Examining Tarantino’s Cultural Footprint in Cinema
As the legendary director recently reaffirmed his desire to retire after his tenth film, we trace his origin and influence.
It is one thing to be inspired by films and go on to make your own movie. It is another thing to be inspired by hoards of old movies, steal from them blatantly, and make some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces that influence patterns worldwide. Tennessee-born filmmaker Quentin Tarantino falls in the latter category — and might be the only one.
Tarantino has so far written sixteen screenplays and directed nine movies. But the coveted filmmaker has been stuck on the fact that he will retire after his tenth directorial release for the last several years. In an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, Tarantino stated that directors usually have horrible last films, but he wanted to release his last while still at his peak. His philosophy behind this move is that after spending close to thirty years in the industry, there is little possibility of directors to “get better.” While the fan-favorite prodigious storyteller did not budge from his decision, viewers will be sure to expect his last film to be a spectacular landmark of his career.
Watching even a few films will reveal that although some themes remain the same, Tarantino does not stick to one genre. In a way, his filmmaking has become its own kind of genre. His career kick-started with Reservoir Dogs (1992), a low-budget independent heist film that is more cathartic than climactic. Without actually showing the heist, the film managed to trap the audience’s attention into its buildup and the aftermath – delivering a satisfying anti-climax. With Pulp Fiction (1994), Tarantino did something which left the audience torn between feelings of wonder and confusion. Only in retrospect did the cinematic world realize that this nonconformist, non-linear and idiosyncratic story was a wonder that would garner a cult following and inspire countless mainstream and independent films to come.
Tarantino’s portfolio consists of other exceptional masterpieces such as Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Volume 2 (2004), Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained (2012) and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019). He has admittedly mastered the art of stealing from other movies and making it into his own. His obsession with Japanese mafioso films, including the Yakuza genre, has greatly impacted his movie-making. In Kill Bill, the Bride’s character is inspired by Lady Snowblood (1973), a story about a young girl who sets out on a killing spree after her family is wronged. Uma Thurman’s iconic black-striped yellow jumpsuit is a tribute to Bruce Lee’s costume in Game of Death (1978). Inglourious Basterds is heavily inspired by the war movie The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Reservoir Dogs xeroxes the climactic 20-minute scene of the Hong Kong crime classic City on Fire (1987).
The self-taught filmmaker spoke in an interview with Empire in 1994 about his “stealing problem.” He said, “I steal from every single movie ever made.” It is clear that each of his movies has one strong influence — Tarantino’s visual process is heavy, with references from numerous movies. Adding to the same interview, he said, “Great artists steal. They don’t do homages.”
Tarantino is also known for modernizing and exaggerating the Spaghetti Western genre. His gritty and hyper-violent take on the ‘Southern’ genre is seen in Django Unchained, which served the horrible truth of slavery in a palatable dish to the audience. Similarly, he brings back the retro cinematic aesthetic of the Sixties and Seventies in his 2019 movie Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
Interestingly, Tarantino never set foot in a film school. He taught himself by watching and swallowing any and every movie he has watched. His talent for creating something new out of blatant thievery has left the whole industry astonished and in awe. As weird as it may sound, Tarantino’s sense of originality stands atop a mountain of stories as a hero who won the war with the help of all his fallen soldiers.
This originality introduced the world to stylized and graphic violence, challenging topics like slavery, genocide, drug overdose and the American underworld, visually pleasing yet unconventional camera angles, long winding dialogue-driven narratives and meta-filmmaking. His modern writing combined with brilliant soundtracks gives his movies an other-worldly edge where every feeling and sight were amplified. His unorthodox and mischievous crime thrillers incorporate his signature romanticism of violence and gore. Even in the most mundane activities and the longest of entertaining, sharp-witted dialogues, extensive attention to detail captures the fancy of the viewer masterfully. In an interview in 2010 with The Telegraph, Tarantino claims, “I feel like a conductor, and the audience’s feelings are my instruments.” He goes on to say that his thought process goes like “Laugh, laugh, now be horrified.”
Apart from his post-modernist style of filmmaking and compelling visual treats, Tarantino is also a master of camera angles. His movies are most famous for inventing the ‘Trunk Shot’ where the camera is kept in the place of the object the character is interacting with. Thus, he looks directly into the camera – much like looking up at your kidnapper after he opens the car trunk. Another shot called the ‘God’s Eye Shot’ shows the viewer an extremely wide-angle shot from high above, establishing the entire landscape of the scene. Although the list is much longer, it would be incomplete without the most ‘Tarantinoesque’ shot of all time – ‘The Foot Shot.’ While everyone may not be comfortable with it, Tarantino has made tracking footsteps a signature in his films.
Yes, Tarantino’s massive influence in cinema history has made the word ‘Tarantinoesque’ an official entry in the Oxford Dictionary, meaning “resembling or imitative of the films of Quentin Tarantino; characteristic or reminiscent of these films.”
His movies have left a bigger footprint than most directors globally — opening up paths bypassing conventions of traditional filmmaking. He has inspired films such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento, the horror-franchise Scream, and the feel-good rom-com (500) Days of Summer. His self-aware, elevated and stylized filmmaking has set a precedent for today’s cinematic projects across media. One might say that Tarantino defined the undefined.