The man renowned for directing a scene so shockingly bloody that it was filmed in black and white to skirt an NC-17 rating has some fascinating insights into the portrayal of violence in cinema.
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In an hourlong conversation at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino delved into various facets of his book, “Cinema Speculation,” and tantalized the audience with tidbits about his eagerly awaited 10th and final cinematic creation, tentatively titled “The Movie Critic.” As a fervent aficionado of grind-house cinema, Tarantino passionately discussed the role of violence in his own oeuvre and in timeless classics such as John Flynn’s “Rolling Thunder” and Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”
On John Flynn’s “Rolling Thunder”
“Rolling Thunder” was more than just another film for Tarantino; it was the cinematic work that kindled his aspirations as a film critic. “It was the movie that made me start taking myself seriously as a film critic,” Tarantino reminisced.
While he wasn’t churning out movie reviews at that time, the experience of watching “Rolling Thunder” allowed him to discern its subtleties and form cogent opinions. Tarantino fielded questions about why he believed Paul Schrader’s screenplay for “Rolling Thunder” should have culminated with even more violence.
“Well, I like violent movies,” he confessed. Yet, Tarantino was discerning; he sought violence in cinema to serve a purpose, not mere gratuitous brutality.
Explaining Flynn’s direction, Tarantino observed, “Paul Schrader doesn’t recognize this movie any more than I recognize Oliver Stone’s version of ‘Natural Born Killers.'” He discerned a drop in the revenge element of the screenplay when Flynn omitted a massive act of retaliatory bloodshed, thus compromising the characters’ descent into madness.
“Some people really like that movie, and God bless ’em. Johnny Cash really liked that ‘Natural Born Killers.’ I bumped into him once in an elevator, and he goes, ‘Hey, me and June really love that ‘Natural Born Killers.’ And I wasn’t gonna tell him he was wrong!”
On Don Siegel’s “Dirty Harry”
When “Dirty Harry” was released in 1971, it sparked controversy due to its portrayal of police brutality within the context of Vietnam War protests. Don Siegel, the film’s director, had intended to jolt audiences rather than convey a political message.
Tarantino voiced his preference, declaring, “I’m more on the side of electrifying audiences, frankly.” In contrast, he integrates political elements into his films because, as he stated, “I write my own material, so if there’s political aspects to it in there, I put ’em in there.”
On Limits of Violence in Film
While Tarantino possesses an ardent affection for violent films, there are lines he won’t cross. He shared his aversion to the depiction of animal cruelty on screen. “I have a big thing about killing animals in movies. That’s a bridge I can’t cross,” Tarantino affirmed. He extended this concern to insects, emphasizing that he wouldn’t pay to witness actual death on screen. He believes that the realm of cinema is a space for imagination and play, where violence remains make-believe.
“Almost always, it’s not just the violence that I have a problem with,” he noted. “There’s usually an incompetence factor in there.”
On Fixing Reality with Revenge
Tarantino’s films often rewrite history by empowering marginalized characters to exact violent revenge, as evident in “Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained,” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Sometimes, this theme emerged by happenstance, while at other times, it was a deliberate narrative choice.
He drew a parallel to Akira Kurosawa’s approach, describing how the legendary director would write himself into a narrative corner and task his writers with finding an escape. In the case of “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino never initially planned to conclude with the demise of the Nazis. However, when confronted with a creative impasse, he decided, “Just fucking kill him. Wait, can I do that? Well yeah, it’s my story.”
With regard to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Tarantino confessed, “I wrote that to save Sharon and kill those motherfuckers.”
On His Final Film
Despite his verbosity as a cinephile, Tarantino remained tight-lipped about his forthcoming project. When pressed for details about his final film, he cryptically stated, “That’s a long story, I can’t tell you guys until you see the movie.”
He tantalizingly contemplated delivering character monologues but hesitated due to the presence of numerous video cameras. “You just have to wait and see,” he concluded.
Watch the entire riveting conversation below.