Kill Bill volumes 1 & 2. Pulp Fiction. Reservoir Dogs. Natural Born Killers. What do these heralded and incredibly popular films have in common? Two things: edgy violence and Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino may be one of today’s most popular directors, and his career reads like a Cinderella story.
Tarantino was born in 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee. His father was gone before he was born, and at about age two, he and his mother moved to L.A. Tarantino looked to become just a statistic when he dropped out of high school as a freshmen. He moved from job to job before settling into a long-term job as a video store employee at Video Archives. An avid student of film, Quentin would give recommendations to customers and discuss films for hours with anybody who would listen. It was at Video Archives that Tarantino met Roger Avary who would be a partner for his first few films. The two were noticed by producer John Langley, who hired them to work on an exercise film.
Later the pair met Lawrence Bender who asked them to get a screenplay written. They finished ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and basically, the rest is history. Harvey Keitel, one of Martin Scorcese’s favorite actors, signed on to do the film, its budget was a measly 1.5 million dollars, and it has an enormous cult fan base. The script is intricate and surprising and is well executed by great performances from Keitel, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi. The film screened in 1992 at Sundance, but was pointedly snubbed. Despite this, Tarantino gained notice as a new kind of action-flick director.
Tarantino’s next film was actually ‘True Romance’, for which he only wrote the script. Another extremely violent movie, ‘True Romance’ became another cult favorite. He then wrote another screenplay, ‘Natural Born Killers’ which Oliver Stone directed and highjacked. Tarantino got story credit on the film and criticized Stone’s heavy-handedness.
Thus, Tarantino returned to directing. ‘Pulp Fiction’ was released in 1994, winning the Palm D’Or at Cannes that year. The cast list is quite a line-up. Sam Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken. Oh, and John Travolta in his career-reviving role. The film grossed somewhere in the range of $200 million worldwide, winnnig multiple awards.
Then Tarantino spent a few years acting and producing. The film company he had with Lawrence Bender expanded and they began working with Robert Rodriguez, a good friend of Tarantino’s. The company also acquired the movie ‘Chun King Express’ which seems to have informed much of Tarantino’s later work. Tarantino worked with Rodriguez on ‘From Dusk till Dawn’ which gets a little old but made good money in the box office.
After some more acting, Tarantino adapted an Elmore Leonard novel into Jacky Brown. Another cleverly scripted film that starred Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Receiving varying reviews and doing moderately well at the box office, ‘Jacky Brown’ was a segue into a quiet time for Tarantino.
However, the quiet time was pulverized by ‘Kill Bill’, starring Uma Thurman as a bride seeking vengeance. This film is an homage to Tarantino’s beloved kung fu movies and it is incredibly bloody. After putting together a monstrous film that weighed in at over three hours long, Tarantino and Miramax began discussing options. They decided to release the film as two volumes, with the first being the bloody one and the second being the character film. People loved it and hated it. But it kept Tarantino busy and on the radar.
Working as guest director on Sin City, ER and even CSI has kept Tarantino busy over the years. He has also produced and executive produced films like ‘Hostel’ which are increasingly violent and gory. Tarantino’s latest effort, unfortunately, was Grindhouse, a team effort with pal Robert Rodriguez. The movie is really two movies in one, but it didn’t matter at the box office. It has pretty much tanked.
Fans of Tarantino, like this author, want the man to get away from producing and self-promotion and back to slick scripts like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. We hope he does it soon.