Movie men can often cause controversies, and sometimes they revel in them -- not just court them. One remembers how the enfant-terrible of European cinema, Danish auteur Lars Von Trier, scandalised half the world when he told a media conference at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival soon after his competition title, Melancholia, was screened that he sympathised with Hitler. There was a loud gasp in the conference hall, and the Festival had to declare him persona non-grata. He left the French Riviera soon after, and has not gone back there since then.
Earlier in 2004, the enfant-terrible of Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino, presiding over the Cannes jury, gave Michael Moore’s Bush bashing documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, the festival’s top prize, Palm d’Or. It was clearly a political move by a director whose animosity towards the American President was well known. If critics that year at Cannes were aghast at Tarantino’s decision, so was -- as one was given to understand -- the festival management. Certainly, the documentary did not deserve the honour; there were far better movies that May.
Tarantino, like Von Trier, just loves to be in the midst of controversies -- or one would suppose so, given his proclivity for them. In recent days, Tarantino’s protest against police brutality has left the New York Police fuming. A crucial question here is, will the Oscar, then, be denied to his latest, The Hateful Eight -- which is all set to open on Christmas Day.
Tarantino, who hails from Knoxville Tennessee, recently flew down to New York to be part of a three-day movement organised by Rise Up October, a group opposed to police violence, especially that which is described as “genocidal assault on black and Latino people in this country”. Tarantino told families of those brutalised or killed by cops: “I’m here to say I’m on the side of the murdered.”
New York’s largest police union was angry that the helmer should have used the word “murdered”, and it called for a boycott of all his films.“It’s no surprise that someone who makes a living glorifying crime and violence is a cop-hater, too,” Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement. “New Yorkers need to send a message to this purveyor of degeneracy that he has no business coming to our city to peddle his slanderous Cop Fiction.” Lynch’s bitter retort made headlines, and several other police unions also called for a boycott of Tarantino’s movies.
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News went as far to say that the Hollywood auteur had messed up his career by terming policemen murders.
But Tarantino has never shied away from terribly unsettling issues. Exploding on the scene in 1992 with such a savage film as Reservoir Dogs -- which attracted widespread criticism for the way it choreographed violence -- he went on to make Kill Bill. Which included such a bloody sequence that it had to be shown in black and white. Otherwise, it would not have got passed American censors.
What is more, some Tamil directors have been copying Tarantino’s style of gruesome violence.
Tarantino is not one who is going to tone down his cinema or offer an apology for his often ruthless comments. At 52 and with two Oscars to his credit, he has not mellowed down. He has even gleefully criticised fellow moviemakers. Last summer, he told the magazine, Vulture, just before American helmer Wes Craven’s death that his direction of Scream “kept it earthbound and stopped it from going to the moon”.
When critics lambasted him for frequently using the N-word in Django Unchained, Tarantino quipped:“When the black critics came out with savage think pieces about Django, I couldn’t have cared less...If people don’t like my films, they don’t like my films, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter.”
Ironically, Django Unchained went on to gross over $ 162 million in America alone.
Inglorious Basterds (2009) also tackled an uncomfortable subject. It was a revenge movie in which a group of Jewish-American soldiers attempt to assassinate top-ranking Nazis. However, the film was a box-office hit, collecting $ 120 million in the US alone.
In comparison, his latest work, The Hateful Eight, is mild. A “spaghetti western about a bunch of outlaws holed up in a cabin during a severe snowstorm”, the movie’s box-office appeal may not be impacted by the police boycott.
But the Oscars can be quite another game. In 2002, actor Russell Crowe was the front-runner for his memorable performance in A Beautiful Mind. He was all set to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. But he made one tactical mistake. After receiving a BAFTA Award, he recited a full poem, but when the BBC excised it from its broadcast, he lost his cool. He tracked down the director of the show, pinned him against a wall and abused him.
Watch The Hateful Eight trailer here
Four weeks later, the Oscar went to Denzel Washington for his role in Training Day.
But there were other instances of misdemeanours where directors or actors have not been punished by the Academy. Woody Allen often does not show up at the awards’ functions. George C. Scott scoffs at the Oscars. Dalton Trumbo was banned from Hollywood. Roman Polanski had unlawful sex with a minor girl, and the ghost still haunts him after so many decades.
These men did not lose their places on the podium on the big night. They went on to clinch the Oscars, Trumbo, in fact, when the proscription was on!
So, will Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight see the Academy hating him? Or, will The Hateful Eight keep the masses away when it opens on Christmas Day?