QT8: The First 21 Years (2019) ***

December 12th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Tara Wood, Documentary with Zoë Bell, Bruce Dern, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Lee, Lucy Liu, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, Christoph Waltz; USA 2019, 120 min.

It has been said that 21 years defines the career of an artist. And Tara Wood, who co-directed 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014), has used this premise to define a new documentary about Quentin Tarantino’s first eight films.

Her idolatrous approach echoes that of the legends who have ranked around Tarantino’s meteoric rise from video archives clerk to multi-million dollar director whose features are a cultural event – no less. This film is full of the love Tarantino’s collaborators feel for the maverick director, put simply by James Wood : “it’s just fun to work with him”.

Directors are well known to be strict taskmasters  but QT8 also gives a palpable sense of the ebullient passion the Tennessee born filmmaker brings to his work. His natural charisma inspires his actors to enter into the spirit of their characters with extraordinary freedom and verve, while managing to maintain a strict ‘no nonsense’ approach on set.

Tarantino fills his scripts with multiple ways for his actors to interpret their roles. A case in point was the opening monologue for Inglourious Basterds recalled by Christoph Waltz who played the nefarious Nazi Colonel Landa with great gusto, very much defining Tarantino’s approach: “If you just love movies enough, you can make a good one”. Or eight.

Adulation or controversy are never far away. When a new Tarantino masterpiece hits the cinema screens, the box office figures usually prove him right: QT is a genius, and Wood will have us all repeating it. Strangely enough, the only missing person in this phalanx of admirers is the director himself – he is his own toughest critic. Wood also explores how ideas get off the ground particularly with reference to the script/story origins for True Romance and Natural Born Killers. We hear how Harvey Keitel arrived to pick up the script for Reservoir Dogs, which led to Cannes – and then straight to Pulp Fiction and Cannes again. A neat transition indeed. But to compare this boyish blood and guts artist with the combined talents of French Nouvelle Vague legends, Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, and Rivette, is really stretching it a bit. 

Wood goes on as if Tarantino’s career was only ever plain sailing. No mention of the mega bust-up with Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary or Natural Born Killer producers Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy, which led to a brawl in a restaurant. Or the serious car accident on set which damaged Una Thurman’s neck for life – an event which only gets  a three second mention in QT8 – wonder why she didn’t show up?. Then there is Tarantino’s over-fondness for the N-word, to which black director Spike Lee took offence. Wood ordered a character assassination by Jamie Foxx, obliterating Lee – without Lee having the right to respond. The extensive but entertaining eulogy is mostly centred around the sets, with clever animation flicks by Brad Greber and Shane Minshew keeping the tone light.

Apart from his love for people of colour, Tarantino is equally fond of women and should be celebrated for creating strong, feisty female roles. When the Weinstein scandal broke, Tarantino cut all ties with the producer, even though he was a major shareholder in the production company (‘The house that Quentin built’). Wood tries her best in the last six minutes to avoid any serious questions. Wood and QT8 were, at one point, in a legal battle over the Weinstein Company right’s to distribute the documentary – the battle itself and how it was solved is never mentioned. This latest development has to be factored in to the whole tableau. Wood’s accusation of Harvey Weinstein’s criminal acts sound righteous but unconvincing – and somehow feel tacked on as a crowd-pleaser in this otherwise rip-roaring romp through the Tarantino canon. AS




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