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‘QT8’, tasty sundae for Quentin fans

Docu shows Tarantino’s passion for films

QT8

In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8:
Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight”, a documentary about the films of Quentin
Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see
Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction”, shooting the iconic dance contest at
Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma Thurman gyrate to “You Never Can
Tell”, staring each other down as they do the twist with that
two-fingers-across-the-eyes gesture that I first saw Adam West do, in full cowl
and costume, on an episode of “Batman”, Tarantino stands next to the camera, a
few feet from his actors, and he’s dancing, too. It’s not some big show-offy
director thing. He just seems like an overgrown kid (at 30, he still looked
like one), a starstruck bystander who couldn’t help but join in.

 Directors tend to be stern taskmasters, and
Tarantino is famous for tolerating no nonsense on his sets. Yet in “QT8”,
watching him in brief clips during the shooting of his films, you get a sense
of the diligent passion that permeates a Tarantino set. The actors interviewed
in “QT8” all express great love for him, in no small part because he invites
them to take the characters they’re playing and run with them. Christoph Waltz
recalls how the extraordinary opening monologue Tarantino wrote for Hans Landa,
the twinkly Nazi scoundrel of “Inglourious ….”, contained endless ways to
interpret it, which were up to the actor. And during the shooting of “Reservoir
Dogs”, the script for the ear-torture scene said nothing more than “Mr Blonde
does a maniacal dance.” Michael Madsen, who couldn’t dance, made up his psycho
shimmy on the spot; he also improvised the bit where he talks into the cop’s
severed ear.

 As seen in “QT8”, the Quentin sets are
hard-working movie parties where the director’s control mingles with an
atmosphere of discovery. Tarantino is always next to the camera, with no video
playback apparatus, cracking up at the funny bits in his scenes. Cell phones
are banned – his way of joining everyone in the same immersion. And the casts
become families. During the shooting of “Django Unchained”, Leonardo DiCaprio
was feeling uncomfortable about saying the N-word in front of African-American
actors he considered his friends. It took Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson to
tell him: Don’t worry, we’re not your friends – this is just another Tuesday to
us, so let it rip. DiCaprio did, letting his hand, in a dinner scene, smash
down on a glass, which set him to bleeding profusely. But DiCaprio knew that
the take was on fire, so he didn’t stop; he just kept acting (and bleeding).
When it was over, his non-friends gave him a standing ovation.

Touches

“QT8” was directed by Tara Wood,
whose one other credit is the 2014 documentary “Richard Linklater: 21 Years”,
and this movie, like that one, is an eager, middlebrow, film-by-film piece of
fan analysis that touches the bases of its subject’s career without necessarily
tapping into its greater mysteries. Louis Black, the co-founder of The Austin
Chronicle and SXSW, makes eloquent testimonials to the humanity that underlies
Tarantino’s pop sensibility. Yet it’s curious that he’s the only thing
approaching a critical voice in “QT8”, because with a filmmaker like Tarantino
you want to tap the well of his artistry, the way the deep-diving critical
chorus of Ric Burns’ “Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film” did. This movie has no
such pretensions. Yet even those who already know a great deal about Tarantino
will groove on the anecdotes and insights.

 Like the fact that Quentin, directing his
first feature by using the $20,000 in residuals he made as one of a chorus of
Elvis impersonators on an episode of “The Golden Girls”, told everyone to show
up on the set of “Reservoir Dogs” dressed in black suits and white shirts.
“They gave us the ties,” recalls Michael Madsen. “That was about it. But if you
watch the movie, Steve Buscemi has black jeans on.” Or the way Tarantino forced
Eli Roth to wait four days, lifting weights and killing time, to shoot the
scene in “Inglourious …” where the Bear Jew bashes a Nazi with a baseball
bat; by the time Roth came out of that cave, he was ready to kill. Or how,
during the “Death Proof” shoot, Tarantino sat with Zoe Bell and watched the
extraordinary scene in which she’s strapped to the hood of a speeding car. When
he asked her what was missing, she didn’t know. It turned out that you couldn’t
see her face because she was so used to keeping it hidden as a stuntwoman. So
they had to shoot it again.

 The film has great photos of Quentin in his
video-store-geek phase, as well as a healthy array of clips that reference all
the movies he’s lifted from. Yet you’ll learn precious little about Tarantino’s
off-camera life, his complicated relationship with Harvey Weinstein, or the
sources of his obsessions. There are a couple of cursory Harvey-the-bully
stories that feel like the film’s way of brushing past Weinstein’s more
horrendous crimes.

 That said, one of the strongest elements of
“QT8” is the film’s evocation of the indelible female characters Tarantino has
given us. Not just women who kick …, but women who burn with a serious fire,
like Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown or Uma Thurman’s yearning moll in “Pulp Fiction”
or Thurman’s dynamo of vengeance in the “Kill Bill” films or the
take-no-prisoners vixens who, in the first half of “Death Proof”, do nothing
but drive and talk, magnetizing us (or, at least, some of us) the whole while.

 The producer Stacy Sher says, perceptively,
that “Reservoir Dogs” announced a new sensibility that would shake up the world
of movies as powerfully as the French New Wave did. Tarantino’s voice was that
free, that rule-breaking, that rooted in a movie past it transformed into the
movie future. The day after “Reservoir Dogs” showed at Cannes in a special
midnight show, Quentin was strolling the Croisette with his producers, and the
people he passed would shout out “Tarantino!” On Mario Kassar’s yacht, Oliver
Stone, James Cameron, and Paul Verhoeven were all clamoring to meet him. They
could sense a revolution was under way, and Quentin was already a legend.

 He was, from the start, creating a universe of
his own, held together by its own connective minutiae. It wasn’t just about the
Big Kahuna Burgers or the Red Apple cigarettes or the Vega brothers. Tim Roth
points out that in “The Hateful Eight”, he’s playing the
great-great-grandfather of the Michael Fassbender character in “Inglourious
….”. (RTRS)

Yet all the connections – and
panoramic 70mm imagery – couldn’t make “The Hateful Eight” a good movie, and
when “QT8” treats it as “a bookend of ‘Reservoir Dogs’,” due to the combination
of its enclosed space and its double-cross drama, it’s a sign of the critical
limits of the film’s QT boosterism. The movie stops short of “Once Upon a
Time… in Hollywood”, the film that has probably put Quentin at the center of
the conversation more than any movie since “Pulp Fiction”. And it reminds you
that according to his 10-film master plan, he now has only one more movie to
go. Each of them can stand as it its own monument, which makes a documentary
like “QT8” at once engaging and redundant. For all its fun facts and
behind-the-scenes peeks, it builds up and deconstructs a legend we’ve been
building up and deconstructing all along. (RTRS)

By Owen Gleiberman

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