In 1992 an unknown writer/director made the coolest movie of the year. Renowned for engaging non-linear storylines, naturalistic dialogue peppered with pop culture references, distinctive soundtracks and a visceral visual flair encompassing quick cuts, unique point of view shooting and extensive use of the Steadicam the film was a success of both style and content. He was Quentin Tarantino and the film was Reservoir Dogs. Two years later he dropped the best film of the year, Pulp Fiction, perfecting each of these elements and cementing himself as Hollywood's next big thing.
What followed was a raft of sub-Tarantino influenced movies: Two Days In The Valley, a decent if unremarkable comic crime drama starring (an admittedly brilliant) Danny Aiello. Guy Ritchie put a London accent on the Pulp Fiction play book with Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a bastard son of Tarantino's masterpiece and seminal London gangster flick The Long Good Friday. Despite being almost offensively derivative, Lock Stock's story and scripting were both excellent. Tarantino movies' influence can even be felt much later in movies like Lucky Number Slevin, a slick non-linear gangster piece starring the insipid Josh Hartnett, or Go, or the excellent Run Lola Run. Even The Big Lebowski owes a slight debt to Dogs and Fiction.
Fellow nineties luminaries like Paul Thomas Anderson, one of Hollywood's stand-out talents, were influenced by the Tarantino style. Boogie Nights, PTA's break out movie, released a year after Reservoir Dogs, shares the proclivity for the intricate Steadicam shots favoured by Qt (one particularly beautiful shot as we follow William H Macy through a New Year’s Eve party stands out in my mind). Boogie Nights' soundtrack also owes a debt to the Tarantino model, its period soundtrack marries the themes of the movie aesthetic, period and dialogue - all classic Tarantino traits employed to toe-tapping effect in his most iconic scenes (Mr Blonde’s torturing of the captive police officer in Reservior Dogs, Vincent Vega dancing with Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction). PTA’s later film, Magnolia, though tonally very different from any of Tarantino's offerings does share some parallels; Steadicam, music, non-linear structure, and so on. Tarantino set the mood for 90s cinema in almost every way: dialogue-heavy scripting, unconventional story structure, flowing visuals and long takes; even music.
Far be it from me to paint Tarantino as the first to use these techniques, or even the best - the greater influence is probably at the hands of the great directors of the sixties, seventies and eighties; Scorsese (a master of sound-tracking among many other things), Coppola, Malick, Kubrick, Polanski, De Palma. Being the driving force behind classics like Mean Streets (which offers the same snappy dialogue and hip soundtrack Tarantino made his trademark), Apocalypse Now, Badlands (the template for both the violent, hallucinatory Tarantino penned Natural Born Killers and the underrated True Romance), Full Metal Jacket, Chinatown, and Carrie (which co-stars Tarantino alumni John Travolta); these directors are a clear influence on Tarantino as a filmmaker.
Even his relative failures breed a succession of followers, both bad and good.
Stylistically Scorcese is a clear influence on QT as he favours long tracking and follow shots in his earlier films (the final shot of Taxi Driver being a wonderful example) and would later put the Steadicam to great effect in Goodfellas. Kubrick was a famously early up-taker of the method, using it to follow creepy whipper-snapper Danny through the corridors of The Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Tarantino notes these directors as prime influences, along with De Palma (whose paw-print is all over Kill Bill). The visual flair of these Hollywood greats was certainly a huge influence on all of the film industry and on Tarantino as a filmmaker, but after the release of Reservoir Dogs, Hollywood becomes his.
Jackie Brown (1997) saw him take the blueprint of Pulp Fiction and transpose it to a fully fleshed out exploitation pic for a modern audience. This was Coffy with brains. The film wasn't as well received as his first two (despite being, in many ways, a far superior film than both) but set a standard for where he would take his movies over the next decade. Kill Bill (2003) represented a departure from the crime drama to genre mashing exploitation movies, taking in the revenge flick, the samurai flick, spaghetti western, Italian Giallo, anime and a hint of redneck horror - it was a dazzling mix of genres and styles focused in to one flowing, at times operatic, piece. The subsequent years saw the release of Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Iron Monkey and a host of other martial arts movies. Tarantino had made martial arts cool again, viable again.
Even his relative failures breed a succession of followers, both bad and good. Grindhouse was a critical and commercial flop yet has spawned a trend for violent riffs on exploitation cinema: Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun, Rampage. Even Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive owes a debt to both Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds. Death Proof for making a car chase flick cool again and Basterds for its Pretty in Pink inspired dress up scene, complete with soaring synth-laden soundtrack.
Twenty years after Reservoir Dogs and Tarantino is still setting the agenda for the coolest films in Hollywood, even though he doesn’t make them anymore.
Django Unchained will be released this coming December
Other recent stories you might like:
Click here for more stories in TV and Film
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook