Written by Ian Nathan
If you are a film geek and like to write about film because of that passion, Quentin Tarantino plays a big part in your cinematic life. Me, I saw Reservoir Dogs when it came out and it blew my tiny little mind – the dialogue, the playing with the form of the heist movie, the cool. I mean, I didn’t know until afterwards about his magpie attitude to the movies, stealing from City On Fire and Taking of Pelham 123, but it didn’t matter. Reservoir Dogs hit me at a formative time in my filmic appreciation journey, and films were never the same again. And that wasn’t just me – the impact Tarantino had on cinema was incredible, which is why a book like this can exist from a filmmaker who has made only nine/ten films (depending on which side of the ticket-purchasing argument you are on), not counting the scripts/script-doctoring (which are discussed in the book as well).
Part of the reason is that Tarantino was one of us – he’s accurately described in this book as ‘the messiah of film geeks’ – someone who passionately loved film and loved talking about and knew it all. This meant that all the film journalists (also film geeks, generally speaking) wanted to write about him and know everything about him. Film writers went crazy for him at the time, and there are always reams of think pieces whenever a new Tarantino film comes out, let alone all the responses to the problematic issues that arise after people have seen his films (the use of the ‘N’ word, the violence, the rewriting history).
I think that this is what makes for a tough job for Nathan here – Tarantino must be one of the most written-about filmmakers in recent history; everyone knows the story about the guy who worked in a video store who arrived on the scene with this incredible debut (Nathan goes into the truth about Tarantino, on his hard work trying to get into the industry and not just appearing out of nowhere). Having to find something new about Tarantino is an impossible task, although he is up to the job because he’s an experienced writer who knows his way around the cinematic criticism.
The book is as you would expect: a chronological trip through Tarantino’s life and his work, with chapters dedicated to his life pre-film, the films he wrote and the films he wrote and directed. These are accompanied by a wide selection of images (photos, posters, promotional shots) because this is a coffee-table book, after all. It has the feel of a collection of Empire magazine special articles on Tarantino’s career, which makes sense because Nathan worked (and still works as a contributing editor) for Empire, so the comparison is clear. In fact, there’s another comparison: the book feels comparatively light – it’s 176 pages, but that doesn’t feel enough to cover Tarantino, his films and the impact on cinema. Nathan could have written so much more (and this book was published before he could have seen Once Upon A Time In Hollywood …).
Nathan is also honest – this isn’t a hagiography, and he isn’t afraid to be honest. He’s not as honest as he could have been – Tarantino has been a very indulgent filmmaker since Kill Bill (there is always some great stuff in his films, apart from Grindhouse, which only has the very end to make it worth watching, but there is too much other stuff outside the good bits that needs to be trimmed), something not addressed in this book, but it still has to sell on Tarantino’s name, so it can’t be an attack hidden among the pretty pictures.
For an expensive hardback, there were moments that reminded me of my day job of being an editor, which is not a great sign. Text that doesn’t make sense (‘lift the bones of another his scripts’), sentences that fees like a first draft (“Tarantino’s didn’t want to do battle scenes – ‘That shit bores me’ – such formulaic war-move propaganda bored him.”), the photo text duplicates that in the body text; worse on p54, they duplicate the photo text on the page and on the plate. The book should have had another read through.
However, for all that, it’s a book that looks great – love that cover – and it’s a winning combination of some great film visuals and tight writing about an auteur who has been at the centre of modern cinema. Shame it’s going to need an updated edition when Tarantino makes some more films …
Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.