On watching the extras on Criterion’s superb double-disc edition of THE LADY VANISHES, I was struck by this crudely-lettered cardboard sign. Fascinating to see the soundproof camera booth, of course, but something about the sign captured my imagination. “Please keep away from front of camera.” I wonder it it’s been preserved, and if so, whether the present owner has ever considered sending it, as a piece of friendly advice, to Quentin Tarantino?

I’m not actually sure if I consider Tarantino a bad actor or not. Despite his addiction to casting himself in his films (which he hasn’t done lately, so this post may be even more pointless than usual), he’s never really given himself a proper scene to play, just dialogue. Or maybe that’s just the way it seems, due to his weak acting. But the problem really lies, I think, in the fact that QT is kind of upsetting and embarrassing to look at on a screen. It’s not just the face, which looks like it’s frozen in the act of collapsing inwards upon itself, an avalanche of cartilage funneling inwards towards some internal singularity situated just behind his nose. That alone wouldn’t be a problem for me, since I admire Jim Broadbent, for instance. The ability to have teeth but look as if you don’t can, in certain circumstances, be a positive boon. With Tarantino, it’s the embarrassing enthusiasm that gets me. Which is a rotten thing to say, since enthusiasm is, in itself, a wonderful thing.

When QT first appeared, promoting and appearing in RESERVOIR DOGS, his enthusiasm didn’t bother me so much. “Wow, a movie director who’s an honest-to-God geek,” I may have thought. Which seemed like a positive thing. I’m kind of a geek myself. But as QT became some kind of arbiter of cool, the geek defense fell away. Nerds and geeks seem to be most welcome when either they know we’re geeks and nerds, or they think we’re normal, which is adorably misguided. A geek who thinks he’s cool is just a dork.

Now, when Tarantino appears, I get an instinctive cringe, the desire to seek shelter from his bullying enthusiasm, his clapped-in mouth, his snappy diction. The way around this would be to focus on what he’s saying, because any instinctive aversion can be overcome when you realise the creepy person talking is actually making sense. But Tarantino seems to say less and less of interest. Which is the problem with his films, too, handsomely crafted though they are.

20 Responses to “Hitchsnark”

  1. The problem I have is that the solipsitic, self-congratulatory seeming, kind of witty, pop culture dialogue that is QT’s trademark needs a really good actor to pull it off and make it seem like a natural occurring event. Invariably QT is the worst actor appearing in one of his own films because of the eagerness he displays, drawing far too much attention to the mannered delivery and making it feel far too stilted and therefore calling attention to the way that it is ‘Tarantino dialogue’ more than a natural manner of speaking. That can actually be one of his virtues when it works, but when it doesn’t (or you don’t get the references he is alluding to) it can be extremely painful to suffer through – i.e. the endless conversations of Death Proof.

    That is also an example of the style overpowering (or over embellishing) the framework of a film. I remember first noting that overpowering sense in that episode of ER he directed in one of the early seasons, when quite established characters by that point simply started spouting Tarantino-isms without reason, which suggested to me that he cannot write a character in any other manner, or to fit into a pre-existing work. He is kind of an auteur by necessity, in that he simply cannot appear to work outside of his mannerisms.

    All the stuff outside of his own work that he has appeared in as an actor (Destiny Turns On The Radio, From Dusk To Dawn, Little Nicky etc) just seem like larks capitalising on his fame or favours for friends, which makes them both more insufferable yet also easily dismissable as well. (I’d also throw in that segment of Sin City that he ‘guest directed’, which worryingly suggested that his lackadasical cameo acting style might be in danger of moving across to his directing jobs. Perhaps being an actor for hire prevented him from becoming a director for hire?)

    I think he really needs to sit down and write some film criticism – talk about the films he loves and get his boundless enthusiasm across that way (maybe also giving pointers towards/acknowledging the debt to some of the films he has borrowed from). It could make for an interesting read and maybe thinking in depth about films could also inspire him to make better films as well?

  2. I think you’re right in so much as his comparative lack of acting ability makes the dialogue stand out even further. His approach has always been especially stylised but it was most smoothly integrated in PULP FICTION. I’ve never had a problem with Directors featuring themselves (Shyamalan too). I don’t think charges of solipsism should be laid at his door any more than at Chaplin’s or Welles’ simply because they were better actors.

    His films, despite the way most people view his work as energetic, come across as stilted, with scenes, music, dialogue stuck behind a ‘look at me’ (I’m not saying Tarantino himself is solipsistic) glass. There’s no real flow.


    I’ve always thought Tarantino an eloquent and insightful thinker on film. He ‘gets’ the medium, the way stories are told, and he communicates it very clearly and un-pretentiously.

  3. david wingrove Says:

    For me, Tarantino is the textbook example of a film-maker who knows everything about movies and nothing at all about life. He’s Spielberg and Kubrick to the power of 100. And after his first two (admittedly clever) movies, that really has become rather dull!

  4. It’s very interesting that he has backed away in horror from the aspects of Jackie Brown that were generally praised: the more mature characters (excluding Sam Jackson) and more thoughtful and emotional approach.

    I think he really struggles to reconcile his childish love of extremity and violence and sensation with the need for his films to be more than just scrapbooks of cool stuff. There’s potentially something trying to emerge from Inglourious Basterds — the beginning of a self-critique of the idea of a movie taking revenge on the Third Reich — but it absolutely cannot fulfill its potential because it’s sabotaged at every turn by the smugness and lazy thinking.

    Kubrick had SOME life experience and he certainly researched his stories, and research for him didn’t just mean watching other movies.

  5. david wingrove Says:

    Yes, but one critic did describe EYES WIDE SHUT (very aptly) as “a film made by somebody who hasn’t left the house for 10 years.”

  6. Yes, that does describe the film, although it needn’t be seen as a failing. The movie offers, among other things, an insight into how Kaspar Hauser might imagine late twentieth century New York. At it’s core, it’s an examination of fidelity and trust in a marriage from a filmmaker who’d been married for decades and did at least know something about that subject. His experience might not map exactly onto ours, but I don’t think he’s uninformed about the central themes. Whereas I don’t know if Tarantino knows or cares about revenge, despite his having made his last two or three films on the subject.

  7. Quentin should keep away from being behind the camera as well.

    The other night I caught a Golden Girls re-run whose climactic joke involved a weddign whose guest list included a troup of Elvis impersonators. And there — playing one of the Elvis impersonators — was Quentin.

    BTW, I trust everyone knows where the title Reservoir Dogs comes from, correct?

    I see a great future for him in Vegas performing marriages in Elvis garb.

  8. >>The title “Reservoir Dogs” actually came from “Au revoir les enfants”, a French film by Louis Malle. Tarantino, who was working at a video store, couldn’t pronounce the title and combined it with “Straw Dogs”, a Sam Peckinpah film, to produce the title, “Reservoir Dogs.”<<

    Never knew…

    Great Golden Girls anecdote.

  9. That’s a terrific still. It’s also ironic in relation to Hitchcock’s love of casting himself in small cameos. But then Hitchwatching is a fun activity and a delightful pleasure woven into the fabric of a rich, vivacious cinematic universe.

    When non-actor directors cast themselves, they largely rely on a self-conscious awareness to their role and that’s there in Tarantino’s performances. It’s rare for a director to play in his film merely as a member of the cast, Renoir achieved this humility in his films, as did Truffaut and Godard. It helps that these guys are authentically super-cool presences.

  10. The Golden Girls was the only employment the actor QT could get before his directing career made him a celebrity. Tellingly, it was a non-speaking part. His problem as actor is precisely that he concentrates on the WORDS, which is basically NEVER the right thing to do. Good actors learn the dialogue so well that they can forget about it and play the scene.

    Tarantino owes a lot to Terry Gilliam’s mentorship at Sundance. I do like Gilliam’s performances in Monty Python films, which are usually as subhuman semimorons. His delivery of “I know where to get it if you want it,” in Life of Brian cracks me up.

  11. Stephen,

    I’d certainly buy a BFI Modern Classics book written by Tarantino analysing a film such as Ringo Lam’s City On Fire, and perhaps then with such an explicit tribute paid wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable about the way Reservoir Dogs shamelessly cribs its entire plot, and many setpieces from it.

    Shyamalan’s film cameos are less painfully acted but more shamelessly self aggrandising. The Sixth Sense is OK, where his cameo is insignificant to the plot, but once you get into something like Signs, where he plays a character responsible for Gibson’s wife’s horrible accident, or especially the point where I threw up my hands in disgust, his writer’s blocked children’s book author who needs blunt, heavy-handed inspiration to write a world changing piece of literature, he’s moved beyond parody and needs to be stopped.

  12. The latter cameo of course being in the ludicrous Lady In The Water

  13. dcairns,

    “We’ve got lumps of it round the back”

  14. David Boxwell Says:

    “A poverty of imagination.” QT *OWNS* this phrase.

  15. David Boxwell Says:

    For all my ambivalence about QT (well, 5% admiration, 95% loathing) he DID resurrect A Lawrence Tierney in Winter. Thass cool.

  16. He’s done a lot to give big roles to forgotten or neglected actors, and his (that word again) enthusiasm for people like Tierney, or Pam Grier and Robert Forster, is admirable. And he never stopped using his own commercial success to bring them back into the limelight. It’s a shame I hate all David Carradine’s stuff in Kill Bill though, because I like Carradine.

    Nice to see Rod Taylor again in Inglourious Basterds, although I worried for him: did they give all his lines to Mike Myers?

  17. Christopher Says:

    Hitch never took heed to that sign :o)
    ..but sometimes a director in his films is a fun thing..One of my faves is John Huston in Treasure Of The Sierra Madre telling Bogie more or less to fuck off,and “from now on you’ll have to go thru life without my assistance..”

  18. Huston was a terrific actor, and of course it was in his blood. Claude Chabrol gives a fine performance in Rivette’s Paris Nous Appartient, and a goofy one in his own Marie-Chantal Contre le Dr Kha. Polanski is great in his own work, and I always enjoy David Lynch’s appearances, with his loud twangy voice.

  19. And then there’s Jerzy Skolimowski — both in his own films (Rysopis, Walkover) and such sundry fare as Mars Attacks! and Eastern Promises

    His latest film Essential Killing is essential viewing.

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