PICKIN' ON FILM: Tarantino captures audience through unique approach

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When discussing the all time greatest directors, one thinks of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Woody Allen.

Surprisingly enough, one was born a few hours away in Knoxville.

Although raised in Los Angeles, Quentin Tarantino is truly a Tennessee native. He even goes so far as to mention it in just about all of his films.

In "Pulp Fiction," a critical plot of the movie revolves around a watch bought at a general store in Knoxville. In Jackie Brown, Johnny Cash’s song "Tennessee Stud" is played before Samuel L. Jackson attempts a murder, and Oak Ridge is mentioned in "Kill Bill." Brad Pitt’s character in "Inglorious Basterds" hails from the Smoky Mountains.

An interesting difference between Tarantino and his celebrated contemporaries is that, unlike those I mentioned before, he never went to film school. In fact, he never finished any form of formal education after the age of 15.

Once asked about if he had spent any time in film school and he famously quipped, “I didn’t go to film school. I went to film.”

Working at a movie rental store called Video Archives, he obsessively watched every film he could, a process that allowed him to understand the narrative threads of every major genre. He also paid attention to his customer’s likes and dislikes, giving himself an almost uncanny sense of what people want to see in a film.

His career took off in the late 1990s, when he wrote a screenplay that would become the basis for Tony Scott’s 1993 film "True Romance." He also penned the script for Oliver Stone’s manic "Natural Born Killers," released the next year.

In 1992, while Scott was working on adapting Tarantino’s screenplay and Stone was in pre-production for "Killers," Quentin was writing, directing, and producing his first feature film, "Reservoir Dogs."

Upon its release at Sundance, the brutally violent story of a diamond heist that went awry gained him instant notoriety on a global scale. He came out onto the scene in the fashion of Orson Welles, by blowing the world away with his first effort at a film.

For Tarantino, success would not be a one-off effort.

His next and most quintessential film, "Pulp Fiction," won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Screenplay just two short years later. Audiences are still dazzled by the incredible dialogue, full of humor in the face of violence and other, more sinister plotlines.

Even though the man developed new forms of filmmaking, he learned how to employ tricks from the studio system. We all wonder what is in that glowing suitcase in "Pulp Fiction."

Tarantino employed a lesson learned from Hitchcock in said case. It’s called a MacGuffin, a plot device designed to capture attention while never telling the viewer what it is.     

Those tricks – being both his own and those of old Hollywood – expose a fascinating quality and show his ability to capture the essence of the genres in which he dabbles.

He understands making crime movies, judging from his first two films, but his later films truly drive the point home.

Tarantino has an uncanny ability to mold character actors into stars and bring past ones back into the limelight.

He kickstarted Samuel L. Jackson’s career, brought John Travolta back into the big picture in "Pulp Fiction," and resurrected the work of Pam Grier and David Carradine. He represents the best in both old and new films.

"Jackie Brown," a film about a flight attendant who gets caught up in a chess match between a large sum of cash, an evil gunrunner and the federal agents who are out to catch him, is a dead-on homage to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s.

The "Kill Bill" movies showed that he had developed a newer form of filmmaking that catered to his own taste in movies.

The story of a female assassin out for revenge, placed genre on top of genre and results in a Kung Fu film in the vein of a revenge story, which is only dramatically heightened by the anger of a woman, scorned enough to kill about 100 people on screen.

Originally made to be released as one four-hour feature was released as two films over a three-month period.

His latest release, "Inglorious Basterds," continued blending genres.

Outright it is a war film about a group of Jewish soldiers who scalp their Nazi enemies and an SS Officer who is tracking down Jews in hiding, but if you pay attention to how it is broken up with music from old Western films, including a classic stand off scene worthy of John Wayne, and title cards lending themselves to the days of silent film.     

It just goes to show that great movies are made from those who have studied their predecessors and are not afraid to push the envelope to make their twisted ideas capture the imagination of the ordinary moviegoer.
Tagged under  Entertainment, John Bragg III, Media History, Movie, Pickin' On Film, Quentin Tarantino, Voices

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