ISMISM New concepts for the Nineties

No. 2: Tarantinnitus

Nobody - except perhaps Sir Patrick Mayhew or the Princess of Wales - has been so much discussed in recent days as Quentin Tarantino. The American film-maker and screenwriter has been on a tour of the UK, attending movie screenings, onstage inter views, bookshop signings of his screenplays, and giving lectures, masterclasses and ad hoc advice to aspirant young directors.

Mr Tarantino has a famously rapid-fire and gabbling delivery, whether he is explaining a cinematic point or defending his reputation (or, one suspects, even ordering a pizza).

That he is punishingly hard to follow or understand is not, however, counted against him. It has, indeed, earned him a reputation for elusive riddling, post-modernist brilliance. He has even turned it into an acting style.

The phenomenon of a person whirling about and jibbering unceasingly in the name of art has occasionally been glimpsed in the past - in the tarantella, for example, a popular dance supposedly representative of the behaviour of sufferers from tarantula bites. But its prevalence among films of the Nineties has given Quentin the status of style commissar. In Tarantino films, all the characters talk endlessly in looping, fantastical divergences from the business in hand, although their dialogue is less a matter of conversation than of talk for its own sake - noisy but meaningless semi-communication.

And now that Mr Tarantino has returned to America to perform some needle-through-the-heart surgery on his new movie, it is odd to note the Babel of disapproval and bafflement he has left behind. In marked contrast to the reviews of Pulp Fiction last October ("places Tarantino in the front rank of film-makers at work today" - Philip French), most British commentators now seem hostile ("all the adoration is making him increasingly flabby ... his seemingly endless production of lousy products" - Jon Ronson),accusatory ("a genuinely sadistic artist ... his films should be studied as Exhibit A in the Museum of Post Modern Moral Vacuity" - Fintan O'Toole), or mystified ("is it possible that the hysteria witnessed in Britain this week is purely film criticism? Is it really possible to believe that Reservoir Dogs is another Citizen Kane?" - Mark Lawson).

On the slender basis of two films and their published screenplays, therefore, we are assaulted on all sides by Tarantinnitus - the faint but persistent ringing in the ears, and attendant sense of confusion, brought on by any discussion of modern culture that involves gunfire, filmic illusions and on-screen discussions of modern culture.

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