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Cinema and Media Studies Quentin Tarantino
by
Lisa Coulthard

Introduction

Bursting on the scene with the controversial Reservoir Dogs (1992), Quentin Tarantino has become known for a particular brand of film violence and postmodern pastiche that has won him both accolades and censure. Studying acting and working as a video store clerk, Tarantino had long been interested in cinema and in writing screenplays. Although Tarantino had written and directed My Best Friend’s Birthday in 1987, it was not released, and Reservoir Dogs marks the start of Tarantino’s career as a writer and director. This violent heist film cleverly reworks the genre to focus on the aftereffects of action rather than on action, and its premiere at Sundance in 1992 made Tarantino’s career. Although offending many and almost entirely snubbed by critics, the film received enough positive attention to make the former video store clerk an overnight sensation in high demand by Hollywood. But it was the sensation of Tarantino’s second film, Pulp Fiction (1994), that truly caught the attention of audiences and critics alike. Winning multiple major awards and setting box-office records, Pulp Fiction solidified Tarantino’s directorial career and won him the designation of auteur; it became nothing short of a film phenomena, as Dana Polan notes (see Polan 2000, cited under Pulp Fiction [1994]). With seven feature films, one omnibus film, two filmed screenplays, and two television series episodes (CSI and ER), as well as guest directorial and acting appearances, Tarantino has lived up to the auteur hype that began brewing after the major success of Pulp Fiction. Although the calls for auteur status prompted by Pulp Fiction might have seemed premature at the time, given this was only his second film, it is clear that Tarantino’s films are marked by stylistic and thematic unities that are pronounced and identifiable. Most books and articles on his films tend to focus on these stylistic signatures, such as numerous cinematic, musical, and pop cultural references; lengthy segments of banter and witty dialogue; extreme violence; self-reflexivity; pastiche; and complicated narrative timelines. And yet there are very few scholarly studies of Tarantino that take his films seriously in terms of film history, style, or theory; rather, the literature is dominated by informal and popular criticism and biography and heavily theorized or highly specific analyses.

Biography

Tarantino’s rags-to-riches story of a video store clerk turned A-list Hollywood director is attractive fodder for the many commentators and critics who discuss his films and life. Paradoxically, although Tarantino is a very vocal and performative celebrity, he is rarely forthcoming about details of his personal life. As a result, most biographies of Tarantino are not detailed studies of his life; rather, these works are stories of Tarantino’s success and rely on aesthetic assessment or appreciation of his films filtered through and interpreted using details of his personal life, largely gleaned from published and readily available material. Tarantino’s story has great appeal nonetheless to those enthralled by his films, and this comes through in the studies that tend to focus on Tarantino’s childhood and youth, which they use to explain and expand upon his cinematic inspirations and signatures. Illustrated with several photographs and with details of Tarantino’s childhood, adolescence, and adult life, Clarkson 2007 offers the most thorough biographical account of Tarantino and his career. Bernard 1995, Dawson 1995, and Woods 1996 also deal with details of Tarantino’s life, but the focus is on his career and the creation and production of the films.

  • Bernard, Jami. Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies. New York: HarperPerennial, 1995.

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    Focusing on interviews and biographical details, film critic Bernard charts Tarantino’s career up to Pulp Fiction (1994), including details on his early life, screenplays, and scripts.

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  • Clarkson, Wensley. Quentin Tarantino: The Man, the Myths and His Movies. London: John Blake, 2007.

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    An account of Tarantino’s life and films to 2003 that utilizes interviews and public appearances and that is told in narrative form. Primarily biographical, it includes comments and conjectures about the content, production, and artistic intention of his films.

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  • Dawson, Jeff. Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool. New York: Applause, 1995.

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    Starting with Tarantino’s early life and concluding with Four Rooms (1995), Dawson’s study offers a mix of biography and film criticism.

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  • Woods, Paul. King Pulp: The Wild World of Quentin Tarantino. London: Plexus, 1996.

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    A popular press study focused on biography that considers Tarantino’s films and screenplays up to and including Jackie Brown (1997). The book pays some attention to the pulp and exploitation films that influenced Tarantino.

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Interviews

After his quick rise to stardom, Tarantino embraced the spotlight, readily giving interviews in print, radio, and television. Hyperactively chatty, Tarantino seemed to thrive in an interview setting, and the many interviews are too numerous to cite here. And yet what becomes most evident in all of the interviews is the consistency of the persona Tarantino projects, and the same themes, ideas, and points constantly recur: the process of creation, patterns of his choices, references cited or implied, and films and directors that he loves and desires to emulate. Tarantino has done interviews with Sight and Sound for every one of his features, but the one cited here (James 2008) stands out for the ground it covers. There is no collected volume of interviews published that covers his films from that date. Peary 1998 is the single most useful and thorough collection of interviews with Tarantino, but given its publication date it only covers his career to 1997. Secher 2010 and Taylor 2009 stand out from the multitude of Tarantino interviews published online and in print because both cover his career generally as well as recent and forthcoming films. James 2008 is similarly thorough and offers some important insights into Tarantino’s influences and obsessions.

Criticism and Analysis

As noted in the Introduction, the line between criticism and biography tends to blur in many of the books on Tarantino, as does the division between film appreciation and analysis. Although the auteur label came early in Tarantino’s career, there are surprisingly few accounts of his films that take him seriously as such. Gallafent 2006 (cited under Auterism and Influence) is to date the only single-authored book on Tarantino that engages in close auteurist analysis of his films in a generalist fashion. As such it would be of interest to a general audience as well as university students. The most rigorous accounts of Tarantino’s films come from those articles that tackle his films from a specific theoretical and methodological perspective. This bibliography limits the categories of these kinds of approaches to discussions focusing on Race, Gender, Violence, Religion, Philosophy, Cinematic Style, and Music. The areas of gender and music in particular have produced strong scholarly works that have had an influence on the study of Tarantino’s films (Willis 1994, cited under Gender, is one of the most frequently cited works on Tarantino), and discussions of Tarantino and religion as well as philosophy represent a large percentage of the scholarly research in print.

Appreciation and Popular Criticism

A number of the books on Tarantino can best be described as fan-based or popular press accounts. Along with biographical texts, these works constitute the bulk of single-authored works in print on Tarantino and are aimed at a general audience and blend biography, film appreciation, and criticism. Mostly published in the years immediately following Pulp Fiction (1994), many of these works focus on the origins and influence of Tarantino’s cinephilia, and when his films are discussed, they are usually described in terms of common details, recurrent tropes, and stylistic repetitions. After the popularity of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction, numerous websites on Tarantino arrived on the web. Most of these are now defunct, but there are two that are still current and popular: The Tarantino Archives and Everything Tarantino. The Tarantino Archives is the more thorough, detailed, and popular of the two. Charyn 2006, Page 2005, and Smith 2005 all use biography as a way of accessing and critically engaging with Tarantino’s films and are accessible texts aimed at wide audiences. Of the three, Smith 2005 contains the greatest amount of detail and film analysis. In contrast to these texts, Barnes 1996 and Woods 2000 are best described as reference works. Offering a useful collection of interviews, articles, reviews, and trivia, Woods 2000 is the more in-depth of the two. In comparison to these wide-ranging texts, Pratt 2011 offers brief analyses of key issues in Tarantino geared toward classroom instruction.

Auterism and Influence

Tarantino was widely claimed to be an auteur after only two films, and most of the analyses of his work from whatever perspective tend to treat him such. The following citations are more generalist accounts of Tarantino’s films that do not limit themselves to a single film or approach; rather they trace common, recurring themes throughout his films. A brief but thorough book, Gallafent 2006 is a general account of Tarantino’s films that focuses on common tropes and themes in the films. In contrast, Mills 2002 and Mowbray 2004 do not offer auteurist accounts of all of his film works, but rather each focuses on an element that the author thinks defines and characterizes Tarantino as an auteur.

Race

The topic of race is a common feature in controversies about Tarantino’s films. Whether it is the pervasive white masculinity of Reservoir Dogs (1992), the fetishization of blaxploitation films and their stars, the use of the word “nigger” by characters, or the appropriation of Asian film culture, race is a frequent point of discussion and controversy in discussions of Tarantino. Perhaps most notably, or at least most publicly, African American director Spike Lee spoke out publicly against the repeated use of the word in Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997), an outcry that turned the attention of many to the issue of race in Tarantino’s cinema. Many of the debates occurred within interviews or as comments made verbally, and there are very few critical analyses of race in Tarantino’s films; however, it is important to note that issues of race are referenced throughout much of the writing on Tarantino, even when it is not a specific focus. Many discussions of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown address African American culture within his films, and with Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004), the focus shifted to Tarantino’s portrayal of Asian cultures and actors, and some questioned his borrowing of plotlines and styles from Asian cinemas (Hunt 2008, Tapia 2006, Tierney 2006). Throughout these discussions, the questions of representation and appropriation are key: Gormley 2005a and Gormley 2005b highlight both and argue for the centrality of race as an inspiration, topic, and cinematic mode in Tarantino, while hooks 1996 places itself alongside the controversies popular in the press at the time of Pulp Fiction’s release. Controversies around race and ethnicity continue to abound in the critical and scholarly responses to Tarantino’s films.

  • Gormley, Paul. “Miming Blackness: Reservoir Dogs and ‘American Africanism.’” In The New-Brutality Film: Race and Affect in Contemporary American Film. By Paul Gormley, 137–158. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2005a.

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    Gormley contends that Reservoir Dogs makes claims to affect and authenticity by borrowing from rap and gangster aesthetics. He analyzes the role of race and hipness in the violence of Reservoir Dogs by comparing it to films such as Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Menace II Society (1993).

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  • Gormley, Paul. “Trashing Whiteness: Pulp Fiction, Se7en, Strange Days and Articulating Affect.” In The New-Brutality Film: Race and Affect in Contemporary American Film. By Paul Gormley, 159–181. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2005b.

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    Gormley uses the rape of Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction to argue that race and violence are tied in the film in a way that “trashes” whiteness. He contends that the “hillbillies” Zed and Maynard represent white culture, which makes the audience identify with the affective shock of Marsellus’s rape.

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  • hooks, bell. “Cool Cynicism: Pulp Fiction.” In Reel to Real: Sex, Race and Class at the Movies. By bell hooks, 47–51. London: Routledge, 1996.

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    Hooks argues that although the surface of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an attractive one, its essence is problematic for the way that it celebrates empty cynicism, postmodern apathy, and white masculinity.

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  • Hunt, Leon. “Asiaphilia, Asianisation and the Gatekeeper Auteur: Quentin Tarantino and Luc Besson.” In East Asian Cinemas: Exploring Transnational Connections on Film. Edited by Leon Hunt and Leung Wing-Fai, 220–236. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2008.

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    Looking at Kill Bill Volume 1 and its connection to Asian grindhouse films, Hunt argues that Tarantino is an Asiaphile who is obsessed with Asian cinema. Hunt argues that despite this interest in Asian cinema and Asian characters, Tarantino still clearly aligns his sympathies with the white protagonists in Kill Bill Volume 1.

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  • Tapia, Ruby C. “Volumes of Transnational Vengeance: Fixing Race and Feminism on the Way to Kill Bill.” Visual Arts Research 32.2 (2006): 32–37.

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    This article looks at the excessive violence in Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2 within the context of racialized appropriations and considers the implications of combining racial appropriation with inversions of gender stereotypes.

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  • Tierney, Sean M. “Themes of Whiteness in Bulletproof Monk, Kill Bill, and The Last Samurai.” Journal of Communication 56.3 (September 2006): 607–624.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00303.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article considers the cinematic trope of a white character learning a martial art as an instance of cultural appropriation that reinforces hegemonic ideas of racial superiority.

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Gender

With the masculine-dominated Reservoir Dogs (1992) launching his career, Tarantino has been frequently aligned with ideas of gendered representation and sexism. Although all the leads of Reservoir Dogs are male and Pulp Fiction (1994) could be described as male dominated, the films since Jackie Brown (1997) have shifted this gender dominance to feature both female protagonists and female ensemble casts. In addition to the role of gender in Tarantino’s films, there is the added layer of significance that the films that Tarantino references are frequently laden with gendered meanings and readings: blaxploitation, horror, and gangster cinemas have all been critiqued and analyzed from the perspective of gender. Tied to these issues of gender is the associated concept of sexuality (the homosocial in Tarantino) and the ideas that coalesce around race. With their female protagonists, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004) provide the focal point for discussions of gender in Tarantino. Pulp Fiction has been the occasion of many discussions of gender in Tarantino, and Dinshaw 1999, Fraiman 2003, Kimball 1997, and Willis 1994 all take that film as the focus. Of these analyses, Willis’s is the most frequently cited and has gained the status of a seminal work on gender in Pulp Fiction. Looking at violence and gender, Coulthard 2007 considers the female action star in Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2.

  • Coulthard, Lisa. “Killing Bill: Rethinking Feminism and Film Violence.” In Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Edited by Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra, 153–175. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007.

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    This article interrogates discourses of gender subversion and transgression tied to violent action heroines in cinema. The author analyzes Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2 in terms of the films’ genre pastiche of rape revenge films as well as its reliance on maternal melodramas and argues against a clear-cut feminist interpretation.

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  • Dinshaw, Carolyn. “Getting Medieval: Pulp Fiction, Foucault, and the Use of the Past.” In Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern. By Carolyn Dinshaw, 183–206. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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    Focusing on Marsellus’s rape, Dinshaw gives a reading of the film that highlights the use of the word “medieval” to signal a racialized linking of sexuality to violence and masculinity. Referencing Foucault and focusing on the act of sodomy, the analysis discusses the privileging of white male heterosexuality.

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  • Fraiman, Susan. “Quentin Tarantino: Anatomy of Cool.” In Cool Men and the Second Sex. By Susan Fraiman, 1–16. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

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    An analysis of Pulp Fiction dominates this discussion of the “coolness” of masculinity in Tarantino. Mentioning psychoanalytic thought to support its arguments, it considers the gaze in relation to the film.

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  • Kimball, A. Samuel. “‘Bad-Ass Dudes’ in Pulp Fiction: Homophobia and the Counterphobic Idealization of Women.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 16.2 (1997): 171–193.

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    Relying on the dialogue to draw connections, this article gives a reading of the film focused on its representation of gender and sexuality. It asserts the dominance of male phallic power in the film’s ending, from which it deduces the film’s homophobia and misogyny.

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  • Willis, Sharon. “The Fathers Watch the Boys’ Room.” Camera Obscura 11.2 (January 1994): 41–74.

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    Noting the centrality of bathrooms in Pulp Fiction, Willis offers an insightful analysis of trash, soiling, embarrassment, and masculinity (fathers and sons) in the film and ties these issues to Tarantino’s nostalgic recycling of cinema. An important article because it marks the beginning of a feminist scholarly interest in Tarantino.

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Violence

Although many note the violence in Tarantino’s films, there are relatively few studies of the style, details, and functions of the violence alone. Instead, it is usually discussed in terms of thematic issues (race, gender, ethics) or in terms of stylistic elements (music, self-reflexivity). The articles listed here are no exception and take vengeance, ethics, suspense, and generic reflexivity to approach the violence in Tarantino’s films. Many of the articles and essays cited in other sections treat violence, but the ones listed here focus on it in a more sustained fashion. Focusing on the question of excessive violence, Anderson 2005 analyzes the role of martial arts violence in Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004). Although many commentators have noted the violence of the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs (1992), Jardine 2004 tackles the scene in depth and offers a defense of the violence.

Religion

Closely aligned to approaches to Tarantino rooted in philosophy, there are numerous articles that focus on the role of religion and religious concepts in the films of Tarantino. Taking the character Jules in Pulp Fiction (1994) as the focal point, many of these articles attempt to make explicit connections to Ezekiel and redemption (Davis and Womack 1998, Irwin 1998, Reinhartz 2003, Ritter 2003). Given the centrality of Ezekiel in the film, Pulp Fiction dominates the literature on religion in Tarantino, but religious themes are found in Tarantino’s other films as well: Brintnall 2004 considers religious themes in the battered male body in Reservoir Dogs (1992), and Crowley 2008 looks at Buddhism in Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004).

  • Brintnall, Kent L. “Tarantino’s Incarnational Theology: Reservoir Dogs, Crucifixions and Spectacular Violence.” Cross Currents, Spring 2004, 66–75.

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    Exploring ethical and erotic aspects of the violated male body, this article pairs Reservoir Dogs with Julian of Norwich’s writings to consider the use of the wounded body as a vehicle for ethical critique.

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  • Crowley, Michael K. “Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill.” Slant Magazine, 3 November 2008.

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    Arguing for the film as a narrative of redemption (more specifically, Beatrix’s evolution into spiritual power), this is a lengthy and detailed discussion of Buddhism in Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2.

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  • Davis, Todd F., and Kenneth Womack. “Shepherding the Weak: The Ethics of Redemption in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.” Literature/Film Quarterly 26.1 (1998): 60–66.

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    Considering Jules’s journey (and to a lesser extent Butch’s) as the film’s moral center, the author argues for a reading of the film based in redemption, metamorphosis, and the power of love. The author relies heavily on the centrality of the “Ezekiel” passage to make this point.

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  • Irwin, Mark. “Pulp and the Pulpit: The Films of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.” Literature and Theology 12.1 (1998): 70–81.

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    Looking at Rodriguez and Tarantino, this article posits a relation between pulp or American noir films such as El Mariachi (1992) and Pulp Fiction and religious inquiry. In this reading Jules is a religious figure whose salvation extends to the audience members, who in turn question their response to values and belief systems.

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  • Reinhartz, Adele. “Pulp Fiction and the Power of Belief (Ezekiel).” In Scripture on the Silver Screen. By Adele Reinhartz, 97–113. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003.

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    The “Ezekiel” passage in Pulp Fiction is analyzed as an indication of the religious content of the film. Although focusing on Jules’s redemption and the importance of the passage, Reinhartz goes further to consider the way that religious and moral themes are found in numerous characters.

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  • Ritter, Kelly. “Postmodern Dialogics in Pulp Fiction: Jules, Ezekiel, and Double-Voiced Discourse.” In The Terministic Screen: Rhetorical Perspectives of Film. Edited by David Blakely, 286–300. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003.

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    This theoretically informed article focuses on the “Ezekiel” passage and Jules’s transformation but does so not through religious meaning; rather the focus is on the role of rhetoric and the act of speech making—biblical patterns of rhetoric that the author argues are echoed but not understood by Jules.

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Philosophy

For many, taking Tarantino seriously means approaching his films from a philosophical perspective. Alongside analyses that highlight questions of religion and belief (see Religion), philosophical approaches to Tarantino dominate scholarly discussions of his films. The two most well-known and far reaching of these studies are Botting and Wilson 2001 and the collection edited by Greene and Mohammad. Of the fifteen essays in the latter collection four are included here: Anderson 2007, Mohammad 2007, Nanay and Schnee 2007, and Spence 2007. Other texts that engage with philosophical approaches to Tarantino do so within the context of larger works on ethics, aesthetics, visual culture, and film theory (Downing and Saxton 2009, Pisters 2003). The pattern for philosophical inquiry in all of the essays listed tends to be to approach Tarantino by taking as a starting point a philosophical thinker: Jacques Lacan (Botting and Wilson 2001), Friedrich Nietzsche (Anderson 2007, Nanay and Schnee 2007), Ludwig Wittgenstein (Mohammed 2007), and Gilles Deleuze (O’Connor 2008, Pisters 2003).

  • Anderson, Travis. “Unleashing Nietzsche on the Tragic Infrastructure of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.” In Quentin Tarantino and Philosophy: How to Philosophize with a Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch. Edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, 21–39. Chicago: Open Court, 2007.

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    Focusing on Nietzschean philosophy and its relation to Reservoir Dogs (1992), this article discusses both violent cruelty and the redemption in the film.

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  • Botting, Fred, and Scott Wilson. The Tarantinian Ethics. London: SAGE, 2001.

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    Drawing on ideas from Lacanian psychoanalysis, Botting and Wilson’s theoretically informed work argues for an ethical consideration of Tarantino’s use of postmodern pastiche and playful violence. The book relies on close textual analysis and divides its study into the ethics of personality, professionalism, romance, consumption, and horror.

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  • Downing, Lisa, and Libby Saxton. “Postmodernism’s Ethics and Aesthetics.” In Film and Ethics: Foreclosed Encounters. By Lisa Downing and Libby Saxton, 147–159. London: Routledge, 2009.

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    Downing and Saxton provide an analytical framework for a reading of Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004) that disputes the belief that posthumanist viewpoints do not contribute meaningfully to discussions of ethics. They contend that the films ultimately surrender to the grand narrative of Beatrix’s natural maternal instinct.

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  • Mohammad, K. Silem. “‘I Didn’t Know You Liked the Delfonics’: Knowledge and Pragmatism in Jackie Brown.” In Quentin Tarantino and Philosophy: How to Philosophize with a Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch. Edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, 111–122. Chicago: Open Court, 2007.

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    Focusing on Jackie Brown (1997) and borrowing from the philosophy of Wittgenstein, this article examines the question of knowledge in the film and considers the way that language games, perception, and rationalizing play a role in determining what is known by Tarantino’s characters.

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  • Nanay, Bence, and Ian Schnee. “Travolta’s Elvis Man and the Nietzschean Superman.” In Quentin Tarantino and Philosophy: How to Philosophize with a Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch. Edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, 177–188. Chicago: Open Court, 2007.

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    Looking at the contrast between the characters of Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction (1994), this accessible article argues for Jules as the ethical center of the film by claiming that his conversion experience breaks the cycle of violence.

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  • O’Connor, Jenny. “Quentin Tarantino: Gilles Deleuze’s Cinematic ‘Falsifier’?.” Rhizomes 16 (Summer 2008).

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    Adopting Gilles Deleuze’s term “falsifier” as a mode of mediation, interrogation, and inquiry, O’Connor discusses Pulp Fiction as a postmodern time-image suffused with the influences of late capitalism and commodity fetishism.

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  • Pisters, Patricia. “Laughing Lions: The Tarantino Effect.” In The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory. By Patricia Pisters, 98–105. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

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    Analyzing Pulp Fiction within a Deleuzian framework, Pisters discusses both the ambiguity and the humor of Tarantino’s violence.

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  • Spence, James H. “The Moral Lives of Reservoir Dogs.” In Quentin Tarantino and Philosophy: How to Philosophize with a Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch. Edited by Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, 43–54. Chicago: Open Court, 2007.

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    Looking at the question of morality, Spence stresses the way in which human behavior and professionalism determine the moral norms that orient the lives of the gangsters in Reservoir Dogs.

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Music

From the notorious use of Stealers Wheel’s pop hit “Stuck in the Middle with You” for a scene of torture in Reservoir Dogs (1992) to the repurposing of Ennio Morricone scores in Inglourious Basterds (2009), music holds a central place in Tarantino’s films. Frequently diegetic and sometimes even played or chosen by characters in a scene, music in Tarantino films is foregrounded and an important part of his reflexive, pastiche-based style. Characters discuss, sing along with, and dance to music, and, even when nondiegetic, music often takes center stage and dominates the scenes in which it appears. Apart from the music composed for Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004) by RZA, music in Tarantino films is almost always preexisting, borrowed, or repurposed scores or songs. Taking the controversial scene of pop-scored violence in Reservoir Dogs as a starting point, many articles discussing Tarantino’s music make reference to the combination of violence and music in his films (Breen 1996, Coulthard 2009, Garner 2001, Powrie 2005). Miklitsch 2004 considers music as well as the act of musical appreciation in Jackie Brown (1997) and argues for a reconsideration of the film based in its use of music. With this importance of music in Tarantino, it is perhaps not surprising that Tarantino frequently refers to the importance of choosing the music himself or that his films are associated with popular and financially successful soundtracks.

  • Breen, Marcus. “Woof, Woof: The Real Bite in Reservoir Dogs.” UTS Review 2.2 (1996): 1–9.

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    A brief and accessible piece on the role of music in Reservoir Dogs that relies on a general discussion of issues related to pop music and violence. He uses Reservoir Dogs to call for increased theoretical work on pop music.

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  • Coulthard, Lisa. “Torture Tunes: Tarantino, Popular Music, and New Hollywood Ultraviolence.” Music and the Moving Image 2.2 (Summer 2009): 1–6.

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    This article considers the use of popular music for scenes of violence in the films of Quentin Tarantino up to Death Proof (2007). The author argues that the appealing kineticism of Tarantino’s film violence is in part an effect of the use of popular music.

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  • Garner, Ken. “‘Would You Like to Hear Some Music?’ Music in-and-out-of-control in the Films of Quentin Tarantino.” In Film Music: Critical Approaches. Edited by K. J. Donnelly, 188–205. New York: Continuum, 2001.

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    Noting the way that music is a central element in Tarantino films, Garner discusses music (opening credits, specific scenes) in Tarantino’s first three films. He argues that the musical choices are key to the arousal and energy experienced by spectators viewing the films.

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  • Miklitsch, Robert. “Audiophilia: Audiovisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in Jackie Brown.” Screen 45.4 (Winter 2004): 287–304.

    DOI: 10.1093/screen/45.4.287Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Noting the role of race, gender, and spectacle in the music chosen for Jackie Brown (1997), the author argues that audiophilia and music place Pam Grier at the center of the narrative in a way that emphasizes her active presence in the 1990s, rather than her 1970s iconicity.

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  • Powrie, Phil. “Blonde Abjection: Spectatorship and the Abject Anal Space In-Between.” In Pop Fiction: The Song in Cinema. Edited by Steve Lannin and Matthew Caley, 99–119. Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2005.

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    An analysis of Reservoir Dogs that focuses on the music of the torture scene and the way it interacts with violence and spectatorial affect. It also turns to Freudian thought to discuss the role of gender and the abject/scatological in the film.

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Cinematic Style

Tarantino is frequently discussed in terms of his signature style. Nostalgia, postmodern lack of affect, pastiche, self-reflexivity, nonlinear narratives, eccentric and pronounced use of already existing music, clever dialogue, pop cultural and cinematic references, violence (often extreme and humorous), and the use of actors who come with a filmic history: these are the markers of what has come to be known as a Tarantinian style. Chumo 2000, Le Cain 2004, and Rosenbaum 1997 all consider the reflexivity, recycling, and pastiche of source texts in Tarantino’s films. Although similarly stressing Tarantino’s stylistic borrowings, Pallant 2007 focuses on the role of animation in Tarantino’s aesthetic debts and references. Denby 2007 and Villella 2000 discuss the importance of circularity and out-of-sequence plotting in his films.

Films

Although Tarantino is also known as a screenwriter (True Romance [1993], Natural Born Killers [1994], From Dusk Till Dawn [1996]) and has been a guest television director on two series (CSI and ER) and a section of a film (Sin City [2005]) and a segment director of an omnibus film (Four Rooms [1995]), it is his major feature films that define him. Although several of the analyses in the previous sections focus on a single film, the following sources focus their studies more exclusively on the analysis of the film at hand. Polan 2000 on Pulp Fiction (1994) stands out as one of the most useful texts on Tarantino in print, and it offers some truly perceptive and far-reaching analysis. David Bordwell’s blog entry (Bordwell 2009) on Inglourious Basterds (2009) is also excellent for its ability to analyze the film within its filmic, historical, and critical contexts.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Premiering at Sundance in 1992, Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s debut film. Conceived as a very low-budget film ($30,000) by Tarantino and his friend and producer Lawrence Bender, the film turned into a larger project ($1.5 million) when Harvey Keitel became interested in the script and came on board as an actor and coproducer. Featuring an all-male ensemble cast, this heist film without a heist became a sensation and has since been included in a number of lists as one of the greatest heist films and one of the greatest independent films of all time. It also created a great deal of controversy for its scene of torture, during which the character Mr. Blonde attacks a handcuffed police officer while dancing and humming Stealers Wheel’s pop hit from the 1970s “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which is playing on the radio. The scene gained notoriety, and the film was both celebrated and attacked for the blend of upbeat action, playful irony, genre pastiche, and sadistic violence. The two works listed here emphasize two key aspects of the film: Beltzer 2000 considers the dominance of a single location (an enclosed space), and Weinberger 2004 focuses on the emphasis on professionalism.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp Fiction is written about more than any other Tarantino film. With a whole book devoted to its analysis and many articles and essays, it truly is a filmic and critical sensation. The study of Tarantino as a serious filmmaker started with the release of this film, and Polan 2000 is one of the very few single-author books on Tarantino; it is to date the most thorough and sustained analysis of this or any other Tarantino film. Although more limited in scope and methodology than Polan 2000, Bertelsen 1999, Orgeron 2000, Epstein 2004, and Giroux 1995 offer astute analyses of ethical, gender, and stylistic issues in the film, such as its cult status (Bertelsen 1999), scatological tendencies (Orgeron 2000), focus on food (Epstein 2004), and blend of violence and humor (Giroux 1995).

  • Bertelsen, Eve. “‘Serious Gourmet Shit’: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.” Journal of Literary Studies 15.1–2 (1999): 8–32.

    DOI: 10.1080/02564719908530214Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Relying on concepts drawn from numerous postmodern and poststructuralist theorists, Bertelsen argues that the film is metacinema that enacts and comments on its own self-reflexivity. The author also considers the cult aspects and discusses the spectator and his or her engagement with the film’s multiple levels.

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  • Dowell, Pat. “Two Shots at Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.” Cineaste 21.3 (Summer 1995): 4–7.

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    Pat Dowell points to the gender and race politics of Pulp Fiction to suggest its alignment with conservative (and specifically Republican) politics and argues that its innovations are limited and that its structure is derived from television.

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  • Epstein, Rebecca L. “Appetite for Destruction: Gangster Food and Genre Convention in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.” In Reel Food: Essays on Food and Film. Edited by Anne L. Bower, 195–208. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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    The author argues for the centrality of food in Pulp Fiction. Including locations for consuming food and discussions of food, as well as actual instances of eating and drinking, Epstein ties the role of food to masculinity, violence, and the gangster genre.

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  • Giroux, Henry A. “Pulp Fiction and the Culture of Violence.” Harvard Educational Review 65.2 (Summer 1995): 299–315.

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    Giroux attacks Pulp Fiction for racism, homophobia, and misogyny and asserts that its hyperreal violence is empty and aimed only at shock, humor, and irony.

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  • Indiana, Gary, bell hooks, Jeanne Silverthorne, Dennis Cooper, and Robert Paul Wood. “Pulp the Hype on the Q.T.” Artforum International, March 1995.

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    Each of the authors gives a brief opinion piece on Pulp Fiction and all are critical of the film, Tarantino, and his success. Common criticisms coalesce around issues of race, gender, and violence, and several contend that Tarantino’s postmodernism is indicative of an emptiness of thought and feeling.

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  • Orgeron, Devin Anthony. “Scatological Film Practice: Pulp Fiction and a Cinema in Movements.” Post Script 19.3 (Summer 2000): 29–40.

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    A close analysis of the excremental in Pulp Fiction, this article attempts to draw connections between the presence of the scatological in Tarantino’s film and in postmodernism generally.

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  • Polan, Dana. Pulp Fiction. London: BFI, 2000.

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    A brief but thorough critical and scholarly analysis of Pulp Fiction that covers topics such as structure, music, reflexivity, postmodernism, and violence. Polan also contextualizes Pulp Fiction with discussions of 1990s cinema, fandom, and Tarantino’s oeuvre.

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Jackie Brown (1997)

An adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch (1992), Tarantino’s third feature film was not nearly as successful at the box office as Pulp Fiction (1994), but was praised by many critics as a more mature and nuanced work. Referencing blaxploitation cinema and the heist film, Jackie Brown is recognized for revitalizing the career of Pam Grier, who plays the eponymous flight attendant protagonist. Both Holmlund 2008 and Wager 2005 take this central character as the focal point.

  • Holmlund, Chris. “Wham! Bam! Pam! Pam Grier as Hot Action Babe and Cool Action Mama.” In Screening Genders. Edited by Krin Gabbard and William Luhr, 61–77. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

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    Looking at the role of race in the female action star, Holmlund analyzes the evolution of Pam Grier’s film roles. Jackie Brown is discussed in the final section, on Grier’s 1990s films.

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  • Wager, Jans B. “Jackie Brown (1997): Gender, Race, Class, and Genre.” In Dames in the Driver’s Seat: Rereading Film Noir. By Jans B. Wager, 143–154. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

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    The author argues that Jackie Brown reinvigorates noir and that the success of Jackie—a strong African American female protagonist—is a key aspect of this reinvention of the genre.

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Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004)

Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2 have produced almost as much scholarly and critical work as Pulp Fiction (1994). Most of the articles stress the transnationalism, reflexivity, and referentiality. The influence of Asian cinemas is central to much of the critical reception: Ng 2005 and Norris 2003 view this referentiality in a positive light; O’Brien 2003 is more critical of the pastiche that results. Pang 2005 analyzes the referentiality from a different perspective by considering the way that the films participate in transnational textual appropriation and global distribution, which complicates any sense of Hollywood or American cinema as a national cinema.

  • Ng, Jenna. “Cinephilia, Homage, and Kill Bill.” In Cinephilia: Movies, Love and Memory. Edited by Marijke de Valck and Malte Hagener, 65–82. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789053567685Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ng argues for Tarantino’s cinephilia as a mode of movie loving with productive transcultural implications. Offering an analysis of Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2 that considers their roots in Chinese and Japanese cinemas, Ng asserts a transcultural exchange and makes some general comments about the importance of love in cinephilia.

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  • Norris, Chris. “Mixed Blood: Kill Bill.” Film Comment, November/December 2003, 26–28.

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    Taking Tarantino’s referentiality seriously, this brief review essay notes that the film is more than empty citation or pastiche: as homage, it pays tribute to a multitude of films and by combining them, it becomes more than the sum of its parts.

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  • O’Brien, Geoffrey. “Devotional Furies: Kill Bill.” Film Comment, November/December 2003, 22–25.

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    This review essay of Kill Bill Volume 1 points out the film’s referentiality and its sophisticated formal qualities, but notes that the result is empty of feeling.

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  • Pang, Laikwan. “Copying Kill Bill.” Social Text 23.2 (Summer 2005): 133–153.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-23-2_83-133Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pang considers the ways in which Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2 are rooted in and reference Asian culture and cinema. Analyzing this textual exchange and borrowing as well as the distribution and subtitling of the films in Asian markets, the author makes an argument about transnationalism, global cinema culture, pirating, copyright, and distribution.

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Death Proof (2007)

Grindhouse (2007) was a two-film feature comprised of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino’s Death Proof. Tarantino’s contribution to this double bill features a split narrative that follows two groups of women pursued by a killer, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Benson-Allott 2008 discusses the way in which the double bill references grindhouse as a genre and a cinematic experience.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Tarantino’s most recent film has caused controversy for its representation of Jewish revenge and rewriting of history. Denby 2009, Goldberg 2009, and Mendelsohn 2009 are particularly critical of the film, while Taylor 2010 and Walters 2009 give balanced accounts of the controversies at hand. David Bordwell’s analysis of the film on his blog (Bordwell 2009) is not a review essay like the previous sources but a thorough, close analysis of the film that considers its intertextual and stylistic sophistication and argues against the significance of the debates surrounding the film.

LAST MODIFIED: 08/29/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0126

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