Happy 50th Birthday today to writer/director Quentin Tarantino, who contemporized like a color wheel elements of grittiness, intensity, machismo, tough dialogue, and violence from decades of Hollywood productions before him, and honed and fine tuned it into a style that is all his own, presenting it to today’s audiences, most of whom might not be as astute as him in film history and knowledge, and hence, regard him as the progenitor for much of said cinematic adjectives.
That’s not to say that Tarantino has not been wholly original in many of his fine productions – he has, he certainly has. He wears his influences on his directorial and writing sleeve always, and at best, he presents a crackerjack good time at the cinema, where audiences are at once delighted, jolted, shocked, surprised, amused, repelled, and ultimately blown away by each and every one of his productions. It’s not that the works of Tarantino are strictly by numbers, but he’s certainly tread down weathered roads, by intensely detailed studies of dilapilated and yellowed film roadmaps through the years.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Quentin Tarantino at best remains a back slapper in the highest sincerity of flattery; at worst, he remains an artist who liberally likes to borrow from other’s cinema gene pools which he spills all over his canvas, time and time again. But make no mistake, he knows his film history, he knows his craft, and above all, has a passion for film and its absolute rich history that runs a mile wide. It’s not his fault that most of his audience doesn’t feel that way, or have that kind of A-Z file cabinet knowledge of it that he does – they like what they like and most film goers don’t want to be burdened with the know-it-all knowledge that most cinemaphiles and zealots have; instead, they want to pay their money for their ticket, eat their popcorn, and escape for the amount of hours and have a dazzlingly thrill ride all the while. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either approach one takes.
And no one seems to understand this more than Tarantino. His productions, many which have become instant classics, have that rarity of being hairs above exploitation flicks, but with sub-currents of intelligence, whip smart wit, complex exposition and narratives, superb cinematography, creative staging and framing and rat-at-at editing, and of course, performances by a wide array of actors all of whom bring (and in some cases, are taught how to bring) their A-game to Tarantino’s cinema bacchanals. Films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Grindhouse, Inglorious Basterds, and Django Unchained (which is pretty much the entire Tarantino filmography) are filled with set pieces, scenes, moments, and dialogue that are highly memorable and entertaining, and arguably stand right alongside any other film in Hollywood history that has “iconic moments.” Tarantino really has a firm grip – and in a way he always has – on what makes a film tick, what makes characters within that film tick, and especially what makes the audience who loves those films tick. With the diverse styles of the famed directors who came before him, and who set the tone and blueprinted style in which Tarantino gives his own seal of approval fingerprints on his own productions — like Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah, Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, John Frankenheimer, William Friedkin, Brian De Palma, Michael Cimino, Robert Altman, Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and many more domestically lesser known luminaries of the trade who thrive around the globe in their works — Quentin Tarantino took the playbook that all those aforementioned men scribbled and sketched in, and studied it until he couldn’t study it anymore, and ultimately created his own potion with it which keeps running like golden water out of the spigot for him. It’s that coupled with his own immensely creative and high energy artistic body and soul that helps to keep him high on the mantelpiece as one of the most contemporary revered figures in the late 20th century/early 21st century of master filmmakers of that (and the current) era.
So Happy 50th to Quentin Tarantino, an artist who uses the past to originate his own present, presence, and flash, an artist who gives the people want they want, with no excuses, no apologies and with his own vision and fevered pitch temperament, an artist and class A-1 filmmaker who remains a figurehead of knowing, understanding, and using wisely, all the history that one can glean from Hollywood, using all its tools, and yet ultimately making it irresistibly his own.