What follows was my first attempt at film “criticism.” I wrote this paper at the beginning of university and upon revisiting it, I realize that it’s a little inconsistent and rather naive. I posted it simply for entertainment purposes and also to perhaps provide a platform for further Tarantino discussions. Leave comments and feedback in the section below and let the Tarantino discussion commence!
In 1997, just as his new film Jackie Brown was about to hit theatres, American film director Quentin Tarantino was accused of plagiarism regarding his first film Reservoir Dogs (1992). When Reservoir Dogs was released, Tarantino had claimed that it was his version of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, a film about a heist gone awry. However, in 1997 the film came under severe scrutiny when critic Ron Lim wrote an article entitled “Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction: How a Video Store Geek Plagiarized His Way to the Top in Hollywood” whereby he accused Tarantino of plagiarizing a 1987 Hong Kong film entitled City On Fire. Certain sequences in Reservoir Dogs, plot-wise Lim argues, are identical. In actuality, the last twenty minutes of City On Fire are the basis for Reservoir Dogs as a whole. The reason the word basis is a more appropriate term in describing Reservoir Dogs’s script is because the term plagiarism in postmodernist cinema would almost encapsulate the medium as a whole. For example, if Tarantino can be accused of plagiarism regarding Reservoir Dogs, can William Monahan be accused of the same regarding his Oscar winning script for The Departed (2006), which is based on another Hong Kong film entitled Infernal Affairs (2002)? No, Monahan cannot be accused of plagiarism because he has acknowledged he used Alan Mak’s script in order to formulate his remake. If one acknowledges his/her sources, then is it safe to assume that he/she has avoided plagiarism?
In addition, even the non-linear narratives in Tarantino’s films have been accused of coming from different sources such as Alain Renais’s Last Year in Marienbad (1961) for example (Hoesterey 2001, 79), Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane or even Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. But how can someone be accused of borrowing or even being inspired by a certain film, song or text for that matter? Non-linear narratives go back as far as Oedipus Tyrannus but does everyone who sits down to start writing a script, a novel or short story with non-linearity in mind have to start acknowledging Sophocles as a source? To discuss the question of plagiarism in Tarantino’s work, it must be studied in greater detail. Quentin Tarantino is the quintessential postmodernist filmmaker. By analyzing specific elements in the films directed by Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Volume I and II, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds, this article will discuss why Tarantino’s work must be scrutinized in terms of pastiche as opposed to plagiarism.
The article will be separated into five parts. The first part will deal with the definitions of the terms plagiarism and homage as well as why Reservoir Dogs cannot be considered plagiarism. The second, third, and fourth parts will explore the definition of the term pastiche and one of its sub-genres refiguration and how both apply to the films of Quentin Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Death Proof will be the main films scrutinized but allusions to the rest of Tarantino’s body of work, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, and Inglourious Basterds are included to provide additional examples of pastiche and homage. The fifth part will be the conclusion and closing discussion about why Tarantino should be considered as the quintessential postmodernist filmmaker.
1. Plagiarism and Homage: Definitions and Reservoir Dogs Discussed
Plagiarism is defined as such: “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: use (another’s production) without crediting the source: to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 888)
In addition, homage, by definition means: “expression of high regard: RESPECT – often used with pay: something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another: TRIBUTE.” (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 554)
Darsie Bowden’s article “Coming to Terms: Plagiarism” cites Susan McLeod stating that classic art used mimesis and imitation and that originality was not valued. Artists used to openly borrow from one another and that the notion of owning ideas is attached a capitalist view of private and intellectual property (McLeod cited in Bowden 1996, 83). This idea seems to actually promote appropriation, or in Tarantino’s case homage, as a means of acknowledging sources.
Therefore, is Reservoir Dogs plagiarism? The answer is no. There are definitely some similarities between certain aspects of the film plot-wise but the same can be argued about many films being released today (romance comedies for example). Reservoir Dogs is infused with pop-culture references that would be oblivious to the eastern hemisphere as a whole (it is quite safe to assume that Pam Grier is not a household name in Hong Kong). In actuality, Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is quite similar Scorsese’s The Departed, inasmuch as the plot in and of itself falls secondary to the character development. In both Hong Kong versions City on Fire and Infernal Affairs the emphasis is on the action portrayed. And what about the Mr. Blonde torturing the police officer sequence in Reservoir Dogs? That scene’s violence alone is what got the film so much press and it is nowhere to be found in City On Fire. Reservoir Dogs mimics certain aspects of City On Fire’s plot structure however, as Lim explains himself, Tarantino also uses John Woo’s films as a reference for his costumes; he uses the names of colors for character alias’s like in the Taking of Pelham One Two Three; he injects a dance sequence in the middle of his film like in Godard’s Bande à part (1964); he paraphrases Mohammed Ali (the famous “If you beat me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize”); and the list goes on. But by mixing all references into Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino avoids plagiarism and his film should be classified in terms of homage, but more importantly pastiche.
Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism: or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, explains that pastiche is the marking trait of the postmodernist filmmaker. Tarantino, himself, creates a new breed of nostalgia films. Jameson defines the nostalgia film as such: “Nostalgia films restructure the whole issue of pastiche and project it onto a collective and social level, where the desperate attempt to appropriate a missing past is now refracted through the iron law of fashion change and the emergent ideology of the generation” (Jameson 1991, 19) which in turn leads to “the history of aesthetic styles displac[ing] ‘real’ history (Jameson 1991, 20).
2. Recapturing the ‘Ideas’ of Past Genres: Pastiche in Tarantino’s Films
Tarantino can only pastiche the aesthetic styles of past film genres because the films he chooses to pay tribute to or reference are out of their original context and therefore devoid of the cultural or political idiosyncrasies attributed to each period. Therefore, based on Jameson’s definition of the nostalgia film and Richard Dyer’s definition of pastiche, Tarantino’s work is the epitome of postmodernist cinema.
2.1 Pastiche defined and demonstrated in Don Delillo’s Coming Sun. Mon. Tues. (1966) and Americana (1971)
Richard Dyer explains:
“A pastiche imitates its idea of that which it imitates (its idea being anything from an individual memory through a group’s shared and constructed remembering to a perception current at a given cultural-historical moment) […] Different periods and cultures see and hear different things and this must be registered in any imitation, and therefore pastiche, of them” (Dyer 2007, 55).
Pastiche, put simply, can be defined as “quoting the tradition and rewriting it” (Hoesterey 2001, 46). In postmodernist literature, Mark Osteen has observed that Don Delillo’s short story Coming Sun. Mon. Tues. and his novel Americana pastiche a specific scene in French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1959). For example:
“Some of [ Coming Sun. Mon. Tues] events – the car theft, the girl’s pregnancy – seem to have been derived from Godard’s [À bout de souffle]. Like Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Michel in that film, Delillo’s boy constantly looks at himself in the mirror (392, 394); […] The boy’s cinematic models are clearly exhibited when he “stands in front of a movie theatre looking at a poster of Jean-Paul Belmondo” (p.393), mimicking the scene in [À bout de souffle] when Belmondo gazes at the poster of Humphrey Bogart. […] DeLillo reuses this scene in Americana, when protagonist and novice filmmaker David Bell looks “at the poster of Belmondo looking at the poster of purposeful Bogart” (p. 287). (Osteen 1996, 442). (Also, see figures 1, 3 provided below).
In this instance, we may observe an example of postmodern literature imitating a sequence from a film, rewriting it and incorporating into a different context. Context is also important in understanding pastiche. As quoted above, Dyer explains that different cultures during different time periods will assess information in different ways and as a result Delillo incorporates the ‘idea’ of what Godard’s scene represents into his narrative, as opposed to incorporating the scene itself. Therefore, Delillo is quoting Godard and rewriting Godard’s scene into his narrative.
2.2 Pulp Fiction: Tarantino’s pastiche of the French New Wave
Tarantino’s filmic pastiche is a form of revival of the French New Wave style of the 1960’s in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino has never hidden the fact that he reveres director and co-founder of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard. But as Dyer explains is his definition stated above, pastiche of different films from cultures and periods in history will result in being the imitation of the idea of what said films were supposed to represent. For example, the French New Wave as a movement was more than style. It was a cinematic revolution. The “[New Wave] represented a break in filmmaking practice at the turn of the 1960s, introducing new ways of making films outside the mainstream industry, spreading the use of lighter technologies,” (Vincendeau 2010, 135) using constrained budgets and “introduc[ing] the notion of rupture (borrowing from Eisenstein’s theory of montage) and alienation (borrowing from Brecht (Verfremdungseffekt or V-effect)” (Kline 1992, 2). Also, the directors of the New Wave, namely Godard, Truffaut, Rivette, and Rohmer (also Varda, Marker and Renais, but to a lesser extent) sought to “usurp rather than imitate the role of literature” (Kline 1992, 3) which had been the traditional production form of French cinema up until that point. The usurpation came in the form of cinematic homage, and therefore relying on films rather than literature as basis for their own creative endeavors. Godard’s and Truffaut’s “fascination with American films is well known” (Kline 1992, 5) and more specifically, with regards to Godard, American gangster films from the 1930’s and 1940’s. For example, Godard’s À bout de souffle (1959) is a film about a small time criminal who kills a policeman and tries to escape unscathed. Godard adopts the pulp novel criminal storyline of past American noirs paying tribute (albeit minor) to the American gangster genre. Moreover, in keeping with the noir genre, Godard wanted to celebrate Hollywood influence on his French cinema by paying tribute to the actor Humphrey Bogart who had passed away two years prior to À bout de souffle’s release (see figures 2, 4). He did so by having his actor Jean-Paul Belmondo (see figures 1, 3) dress slightly the same and borrow certain mannerisms (touching of the lips) from different Bogart films in order to portray his character, Michel Poiccard.
1) Top left corner: Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), À bout de souffle (1959). 2) Top right corner: Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), The Maltese Falcon (1941). 3) Bottom left corner: Michel Poiccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo), À bout de souffle (1959). 4) Bottom right corner: Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Casablanca (1942).
As a result, filmic homage had become key to the New Wave filmmakers because it had brought their version of Hollywood to French audiences and therefore pop-culture infused cinema had overthrown what had been mostly a classical literary driven form of cinematic production.
Of course the example provided is an obvious one and there are many more, but the point is that Tarantino does the same in Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction was a breath of fresh air when it was released in 1994, and it had somewhat of the same effect as Truffaut’s Les quatre cent coups and Godard’s À bout de souffle in 1959. However, in adding chapters to his stories, Tarantino re-introduces what the French New Wave was seeking to leave out, namely a tie to the literary spectrum. Moreover, by playing with a non-linear narrative, Tarantino recycles Brecht’s process of audience defamiliarization (Verfremdungseffekt or V-effect) and creates a hybrid American genre that pays tribute to French cinema of the 1960’s that had sought mimic certain tropes of classical 1930’s and 1940’s Hollywood. In other words, as a result of classic Hollywood gangster picture’s influence on the French New Wave directors and the latter’s influence on Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown are all films about smalltime gangsters.
5) Left: Nana (Anna Karina), Vivre sa vie (1960). 6) Right: Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), Pulp Fiction (1994).
In addition, like in Reservoir Dogs, the suits that Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) wear in Pulp Fiction are homage to John Woo’s films. Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman, see figure 6) is a combination of Nana and Odile (Anna Karina, see figure 5) in Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1960) and Bande à part (1964) respectively. Even certain aspects of conversations between Tarantino’s characters will resemble Godard’s, especially the conversations about film and music. The title Pulp Fiction comes from the ending moments of Bande à part where Odile (Anna Karina) and Franz (Sami Frey) are on a boat fleeing the scene of a crime. Odile’s voiceover track states that her story ends like in a pulp fiction novel (Bande à part, 1964). However, as stated earlier, all these references point to pastiche and thus, demonstrate Tarantino striving to appropriate past genres in his creation of a stylistically accurate yet ideologically devoid nostalgia films.
2.3 Pastiche in Death Proof: The ‘Idea’ of Exploitation
In Death Proof (2007), Tarantino revives the end of sixties and the seventies car-chase films and girl revenge flicks, two genres that today are either dead or on life support. However, Tarantino’s Death Proof, the five Fast and the Furious (2001-2011) films and the Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) remake fall below what can be considered true exploitation or B-movies inasmuch as they have massive budgets compared to the rather meager budgets of the films mentioned in Death Proof such as Vanishing Point (1971), Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), and the original Gone in 60 Seconds (1974). But none of the elements discussed in either of Tarantino’s films can be attributed the term plagiarism because they are not copies but mere representations, impersonations or simulations of the ideas behind each genre Tarantino is pastiching. Tarantino cannot make a film that is French New Wave because it is out of context and does not serve the same purpose as Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1959), Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups (1959), Godard’s À bout de souffle (1959), or even Marker’s La jetée (1963) for that matter. Tarantino can only imitate the idea of what the French New Wave represented and therefore in doing so the result becomes a pastiche of a past style. The same argument can be applied to all Tarantino’s films. Jackie Brown is not a blaxploitation film it is the idea of what blaxploitation was in the 1970’s with Coffy (1973), Three the Hard Way (1974) and Foxy Brown (1974). Kill Bill (2003-2004) is neither a spaghetti western nor a kung-fu film it is the idea of both genres resulting in a pastiched intercultural hybrid. Because most elements in Tarantino’s films imitate the ideas of existing sources but cannot copy said sources’ cultural and significance and historical ramifications, then Tarantino can only pastiche past genres because once his cinematic citations or collages are incorporated into his films, they are out of their original context and therefore homage.
3. More Nostalgia: Refiguration, Sub-Genre of Pastiche
Tarantino’s pastiche also incorporates the use of refiguration. The “art of refiguration takes formal elements of past styles, and brings them forward into a contemporary context” (Barbiero cited in Hoesterey 2001, 14). Tarantino’s new breed of nostalgia film incorporates intercultural exchanges of style and time period. For example: Pulp Fiction’s pastiche of the French New Wave is immersed into the Jack Rabbit Slim sequence, which is homage to American films from the fifties and sixties. Therefore, Tarantino places two completely different cultures and genres of film into the same contemporary context. Seeing as Pulp Fiction, as a whole, pastiches the French New Wave, the Jack Rabbit Slim sequence is refiguration as it is the element out of context with regards to the main narrative.
3.1 Restaurant of the Living Dead: Refiguration in Pulp Fiction
The Jack Rabbit Slim sequence in Pulp Fiction is meant to be homage to films from the fifties and sixties. The type of homage is called refiguration. In Pulp Fiction however, Tarantino has his characters Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) take the viewer on a tour of Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a fifties and sixties film and television themed restaurant. The tour, lead by Vega, encompasses 20 years of cinema condensed into a ten-minute course in film history.
Mia and Vincent walk into the restaurant (see figure 7) and are greeted by an Ed Sullivan impersonator (see figure 8) and a Johnny Roventini impersonator (see figure 9). In doing so, Tarantino marking the precise time at which the death of the golden age of cinema and the rise of television and advertizing occurred.
7) Top: Pulp Fiction (1994), (left to right) Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) Johnny Roventini impersonator and Ed Sullivan impersonator. 8) Second row left: Ed Sullivan. 9) Second row right: Johnny Roventini (1950’s Philip Morris ad). 10) Third row left: The Young Racers (1963). 11) Third row right: Rock All Night (1957), Sorority Girl (1957), Dragstrip Girl (1957), Machine Gun Kelly (1958). 12) Fourth row left: Motorcycle Gang (1957), Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958). 13) Fourth row right: Daddy-O (1958), Road Racers (1959). 14) Fifth row left: Pulp Fiction (1994), Vincent Vega (Travolta) passes a James Dean impersonator (red jacket). 15) Fifth row right: Rebel Without a Cause (1955), James Dean (red jacket). 16) Bottom row left: Seven Year Itch (1955), Marilyn Monroe. 17) Bottom row right: Pulp Fiction (1994), Marilyn Monroe impersonator.
The posters (see figures 10-13) on the walls are all of old films and act as homage to that period. Yet, they also act as artifacts or reminders for the audience of what cinema used to be like. Moreover, the way in which Tarantino exposes them is significant. The frames are exposed like in a museum, an exhibition trying to preserve a past that seems to have been forgotten. In addition, Tarantino has other employees impersonate other actors and musicians of that time period (see figures 14-17). Practically everyone Mia and Vincent encounter or mention was dead before Pulp Fiction was even made. Ed Sullivan, Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Marilyn Monroe, Guy Williams (Zorro), Alvin Childress (Amos), Spencer Williams (Andy), and Douglas Sirk are a few examples.
In placing his characters in a fifties and sixties setting where they look strangely out of place with the rest of his main narrative, Tarantino’s use of refiguration in this sequence adds another dimension to the nostalgia film. By binding the French New Wave to the end of the golden age of cinema in Hollywood in the Jack Rabbit Slim sequence in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s complete setting becomes the impersonation of the past is therefore feigned, but it acts as the preservation and knowledge of cinematic history as a whole. Or as his character Vincent Vega states it perfectly: “a wax museum with a pulse” (Pulp Fiction, 1994).
3.2 The Car-Chase Film Revisited: Refiguration in Death Proof
Another pertinent example of nostalgic refiguration in Tarantino’s work is the car-chase sequence towards the end of Death Proof. Kim’s 1970 Dodge Challenger (see figure 19) and Stuntman Mike’s 1969 Dodge Charger bolt down a highway and “[t]here the muscle cars race through a field of compacts, SUVs, and minivans” (Benson-Allott 2008, 20).
18) Top left: Vanishing Point (1971), Kowalski’s Dodge Challenger. Tarantino pays tribute to this film by mentioning by name and using the car in Death Proof. 19) Top right: Death Proof (2007), Kim’s Dodge Challenger with Zoe Bell on the hood. 20) Bottom left: Death Proof (2007), Kim’s Dodge Challenger (white car) chasing Stuntman Mike’s Dodge Charger down a divided highway. 21) Bottom right: Death Proof (2007), the chase continues.
Having the American muscle cars chase each other between the modern vehicles that populate the rest of the highway (see figures 20, 21) creates a strange amalgamation of the past exploitation car-chase sequences being strangely out of place in a contemporary setting. Tarantino’s sequence, as Benson-Allott states, is meant to “knock aside the domesticated products of the contemporary auto industry and annihilate the movies industry’s cheap imitations of their exploitation history, literally plowing down a drive-in marquee for Scary Movie 4 (2006) and Wolf Creek (2005)” (Benson-Allott 2008, 20). What Benson-Allott also mentions however, is that Tarantino’s Death Proof is a product of its time. In lining up the DVD release and not to mention its being produced by Dimension Films, Death Proof, although remaining aesthetically accurate to the exploitation genre, does not carry the independent spirit, low budget, and ideologies of past exploitation films and therefore must be regarded as an imitation, a pastiche and as a result an expression of cinematic nostalgia.
4. Clever Instances of Homage in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds.
The examples of homage in all of Tarantino’s films are almost innumerable. Below are two examples of Tarantino’s more clever uses of homage. The first deals with a vehicle in Kill Bill Vol. 1 named the Pussy Wagon and the second deals with Tarantino’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder.
4.1 Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
22) Top: The Bride (Uma Thurman) next to the Pussy Wagon, Kill Bill Vol. I. 23) Bottom: Dany Zuko (John Travolta) singing ‘Greased Lightning,’ Grease (1978).
In Kill Bill Volume I, a character named Buck owns a truck that has the tag “Pussy Wagon” airbrushed onto the tailgate. This is a reference to a song in the movie Grease (1978). The song is entitled Greased Lightning and the lyrics go as such:
“We’ll get some purple French tail lights and thirty-inch fins, oh yeah. A palomino dashboard and duel muffler twins, oh yeah. With new pistons, plugs, and shocks, I can get off my rocks. You know that I ain’t braggin’, she’s a real pussy wagon – greased lightning.” (Grease, 1978)
Above is a picture of Uma Thurman (see figure 22), as the Bride, next to Buck’s truck in Kill Bill Volume I. In this shot, as every site dedicated to Tarantino has stated, Tarantino is paying homage to the film Grease. The song Greased Lightning is sung by the character Danny Zuko (see figure 23), portrayed by John Travolta. By referencing the film Grease as well as the song Greased Lightning, Tarantino is calling attention to John Travolta who also starred alongside Uma Thurman in his film Pulp Fiction, thus reteaming them in Kill Bill Volume I. Therefore, by appropriating a song lyric and integrating it visually into his film (the tailgate on the truck), Tarantino pays homage to a film from the seventies, self-promotes one of his other films (Pulp Fiction) as well as provides entertainment for the viewer who is watching the present film (Kill Bill Vol. 1).
4.2 Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009)
24) Top left corner: Margot Mary Wendice (Grace Kelly) is strangled, Dial M For Murder (1954). 25) Top right corner: Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is strangled by Col. Hanz Landa (Christoph Waltz), Inglourious Basterds (2009). 26) Middle left: Margot Mary Wendice reaches for scissors, Dial M For Murder (1954). 27) Middle right: Bridget von Hammersmark tries to escape Col. Hanz Landa but cannot defend herself, Inglourious Basterds (2009). 28) Bottom left: Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) dials ‘M’ (six) to give the order to have Margot killed, Dial M For Murder (1954). 29) Bottom right: Col. Hanz Landa dials the number seven, thus ordering the kidnapping of Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), Inglourious Basterds (2009). The scissors that could have saved Bridget von Hammersmark are visible in the background.
In Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino pays tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder (see figures 24-29). By having Colonel Hanz Landa dial the number seven first (which contains the letters ‘p, q, r and s,’ see figure 29) as opposed to the number six (which contains the letter in question, ‘m’ for murder, see figure 28) Tarantino changes Hitchcock’s script and has his character Aldo Raine simply kidnapped instead of murdered.
Moreover, Tarantino, in a strangely pleasant way, inverts the historical timeline causing a paradox by which Hitchcock could be referencing Tarantino. Tarantino’s movie was released in 2009 but it is set in 1944. Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder was released in 1954. In linking the movies, Tarantino inverts the way in which the actual events take place. In other words, because Inglourious Basterds is set in 1944, one can interpret the sequence of historical events in such a manner that it is Hitchcock who is referencing a story that occurred ten years prior to his own movie being released.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds do not incorporate any elements regarding Grease and Dial M for Murder’s past styles, but the homage Tarantino pays is still pastiche because these elements (the vehicle; the phone, scissors, and the strangling) have Tarantino quoting certain films and rewriting them into his own narrative.
5. Closing Discussion: Regarding the Quintessential Postmodernist Filmmaker.
In closing, Tarantino himself is considered a walking film archive. His knowledge of film spans over all genres: classics, cult, exploitation, b-movies, anime, blaxploitation, Asian, etc. Suffice to name a film or television show and the chances are he has seen it. Although Tarantino remains authentic to the hybrid style he has spawned, he is trapped in his love of cinema to the extent that he will continuously be a slave to citing what has been done in the past, therefore “parasitory on another system” (Jameson xii). That being said, why does Brian De Palma, who constantly references Alfred Hitchcock and who, in terms of technique, has arguably contributed far more to American cinema than Tarantino, not fall under the same type of scrutiny? The answer is found in this Jim Jarmusch quote:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”” (Movie Maker, 2004).
De Palma conceals his references, whereas Tarantino celebrates them. Tarantino took the basis of City On Fire’s plot to whole different place with Reservoir Dogs. By infusing his visual style with every aspect of filmic history he possibly can and combining it with his intricately knit scripts and pop-culture dialogue, Tarantino celebrates cinema as a whole by creating meta-films that are “double-coded, appealing to teenagers and intellectuals alike” (Hoesterey 2001, 79). Ron Lim argued that everything in Tarantino’s films was borrowed from other films (Lim 2002) but Tarantino has never hidden the fact that his films have always been inspired by the innumerable movies and television shows he has watched as well as the novels he has read. Yes Tarantino’s work must be questioned regarding originality, but it should be studied appropriately as opposed to written off as plagiarism as Ron Lim did. Where Tarantino is truly guilty is through his commodification of past genres styles. The French New Wave harbored cultural and political implications, but Tarantino’s homage of this specific period simply takes into account the aesthetic style. In doing so, Tarantino creates a new breed of the nostalgia film that is stylistically accurate but remains bereft of any cultural and political ideology that was present at that period in history. In doing so, Tarantino does what Jameson explains is the displacement of ‘real’ history by the history of aesthetic styles (Jameson 1991, 20). As a result of this historicism or as Jameson describes it: “the random cannibalization of all the styles of the past” (Jameson 1991, 18), Tarantino’s work is to be considered the epitome of postmodernist pastiche, and he, the quintessential postmodernist filmmaker.
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