my new Village Voice piece on Tarantino

tn_reservoirdogsHey friends, somehow I have another piece in the ol’ Village Voice. This one is about Quentin Tarantino and why I hate when people say that his movies are just rip offs of other movies. I want to sincerely thank C.J. Holden for setting me off on a rant about that topic in a comment thread a while back, some of which was adapted into this more concise and polished version.

Let me know what you think.

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54 Responses to “my new Village Voice piece on Tarantino”

  1. Required reading for any Tarantino fan.

    Some guy in the comments accuses you of being 20. Do you laugh at him for this assumption that only hipster 20-year-olds would like Tarantino, get angry that he totally did not get that you weren’t favoring new films over old, or be flattered that he thought you were 20?

  2. I would say B, I was mad that he’s so ready to hate me that he gets something out of the article that isn’t there that I don’t believe. And then I tried to defend myself (people never expect the writer to actually respond to their dismissive comments, so I like doing it to see what happens) but I couldn’t get it to post.

    I hate Mondays

  3. You’re welcome. I’m on PayPal.

  4. BTW, while over the years I became a little bit softer on Tarantino (thanks to me not watching his stuff anymore. Out of sight, out of mind and so on.), I recently got pissed off at him again, just because I read some of his scripts. (First PULP FICTION, then DJANGO) And they turned out to be seriously good reads! They are extremely well written, but now I wish he would really need money again and have to sell one or two of his scripts and let someone else direct them, like early in his career.

    So in conclusion, I take back whatever I said about his writing. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to translate well, when he is on the director’s chair.

  5. Yeah I was gonna tell that guy in the comments that he’s a dick but I can’t be bothered creating an account, and I’ll be damned if I’m signing in with goddamn facebook.

    Great article though, in future I’ll just direct people there instead of getting into yet another hour long argument.

  6. Posted this comment over on your facebook page, but I’ll post it here too:

    Glad you brought out the Sergio Leone argument, Vern. People don’t seem to have any problem with Leone stealing from just about every Western ever made. Perhaps because people don’t really watch old Westerns any more. Hell, he stole the music for FISTFUL from a cover of a Woody Guthrie song (to be fair, Morricone worked on the song): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAE9tFd6WkQ

    I got into a long argument with a friend of mine recently about how Tarantino just regurgitates stuff, and I brought up Sergio Leone too. Both are absolutely indebted to their influences, but its the exaggeration, subversion and culmination of their influences that make them true originals. You could cherry pick shots, dialogue, or even plots, but no other films are really like Tarantino or Leone films.

  7. Thanks Vern. Great Piece. The whole rip off discussion is bonkers. Tarantino found inspiration in Leone and countless
    other Directors. Leone was inspired by Ford, Kurosawa and George Stevens. And iam sure they were inspired by other
    directors, writers or painters.
    I just have read the interview about Tarantinos favorite sequels in the new issue of “Video Watchdog”.
    Have found some of the films from the list on youtube. Movies i never heard of before.
    “The Son of Monte Cristo” and “Youre not so tough” , both from 1940. He also brought me to William Witney.
    Tarantino is a great director and the world greatest film fan.
    Sadly,he is dead wrong on Ford. Oh, and that comment guy is a moron.

  8. Man, just wait til you turn 21–then you’ll really hit it outta the park!

    In all seriousness, the guy’s an ass, and this piece justifies your continued striving for excellence: awesome work my captain. As for your earlier comment about how art works, I had an experience last month which gels with this notion. Recently Denver got a cool art show called Becoming Van Gogh (seriously, the curator got paintings from all over, including private collections; not bad for a cowtown) which assembled and traced his artistic development over the ten years he was active. The big message was that Van took from anything that inspired him; Japanese woodblock prints, burgeoning Impressionists, classic Dutch painters, whatever, and then filtered it through his own artistic sensibilities. Over time he developed into Mr. Starry Night (sadly, not featured in the exhibit) by melding cutting edge trends and contemporary fringe movements with established traditions, and did it in just such a way that he struck on something brilliant. I think many like to believe that a true artist works in a vacuum with a mainline to the muse, but in actuality its all about what’s in the air while they’re active, and much of a great artist’s genius comes from how he picks and chooses amongst the influences that inspire him (or her).

    And now here’s the part where I beg the cosmos for a Van Gogh-centered, spaghetti revenge thriller directed by the one and only QT: SEVERED SUNFLOWERS.

  9. “I think many like to believe that a true artist works in a vacuum with a mainline to the muse, but in actuality its all about what’s in the air while they’re active, and much of a great artist’s genius comes from how he picks and chooses amongst the influences that inspire him (or her).”

    This is the main reason copyright law is fucked, and the whole idea of “intellectual property” is suspect in my opinion. I’m just not sure anyone can truly claim to own an idea since that idea is derived from the society that we all have a part in.

  10. Great piece on a great director. I couldn’t agree more. The thing that has always struck me about QT is not just how wears his influence on his sleeve, but how his unmatched love of cinema that is ever present in his work. QT is such a great story teller that you don’t have to love cinema to enjoy and appreciate his work. However, if you are a cinephile and recognize the influences and references in his work it is like you are joining QT in celebrating the art and history of film.

  11. Charles says basically why I love Tarantino and his movies. The guy himself if you listen to more indepth interviews gives the impression of someone who knows his shit. The claim about him beinm a postmodern prick is kind of lost, because his movies has al lot of stuff beneath all the references.I like how he acknowledges history and what came before, but its just superficial, its what he does beyond that that matters.

    Some people just see the references and blatantly says he ripped something off. When people said that RESERVOIR DOGS was a scene-for-scene ripoff of CITY ON FIRE and I watched both those movies, I was afraid I was missing something that everyone else saw. Becase the only thing I saw was two completely different movies with a few superficial similiarities. The most notable thing was the relatonship between Danny Lee and Chow Yun-Fat, which resembled the Roth/Keitel relationship but in a different cultural context.

  12. I’m starting to think the problem some people have with QT is down to some bullshit hipster ego thing. They don’t like the fact that Tarantino is bringing mainstream attention to these obscure movies because if everyone was into the same shit they are it makes them that little bit less special. He’s popularising things they’d rather keep to themselves.

  13. Mode7- It certainly feels that way.

  14. Love it – a great piece. I love that you draw the point of comparison to Golden Age Hip-Hop. I have made similar arguments (though maybe not as clearly and concisely as you) about sample based music. People equate sampling as copying, but the important part of making art is not the materials it is made of, but what the artist does with those materials. Look at DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing – 100% samples, and an absolutely indelible and undeniable piece of art.

    I often feel like people who make these sorts of arguments (against Tarantino and against sample based or electronic music) simply don’t actually understand art, so to try and legitimise their ignorance end up focussing on the process because it is something concrete that they can understand.

  15. Posting in the correct thread : I forgot to say that the piece you wrote ,Vern was pretty great. The Sergio Leone connection should shut most of the QT haters up. That was pretty great writing. And getting a career best out of Chris Tucker…was that a sarcastic remark? Well…I hope so,because he has never been better than as an Samuel L. Jackson victim in JACKIE BROWN.

  16. Great article, Vern.

    I think it’s great that you’re getting the chance to write for some high profile publications. While a part of me selfishly misses the old days when I was reading your posts on that old broken site, it makes me feel good about the world that a writer I’ve been reading and respecting for over a decade is getting some well-deserved love from the masses.

    Continue to be excellent in 2013 and beyond!

  17. by the way fellas, in case you’re wondering why I’ve been absent from any Django discussion it’s because tragically I got sick with the flu just a few days before it came out

    thankfully I got a vaccine earlier in the year so it was not as bad as it could have been and now I’m feeling mostly better, with a little bit of luck I may finally be able to see it tomorrow

    also Vern, are you gonna bother seeing that Texas Chainsaw 3D?

  18. Shoot – that was not a sarcastic remark. As I have mentioned probly too many times I think Chris Tucker is hilarious, but I think most people (both fans and non-fans) forget about the great performance he gave in JACKIE BROWN. I mean I know it’s a small role, but it’s maybe my favorite scene in a movie full of great scenes.

  19. A great article, Vern. Your comparison of Tarantino to classic hip-hop is genius.

  20. Vern – I like Chris Tucker in that one scene,but that is it. He did pretty well in that ONE scene and then…well I fuckin hated him in the RUSH HOUR´ss. I have never fully appriciated his talent at all. I think he is full of obnoxiosness and I can barely stand the sight of him. But that comes with the territory of being a comedian, some people hating you and some loving you.Its not his fault. Its his style thats all.

  21. Tucker’s performance in THE FIFTH ELEMENT probably ought to qualify as a crime against humanity. But I do like him in JACKIE BROWN. See, Tarantino knew enough to not reference *that* performance (I know, I know, they came out the same year).

    Here’s the thing, though, I don’t think Tarantino is usually “referencing” anything. Tarantino simply lives cinema. He speaks cinema, thinks cinema, imagines through cinema. Any little detail he saw in a movie simply becomes part of his vocabulary. But he understands these little details, and their value, a lot better than their original creators sometimes do. Sometimes he’s pulling for well-known masterpieces, but he’s equally proficient at pulling little odds and ends out of forgotten gems, and even total pieces of shit that had one tiny bit of genius somewhere in them. Like INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, Tarantino’s mind doesn’t need to create context for these things; they just end up as part of his tool kit, perfect as they are. But the difference is, he knows what to do with them, he knows how to let them shine in a way that they originally often do not. For example, the “pair of pliers and a blowtorch” in PULP FICTION which comes directly from CHARLEY VARRICK. Same line, but which movie made it a classic? Which one do you walk away from wanting to quote? Exactly.

  22. Nabroleon Dynamite

    January 3rd, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Your article is dope, but say it ain’t so! Vern, Did you know saying you hate Mondays is a racist slur? Google it my man.

  23. Miles Davis said he never looked back, but a British biographer said he often looked back but always moved forward. That the only thing that fuels creativity is your memory. QT has a mind for movie references like few others, but doesn’t rest on just that. He knows the people he writes of. He knows intimately what isn’t written on the page, and what’s likely never to be on screen.

  24. All I can say about Chris Tucker is that there are a dozen or more things he’s done in movies that make me laugh just thinking about them. “Man, I love it when a G-14 classified be comin around” in RUSH HOUR. “Every 5 minutes there’s somethin, a bomb or somethin. I’m leaving” at the end of FIFTH ELEMENT. So many of them in MONEY TALKS: “Why you always gotta be killin someone? Why don’t you try lovin someone?” And this classic scene from FRIDAY:


    Nabroleon – that’s a joke, right? You’re trying to take away Garfield? America needs Garfield.

  25. Congrats on the Voice catching up with you!

    You also got linked in the aggregator site, Movie City News, which has a habit of editorializing on the content or creators within the link. It can be a shitty practice, because while much of MCN relies on other people’s work, it sometimes preconditions the reader against that work with first-impression commentary taken in simultaneously with knowledge that the piece exists. You, though, got this:


    Not sure if the quotes merely mean that Outlaw Vern is an alias … or if the sentence structure means that the editor thinks you’re QT. Heh. Let the rumors begin.

    Side note: Chris Tucker brought it in Silver Linings Playbook. He’s offbeat when the movie is, and more conventionally comic when the movie changes that way.

  26. Ok, that’s NOT the way to enclose a quote. Try again:

    ‘Just In Case You Missed Quentin On What Quentin Does, A Defense Of Quentin By “Outlaw Vern” In Sarris’ Old Rag, The VOICE’

  27. I’m not a huge Rush Hour fan, but I love the scene when Chris Tucker is served gefilte fish on the plane.

  28. The original Paul

    January 4th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I have never found Chris Tucker as annoying as his imitators. (See Marlon Wayans’ performance in “Dungeons and Dragons”. or “G I Joe”. Or anything else Marlon Wayans has been in.) And I liked the original “Rush Hour”. For what it’s worth. To me, Tucker is to Wayans and co. what Pulp Fiction is to the catalogue of inferior Tarantino-influenced gangster movies out there.

    Vern, I absolutely agree with you and think that what you said needed to be said. Tarantino doesn’t deserve to be attacked for his use of “influences”. To do so does indeed belittle what makes his films great and individual creations in their own right.

    I would, however, add a proviso: Tarantino absolutely does deserve to be attacked for the atrocity that is the two-hour (or feels like it) Superman monologue in “Kill Bill vol. 2”, which is so terrible, such a giant miasma of black-hole-sized suckitude, that I’ve actually put off re-watching that film many times because I know that, however good the rest of it is (and it is mostly very very good), eventually I’ll get to THAT scene. And it’s going to ruin my night. What I’m saying is that I have nothing against Tarantino referencing pop-culture, provided that it doesn’t involve a character who’s set up as the greatest assassin who ever lived, spouting monologues about comic books. That is taking things too far. Way too far. *Shudders.*

    On a more general point, I guess what I’m saying here is that Tarantino has largely managed to avoid disappearing up his own arse in the manner of, say, M Night Shyamalan, except in that one specific case. If he can keep making great films, and avoid putting in scenes like the one mentioned above, I will keep paying to see them. Is that fair?

  29. A guy I knew who hated Tarantino the most was a filmmaker who loved all the same movies, and made his own terrible low budget movies that were pretty much what Tarantino did…pastiches of other films. BUT, unlike Tarantino, he didn’t bring anything unique, no interesting charcters, no great dialogue, no cool plotting, not even directed well. He hated Tarantino for the exact thing he was doing (specifially, making pastiches). He never made the connection in his head…it was pretty much jealousy, I guess. Kind of sad.

    Chris Tucker was AWESOME in Fifth Element. The problem with his character is that he needed to basically be gone after the shootout…brining him into the climax was a major mistake. A character like that is perfect for flavoring, you don’t make him a main dish.

  30. Mr. Doctor, I took the liberty of making a small correction for you…

    Chris Tucker was not AWESOME in Fifth Element. The problem with his character is that he needed to basically be gone after the shootoutfrom existence…brining him into the climax was a major mistake. A character like that is perfect for flavoring torturing humans, you don’t make him a main dish.

  31. The original Paul

    January 9th, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Heh, I had the whole “Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element” debate with a friend of mine, who hates that movie (I quite like it). And while I don’t agree with him or Mr. S, he did make me laugh like a drain.

    I made the point that, love him or hate him, Chris Tucker’s performance is unambiguously his. It makes you remember it.

    My friend’s response: “So did the atom bomb.”

  32. Hey Vern, I don’t know if you saw it in the comments on your article, but some dude posted a lengthy rebuttal on his blog. I think he misses the point in a lot of ways, but I thought I’d mention it in case you wanted to pull an Albert Pyun and show up in his comments section to rebut his rebuttal.

  33. Thanks for the tip. I wrote a response but either it didn’t work or it’s awaiting moderation. Needless to say it’s a frustrating read for me because clearly nothing I tried to communicate in the piece made it across to that guy.

  34. I get the feeling that that guy really loves Tarantino. He sure does mention how he loves the film he’s decrying as a rip-off a lot. It cracks me up him bringing up Great White as a comparison. Yeah, they’re totally identical cases.

  35. Oh fuck. Its THAT guy. Josh Hadley from Radiodrome.Yeah,I know him. I´ve listened to the guy yapping on that podcast.. He hates Tarantino and refuse to watch any movies after 1995. That´s his “cutoff-date”,apparently.. Thankfully Brad Jones is also on the show to level things out, because he is clearly the most sensible of them.

  36. I have to give him this: I hate the “Everything is a copy of everything” and “Great artists steal” excuses too. Not just just Tarantino related, but in general. There are people who rip their asses off with trying to be innovative, while others just shrug it off and say: “Why bother? I can make money with what others did before and claim to be a genius afterwards.”

  37. but CJ, nothing is created in a vacuum either, especially in the modern day

  38. But just resignating and saying “Why even try to come up with something new?” is what makes me angry. Back in eighteenhundredsomething, some guy closed his patent office, saying that he just doesn’t believe that anything new can be invented. I say he was wrong. And so are the people who say that every story has been told and that there is nothing new left anymore.

    What exactly pisses me off is that mentality of “I can be a genius if I simply steal from others!” Because, no, you can’t! It makes the guy who you stole from, a genius. Or maybe the guy who he stole it from! Don’t be a pot smoking slacker, who wants to be the next __________________, be the guy who wants to be the first you!

  39. I don’t know man, sometimes I wonder if there really IS anything new to be done with movies and music, it kinda seems to me like everything has already been done and there’s pretty much nothing left but to keep remixing the past, I mean if that wasn’t the case, then why exactly are there so many remakes and reboots? it can’t JUST be Hollywood being lazy can it?

    maybe it’s just me though

  40. I’ll give you a little example of what I’m talking about

    werewolves, you had the old black and white werewolf movies and then there was An American Werewolf in London, a “modern” spin on the genre, but where do you go from there? what more can be done? you can’t just slap CGI on there and expect it to be new, as with the Godawful An American Werewolf in Paris

    or how about sci fi horror movies, you had those old cheesy 1950’s ones and then you had Alien and Aliens, now what?

    basically I think the 80’s and 90’s was the last period in which you could actually put a fresh spin on things, in which you could do a “modern” take on things, but now what is left? a “post-modern” take on things? I use horror as an example of a larger problem because it’s a perfect microcosm of where movies as a whole are at, the best horror movie I’ve seen in years was Cabin in The Woods, which WAS a post-modern horror movie, so NOW what the hell is there left to do?

    I could just be cynical, but again, why has Hollywood become such an ouroboros? (eating it’s own tail)

  41. ok, one more little example, The Thing

    you had The Thing From Another World and then The Thing and what was the modern day’s version? a lazy rehash of The Thing, bringing absolutely nothing new to the table

  42. maybe…..maybe the problem has to do with our culture, ask yourself, other than technology what, fundamentally, has changed between now and the 1980’s? not very much if you really think about it, there’s not as much of a difference between the 1980’s and now as there was between the 1980’s and the 1950’s/ early 60’s

    movies are reflective of the times in which they made, like a mirror and times had changed a whole hell of a lot between the 50’s and the 80’s, hence why there was still so much left to do with movies, but since there has not been as much of a fundamental change since, movies have now become stagnant

    I know on the surface a lot has changed since the 80’s, but you know as they say “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, the 80’s was a very superficial time, as is today, there were still computers, cellphones and video games, they’ve all just gotten more popular and more advanced

    so basically, the modern day is just the 80’s cranked up to 11

  43. Griff

    I read a book about advertising once and the author kept pointing out that the only thing that really works for advertising is branding. The customers buy the brand they recognise. The same goes for cinema-goers today, they go for the brands they´re already familiar with, hence the prequels, sequels, remakes etc. At the moment they are pillaging fairytales cause the characters, stories and titles are familiar to the customers. The bible is next, I suppose…

    None of those producers or filmmakers chooses these brands because they love them. That´s the big difference between some asshole who remakes the Thing and Tarantino who riffs on the Django franchise. The most movies that Tarantino steals from is unknown, and he makes great effort to bring his favourite movies to the publics attention.

    I personally think that Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but he is also the guy who introduced me to a lot of my favourite genres, movies, directors and so on.

  44. But CJ, what serious artist is saying that? I sure didn’t say anything remotely like that in my piece, but it didn’t stop this guy from deciding that it was my main point. Both you and him are fixated on some person claiming to be a genius. Who does that? Why is it relevant to any of this? It’s a weird thing to get hung up on.

  45. Okay, in this case, I wasn’t even talking about Tarantino’s style of filmmaking or agreeing about what that other guy wrote (Because he comes across as that bitter, that I don’ want to be associated with anything he said or wrote.). It’s just that I encountered way too many people who lived by the rule “everything is a blablabla” and “Great artists steal” and THIS is something that I hate. As if being a rip off would be a desirable goal in life and just repeating what everybody else does, makes you a great artist! And in THIS point, I agree with the writer of that blog. Doesn’t matter who you are, stop masturbating over how many words, scenes or melodies you stole and do! Something! Original!

    (Although to be honest, most people live by that rule, because apparently the “great artists steal” quote was apparently said by Tarantino once, even though I think it was a famous painter who said it before him. But whatever.)

  46. I’ve yet to find anyone who can point out a single movie that is the slightest bit similar to a Tarantino movie in any way that really matters. All anybody comes up with is a bunch of minutia. You look at the movies he supposedly xeroxed frame by frame, and they couldn’t be more dissimilar. RESERVOIR DOGS doesn’t even show the robbery he allegedly ripped off from CITY ON FIRE! He can lift bits here and there, but the soul of his films is utterly unique.They’re weird, idiosyncratic, often bizarrely shaped and paced concoctions that are instantly recognizable as the work of a single mind. So what if he stole a belt buckle? Is that all movies are to you: a checklist of onscreen elements? What about the indefinable alchemy that is the entire essence of the auteur theory? If you want to find a posterboy for the so-called death of originality in cinema, how about you pick somebody whose movies aren’t completely different than everybody else’s?

  47. Okay, calm down everyone, movies are not about what you’ve seen before, but about what works. There arfe thousands of similar movies about and most of them are worth watching. Tarantino copies something and invents the rest, and everything is good. Just don’t over analyze it and it will work as an exciting movie every time!

  48. The question, Griff, is where does it end? Your movie has human beings in it. That rips off my movie that has humans in it! There will always be new things, how much they are “derivative” will always be debatable. Tarantino may be open about his “rip-offs” but he’s certainly not the only director or writer faulted, that dude’s idiotic blog response to Vern if full of other so-called examples that seem to have as their only defense some vague notion that everyone has seen/read everything produced throughout time. Two people come up with the same thing how can the be! One must have stolen from the other.

    I think Vern’s basic argument, that Tarantino distills ingredients into something new, a recipe of his imagination, is lost on a lot of people. I don’t see how he could be more clear, but I guess that’s why this “debate” rages on lol.

    But back to “new stuff”, I want to throw out an example because of all of my movie ideas over the decades there’s one I’d still love to see get made because it is an experiment. Does this gimmick mean the whole kit and kaboodle is a rip-off?

    The movie would be titled TRAILER, the last name of the protagonist and of course the not-so-clever gimmick: the entire movie is edited as one long-ass trailer. Most people remember the amped-up action scenes in trailers, the cuts, but even the loudest of trailers has time for a few lines of dialogue and I think it could be pulled off. Since I thought this one up back in the ’80s I have reshuffled the time period on occasion so I won’t bore anyone, suffice to say it really would only work as a period piece now.

    The setup is a Club 54 type owner, Matt Hexen, is a big cocaine dealer who gets busted in 1980. He escapes in 1998 and his cache of goods and money having never been found decides on a vendetta once seeing how much the world had changed and had passed him by. He was ultimately caught by a rookie, John Trailer, though he had been hunted by a 20-person task force. All 21 people are on a hit-list and the movie is essentially a huge chase and action romp culminating is a stand-off between Trailer and Hexen at a Best Buy in downtown New York. I always likes the idea of a dude being thrown into one of those huge old rear-projection CRTs.

    The other twist would be the trailer for TRAILER. It would be an eight minute prologue to the movie itself showing Hexen’s life (cue the You Should Be Dancing strut and shoot) and downfall, a compressed four years of the rise, the club, the smuggling etc. You could then stick that in the front of other movies as the build-up, never saying the movie itself would be one long trailer.

    There’s nothing new here. Action beats, car chases, explosions. But isn’t the assemblage (if it could be pulled off) something new made out of bits of old? Doesn’t that in and of itself make it something new?

  49. I’d watch that, Clubside.

    Man, I read that blog article again. Had to laugh at the smart-arse Aliens/Contamination example he gives. Can you imagine having that guy as a friend?

    “Seen Aliens?”

    “Aliens?! You mean James Cameron’s clear imitation that steals three key-scenes from an obscure rip-off of a hodge-podge of a remake of a theft of a–”

    “Kill me or shut the fuck up, please!”

  50. The weird thing is that in my experience, the QT haters will usually pick JACKIE BROWN when pressed to name their favourite of his movies. It makes no sense to me; they have a beef with QT because he lifts stuff from other movies and then pick the only one of his films that is entirely based on pre-existing work as the only time he really got it right.

  51. Checked out the Radiodrome podcast on that site (the fact that Brad Jones is on there sold me) and their newest one is all about Steven Seagal films. I thought it was going to be a bunch of snarky jokes, but they all have a genuine love for Golden Age Seagal, which is cool. They don’t mention SEAGALOGY at all, unfortunately.

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