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David Poland

By David Poland

The Arrogance Of A Critic… Me.

It’s an odd thing.

I spend a couple of hours yesterday with the sound team that worked with Quentin Tarantino to put together Django Unchained. And I can’t say that it change my opinion of the film.

But as I listened to these men, all of whom are seasoned veterans, most of whom have worked with QT on multiple films, I saw Quentin in a way I had never seen him. I saw him through the eyes of pros who are incredibly loyal to him and incredibly motivated by the man… pushed to the limits of their creativity in a way that seemed to thrill each and every one of them.

It’s a connection that I have seen with Steven Spielberg’s crew and PT Anderson’s and a few others. But I had never really seen Quentin through eyes like that. I always see The Quentin Show. It always seems to be The Quentin Show. And indeed, the conversation was about a director who knows almost exactly what he is looking for in the work. But through their eyes, he is in service to that vision, much as they are, not to his ego.

So while I may appreciate the pieces of the Django puzzle and enjoy the film, but not be as thrilled by this ride as some of his others, I liked Quentin Tarantino after talking to these 5 guys more than I ever have. No matter how much I love some of his films, I never saw the man without the iconography. And so I am sorry that I have ever suggested, for instance, that he wasn’t giving it is all… or that he was working off of ego. Of course, we all have ego and we all miss the mark of our very best sometimes. But I quite respect the man I met, without him anywhere nearby, yesterday.

My work is to look behind the screen… behind the curtain… and I am pretty good at my work. But sometimes you need a reminder about the simple humanity of it all.

27 Responses to “The Arrogance Of A Critic… Me.”

  1. The Pope says:


    I’m not doubting your sincerity or your happy surprise to learn of Quentin (it is always nice to see and hear people inspired to do good work). But for me QT’s vision is his ego and his ego is his vision. Yes, that is true for a lot of artists, but I have never encountered a director who speaks of himself as if he were acting out the destiny of his own legend. And that can draw people to him and inspire them (like many charismatic religious or political leaders), but such leaders don’t really serve others. Only themselves and their ‘visions.’

    QT’s visions can sparkle and be fun, but what do these visions mean? What doe they stand for? What does QT believe in? Other than his own iconic status, what will he leave behind? Surely there has got to be something more to an artists work than… well, you look at other great films from other great filmmakers, and you find a truth about humanity. Allow me to mention Renoir, Bergman, Ford, Scorsese, Hanneke. We look, we listen, we feel and we come away with a little more understanding. With QT, what do we understand that we did not already understand? What new light has he shed on the world? Surely that is the mark of truly great artist. QT has greatness in him… but does that qualify him as great?

  2. Captain_Celluloid says:

    Great comments . . . . and humble too.

  3. christian says:

    JACKIE BROWN has more to say about the human condition than CASINO or SHUTTER ISLAND, yes?

  4. Not David Bordwell says:

    Look at that… christian disagrees with The Pope! Alert the bishops.

    I’m with christian on this one…Scorsese went off the rails for me around the time someone convinced him that he is an allegorical filmmaker rather than a keen observer of actual human beings.

    And fuck yes, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS communicates a truth about humanity. Is there a more sensitive and heartfelt appreciation of the human cost of Nazi crimes against cinema and the culture that produced Ufa and Babelsberg than that particular revenge fantasy?

  5. The Pope says:

    Not David Bordwell,

    Hahaha! Nice one. And I’m the one wearing the pointy hat!

    But since you ask whether there a more sensitive and heartfelt appreciation of the human cost of Nazi crimes against cinema… That is part of my complaint about Tarantino. His movies have a greater regard for stories and genre in general and cinema in particular than they do people (and by that I don’t mean the people in the stories). And so what we get is irony layered upon irony upon irony. All of which compresses everything to a quotation. If IG was his ‘Holocaust’ movie and DU his ‘Slavery’ movie, that is all that they are… movies about movies. And that echo chamber/hall of mirrors reduces everything to an artifice. So, not once during any of his films have I ever felt “that’s authentic. That is sincere. That is human.”

    And yet, I enjoy Tarantino’s films. Albeit in rare doses. About once every two to three years. Conveniently.


    Yes, Marty is no longer who Marty was. But then again, who is. Not even Shakespeare wrote like Shakespeare every day. But when the Bard did…

    Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull… those reels bleed with humanity. The only fluid that drips from QT’s celluloid are the chemicals used to develop the print.

  6. christian says:

    I would say there’s more humanity in the scenes between Pam Grier and Robert Forster than the whole of TAXI DRIVER. Or anything in GOODFELLAS.

    And what NDB said about IB: it’s about linguistics, propaganda and cinema and their historical collusion. What people forget is that QT actually knows how to present characters reacting like real people: the bar scene in IB is filled with dozens of tiny “real” moments; and Frederick Zoller is a genuinely tragic character. QT is a great writer because he’s a great observer.

  7. palmtree says:

    The director that comes to mind when you mention a loyal film crew family is Clint Eastwood…

  8. The Pope says:

    @ christian,
    I think perhaps you and I have a different understanding as to how we use the word “humanity.” I mean it, neither in kindness or tenderness or beauty, but rather in terms of honesty; depicting the condition of the characters in all the frailties. Taxi Driver and GoodFellas contain characters that are drawn from or observed in real life. There is an honesty to them. QTs characters are drawn from fiction. I mean come on, doesn’t the movie title give it away? Same with IG.

    Tarantino isn’t a great observer. He is a writer who gives us great dialogue and great scenes and they are exciting and chilling and they are fun because we are inside the joke with him. Not a bad place to be.

  9. I have to tread lightly as I won’t see DJango Unchained until Monday…

    I got the notion from Inglorious Basterds and at least the trailers for DJango Unchained that I’ve seen that QT may in fact be attempting to be a kind of skewed revisionist historian, playing at a sort of wish-fulfillment historical revisionism while also examining the darker human impulses that drive such vengeance-fueled fantasy. I think that fact that the whole ‘movies about movies’ jab fits here as well, as it may be (much speculation since again I haven’t seen Django Unchained) a commentary on how we view history through a cinematic lense. Again, I may see Django Unchained and say ‘oh, never-mind’, but it’s what I hope QT is up to as it’s a fascinating sandbox for him to play in for the second half of his career.

  10. Monco says:

    I agree with Pope, QT has regressed as an artist. The irony that infuses his work has infected a whole generation of film makers. Everything is about referencing other movies. QT makes his ‘Sergio corbucci spaghetti western movie’, his ‘blaxploitation movie’. Hacks like JJ Abrams make their ‘Spielberg movie’ with Super 8. Contemporaries like PT Anderson and Aronofsky are making true art and pushing the language of film forward. QT is too busy jacking off in a corner, worrying about protecting his filmography and thinking about how he can add more pop culture references to his dialogue.

  11. christian says:

    Pope, I don’t see how you watch Forster tear up at the end of JB and not think that QT gets regret and longing. I don’t see any real humanity in GOODFELLAS – wormy men with no ethics doing awful things. Yes, it’s based on reality but what does it say after hour two? How can QT be a great writer but not understand a few things about observation? The no-tipping speech in RD is one of my faves becase I gave variations of it before I saw it. The shock of recognition runs deep in his work.

  12. Krillian says:

    The brilliant, opening scene of Inglourious Basterds conveys wonderful, flawed humanity. The Nazi killing with kindness, the farmer who finds himself trapped and must condemn his neighbors by betraying them… good stuff.

    Haven’t seen Django, and my understanding is he plans on Kill Bill 3 as his next movie. Then what?

  13. The Pope says:

    The opening to IB is very tense yes, but everything about it is taken from movies. It’s a gargantuan conceit. Very tense and dramatic but a conceit nonetheless.

    Respectfully, the tipping scene in RD? We started off talking QT’s cinematic Nazis and slave owners and.. we’re now talking about tipping waitresses as an example of humanity?

    But I happily admit that the ending of Jackie Brown was a very nice surprise. Forster’s regret was touching and I had forgotten about it. My woops.

    The humanity in the last hour of GoodFellas is that Scorsese took the genre into a realm never before explored: regret of the life that Henry now misses. In other words, Henry does not regret his crimes. He only regrets getting caught. That is an arc no other gangster picture had dared admit to. Henry’s punishment is not the usual prison/death dealt out in earlier gangster pictures. This punishment is the purgatory of surviving and living the rest of his life in suburban “schnook” hell.
    And what is more, when Scorsese got Henry to address the camera in the courtroom at the end he was showing us that we were the jury. And you know what, by doing so Scorsese implicated us as well. Vicariously, we were thrilled by Henry’s life… why else is the Copa sequence such a delirious experience?

  14. Rashad says:

    It’s not a coincidence that Mr. Pink is so against tipping, and Mr. White is the compassionate one.

    And if the opening is “taken from movies” then who cares? It’s a brilliant scene.

    The most overused criticism of QT, is this homage business. Every director does it, he’s only open about it.

  15. christian says:

    So two hours of GOODFELLAS says Henry misses his violent life. Whats deep about that? The film is really a vicarious experience for those who think these scum are cool. And the flying camerawork and wall to wall music is the sugar to help the medicine go down? Admittedly Ive never much liked the film. And CASINO says the exact thing with more overkill. But QT is a writer and Scorcese is not.

  16. Krillian says:

    I didn’t like Casino. I apologized to the group I went with that I’d suggested it. It was just a more brutal rehash of Goodfellas.

  17. The Pope says:

    You’re right, the most over-used criticism of QT is ‘this homage business.’ But it is the one that is over-used because it was the first one applied and it is the one that has endured.

    Yes, we know Henry and his ilk are scum. But no, It’s not just that Henry misses the life. It’s that the audience wants him to go back to it. That’s the point of the final scene. And everything that goes before it leads us up to that realization.

    And you’re right. QT is a writer and Marty isn’t… but Marty has only shared credit on a few of his features; Mean Streets, GoodFellas, The Age of Innocence and Casino.

  18. The Big Perm says:

    Holy crap, I haven’t looked at this site in months and come back to see this bullpoop? I haven’t seen Django so no comment on that, but man, do some people misunderstand Tarantino. The guy is doing pretty amazing things with the language of cinema, structure of storytelling, and a whole lot of other stuff.

    To use just a few things from Basterds…isn’t it an interesting thing he’s doing when the Basterds beat the Nazi to death with the bat? Because in that scene, the Nazi is the noble one, not giving up his men and would rather die than talk. That’s heroic. And the supposed heroes of the movie are the dickheads, bashing in a guy’s brains and laughing about it.

    And the ending…it’s not JUST that he’s being revisionist, the ending is a perfect comment on the whole movie. First of all, we get the Nazis making these propaganda movies starring this soldier who didn’t really want to be in them…although deep down he loves it too. We see the Nazis watching this bullshit and cheering. And in the end our heroes go against our history and kill Hitler, and WE’RE watching and cheering. That’s kind of fucked up, isn’t it? Not to mention this comments pretty well on what the news media and the governemnt are doing with media every day. This is some layered shit Tarantino is doing.

    And why does a movie have to give you understanding about the human condition to be worthy? What does that even mean anyway? If that’s the case, Hitchcock really was a hack because he kept doing the same thing over and over. And Ford was mentioned…and there’s a guy who made entertainments. What did I learn from Rio Bravo? Not a damn thing but it’s an excellent movie.

  19. YancySkancy says:

    The great thing about Tarantino is his films aren’t cookie-cutter studio fare, and yet they play the multiplexes, sometimes make decent bank, and get taken seriously at awards time. Sure, they’re not for everybody, but what is? Even if you hate his stuff, you gotta respect its existence, don’t you?

    Perm: While I wouldn’t say that Hawks was trying to teach us anything in RIO BRAVO, it was nice to see a ragtag crew of misfits unite against long odds to do what’s right, and then pull it off.

  20. The Big Perm says:

    Oh yeah, Rio Bravo’s a great, great movie…but at the end it’s just a good old fashioned entertainment, expertly done. With Ford, like a lot of those old timers, you can get some meaning out of their work, but generally that’s not what they were about. And those guys HATED that shit.

    Tarantino’s problem is that he makes these movies that are working on a number of levels…but he makes them entertaining and (worst of all) funny. And entertainment is a big sin when it comes to snobs, they can’t see past that. Like, a fun movie can’t be saying anything. Tarantino is making essays on film that speak about film, sure…but also how we watch entertainment and use it, and critiques what it does and how we respond to it. And like yancy’s saying, AT THE SAME TIME plays multiplexes and are box office hits.

    Tarantino makes a two and a half hour movie that’s mostly dialogue, in subtitles, that works on so many levels, and people can’t get past the surface of the man. We should admire the absolute BALLS of this guy, he never plays it safe. Swings for the fences every single time out. He does what Hanecke does, except people actually want to see a Tarantino movie.

  21. The Big Perm says:

    I’d also mention that what’s cool about Rio Bravo is that it was basically a response to High Noon, which Hawks and Wayne hates…and Noon WAS a movie that was trying to make a statement, and ultimately Bravo still works better and doesn’t seem nearly as dated.

  22. YancySkancy says:

    The only slight disagreement I’d have is that I don’t think Ford and Hawks hated to include meaning in their work (especially Ford); they just hated to admit it was there and, above all, hated talking about it.

  23. The Pope says:

    Reading the last few entries, I sense that I have not made myself understood.

    Tarantino is an exciting filmmaker. A much needed shot in the arm, and anti-dote to the anodyne Hollywood production line.

    I just think that once in a while, for all the entertainment we get it is important to seek and find films that offer up different things to us to consider. A little bit like finding something new on the menu, something like the chef’s special.

    Again, Tarantino is an exciting filmmaker. I like his menu… I just want something else once in a while.

  24. The Big Perm says:

    I think Tarantino offers up different things to consider with each movie he makes. If all you see is the satire, violence, funny dialogue and movie references, you miss the new things he brings every time out. And you were basically saying he’s making vapid movies.

    I’d also point out that you miss what I’d see is the point of Goodfellas…you think in the end, the audience wants him to go back to that life? Really? After everything we’ve seen? Scorsese was genius with that movie, he made the first half fun as hell and so exciting, and then once Spider gets shot, the movie turns and becomes a descent right into the shit. Look at the absolute paranoia that happens before he’s caught…where either the police want to catch him, or his friends want to kill him. Hill is basically a self-desructive loser.

    Yancy, you’re right, and I don’t mean to say that those guys werent’ at all interested in meaning…but they knew that was the additional stuff they could put on, not the thrust of what makes a good movie. Did you ever read the Easy Riders Raging Bulls book? Where Friedkin talks about Hawks giving him advice? If not, Hawks hated the movies of the day, which he thought were preachy and boring, and too full of talking. He told Friedkin that back in the day, he made good guys vs bad guys, and the good guys win, and that’s a good movie. That’s what spurred Friedkin to sell out and make The Exorcist.

  25. YancySkancy says:

    Perm: I’ve read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, but I guess too long ago to remember that bit. I do recall that Hawks felt that way, so maybe the book is where I picked that up.

  26. christian says:

    I wouldnt trust any artidt to explicate the meaning of his work. Hawks films are always about misfits uniting and Ford is operating on such a subconcious level he’s the last one to trust about his lack of message….

  27. samguy says:

    You mentioned QT’s sound team and for me that automatically makes me think of “KIll Bill Vol !.” From the opening when you hear Uma Thurman and Viveca J. Fox walking on cereal to the silence of the final battle between The Bride and Oren Ichi, (pardon the mixed use of actor and character names!) the sound is brilliant. Then there’s that awesome song selection.

    The lack of Academy recognition for this is just as bad as ignoring Thurman’s performance.

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