Quentin Tarantino is the director who shook up 1990s American cinema, defined an era and re-established the notion of âcool movies.â
A former video store clerk, he lived, breathed and dreamed movies. The guy is a walking talking encyclopaedia of cinema history. Tarantino loves talking about films as much as he loves making them. After making his debut with âReservoir Dogsâ (1992), QT followed that up with arguably his most iconic work: âPulp Fictionâ (1994).
Every Tarantino movie is an event and every film is beautifully crafted in a way that is utterly devoted toâand in love withâthe greatest art medium we have. To date, heâs made eight films in twenty-four years.
Top: Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike in Tarantino’s grindhouse tribute, “Death Proof” (2007)
Costumes in Tarantino movies are heavily inspired by the cinema of the 1960s and ’70s.
QT once said the mark of any good action film is that after youâve seen it, you want to dress as the character. He has also referred to the iconic black suits seen in âReservoir Dogsâ and âPulp Fictionâ as being like armour. Two of the suits were designed by Betsy Heimann and heavily inspired by the linea Italiana style seen in European movies of the 1960s. The others were bought in shops and mixed and matched. For instance, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) arenât actually wearing suit trousers, they were put in black jeans. But on camera, due to the silhouette factor given off by the costumes, it all looked uniform and correct. So, although the actors all appear to be sporting identical costumes, that is not the case.
One of Tarantino’s trademark camera shots.
The Trunk Shot
There are plenty of visual tics and trademarks in the cinema of Quentin Tarantino. From top-lighting to close-ups of womenâs feet to tracking shots. But letâs look at the use of the low-angle view point, which is seen in every single one of his films. The low-angle shot actually comes in two different flavours: thereâs the more traditional version and what has become known as the âtrunk shot.â
Low-angle shots are used to accentuate the power or superiority of a figure on the big screen. Tarantino has used it time and time again to get across the impression these are figures of importance and power. In âInglourious Basterdsâ (2009) it is used to signify the dominance and moral superiority of the American soldiers over the villainous Nazis.
The âtrunk shotâ tag came into being because QT likes to place the camera in the trunk of the car and have characters open it and peer down, as they look at something or somebody. QT has dismissed the âtrunk shotâ as a trademark, arguing there is nowhere else to put the camera. But that doesnât address the fact time and time again he writes scenes featuring car trunks.
John Travolta, Pam Grier and Kurt Russell are all icons of 1970s cinema.
Casting 70s Actors in Major Roles
Kurt Russell was Disney’s biggest star in the mid-1960s and â70s. Russell then became a cult icon, thanks to a string of collaborations with horror director John Carpenter. He also played Tarantino’s beloved Elvis Presley in the acclaimed 1979 TV movie.
John Travolta starred in âCarrieâ (1976), âSaturday Night Fever (1977) and âGreaseâ (1978), yet by the mid-1990s, due to a string of box-office flops and poor creative choices, Travolta was getting by starring in popular rubbish like âLook Whoâs Talkingâ (1989). Tarantino originally wanted to cast Daniel Day-Lewis as hit man Vincent Vega, but the Anglo-Irish method actor passed. Travolta was then offered the part and his career reignited in a big way.
Tarantino giving film stars who are having a tough time a fresh break, became part of his shtick. In 1997âs âJackie Brownâ he cast 1970s Blaxploitation queen, Pam Grier, in the lead role. He also cast Robert Forster, star of âMedium Coolâ (1969) and several television cop shows that only QT ever probably saw, in a major role.
QT’s use of references to cult cinema crop up everywhere and enrich his post-modernist aesthetic.
Itâs fair to say Tarantino is a bit of a magpie, when it comes to taking inspiration from other movies. Some critics will refer to it as âpaying homageâ but QT will tell you all artists steal from other sources. In “Kill Bill: Vol.1” (2003), for example, the Bride’s yellow jumpsuit is inspired by the one worn by Bruce Lee in âGame of Deathâ (1978). Thereâs nothing original at all about Tarantinoâs cinema, itâs how he puts it all together which makes the difference and produces the magic. A good example is âDjango Unchainedâ (2012), which lifted its title song from Sergio Corbucciâs 1966 cult classic, written by Luis Bacalov, and also used almost exactly the same font and colouring for the opening credits sequence. The purpose of this was to unite the pictures in a spiritual sense.
In âInglourious Basterdsâ (2009) QT lifted the filmâs title wholesale from the 1978 Enzo G. Castalleri war movie, âInglorious Bastards.â Tarantino added a u and e to the title to shake things up. A stylistic affectation which differentiated it from the original.
Mainstream audiences might not have a clue about any of this, as itâs the sort of referencing reserved for the inner-circleâŠ hardcore movie fans who are familiar with the cult movies Tarantino reveres. âThe Hateful Eightâ (2015) is a pun on the John Sturges classic, âThe Magnificent Sevenâ (1960), itself a remake of Akira Kurosawaâs masterpiece, âSeven Samuraiâ (1954).
There is a whole book to be written about Tarantinoâs referencing to cult cinema.
Images Â© respective film studios.