By Dave Pezza
After searching the hotel’s only two floors for a working vending machine, to no avail, I trudged to the front desk wearing unlaced boots, boxers, and an undershirt. I plopped my ice bucket, filled to the brim, on the counter. Looking at the concierge in the eyes, I said in desperation,
“Please tell me there is a working Coke machine somewhere?”
“Sorry. Both of them are broken.”
Despair ran down my face like wet paint.
“But we have cans of Coke down here…” she offered quickly in a tone of faux concern that all customer service workers use.
“It’s warm though; is that okay?”
I looked at her blankly, then down to my bucket, then back to her.
“Yeah. That’ll work.”
Back in the room, I kicked off my boots, dropped the bucket of ice on the bathroom floor next to my flask and the ridiculously small plastic cup hotel’s provide with your ice bucket. Naked now, I test the bath water with my foot, balancing myself on the wet tile wall and the wet tile floor, hoping I don’t slip and go out naked in some hotel bathroom in Fairfield, Conn. The water was still hot! A minute later I am in the tub with a kiddie-sized plastic cup full of ice, Coke from a can, and Sailor Jerry rum watching Quentin Tarantino’s first major film, “Reservoir Dogs,” on my iPad.
For those of you unfamiliar with the screenwriter, director, and actor (or his movies), Tarantino exploded into Hollywood with his 1992 film “Reservoir Dogs.” His unconventional style of storytelling, compelling dialogue, and campy violence earned him an immediate cult following. Two years later, Tarantino would win an Academy Award for best original screenplay for his nod to 1970’s crime films "Pulp Fiction." He has made several movies since, drawing such actors as Bruce Willis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Uma Therman, Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Nero, John Travolta, Christopher Walkin, and James Gandolfini to his projects. And it all started with a $1.5 million project that Tarantino wrote in three and a half weeks.
As I sit fully emerged in steaming water with only my head and right arm above the water to tilt cold cocktail into my gullet, “Reservoir Dogs” opens with Tarantino’s self-cast character, Mr. Brown, attempting to analyze Madonna’s radio hit “Like a Virgin.” The preliminary opening credits roll in gold lettering on a black screen to Mr. Brown’s voice saying,
“Let me tell you what like a virgin is about. It’s all about a girl who digs this guy with a big dick. The entire song is a metaphor for big dicks.”
Consider how ballsy a move this is. A no-name director who has spent every dime to his name on a movie that opens with a self-cast character trying to convince the audience that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is about big dick. And it worked. Audiences ate it up, and "Reservoir Dogs" is still a cult classic.
Mr. Brown continues, “Pain. It hurts. It hurts her…The pain is reminding a fuck machine what it was once like to be a virgin.”
Tarantino describes here the essence of his entire career in the first words of his first major work.
Tarantino has come under a lot of criticism from mainstream film critics and media for his unoriginality, gratuitous use of the N-word, and obsession with violence. Tarantino has made a career of emulating his favorite genres of films. “Reservoir Dogs” is his take on heist films; “Pulp Fiction:” crime films; “Kill Bill:” Kung Fu and samurai films; “Inglorious Bastards:” World War II movies; “Django Unchained:” spaghetti westerns. This tour de film has caused some to brand him a copycat. As far as originality is concerned, Tarantino has won two Oscars for his original screen plays “Pulp Fiction” and “Django Unchained.”
What is more telling, and much more subtle, is how all of Tarantino’s movies loosely fit into an overarching universe. For a better connect the dots of this universe see the Cracked.com article about said topic.
Here is a quick and dirty version: Tarantino’s world is loosely held together by the principle that culture, namely films, has an intense effect of reality. In this universe, World War II was ended by a few violent American agents shooting and blowing up Hitler in a movie theater in France. As a result, American culture becomes hyper-sensitive to film culture. One of the American commandos, Donny Donowitz, in “Inglorious Bastards” is the grandfather of the Hollywood film producer in Tarantino’s “True Romance.”
Films like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” are about people who live in this alternative America. Mr. Blonde in “Reservoir Dogs,” whose real name is Vic Vega, is the brother of hit man Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.” Other Tarantino movies, like “Kill Bill” and “Grindhouse,” are films that people in this universe would go see—films within films, if you will. If reality in the Tarantino universe is as violent as “Pulp Fiction," how gory and desensitized would a movie in that universe be? The answer might be why "Kill Bill" is literally drenched in gore. So gory that Tarantino was forced to shoot part of the movie in black and white.
There are numerous other tells, like Red Apple cigarettes, a fictional brand of cigarettes seen in several of Tarantino’s movies. All of this, of course, is oh so trite.
Tarantino came under particular criticism for his characters’ use of the N-word in his film “Jackie Brown,” Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. This criticism came up again this past year with the release of his latest movie, “Django Unchained,” which is set in the antebellum south. Many called his exorbitant use of the N-word in the film offensive; the word is used more than a hundred times Tarantino’s response to these criticisms is more apt than anything I could come up with:
“As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. I demand the right to be them, I demand the right to think them and I demand the right to tell the truth as I see they are, all right? And to say that I can't do that because I'm white, but the Hughes brothers can do that because they're black, that is racist. That is the heart of racism, all right. And I do not accept that ... It would not be questioned if I was black, and I resent the question because I'm white. I have the right to tell the truth. I do not have the right to lie.”
As far as his obsession with violence is concerned, yeah there is a lot of violence and gore in Tarantino films, agreed. But there is also a lot of violence in Michael Bay films, and James Cameron movies, and in most contemporary visual media. Those cries fall on deaf ears here.
As Tim Roth’s character bleeds out in the back of car on my iPad, I chew ice from the plastic cup. Refilled, I slide down in the tub and feel the warm water around me and the cold rum running down my throat. I realize something, something beyond Tarantino’s style or his racial language or his violence.
He’s just fucking cool.
The way he makes his characters speak their diction, each word chosen carefully and delivered with poise and deliberateness by his actors, has been lacking in film for quite some time. The way John Travolta rolls his cigarettes, the way Tim Roth delivers his commode story, or Uma dances around in her living room. It all makes you believe that people can still act and talk and move like this, with purpose, with attitude. In a culture filled with sweatpants in public, aluminum beer bottles, the infestation of the word “like,” and constant social media babbling, at least someone is still dedicated to cool. There is hope in Tarantino films, hope that we can still be cool and self-aware as a culture.
When I sit down to watch his movies, it reminds me of what it felt like when I smoked my first cigar or drank my first mouthful of bourbon. It reminds a white collar stooge what it was once like to have thoughts and actions as one, smooth and steady, and what it is like to be cool as fuck.
And as long as you force yourself never to forget this, perhaps while naked in a hotel tub loaded on Coke and Sailor Jerry, then maybe you’ll never lose it.
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