What makes the Tarantino-verse so unavoidable

Quentin Tarantino with the Palme d'Or that he won for 'Pulp Fiction' in 1994.

As Quentin Tarantino’s 9th and (supposedly) penultimate film, ‘Once upon a time in Hollywood’ released today, his fanbase, among the widest for any director in the world, is roaring for blood.

His presence is so deeply felt in pop culture, even his detractors have no option of ignoring him.

So what makes him one cinema’s greatest enfant terribles? These may be five of the reasons:

Low-brow filmmaker with high-brow tricks

The genre that we can most easily put Tarantino in is ‘pulp fiction’. But he does it with a twist. For instance, while he is most famous for gangster films, his films employ tricks most movie-goers have only seen in heavy-duty art films. The screenplay for his very first film ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1991) even has a list of high-brow filmmakers the film is dedicated to, which includes greats like Jean-Luc Godard.

How meta can you get?

Tarantino is acutely aware of the genre that he is working in. While he borrows liberally from filmmakers from the past, he often uses irony to make them his own.

Take his second movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994). The film starts with a title card showing two definitions of the word ‘pulp’.

The first reads that pulp is a ‘soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter’; the second says it is ‘a magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper’.

You are right to assume that it is the second definition that is relevant to Tarantino’s film, because of the obvious reference to its genre. But if you think harder, you will realise that the game the filmmaker plays with the genre makes the first definition just as apt.

The unlikely Palme d'Or

Ask your snooty friends and they will tell you that the Oscars are not the most respected film awards in the world, they are only the award ceremony with the most money pumped in and the greatest reach. The most “respected” award, they will say, is the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival.

The Palme d'Or winners are usually serious films. That a film as wacky, witty and made for the everyman as Pulp Fiction should win the Palme d'Or came as a shock to many in 1994, making it one of the most written about films ever. Even today, some “serious” moviegoers shrug Pulp Fiction away with a “meh”, while some others make very philosophical interpretations of the film that make Tarantino fans go “What rubbish!”

The politically incorrect good guy

While four-letter swear words have become the staple of “edgy” Hollywood films (Tarantino himself is a champion of their usage), there is another word Hollywood treads far more carefully on: “nigger”. The industry is careful to insert them only in the mouths of the meanest of mean guys.

Tarantino does not give a *insert one of the four-letter words* about this convention. While some people have spoken out against the director for this, famous African-American actors like Samuel L Jackson have defended him, saying there is a difference between endorsing the word and portraying characters who use them, and that Tarantino has written some of the best Black characters.

The vast Tarantino-verse

Tarantino has said that he will make only 10 films in his lifetime, and that all his films are set in the same universe. Vic Vega, better known as the maniacal Mr Blonde, of Reservoir dogs, is the brother of the ill-fated Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction. Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction had once been in a pilot for a TV crime series, her description of which will remind you an awful lot of Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies that would release 9 years after Pulp Fiction.

The fictional restaurant chain ‘Big Kahuna’ and the fictional cigarette brand ‘Red Apple’ also appears in multiple Tarantino films.

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