anything except cable. More or less everyone with an opinion on Tarantino (ie, more or less everyone in the Western world) is able to list the movies he has copied, but would we have been able to do so without Tarantino's help? Or are we really much more knowledgeable than poor, gullible Harvey?

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