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Newsmaker: Quentin Tarantino and his ninth symphony

The critically acclaimed director has always said he’d retire after his tenth film. Now that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is out, and already causing a stir, what can we expect next?

ht weekend Updated: Jun 02, 2019 09:53 IST
Mihir Fadnavis
Mihir Fadnavis
Hindustan Times
Quentin Tarantino,Indie cinema,Blockbuster
(Wikimedia Commons)

In the world of cinema, Quentin Tarantino is one of a handful of names that conjures genius.

In each decade since he began his career, he has redefined what it means to tell stories for a living. He was 28 when he made Reservoir Dogs, which has since been called the greatest independent film of all time. Two years later, in 1994, he made Pulp Fiction. It would go on to become the most successful independent film in history.

In an age of CDs and DVDs, his films became keepsakes. He was two films old, but his name was already a byword for a very specific kind of artfully gory, expletive-laden, non-linear storytelling. And yet each tale was startlingly, thrillingly different. You never knew what you’d get when you walked into a movie of his, and sometimes you walked out stunned and still not sure.

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So when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his latest, premiered at Cannes on May 21, the thumping response was guaranteed. No three things are more tailormade for each other than Tarantino, a film that celebrates the golden age of cinema, and this festival that clamours for films about filmmaking. It was a marketing triumph and cause for celebration among Tarantino fans, who consume his films mainly to be able to regurgitate them when they meet more of their kind.

Today, when big-budget blockbusters are so gleefully alike that studios have just copped a plea and begun clubbing them together as franchises, Tarantino films remain hand-crafted works of art.

That’s why, in 2001, Kill Bill was marketed as ‘the fourth film by Quentin Tarantino’, an audacious move given the banality of the number four. Here, again, he took elements familiar to the movie-goer and twisted them almost out of recognition. This was martial arts wielded like a machete, by a tall blonde lead who was a hacking/slashing rage-filled ice queen of a heroine (long before most of those things were ‘cool’). And so the fourth and fifth films lived up to the hype; his movies always do.

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Once Upon A Time... is being presented as ‘the ninth film’. This one is a significant number, because he’s repeatedly said over the years that his tenth will be his last.

This ninth features all his favourite elements — in-movie references, meta filmmaking, actors he’s worked with before. Tarantino positions Leonardo DiCaprio (they last worked together in Django Unchained, in 2012) and Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds, 2009), two of the most talented heartthrobs of our time, as throwbacks to Robert Redford and Paul Newman, to step into a spectacular, nostalgic homage to the lost era of 1960s Hollywood.

Expect to run into a heart-stopping array of special appearances, from Al Pacino as a Hollywood producer and agent to Margot Robbie as the late actress Sharon Tate.

It’s a Tarantino film when…
  • There are lots of shots of legs, and they’re somehow vital to the plot. Think ‘Wiggle your big toe’ in Kill Bill.
  • The dialogue is meandering yet delightfully sardonic, and even in what should feel like sluggish moments, it’s impossible to ignore. Think of all of The Hateful Eight.
  • The most interesting characters are the bad guys, and they’re generally given more screen time than everyone else.
  • The cast packs in legends like they’re sardines in a can, with the cameos being among the most memorable parts of the film. Think Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction.
  • The violence is executed with stunning artistry. And the bloodshed has ripple effects so subtle, you may not see them till the end. See Django Unchained.

History merges with fiction, but the film also seems to act as a crystallisation of Tarantino’s own work, from the Los Angeles setting reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, to the martial arts from Kill Bill. There’s been controversy over the portrayal of filmmaker Roman Polanski, and the use in the plotline of the murder of his wife Sharon Tate.

As to whether this will be Tarantino’s penultimate film, one can only hope not. He’s 56, he loves telling stories, and does it in ways no one else can. Perhaps he’ll shift focus to series and streaming. Already, there is an extended version of The Hateful Eight on Netflix. It’s been a while since he made a film set in the present day (Jackie Brown; 1997); perhaps there’s a time bomb ticking in his weird and wonderful brain.

First Published: Jun 01, 2019 15:05 IST