“Storytelling has become a lost art. There is no storytelling, there’s just situations. Very rarely are you told a story.” – Quentin Tarantino
During the 1950s, Francois Truffaut revolutionarily opposed and protested against the established fixated role of a director in French cinema and actively encouraged an increase of freedom and creativity from a directorial standpoint. In his passionate article A Certain Tendency of French Cinema, Truffaut criticised filmmakers from lacking any sense of vision or ‘psychological realism’ and effectively kickstarted a theory that has become extremely well known to film as the ‘Auteur‘ theory, auteur being the French translation for ‘author’. Simply put, as Pramaggiore and Wallis excellently puts it, “the term implies the director is the primary creative source and his films express his distinctive vision of the world.” (Pramaggiore & Wallis, 2011: 410)
So to what extent can this theory be applied to the works of Quentin Tarantino? Well, in order for a director to be appropriately labelled as an auteur, there must be consistencies in regards to certain styles and themes across multiple of their films. Therefore, Quentin Tarantino is a prime example of this theory, with most of his films using similar conventions that remain consistent through his works. According to Edwin Page,
“When you go to see a Tarantino film you go to the cinema knowing to expect a degree of violence, a good dose of humour and an injection of adrenaline-fuelled action, all carried out by characters you can’t help but be interested in.’ (Page, 2005: 1-2).
He captures an excellent essence of what Tarantino provides in his films, all of which focus on violence, humour, fast-paced action and intricate character development, and all of these motifs go hand in hand to solidify Tarantino’s reputation as an auteur.
There are undeniably a catalogue of recurring consistencies and motifs throughout Tarantino’s respectable filmography. For instance, a variety of Tarantino’s films often oppose the traditional Hollywood narrative, and instead, uses an unconventional storytelling device in his films. For example, Pulp Fiction is non-linear in a sense that it is an accumulation of storylines moulded together from across different times in the narrative, and also Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Reservoir Dogs are separated into chapters. Tarantino is consequently allowing audiences to empathise with his apparent disagreement with conventional narrative structures in the most stylistic and aesthetically pleasing way possible.
Furthermore, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol.1 and Reservoir Dogs also share another key theme in these Tarantino’s films: ambiguity. In each of these three titles, there is a sense of the unknown, which is seemingly used to keep audiences intrigued to the narrative. To clarify, in Pulp Fiction audiences are unaware of the contents within the golden-glared briefcase, in Kill Bill Vol. 1 the character of Bill is never shown on-screen, and finally in Reservoir Dogs most of the names of the characters are never said aloud; such as Mr. Blue and Mr. Pink. It is also noteworthy to mention that Tarantino’s signature on the film industry can be seen through his personal relationships with recurring cast members. Samuel L. Jackson stars in Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained (2012), The Hateful Eight (2015), and Jackie Brown, Tim Roth stars in both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, and also, Harvey Keitel stars in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). As a result of casting the same actors, and that is also including the likes of Uma Thurman and Michael Madsen who are also repeatedly cast, Tarantino has helped to establish consistencies across most of his films, which allow audiences to identify his works easily.
The most significant recurring ideologies across Tarantino’s films, however, are his love and obsession to popular culture – the main reason why he is in fact an auteur. In all of his films, there are endless references and homages to the popular culture of the everyday world, from music, movies, radio and television. In Reservoir Dogs, the very opening scene is filled with references to 1980s music, including Madonna, when Mr. Brown says “Let me tell you what ‘Like A Virgin is about. It’s about a girl who digs big dicks.” Similarly, in Pulp Fiction, there’s an entire conversation between Jules and Vincent about the marijuana laws in Amsterdam and the differences between fast food restaurants in Europe and America. Kill Bill Vol. 1 pays homage to the Kung-Fu movies Tarantino enjoyed throughout his childhood, such as the yellow and black suit that the Bride wears; very similar to the one Bruce Lee is famous for wearing. What is significant, however, is the lack of references to popular culture in Jackie Brown. According to Page, “Jackie Brown doesn’t contain other references on the whole…because the film is based on a novel.” (Page, 2005: 184). This therefore shows how Tarantino both respects and appreciates the world of literature, which is a substantial influence for the film and consequently mirrors his visionary perspective on popular culture. These references to pop culture are also beneficial to those who watch Tarantino’s films, as by continually mentioning real life situations and forms of media, Tarantino is consequently inviting the audience to engage with his films, thus making them feel more authentic to the viewers.
Finally, Tarantino’s visionary perspective on the media can be seen through his seemingly passionate dislike for product placement in film and television. In order to combat this marketing technique, Tarantino fabricated his own brands in which he incorporates into his films, such as ‘Red Apple Cigarettes’, ‘Frute Brute cereal’ and ‘Big Kahuna Burger’. These brand creations are used in all of his films, which help to demonstrate how much Tarantino opposes media platforms, especially film, using their popularity to make money instead of meaningful art.
Although there are plenty of examples in which support the notion that Tarantino is a direct result from Truffaut’s ideas, there are still some questions raised regarding his uniqueness as a director. There’s no denying that previous filmmakers before him influenced his work, which sparks controversy about whether his films are truly his own and not just revivals of works created before his own. For example, the Squad included in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was, in fact, inspired by a film called The Doll Squad (1973), another film based on an elite group of female assassins. Moreover, the slow-motion scene in Reservoir Dogs where the thieves walk from the restaurant was heavily influenced by a similar scene in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), and as mentioned above, Jackie Brown was directly influenced by Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch. Although these influences help to assert Tarantino as a visionary director who thoroughly enjoys film and literature, it could also be suggested that Tarantino overly-relies on previous forms of works to create his own; thus once again questioning his stand-point as a visionary auteur.
Although there is a catalogue of benefits to the auteur theory, and in turn, auteur directors, there are also a couple of implications that accompany them. Warren Buckland questions, “Is it legitimate to concentrate on the director as the primary creator of a film?” (Buckland, 2003: 74). This raises a very important question here, a question that must be considered when giving all the credit to only the director. Yes, it’s very possible that Quentin Tarantino deserves most of the praise he gets, but is it fair to discredit Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs co-writer Roger Avery and Kill Bill Vol. 1, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Jackie Brown chief-editor Sally Menke’s contribution to each of these films? If we did so, we would be narrow-minded in our approach to appreciating each of Tarantino’s films, as the filmmaking process is not entirely consistent of the director’s input. If anything, this completely undermines and under-appreciates the hard work from the writers, cinematographers, casting directors, producers and the endless other staff that work tirelessly to produce good content.
So, in summary, can Quentin Tarantino effectively be an example of the auteur theory? Well, as mentioned above, in order to be referred as an auteur, multiple films must bear the unique signature from the same director, albeit recurring themes, aesthetics, cast members, locations, and motifs. Tarantino successfully checks all of these boxes, by repeatedly demonstrating his personal likes and dislikes through his own films, from his love for popular culture to his antipathy towards product placement and the traditional Hollywood narrative that most films conform to. However, it would be narrow-minded to draw this conclusion without keeping in mind that Tarantino is often influenced by many other forms of media, and also the world around him. Despite this, his love and passion for popular culture is the main reason that his films stand out from the crowd, a feature that audiences appreciate. Because of this, Quentin Tarantino is, and always will be, a visionary director whose works will be favoured and talked about for many years to come.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or tweet me at @MovieDecode! I’d love to hear your suggestions.
Buckland, W. (2003). Film Studies. London: Teach Yourself.
Leonard, E. (1992). Rum Punch. New York: Dell Publishing.
Page, E. (2005). Quintessential Tarantino. London: Marion Boyars Publishers.
Pramaggiore, M. & Wallis, T. (2011). Film: A Critical Introduction. 3rd ed.
London: Laurence King Publishing.
Truffaut, F. (1954). ‘A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema’, in Cahiers du Cinéma. Retrieved March 25th, 2016, from http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/34/14051533/1405153334.pdf