I wish I knew how to quit you, Quentin. I mean Jesus, look at you.
Back when I was in college, I flirted with the possibility of becoming a professional film critic. I started writing insipid movie reviews for the college newspaper and dreamt of a future in which I could be seen or heard espousing my subjective and infinitely flexible opinions as dogmatic gospel. A life as the new Roger Ebert or Mark Kermode, telling closed-minded cinephiles exactly what they’re supposed to love or hate, sounded like a dandy one. But then I came to my senses. I have Quentin Tarantino to thank for that.
One such film I reviewed at the time of my collegiate film criticism hobby was Inglourious Basterds. At the time, my love-hate relationship with Tarantino’s work was teetering toward the latter. I was one of those cinephiles who felt that Tarantino peaked with Jackie Brown (still his most sophisticated and emotionally resonant work), and had since regressed into self-indulgent adolescence with Kill Bill and the Grindhouse project. I wanted many more Jackie Browns and far fewer Death Proofs. In other words, like every film critic, I looked upon this director I will never meet like I was his patronizing deadbeat dad. See, it was I who knew best for Quentin Tarantino all along–much better than he ever would.
Sadly, this seems to be the default position for many critics. Rather than look at a film for what it is, these critics would rather judge a movie for what it isn’t. These critics treat art like a standardized test: if there are too many mistakes on the scantron, your career is “over” and you’re not allowed to sit at the annual Oscars Roundtable, enjoying the privilege of listening to this empty-headed Rowan Atkinson lookalike ask celebrated writers like Emma Donoghue and Nick Horny what they think about Twitter. Oh, perish the thought that your new film isn’t “establishment” enough to be compared to Spotlight, that “important” TV movie-of-the-week that you will never, ever, ever watch again.
I take no pleasure in saying that I used to subscribe to this appalling critical mindset. I was even under the impression that the Oscars meant something, so you can imagine how stupid I was. Thus, rather than revere the obviously great moments scattered throughout Inglourious Basterds (such as the masterful prologue and the riveting tavern scene), I used my review as an opportunity to grouse about the fact that Quentin Tarantino didn’t make the movie I wanted him to make. Still, there were enough strong elements to warrant a second viewing of Inglourious Basterds a few months later. The second time around, I was able to relax into the film because I knew what I was supposed to expect. But it was the third viewing that made me realize what an uptight bastard I was being about it. Today, I wouldn’t even hesitate to declare Inglourious Basterds one of Tarantino’s finest pictures.
This brings me to The Hateful Eight. As soon as I gleaned the premise for Tarantino’s eight film, I had a strong feeling I was going to like it. My supposed love-hate relationship for the director didn’t matter. I’m a sucker for chamber pieces and character-driven black comedies, and I loathe the idea that “talky” scripts should only be done as plays; by that logic, Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1940s is populated exclusively by “filmed plays” just because a dinosaur never turns up. But I was unprepared for how much I unreservedly loved Tarantino’s latest opus. I loved it so much that my entire conception of Tarantino as a filmmaker is changing. I’m finally smashing down the rigid, bullshit barriers of “film criticism” where cinematic analysis takes a backseat to nitpicking, arbitrary star ratings, and trendy social justice hand-wringing. It’s time I started looking at these movies for what they are. I’m sorry, Quentin. I’m sorry I allowed Mark Kermode’s irrational hang-ups petulant brand of film criticism to pollute my judgment of your filmmaking.
I don’t wish to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet. Instead, let me say that The Hateful Eight is a film for our times. It’s a gleefully misanthropic satire in which Tarantino gathers a spectrum of variously loathsome characters into one enclosed space for the sardonic thrill of watching these savages tear each other apart. It is a film about the roots of American hatred and the slowly-turning wheels of progress. But don’t take my word for it! I would encourage anyone reading this essay to bookmark Joseph Natoli’s superb analysis of The Hateful Eight. By plunging into these post-Civil War documents that expose the bigoted climate that defined the shameful Reconstruction era, Natoli beautifully illustrates how Tarantino uses these despicable characters to underscore an undeniable truth: that the United States of America was not founded on the basis of high ideals like liberty or freedom. The America we live in today is the product of centuries of violence and bigotry towards minorities of all kinds. All of these hateful characters represent different shades of the hatred that defines this so-called great country. It’s no coincidence, after all, that the final chapter of the film reads: “Black Man…White Hell.”
Look around at the America in which many of my faithful readers reside. Scroll through the list of all the oligarchical crypto-fascists running for President this year. The one noble candidate is a socialist Jew who doesn’t have a shot in Hell. His biggest competition is the Pentagon-approved Nixonbot//Thatcherzoid 5000 model, unveiled to the American populace shortly after her post-Benghazi software update. Meanwhile, the android is going up against a dime-store Mussolini who inspires violent hatred into his mentally-deficient, mostly toothless supporters–and he’s more left-wing than the robot! America is a global laughing stock that sells hatred and imperialism to the world in the form of wrongful imprisonments, illegal occupations, and drone strikes. And yet I’m supposed to believe that America is the greatest country in the world?
This philosophy is right at the heart of The Hateful Eight. Look at the image above! A Confederate General (the always great Bruce Dern) sits peacefully in his uniform: unchallenged and respected. Now, imagine walking into a German bar to discover an older gentlemen sitting peacefully while wearing a Nazi SS officer. This film takes place in the 1870s, a time when racism no longer mattered it was in the past, apparently. And yet in 2016, we still have to argue over whether Confederate imagery represents racial hatred, when it quite obviously does. Do you think Tarantino created this vile character for the hell of it? The satire here isn’t even subtle. This is the true ugly face of America that Tarantino was writing about.
But because of Tarantino’s abrasive and self-aggrandizing personality, nobody wants to take him seriously as a great American artist. Nobody ever wants to acknowledge that maybe — just maybe — he’s a smarter and more substantial writer-director than anyone wants to give him credit for. It’s much easier for these lazy critics to dismiss his rage-filled and subversive ideas as nothing more than fanboy fap material. Even Jackie Brown, widely celebrated as the glorious exception to the Tarantino rule, is dismissed on the grounds of “But it was an Elmore Leonard book first.” In other words, all Tarantino did was copy the best bits of the book and adapt them into screenplay format. Well, fuck that. That means none of Orson Welles’ Shakespeare movies are worth celebrating because, hey, the Shakespeare plays were already great! Only Tarantino could have made Rum Punch into Jackie Brown. Do you honestly believe the Coen Brothers would have taken that book and made a film even remotely like Jackie Brown?
If you’re wondering why there are no new eccentric personalities with unique and occasionally controversial visions of the world making their marks on mainstream cinema, this is why. Filmmakers are only allowed to take risks as long as everybody approves of those risks. The second a movie divides audiences, its director is automatically considered finished. It happened recently with Inherent Vice: because the latest Paul Thomas Anderson wasn’t an Earth-shattering masterpiece, he’s already been branded a filmmaker on the decline. Does any of this bullshit corporate propaganda make any sense to you? Is it any wonder that all the best writers and directors are working in television now? Why take risks as a divisive filmmaker when it’s much easier to become Colin Trevorrow instead?
It doesn’t help that no critic nowadays can review a movie without worrying about getting offended on a somebody else’s behalf, like this talentless cretin writing for Roger Ebert’s web site who coined the compelling but meaningless clickbait phrase “hipster misogyny.” Please turn AdBlock on before you click on the article; she doesn’t deserve any of your ad revenue. Essentially, The Hateful Eight is a bad film because Daisy Domergue (the brilliant Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the villain, and therefore she’s no longer allowing herself to like Quentin Tarantino. No, really: that’s the argument. See, in this brave new P.C. world, actresses are only allowed to play nice people: never mind the fact that the title of the film is The Hateful Eight, and never mind the fact that Daisy Domergue is just as hateful as everybody else in the movie. She felt uncomfortable, and therefore, the movie gets an irrational and nonsensical pan. On second thought, maybe writing for Roger Ebert’s web site is the ideal gig for her: Even the great man himself could become oddly moralistic about movies he clearly didn’t understand.
Now, this probably won’t win me any fans on a nerd blog, but I’ve never cared for Kill Bill. To me, it has always represented the nadir of Tarantino’s self-indulgence. Unpopular opinion, yes, but I stand by it for the time being (I am going to watch it again with an open mind, though. It’s been long enough.) I also couldn’t stand anything about the Grindhouse project except for some of the fake trailers, notably the Edgar Wright and Rob Zombie ones (Let’s all say it together: Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu.) But because I wasn’t yet a grown-up cinephile, I was under the impression that I had to stop liking Tarantino because I felt he owed me a good time at all times.
Well here’s the thing: I was a dumb and arrogant college student. Eventually, I grew up and realized that bold and challenging movies for adults sometimes have a tendency to make audience members feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. But as you become an adult, you’ll discover that occasionally disapproving of artwork from an artist you normally like is a natural part of life. Moreover, it’s the artists who are willing to take risks and challenge even their most loyal viewers who are actually worth paying attention to. In the meantime, if challenging movies for adults are too much for you to handle, then you can always watch a new film from a director whose style has never, ever, ever, ever developed. Say, I hear
Zack Riefenstahl I mean Zack Snyder has a new film out and I hear there’s lots of slow-motion and yelling and the story is of secondary importance to the special effects. Speaking of which, did you hear he wants to make a film of The Fountainhead? Oh my God, it’s going to be the stupidest film ever made and I cannot wait to see it. “Ted Cruz Presents Zack Snyder’s Film of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead” has a nice ring to it.
If any artist makes ONE work that inspires or moves me, then that artist has my respect for life: this goes for cinema, music, literature, paintings, and beyond. That’s why I’m still waiting for Eric Bana to deliver another Chopper. If you’ve never seen Chopper, watch the trailer right now. See that actor? That’s not the bland and vacant Eric Bana I know, whose career has gone so badly he’s had to debase himself by appearing in a new Ricky Gervais film. But if Bana is capable of being as good as he is in Chopper, then that means he’s capable of doing it again. I used to write off John Travolta’s post-Pulp Fiction work but his performance as Robert Shapiro on The People vs OJ Simpson is smart, well-observed, and funny. So even Travolta still has it.
So imagine if I had rejected Tarantino for life after Death Proof: I would’ve missed out on The Hateful Eight, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite movies of all-time. Plus I would have missed out on the pleasures of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, of which there are many. These last three films represent a fascinating evolution in the Tarantino aesthetic. The Pulp Fiction approach to writing “Tarantino characters” was played out by Death Proof, so he realized he needed to adapt. Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight reveal a filmmaker waking up to his own home country. He’s finally starting to make films about the real world as opposed to the world in his head. He’s applying his vision of the world to our appalling, hate-filled history. He despises the hypocrisy of American Exceptionalism as much as I do, and I suspect I’m not the only one. But unlike most of us who would rather whinge about injustice on Facebook, Tarantino is filtering his rage into grand historical epics that color outside the lines and refuse to treat the past with misplaced Spielbergian reverence. He is bringing righteous and fearless anger to our biggest screens, and for that, I applaud him.
I understand that Tarantino is not for everyone, and I also understand that The Hateful Eight has severely divided Tarantino’s fans (Huey, whose opinions I greatly respect, didn’t care for it.) And yes, there have been plenty of times throughout his career in which Tarantino would have done well to keep his mouth shut in public. There’s no getting around it: he’s an obnoxious egomaniac. But you know what? Good for him! At least there’s one interesting and lively American filmmaker running around Hollywood. We live in a world where most artists are afraid to take a stand on anything. Our musical icons like Bowie and Lemmy are dropping dead, and it won’t be long before our best and boldest filmmakers leave us, too. Who’s going to replace them? Where are the brand new enfant terribles of cinema, the filmmakers who won’t simply make one interesting film before selling their souls to Marvel?
And even though our critics should be scouting for brave new filmmakers who are willing to draw a line in the sand, they’d rather write clickbait puff pieces about Martin Scorsese — whose extraordinary career has been analyzed to death by superior film historians — because he’s had a new film about to come out for a hundred years. Sadly, a young Scorsese would never survive in today’s backslapping film industry. Maybe he’d be able to push Mean Streets through before signing onto direct Pirates of the Caribbean 75, after which we’d never hear from him again. Taxi Driver would have been torn to shreds by the smug blogger crowd for focusing too much on the “problematic straight white man” at the center of the story, followed by some undergrad slumming for some blog I’ve never heard of patronizing me and the rest of their sheep-like readers that “you should be ashamed for liking it”–oh wait, they already do!
So by all means dismiss Tarantino as a has-been because he made one precious little movie you didn’t like; you’re entitled to your opinion even though your opinion is obviously shit. But wait until he’s no longer with us. Wait until all the Tarantinos, Scorseses, Cronenbergs, Andersons, Gilliams, Jarmusches, Malicks, Lynches, Herzogs, and Lars von Triers have been buried. I’m not saying you have to like all these directors, but at least they’re uncompromising directors with visions. At least these guys have the guts to offend your “good taste.” If you’re reading this and you honestly believe that movies require “trigger warnings” to help provide “safe spaces” from “problematic movies” that might “offend” someone you don’t know, consider my advice: take your safe space and shove it up your noxious and demented asshole. Art doesn’t have to be safe, nor should it be.
The only thing Zack Snyder is capable of offending is my hard-on for storytelling.
I spent my teenage years dreaming of writing and directing my own films. I wasn’t inspired by Star Wars or Jurassic Park (although I have nothing against those great movies because at least Spielberg and Lucas have voices.) No, the films that blew my mind were Fargo, Pulp Fiction, and Trainspotting: all classics of 90s cinema that weren’t afraid to push the boundaries of taste but that were still willing to entertain and engage an audience. When was the last time you went to the mutliplex to see a movie like that? Challenging mainstream cinema is an endangered species. Two of my favorite filmmakers today are Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly). In twenty years, these extraordinary talents have made three feature films each. Three. Meanwhile, McG has made six objectively terrible films during this same time. Six.
So a thousand godspeeds to Lynne Ramsay, Andrew Dominik, Ben Wheatley, Kelly Reichardt, Amma Asante, Andrea Arnold, Richard Ayoade, Cary Fukunaga, Martin and John Michael McDonagh, Rick Alverson, and all the struggling filmmakers who refuse to compromise on your personal and artistic vision because you’re our only hopes against the McGs of this world. Imagine that: When I was in college, I took classes on Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, and the Coen Brothers. My children will be taking classes on McG, Zack Snyder, and the DC/Marvel Wars. This is the cinema you want? You can have it.
The Hateful Eight is available to purchase or rent today on Blu-Ray, DVD, and On Demand. Sadly, it isn’t the superior roadshow cut, so I would recommend cultivating your own roadshow experience. It’s pretty easy to do: Hook up your laptop to your television screen and project this image (you may have to augment it or find a bigger one yourself). Press play on Ennio Morricone’s haunting and menacing Overture. Unplug the HDMI cable and make sure the Blu-Ray is hooked up to your television screen. Then start the movie. When the really big thing happens about a hundred minutes into the movie and the screen cuts to black, pause the film and go for a piss break. After ten minutes, start the movie again. If you saw the DCP cut and you were disappointed, try it out. You just may enjoy it more…that is if you have an open mind and aren’t obsessed with writing Tumblr posts about your latest offense. Enjoy your homemade roadshow experience!
As for Quentin, you’re a great director and an even better writer. I’d love you to deliver just one more Jackie Brown, but if you don’t, I’ll get over it unlike other critics such as Kermode. If the bourgeois Stalinists passing themselves off as film critics can’t handle your angry and challenging work, you don’t need them anyway. Nobody will remember Little Miss Hipster Misogyny in twenty years’ time. But I’ll always remember discovering you in high school. It was like a lonely, lost little kid in the 1960s hearing The Rolling Stones or The Kinks for the first time. You remain one of the few filmmakers willing to occasionally give American cinema a kick up the ass it so desperately craves. So fuck the Oscars and fuck your critics, a festering bag full of fickle maggots. You’re in the middle of the greatest period of your career and I cannot wait to see what you’re going to concoct next. You continue to give me faith that I can write my own scripts, my own novels, my own songs, and I can create my own success as an artist, whether I make any money or not, and all entirely on my own terms. Thank you, Quentin. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
It’s time we supported our unique, original, and purely American artists. We take a little too much pride in tearing them down.