Today is the birthday (1963) of Quentin Jerome Tarantino, film director, screenwriter, cinematographer, producer, and actor. His films are characterized by non-linear storylines, satirical subject matter, and an artistic glorification of violence, as well as features of neo-noir film and spaghetti Westerns.
Tarantino began his career as an independent filmmaker with the release of Reservoir Dogs in 1992; regarded as a classic and cult hit, it was called the “Greatest Independent Film of All Time” by Empire. Its popularity was boosted by the release in 1994 of his second film, Pulp Fiction, a neo-noir crime film that became a major critical and commercial success.
In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino maintained the aesthetic glorification of violence, for which he is known, as well as his non-linear storylines. Tarantino received an Academy Award in the Best Writing (Original Screenplay) category, which he shared with Roger Avary. He also received a nomination in the Best Director category. The film received another five nominations, including for Best Picture. Tarantino also won the Palme d’Or for the film at the Cannes Film Festival. The film has grossed over $200 million and was met with outstanding reviews.
Paying homage to the blaxploitation films of the 1970’s, Tarantino released Jackie Brown in 1997, an adaptation of the novel Rum Punch.
Kill Bill, a highly stylized “revenge flick” in the cinematic traditions of Japanese martial arts, spaghetti westerns and Italian horror, followed six years later, and was released as two films. It was originally set for a single theatrical release, but its 4-hour plus running time prompted Tarantino to divide it into two movies. Vol. 1 was released in late 2003 and Vol. 2 was released in 2004. It was based on a character called The Bride and a plot that he and Kill Bill ’s lead actress Uma Thurman had developed during the making of Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino directed Death Proof (2007) as part of a double feature with friend Robert Rodriguez, under the collective title Grindhouse. His long-postponed Inglourious Basterds, which tells the fictional alternate history story of two plots to assassinate Nazi Germany’s political leadership, was released in 2009 to positive reviews.
His most recent work is 2012’s critically acclaimed Django Unchained, a western film set in the antebellum era of the Deep South. It became the highest-grossing film of his career so far, making over $425 million at the box office.
Tarantino has used his Hollywood power to give smaller and foreign films more attention than they might have received otherwise. These films are usually labeled “Presented by Quentin Tarantino” or “Quentin Tarantino Presents”. The first of these productions was in 2001 with the Hong Kong martial arts film Iron Monkey, which made over $14 million in the United States, seven times its budget. In 2004 he brought the Chinese martial arts film Hero to the U.S. It ended up having a No. 1 opening at the box office and making $53.5 million. In 2006, the latest “Quentin Tarantino presents” production, Hostel, opened at No. 1 at the box office with a $20.1 million opening weekend, good for 8th all time in January. He presented 2006’s The Protector, and is a producer of the 2007 film Hostel: Part II. In 2008 he produced the Larry Bishop movie Hell Ride, a revenge biker film.
Tarantino has been romantically linked with American actress Mira Sorvino, directors Allison Anders, and Sofia Coppola, actress Julie Dreyfus, and comedienne Margaret Cho. There have been rumors about his relationship with Uma Thurman, whom he has referred to as his “muse.” However, Tarantino has stressed that their relationship is strictly platonic. Tarantino has also said, “I’m not saying that I’ll never get married or have a kid before I’m 60. But I’ve made a choice, so far, to go on this road alone. Because this is my time to make movies.”
Tarantino has said that he plans to retire from filmmaking when he is 60, in order to focus on writing novels and film literature. He is skeptical of the film industry going digital, saying, “If it actually gets to the place where you can’t show 35 mm film in theatres anymore and everything is digital projection, I won’t even make it to 60.” He has then stated that he has a plan, although “not etched in stone”, to retire after making his tenth movie: “If I get to the 10th, do a good job and don’t screw it up, well that sounds like a good way to end the old career.”
On February 18, 2010, it was announced that Tarantino had bought the New Beverly Cinema. Tarantino has allowed the current owners to continue operating the theater, but he will be making programming suggestions from time to time. He was quoted as saying: “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Beverly will be there, showing films shot on 35mm.”
In the 2012 Sight & Sound directors’ poll, Tarantino listed his top 12 films: Apocalypse Now, The Bad News Bears, Carrie, Dazed and Confused, The Great Escape, His Girl Friday, Jaws, Pretty Maids All in a Row, Rolling Thunder, Sorcerer, Taxi Driver and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with the last being his favorite. In 2009, he named Kinji Fukasaku’s violent action film Battle Royale as his favorite film released since he became a director in 1992. He is also a fan of the 1981 film Blow Out directed by Brian De Palma, so much so that he used the main star of the film, John Travolta, in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino praised Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto, saying, “I think it’s a masterpiece. It was perhaps the best film of that year.” In August 2007, while teaching in a four-hour film course during the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival in Manila, Tarantino cited Filipino directors Cirio Santiago, Eddie Romero and Gerardo de León as personal icons from the 1970s. He referred to De Leon’s “soul-shattering, life-extinguishing” movies on vampires and female bondage, citing in particular Women in Cages; “It is just harsh, harsh, harsh”, he said, and described the final shot as one of “devastating despair.” Upon his arrival in the Philippines, Tarantino was quoted in the local newspaper as saying, “I’m a big fan of RP [Republic of the Philippines] cinema.”
Tarantino often uses graphic violence that has proven seductive to audiences, and he has been harshly criticized for his use of gore and blood in an entrancing yet simultaneously repulsive way. His films have been staunchly criticized and scorned for their use of violence, blood and action as a “colour” within cinema, and rebuked for allegedly using human suffering as a punch line.
According to Tarantino, a hallmark of all his movies is that there is a different sense of humor in each one, which gets the audience to laugh at things that are not funny. However, he insists that his films are dramas, not comedies. Michael Winner, while appearing on an episode of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, a British ITV production, stated that Quentin Tarantino was a “big fan” of his own film Death Wish.
Tarantino often manipulates the use of commodities in order to propel plot development or to present an intriguing juxtaposition that ultimately enhances his notorious combination of humor and violence, equating a branded genre with branded consumption. He often pairs bizarre props with an equally bizarre scene, in which the prop itself develops into something of higher substance. Likewise, he often favors particular brand names of his own creation to make promotional appearances. The typical brands he uses within his films are “Acuña Boys Tex-Mex Food”, “Big Kahuna Burger”, “G.O. Juice”, “Jack Rabbit Slim’s”, “K-Billy”, “Red Apple cigarettes”, “Tenku Brand Beer” and “Teriyaki Donut.”
On the biopic genre, Tarantino has said that he has “no respect” for biopics, saying that they “are just big excuses for actors to win Oscars. … Even the most interesting person – if you are telling their life from beginning to end, it’s going to be a fucking boring movie.” However, in an interview with Charlie Rose, he said:
There is one story that I could be interested in, but it would probably be one of the last movies I [ever make] … My favorite hero in American history is John Brown. He’s my favorite American who ever lived. He basically single-handedly started the road to end slavery and … he killed people to do it. He decided, ‘If we start spilling white blood, then they’re going to start getting the idea.’
Tarantino does not believe that violence in movies inspires acts of violence in real life. In an interview after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, he expressed “annoyance” at the suggestion that there is a link between the two, saying, “I think it’s disrespectful to [the] memory of those who died to talk about movies. … Obviously the issue [here] is gun control and mental health.” When asked in 2013 by Britain’s Channel 4 News reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, “Why are you so sure that there’s no link between enjoying movie violence and enjoying real violence?” Tarantino responded by saying, “I have explained [my view on this] many times over the last 20 years, I just refuse to repeat myself over and over again.”
Spike Lee questioned Tarantino’s use of racial epithets in his films, particularly the word “nigger”. In a Variety interview discussing Jackie Brown, Lee said, “I’m not against the word…And some people speak that way. But Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made–an honorary black man?” Tarantino responded on Charlie Rose by stating:
As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are, all right? And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white, but the Hughes brothers can do that because they’re black, that is racist. That is the heart of racism, all right. And I do not accept that … That is how a segment of the black community that lives in Compton, lives in Inglewood, where Jackie Brown takes place, that lives in Carson, that is how they talk. I’m telling the truth. It would not be questioned if I was black, and I resent the question because I’m white. I have the right to tell the truth. I do not have the right to lie.
Django Unchained was the subject of controversy because of its use of racial epithets and depiction of slavery. Many reviewers have defended the use of the language by pointing out the historic context of race and slavery in America. Spike Lee, in an interview with Vibe magazine said that he would not see the film, explaining, “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.” Lee later tweeted, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times, journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan noted the difference between Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Django Unchained: “It is an institution whose horrors need no exaggerating, yet Django does exactly that, either to enlighten or entertain. A white director slinging around the n-word in a homage to ’70s blaxploitation à la Jackie Brown is one thing, but the same director turning the savageness of slavery into pulp fiction is quite another.”
For today’s recipe I have chosen Sonofabitch stew, a favorite beef stew dish among cowboys of the America West. I chose it for a number of reasons. First, it evokes the spaghetti Western culture; second, the ingredients and title seem suitably Tarantino-esque. Various recipes exist, and some sources say its ingredients may vary according to whatever is on hand. Most recipes involve meat and offal from a calf, though, making sonofabitch stew something of a luxury item on the trail. Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food specifies meats and organs from a freshly killed unweaned calf, including the brain, heart, liver, sweetbreads, tongue, pieces of tenderloin, and an item called the “marrow gut” and lots of Louisiana hot sauce.
This last item, the “marrow gut”, was a key ingredient. Davidson quotes Ramon Adam’s 1952 Come An’ Get It: The Story of the Old Cowboy Cook, which reports that this is a tube, between two of the calf’s stomachs, filled with a substance resembling marrow, deemed edible only while the calf is young and still feeding on milk. This marrow-like substance was included in the stew and, according to Adams, was “what gave the stew such a delicious flavor”. Davidson says this “marrow gut” probably was the passage leading to the abomasum as well as the abomasum itself (said to have a “distinctive flavor of rennin-curdled milk”). The stew might also contain seasonings and sometimes onion.
On the trail the stew was cooked in a distinctive cast iron Dutch oven with a sunken lid that could hold hot coals so that the contents were surrounded by heat.
2 lbs of lean beef
Half a calf heart
1 ½ slb of calf liver
1 set sweetbreads
1 set of brains
1 set of marrow gut
Salt, pepper to taste
Louisiana hot sauce
Cut the beef, liver, and heart into bite-sized chunks. Lightly brown them in a Dutch oven. Slice the marrow gut into rings and add to the pot. Cover with water and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Chop sweetbreads and brains into small pieces and add to stew. Simmer another hour.
For variety you can add chopped onions to the meat when browning and/or potatoes with the meats at the end. Paprika can be used as a flavoring.