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In This Article Quentin Tarantino

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Interviews

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

LAST MODIFIED: 08/29/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0126

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