I am the sort of person who will get some perfume as a gift, smell it once, and then decide: this is my signature scent. I will wear it every day for the rest of my life. It’s what my children will grow up thinking is the scent of home; it’s what people will smell in empty rooms after I die and get freaked out because I’m haunting them. I will be “the person who always wears [scent]”, part of my definition. This is a ridiculous way to live. I know this. It is silly and inappropriate and I will never, ever stop.
So when I watched and enjoyed Reservoir Dogs a couple of months ago, I decided I would watch every Tarantino film. I told everyone, repeatedly. It turns out that preparing for a movie marathon isn’t the same as preparing for an actual marathon, ie. no one cares. I complained about it like was something someone had forced me to do, despite no one ever giving me any more encouragement than “oh, okay!” when I told them my plans. However, even though no one asked me to do this, I finished. Even Four Rooms. I’m a hero.
Here is why I wish I could stay in a dark room and just run through the whole process ad infinitum until the faces of everyone in my memory are replaced by Uma Thurman’s.
1. THE DIALOGUE
In my scriptwriting classes, the advice that we should a) Be succinct and do not waste a word but b) Don’t have your characters spell out their exact feelings was hard to follow. It’s difficult to know when to sacrifice one rule for the other. Tarantino’s dialogue is an example of how characters can say things that are not even remotely a declaration of their feelings and intentions, but still give the audience everything they need to know. It feels fresh to listen to, and highlights the artificial feeling of many other films’ exchanges. By giving everyone the time to go on about Madonna or milkshakes or whatever you feel closer to a character than if they’d confessed, out of the blue, sincerely, with a soft soundtrack, their deepest secrets. (And about Madonna – my writing teachers say not to drop brand names in your work as a lazy shortcut to creating context, but I’ll admit, I actually love when films and books discuss pop culture. I don’t know if this is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or what; I just enjoy it.)
2. THE RECURRING ACTORS
How many times have I seen Uma Thurman’s feet? SO MANY. More than my own. There’s something really nice about Michael Madsen popping up in Kill Bill like an old friend, or Christoph Waltz being, in turns, fiendish and lovely.
3. CHRISTOPH WALTZ
I told my housemate that if I saw Christoph Waltz in the street and walked past him – not even saying anything, not making eye contact or anything like that – my skin would immediately clear up, my sinuses would trouble me no more, and I’d never have a bad hair day again. He is a nice little man and I like the way he says Daniel Bruhl.
4. ACTUALLY, UMA THURMAN
I love her. The other day in work I spent a few hours imagining a situation in which I was in the world of Pulp Fiction and had to take her out for the evening the way Vince Vega does. I was a protegee of Marcellus, who occasionally invited me over for dinner with them both. I drove around in a little broke-down car and she would smile enigmatically at me over the gearbox thing. (I don’t really drive.)
I mean, grow up.
5. THE UNEXPECTED PLOT TURNS
There’s rarely a twist – not in the “gotcha!” way – but there’s often unexpected turns in the plot. The cool thing about them is they never seem forced. Shoshanna and her family being beneath the floorboards. Vince shooting Marvin. Beatrix Kiddo’s daughter being alive. In my course we’re told to use our itinerary in our writing – use the surroundings, the context, the characters rather than some outside force to drive the plot along – and a lot of the time, that’s what happens in Tarantino’s films. Obviously not all of the time, but the films trust you as an audience member, and as I worked my way through them all it was an interesting feeling to begin to trust them too. You know you’re not going to get cheated out of a good ending.
6. THE SOUNDTRACK
This is a cliche but truly is there anything better than listening to ‘Down in Mexico’ by The Coasters after watching Death Proof? No there isn’t. Nothing in the world.
7. ALL OF DEATH PROOF
I hate that Quentin Tarantino said this is his worst film. It’s a masterpiece. I love all those girls so much. I hate Stuntman Mike so much. I love the car chases, and the dancing, and Zoe Bell is brighter than the sun – she kills me every time she’s on screen. It’s our job, collectively, to recuperate Death Proof‘s reputation. I ended up watching this three times. Thank you Tracie Thoms, thank you Rosario Dawson, thank you Rose McGowan.
8. ALSO FOUR ROOMS IS ACTUALLY QUITE GOOD
I would watch it again. I relate to the way Tim Roth moves in an exaggerated camp way when no one is watching. It’s always hilarious when Quentin pops up in his own films but I would say his best acting was in the final section of Four Rooms, it’s great, and as I’m writing this I’m realising actually I harbour more affection than I thought for this weird silly little film.
9. MR WHITE
He is the most reassuring person I have ever seen, on-screen or in real life. Reservoir Dogs is stressful and Tim Roth cries a lot but Larry Dimick seems like he has everything under control. The best boyfriend for any undercover cop to have.
10. THOSE MOMENTS
Moments that are full of meaning and pathos and wonder. John Travolta blowing a kiss to Mia after she goes back into her house. Vic Vega doing his little dance to ‘Stuck in the Middle’. Shoshanna instructing: “Marcel, burn it down.” The end of Kill Bill Volume 2, where Beatrix is ‘aka Mommy’. These films earn those moments, and they are so rewarding to watch.
(A quick note: Tarantino is obviously an incredibly imperfect director, especially with race issues. I’m not in any way encouraging people to ignore those valid objections.)