Critics of iconic director Quentin Tarantino have often criticised his work as being overly bloody and violent, cheap, and crass. Here’s why rather than that being a bad thing, that’s exactly why Tarantino has become so iconic, and, why it may mean history paints him as the voice in 20th century American cinema.
When you think of great American icons in music, who do you think of? Elvis? Springsteen? MJ? And what made them all so popular and so, iconic? The first thing that might come to mind probably isn’t their trashiness. But it could be the answer.
Similarly with Springsteen, he writes anthems about the American everyman. They’re tales of mythology aligned with a trashy 80s uptempo beat. And that’s what made him both accessible and iconic. I’m an avid fans of both musicians, and when I call them trashy, I don’t mean it in a negative way. I’m saying they all made trashy look good.
America has no history. It was created about 200 years ago. And therefore it’s culture is extremely new. However, in it’s short time, America has become extremely rich and extremely powerful. As such a cultural vacuum emerged in American society, a vacuum filled up with cheap, consumerist, disposable films, music, fashion, products, goods and services . A culture of fast food, gas guzzling trucks, Disney World and theme parks. All a heck of a lot of fun, and all unbelievably disposable. This was the first time culture was accessible to the masses, and as such the focus became ‘stack em’ high, sell em’ cheap’. It could be argued that the unchartered success of the aforementioned singers can be at least partially due to the fact that all tapped into this trashy culture, but their iconography comes from the fact they immortalised it.
There are very, very few great directors who have done this for American cinema. Great American directors such as Kubrick, Malick and even Scorsese have not made films that include famous features of American culture such as fast food, theme parks and disposable goods. This is ironic given the fact that the 20th century will probably be more infamous for it’s era of film, than for the music it released. Although Spielberg does have to be given some credit for his film’s mirroring and immortalising 20th century American culture, I’d argue no one has done it better, or at least more consistently than Tarantino.
The B movie director making A class movies.
One of the most telling aspects of American 20th century cinema has been it’s B movie/ exploitation movie genre’s. These movies have often very much mirrored the times they were in, relying on sex and violence to push the narrative forward. All these themes have been monumentally fashionable in America. However, the very thing that makes them representative of America is what has made them so forgettable. They were too much films of the times, and the times move on quickly, leaving most of these films behind with them. The fact that they were so disposable meant they could never be distinguished as great art. Elvis and Springsteen managed to infuse the disposable tone of American culture, with immortal stories of love, loss and the human spirit. No movie director was really able to do this in the B movie genre, until Tarantino came around.
Tarantino takes these forgotten B movie, exploitation films and immortalises them, by giving them more universalistic themes. Just like Springsteen adds deep and melancholy lyrics to a backdrop of cheap, up-beat melodies, Tarantino explores themes of mortality, humanity, life and death with characters set in cheap, disposable and notoriously American settings. Tarantino has never swayed from this formula.
So all criticisms people may have of Tarantino, don’t worry he’s doing it on purpose. They are cheap, bloody and overly sexed up to honour their B movie predecessors. Tarantino is simply immortalising these otherwise forgettable movies so that in centuries and millennia to come, viewers can still get a real insight into what American culture during the 20th century was really like. Cheap, disposable, trashy, yet oh so addictive, epic, and grounded.