Quentin Tarantino: Imagining Hollywood without him
Take your seats, class: Senior writer Chris Nashawaty concludes his in-depth weeklong study of all things Quentin Tarantino with his final installment of EW University. Check out our gallery of 20 Tarantino movie and movie poster faves, our look at the original 1978 Inglorious Bastards, our guide to the film-geek references in Tarantino’s Basterds, and our Quentin Tarantino final exam.
Imagining Hollywood — and the world beyond it — without Quentin Tarantino
No one divides moviegoers like Quentin Tarantino. Those who are in his corner love his infectious cineaste enthusiasm, his references to obscure B-movies, and his pop culture-drenched, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue. The haters find his movies too long, too talky, and too … well, just too much of everything. But just for a second, try to imagine Hollywood without him.
It’s harder than you think.
Ever since the video store clerk-turned-world famous auteur unveiled 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, his influence has rippled out and affected movies and moviemaking in countless ways. Love or hate him, there’s no denying Tarantino is the most famous brand-name director since Steven Spielberg (I mean, did Michael Mann guest on Letterman when his movie came out?). But just for the sake of argument, let’s imagine a few ways in which movies — and our lives beyond them — might be different if Tarantino had never graduated to the other side of that video-store cash register.
Harvey Weinstein would be just another anonymous, brash indie film hustler: Weinstein has often said that his former company, Miramax, was “the house that Quentin built.” The partnership between Tarantino and his pugnacious patron dates back to Reservoir Dogs. And while that film wasn’t any great shakes at the box office, it made Tarantino’s name, defined his outsider bad boy rep, and led to their second teaming, Pulp Fiction — which we all know won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, went on to make $107 million in theaters (on an $8 million budget), and got nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture (Tarantino won the screenplay statuette with Roger Avary). Sure, Miramax still had its twee little corset-clad arthouse bonbons, but Tarantino’s swagger largely made Weinstein’s studio what it was in its ’90s heyday. Without it, it’s easy to picture the studio capo as just one of many indie hustlers on the make at Sundance still looking for the break-out film to define the company that’s no longer his anyway.
There wouldn’t have been a John Travolta comeback: When Travolta signed on to star in Pulp Fiction, he was a fading star — and that’s being charitable. The guy who had rocketed to the A-list with Grease and Saturday Night Fever was, by the early ’90s, starring in cruddy movies like The Experts. If he had never resurrected his career as badass assassin Vincent Vega, there would be no Get Shorty, Face/Off, or Primary Colors (don’t laugh, that’s an underrated movie!). In fact, right about now, he’d probably be turning up in Look Who’s Talking XII: Just Who Isn’t Talking?
Actually, there wouldn’t be any big actors starring in indies at all: Before Travolta’s lightning-strikes Pulp Fiction gambit, A-list actors for the most part wouldn’t be caught dead in a low-budget film that debuted at Sundance. Travolta not only made it okay, he made it cool — a brilliant career move that Hollywood’s agents quickly scrambled to duplicate for their clients. Without Tarantino, there would be no Robert DeNiro in Jackie Brown (his last credible performance), no Kurt Russell in Death Proof (he’d still be cranking out family films like Dreamer, leaving his one-time badass Snake Plissken persona to further fade into dust), and no Brad Pitt ‘wantin’ his Nazi scalps’ in Basterds. And that’s just in QT’s movies. Without the Tarantino/Travolta blueprint, all indies would still star people you’ve never heard of outside of a John Sayles retrospective.
Pulp Fiction wouldn’t have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar: Obviously, if there’s no Tarantino, there’s no Pulp. And if there’s no Pulp, we’re going to have to find a new fifth film to round out the top category at the 1994 Oscars. The other four movies that year were Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and, of course, Forrest Gump. Let’s hypothesize that without Pulp in the mix, a movie like — oh, I don’t know — The Ref gets the fifth slot. Maybe that messes with the voting. Maybe the Gump boosters get all twitchy. And maybe, just maybe, we’re all now saying “Ladies and Gentlemen, Oscar-winning actor Denis Leary.” Scary, right?
The world outside of the cineplex would feel topsy turvy, too: Tarantino’s greatest gift may be the way he writes extended riffs that take some small nugget of pop-culture ephemera, riff the hell out of it, and spit out a new form of conventional wisdom. Without QT’s cinematic B.S. sessions, suddenly we’re left reeling. We no longer know what Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” is really about (Reservoir Dogs). We no longer know that Top Gun was really a subversive tale about a Maverick’s struggle with his own homosexuality (Sleep With Me). And we no longer know what to say when we want to order a Quarter Pounder with Cheese when in Paris (Pulp Fiction).
Would you want to live in a world like that? Neither would I.