Quentin and Me: A 30-Something Fan’s Relationship With a Filmmaker

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Films, filmmakers, and actors/actresses define eras of your life. It’s bound to happen when you’re a hardcore movie-watcher. Name any on-screen (or even off-screen) personality, and I can tell you when I became aware of their work. My first look at Quentin Tarantino happened in 1994, and my experience as a movie-watcher has never been the same. I’ve seen every one of his movies on the big screen ever since, with one exception. Much like Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino’s films have paced the last 18 years of my life. I remember exactly where I was when I saw each one.

Three times, I watched Christopher Walken talk about shoving this watch up his ass.

It started harmlessly enough. I was a freshman at Westminster College. Our local theater offered free admission to any movie so long as you had a Westminster student ID. In the fall of 1994, an indie movie named Pulp Fiction was taking the world by storm. It came to the Fulton theater, and I saw it with a date. She didn’t particularly care for the movie, but I thought it was one of the most unique things I’d ever seen in a theater. Everyone I talked to about it wanted to rip it apart and figure out the chronology, figure out what was in the brief case, talk about the awesome soundtrack, and discuss the more jarring scenes (“Bring out the Gimp!”). It was on everyone’s mind. So many people I knew were interested in it that I ended up seeing it two more times at the theater.

For whatever reason, I didn’t get a chance to see Jackie Brown when it was released in 1997. I guess that’s the difference in the level of work you have to do in college between your freshman and senior years. In fact, my next Tarantino-directed film didn’t happen until 2003. Throughout the summer of 2003, theaters were adorned with intriguing bright yellow posters. They featured Uma Thurman, menacingly holding a samurai sword while wearing a form-fitting motorcycle suit. It was for Kill Bill. The poster proclaimed that it was “the 4th film from Quentin Tarantino”, and that it was for “Volume 1″. My friend who met Kevin Meaney had to explain to me that there were going to be two parts of the film. Those months prior to the release were almost excruciating- call it effective marketing. And then again, the year in between volumes 1 and 2 was excruciating- call it effective filmmaking in volume one. Needless to say, I was not disappointed with either volume. The films were dripping with coolness and quotability. And for neophytes like me (at the time, anyway), it gave me an introduction to both samurai and kung fu. Hell, it even gave me a tiny introduction into animé. From that point on, I was hooked. Whatever Tarantino made, I was going to watch it.

By 2006, I had become a regular at a bar that showed movies once a week. The guy who chose the movies had great taste. One week, he insisted I should show up. As it turned out, the movie of the week- the reason he insisted I show up- was True Romance (1993). Admittedly, Tarantino had not directed it, but he had written it. His fingerprints were all over it. There were no expectations going in, and it wound up being a real treat.

Over the next three years, before Inglourious Basterds came out, I filled in the cracks in my Tarantino viewing experience. I finally got around to Jackie Brown. Like so many other Tarantino films, it’s forever linked to a song in my head. Viewers don’t even have to go far to find it in the movie. It’s right in the opening credits.

I’d seen Reservoir Dogs (1992) Johnny Cash-style- one piece at a time, over several years. I knew every single nook and cranny of that movie but I had never sat down and watched it from start to finish. This, despite being able to quote it or wax poetic about key scenes. I finally gave it a proper viewing in 2007. Naturally, I loved it. It was easy to see how it had been a hallmark of 90s indie cinema.

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Do not leave this anywhere near one of my friends.

Allow me to digress for a moment. The funny thing about Reservoir Dogs is that it always makes me think of something that’s almost completely unrelated to the movie. When I was in college, circa 1996, there was a particularly annoying guy who lived down the hall from me. He constantly played the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. He didn’t even have the courtesy to play the whole thing. He would only play “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealer’s Wheel. It was beyond obnoxious. And one day, one of my friends heroically sneaked into Annoying Guy’s room, snagged the soundtrack, split it in half, and tossed it in the trash. He may or may not have pissed on it before throwing it away, but my memory is hazy. It was a minor, yet major, victory that day. Annoying Guy was no longer able to harass us with the song ever again, since he never replaced the disc. That’s what I’ll always remember about Reservoir Dogs.

Some time in 2004, the Guy Who Met Kevin Meaney turned me on to the Hollywood Stock Exchange. One of the very first stocks I bought was something titled “Untitled Quentin Tarantino World War II Project”. Inglourious Basterds (2009) was a long time coming. By the time it was released, my viewing priorities had changed drastically. For the first time ever, I was wise to QT’s orgy of pop culture references beforehand. It was a blast counting them all out- Leni Reifenstahl pictures, Le Corbeau, The Dirty Dozen, even Cinderella and The Sound of Music. What made this viewing so astounding was that it was recommended by my parents, who no doubt saw it because it was a Brad Pitt movie. I warned them, “Are you sure you want to see that? It’s Tarantino.” As it turns out, they thought it was great. It’s not often that I’ve heard my dad laugh as much as he did at that movie. It was music to my ears. Of course, that’s probably a sign that QT wasn’t as edgy as he had once been. All the same, finding out that my almost-70-year-old parents were cool enough to enjoy a Tarantino movie made me extremely happy. And I liked it so much that I saw it again in the theater, this time with my documentarian friend at the Moolah here in St. Louis.

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Django, past and present

That brings me to Django Unchained, a movie I’ve paid to see twice in the last week. I’ve seen it with two sets of friends, and the repeated discussion process of “Remember when…” and “How cool was it when…” has begun in earnest. I’ve been farming out informative Django links to those friends for a week now. There are evil men in this movie, and they are made to suffer excruciating, vengeful deaths. None of the oppressors gets out alive, all of their justice meted out by a spaghetti western hero for a new generation.

Along the way, Tarantino has grown as a filmmaker. He’s no longer a restless youth, raging against movie history and screaming “LOOK AT WHAT I CAN DO!” He’s mastering his craft, making legitimate genre movies without showing off. If there’s pastiche, it’s not to the detriment of the rest of the film, as was the case with 2007′s  Death Proof (let’s not talk about Death Proof)

Here’s to at least 18 more years of Tarantino films.


22 Comments

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22 responses to “Quentin and Me: A 30-Something Fan’s Relationship With a Filmmaker

  1. After “Pulp Fiction” was released on Laser Disc, that’s right. Laser Disc…my friend, Elmer and I tasked ourselves with trying to put the film in perfect chronological order. As I recall, we were able to do it with the exception of one chapter. I don’t know which one though. It’s been awhile.

  2. It’ll be a sad day when he retires. He’s one of a kind.

    • I just saw in an interview where he’s talking about retiring already. Not any time soon, really. Just that he doesn’t want to be the guy who stays around for one film too long.

  3. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    Let me defend Death Proof. On its own, it is a tribute to a B movie sub-genre of revenge flicks; however its intended viewing was as part of Grindhouse. Having seen Grindhouse in the theatre, it was one of the most unique movie-going experiences I have ever had. It started out with some truly hilarious fake previews (Machete, for instance). Next came Planet Terror directed by Robert Rodriguez followed by fake commercials for some crappy Mexican restaurant in 1970s Austin, Texas. Finally, there was Death Proof. All of that together was great. Unfortunately, the movies were released separately. In this case, the sum is greater than the parts. I hope they will one day release Grindhouse as a whole uninterupted, completely unique moviegoing experience.

    • I’m sure that would’ve helped- seeing it on the big screen. Those fake movie trailers are almost legendary now. Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun have both become feature-length movies by now. The “Don’t!” trailer from Edgar Wright is an AWESOME homage to Hammer. And wasn’t there some kind of Thanksgiving horror trailer?

  4. The guy who met Kevin Meany

    To clarify, when I said “released”, I meant on DVD or Bluray.

  5. mettemk

    My first Tarantino was Inglorious Basterds two years ago, and I knew nothing about him back then… well, he’s one of my favourite directors now.

  6. Dan

    John, I’m strangely indifferent to Django for some weird reason, and I’ve pretty much enjoyed all of Tarantino’s movies. Jackie Brown is my favorite, and I’ve watched it a bunch of times. I’ll be seeing Django in the next few weeks for sure, but I can’t figure out why I’m not as enthused as I should be. From what I’ve heard, it’s definitely up to his high standards.

    On a totally random note, I lived next to two guys in my freshman year at Mizzou in 1994 who played Come on Eileen at full blast at 4 p.m. every day. They usually followed it with Ice Ice Baby. The people you meet in the dorms…

    • The guy who met Kevin Meany

      Okay…it was me who broke the goddamn Reservoir Dogs CD. I would rather play nude Twister with Honey Boo Boo’s mother than listen to “Stuck in the Middle with You” again.

    • I’d love to rank Django but it’s almost impossible to rank QT movies. The best I can do is this- I have a top tier (Basterds and Pulp Fiction), a second tier of REALLY good movies that are just a tick below the first two (Django’s in there, Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, and Jackie Brown)… and then there’s Death Proof, which I really disliked.

      I’d murder someone for playing Ice Ice Baby or Come On, Eileen every day, no matter what time of day.

  7. I was very excited to see Django the other day, and left feeling like something had been very wrong with the movie. Turns out it was the first movie he’d done without his longtime editor, Sally Menke, who died in a heat wave two years ago. The performances, the action, the tone were all great – but it needed her. I’m wondering if he’ll find another who can do the same thing – help him clarify his complicated, superintelligent vision.

    • Interesting. I had no idea about Sally Menke. Stuff like that can make a huge difference. Can you imagine Scorsese making movies without Thelma Schoonmaker? Spielberg without a John Williams score?

  8. Reading about you seeing Pulp Fiction in theaters when it first came out if making me very jealous. My parents love the movie and I was pretty young when I would watch it in parts with them so by the time I was of age to really appreciate it I had already seen it dissected over time so I think that may have minimized the first time watch impact for me. Nonetheless it is definitely one of my favorite movies. Over my teen years until now in my early 20′s I have watched all of his films a ton and love them all, even Death Proof! This past year I was able to catch Pulp Fiction on 35mm film and Reservoir Dogs in theaters, and Django Unchained of course. He’s undoubtedly my favorite director. I enjoyed reading through your own QT film journey despite being a bit envious.

    • I missed chances to see both Pulp and Reservoir Dogs again this past year on the big screen (TWICE with Pulp Fiction) and was massively disappointed. So I’m really jealous.

      For what it’s worth, Jess, your generation will have your own directors that you can attach yourself to like this. I’ve done this article for QT and Wes Anderson, and I may do it again for Edgar Wright when The World’s End comes out. But truthfully, Wright’s one of yours. Or at least, he’s smack in the middle of your generation and mine.

      • Very recognizable! I too I saw Pulp Fiction in the theatre back in 1994, I was 17 and also with a date. I remember being blown away. Still to the present day, whenever I run into it changing channels on TV, I can’t help myself but watching it till the end. :-)

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