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A Glimpse At Quentin Tarantino

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  • A Glimpse At Quentin Tarantino

    The career of Quentin Tarantino instantly became the stuff of Hollywood legend. His improbable story incorporates plot elements previously encountered in earlier "boy wonder" lore—like the youthful adventures of Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg—but much like this unlikely celebrity's rapid-fire vocal delivery, the pace has been greatly accelerated. By 2003, Tarantino had helmed only four feature films and one segment of a poorly received omnibus film, which would hardly seem to justify the book-length studies of the filmmaker's work or his considerable influence on a generation of subsequent writers and directors. Of course, winning the Oscar, Golden Globe and numerous critics' awards for Best Original Screenplay for the groundbreaking and much-imitated "Pulp Fiction" (1994) added significantly to his luster. Not bad for a high school dropout who picked up much of his film education while working as a video store clerk. l
    The career of Quentin Tarantino instantly became the stuff of Hollywood legend. His improbable story incorporates plot elements previously encountered in earlier "boy wonder" lore—like the youthful adventures of Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg—but much like this unlikely celebrity's rapid-fire vocal delivery, the pace has been greatly accelerated. By 2003, Tarantino had helmed only four feature films and one segment of a poorly received omnibus film, which would hardly seem to justify the book-length studies of the filmmaker's work or his considerable influence on a generation of subsequent writers and directors. Of course, winning the Oscar, Golden Globe and numerous critics' awards for Best Original Screenplay for the groundbreaking and much-imitated "Pulp Fiction" (1994) added significantly to his luster. Not bad for a high school dropout who picked up much of his film education while working as a video store clerk.

    For better or worse, the entertainment press has selected Tarantino as the symbol of a new generation of young directors of popular films. Hailed by Variety as "the video store generation of filmmakers,” these would-be auteurs learned what they know about moviemaking and film history by watching VHS tapes on television, not at film school. A minimum wage job behind a video store counter became a road to a treasure trove of cinematic expression—particularly if one worked, as Tarantino did, at a well-stocked outfit like Video Archives in Manhattan Beach. Cinephiles rather than cineastes, these young buffs tended to have rather catholic if idiosyncratic tastes. One could see influences of everything from arcane Hong Kong action titles to French New Wave classics in Tarantino's work.

    Tarantino was born on March 27, 1963 in Knoxville, TN. His father—a sometime actor—left the his family before Tarantino was born. When he was two years old, him and his mother left Knoxville and settled in Los Angeles, CA. After dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, Tarantino held a succession of odd jobs before finding his niche at Video Archives where for five years he regaled customers, including many low-profile industry players, with his passionate opinions and recommendations. There Tarantino first met the film school-trained Roger Avary, his future collaborator on the screenplays for "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), "True Romance" (1993) and "Pulp Fiction" (the exact nature of their work together has remained in dispute).

    The pair was hired by producer John Langley, a regular customer who was impressed by the duo's film knowledge, to work as production assistants on a Dolph Lundgren exercise video. This led to work at Cinetel Productions, where they hooked up with producer Lawrence Bender and finished their screenplay for "Reservoir Dogs.” Tarantino’s career kicked into high gear with the release of this acclaimed feature debut as writer-director-actor. A brutally violent yet elegantly written crime drama originally budgeted for a mere $35,000, the production grew to $1.5 million when Harvey Keitel became enamored of the script and agreed to star. The result was a cleverly structured and stylized caper with themes of masculinity, loyalty and betrayal that benefited greatly from top notch tough-guy performances from a superior ensemble that included Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi and Michael Madsen. “Reservoir Dogs” premiered at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and was pointedly snubbed by the jury. Nonetheless, Tarantino was courted by the industry and lionized by some as the next Martin Scorsese, albeit with liberal sprinklings of Samuel Fuller and John Woo.

    Tarantino continued in this vein with the screenplay for "True Romance,” a gleefully adolescent daydream fueled by pop culture, violence and testosterone. Slickly directed by Tony Scott, the film offered grandstanding performances and a glossy commercial sheen that rendered the ample violence less distressing than that in "Reservoir Dogs.” Another script, "Natural Born Killers,” was penned during the same burst of creativity. Helmed with a heavy hand by Oliver Stone, who had the script extensively rewritten, much to the annoyance of Tarantino who was glad to take a mere story credit. Consequently, Stone, quite heavily and publicly criticized by Tarantino, took the kudos and brickbats that the controversial film eventually generated.

    Tarantino returned to the director's chair for "Pulp Fiction,” marking a return to a familiar urban landscape characterized by themes of trust, betrayal, and inhabited by gangsters given to low-level postulating. Boasting another A-list cast including Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman and Christopher Walken, the film premiered to acclaim and some controversy at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival where it received the Palme d'Or. It went on to surprising box-office success, grossing over $200 million internationally. "Pulp Fiction" made Tarantino the toast of Hollywood while resuscitating the commercial and critical fortunes of Travolta, whose career management became a well-publicized sideline for the red-hot young filmmaker.

    After taking home well over a dozen major awards for "Pulp Fiction,” Tarantino was all but omnipresent in late 1994 and 1995. As an actor, he had began popping up in small roles in independent features ("Sleep With Me" and "Somebody to Love", both 1994) but was now being cast in low and medium budget studio pictures. He was abysmal as the god of Las Vegas fortune Johnny Destiny in the disastrous crime noir "Destiny Turns on the Radio" (1995), but did manage an enjoyable turn as a hapless drug dealer in friend Robert Rodriguez's "Desperado" (both 1995). Segueing to television, Tarantino had a guest shot on Margaret Cho's ABC sitcom "All-American Girl" (ABC, 1994-1995) and directed a flashy installment of the hit NBC medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994- ). A few years later, Tarantino was to direct an installment of the popular sci-fi series "The X-Files," but he had refused to join the Directors Guild of America and was unable to secure a waiver to be able to helm the episode.

    Tarantino and Bender expanded their production company A Band Apart (taken from "Bande a Part", the original French title of Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 classic "Band of Outsiders") to include A Band Apart Commercials and Rolling Thunder. The latter was a specialty distribution label under Miramax Pictures designed to acquire, distribute and market four films per year. The emphasis would be on visceral, exploitation-tinged genre movies. The first acquisition was a quirky Hong Kong import, Wong Kar-Wai's "Chungking Express" (1994; released in the USA in 1996), an exquisitely stylized romantic comedy in police drama drag.

    As a filmmaker, Tarantino returned to the screen to executive produce "Four Rooms" (1995), a poorly received comedy anthology, for which he also wrote, directed and starred the worse of four segments involving the comic antics of a frazzled hotel concierge (Tim Roth). He fared better as executive producer, writer and co-star of Rodriguez's "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996), a moody, violent crime noir that transformed into a gory and repetitive special effects-laden vampire movie. The reviews were mixed, but box office take was brisk. Still in demand as an actor, Tarantino played an unsympathetic version of himself as "QT" in Spike Lee's sex comedy "Girl 6" (1996).

    For his long-awaited follow-up feature, Tarantino adapted Elmore Leonard's novel "Rum Punch" and turned it into "Jackie Brown" (1997), a vehicle for actress Pam Grier. Those expecting "Pulp Fiction 2" were disappointed slightly—namely due to the slow pacing and his focus on the would-be romance between the an airline stewardess (Grier) in trouble for smuggling money for drug dealers and her earnest, sympathetic bail bondsman (Robert Forster). While some critics carped over the film's length, most were enthralled with the script and the casting.

    Other than a 1998 acting appearance on stage opposite Marissa Tomei in the new Broadway version of "Wait Until Dark" (playing the Harry Roat to mixed-to-poor reviews) and a small role in the Adam Sandler comedy "Little Nicky" (2000), Tarantino took a long hiatus from public appearances and filmmaking amid tabloid headlines proclaiming rumors of writer's block, pot smoking, temper tantrums and fistfights; rumors he denied. Tarantino spent three years developing a World War II epic called "Inglorious Bastards," but he could never come up with an ending for it. He finally settled on his self-penned script "Kill Bill," an unabashed if violently bloody valentine to the kung fu and blaxploitation films he loved as a youth. The idea was spawned after an encountering with "Pulp Fiction" player Uma Thurman at a 2000 Oscar bash, who recalled an idea the two cooked up on the set of their earlier collaboration. The story centered on a bride who is left for dead after her wedding party is slaughtered at the chapel. The woman swears vengeance on the attackers and hunts them down one by one. Tarantino gave Thurman 30 pages of script for her 30th birthday, and the film, a meditation on vengeance described by the auteur as "the movie of my geek movie dreams," was soon a go.

    Although initially set as a $42 million movie, "Kill Bill" ballooned into a $60-plus million, three hour opus that took 155 days to shoot—some insiders believed this was the writer-director's movie meltdown, equivalent to Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now.” But Tarantino kept forging forward until the film was finished. Miramax, the studio behind "Kill Bill," was impressed with the quality of the footage yet unsure of an audience's ability to endure such levels of relentless violence. In a shrewd movie both financially and hype-wise, the studio decided to issue the film in two parts just months away from each other as "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" (2003) and "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" (2004)—although studio head Harvey Weinstein did have to haggle with Tarantino and Lawrence Bender to give up some of their compensation in order to provide for increased marketing costs and star salaries (rather than budget overages), at least until the studio saw a profit returned. One of the most graphically violent films ever released—with an R rating, no less—"Kill Bill, Vol. 1" proved to be every bit as critically polarizing as any Tarantino effort, with many critics calling it brilliant cinema and others decrying its gut-wrenching scenes. Like other Tarantino efforts, "Kill Bill, Vol. 2" spun the already established formula on its head when it scaled down the action in favor of unexpected character moments and the writer-director’s characteristically absorbing dialogue—not to mention demonstrating his gift for luring top-notch performances out of actors whose careers have dimmed (David Carradine, in this case).

    Tarantino next appeared as a "special guest director" in director Robert Rodriguez and writer-artist Frank Miller's adaptation of Miller's crime noir comic book series "Sin City" (2005), with Tarantino helming the tense, eerie sequence within "The Big Fat Kill" storyline in which the tough, but noble Dwight (Clive Owen) has an extended conversation with the corpse of the corrupt cop Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) as he drives to dispose of the dead bodies to the tar pits in hopes of avoiding a turf war. Continuing to demonstrate his love of a wide-ranging array of pop culture icons, Tarantino stepped behind the camera to direct the 2005 season finale of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which featured the final TV performance of Frankl Gorshin and, like "Kill Bill, Vol. 2," a plot centering around a cast member being buried alive. After scoring an Emmy nomination his “CSI” stint, Tarantino expressed interest in assembling a limited-run series for which he'd write and direct all 12 episodes, "like one big arc/novel." As a performer, he next cameoed as himself in the enchanting ABC telepic "The Muppets' 'Wizard of Oz'" (2005) and made three guest appearances as former SD-6 agent-turned-international criminal McKenas Cole on one of his favorite TV shows, "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06).

    A great interview subject, Tarantino has quickly cultivated an intriguing public persona. He enjoys dual status as the "film geek who made good" and the reigning avatar of postmodern "cool.” The latter quality is conveyed by the playful hipster tone of his protagonists, their retro clothing, a mastery of pop culture allusions and killer soundtracks. Eventually, the mere fact that Tarantino liked a particular film or performer became a marketable selling point. Tarantino also showed his canny mastery of self-promotion, reviving his fading image as the poster boy for bad boy cinema—he was famously sued by producer Don Murphy for $5,000,000, accused of assault after Tarantino attacked Murphy in restaurant, slammed him against the wall and punched him in 1997—when he appeared apparently tipsy on Jay Leno's "The Tonight Show" while promoting "Kill Bill, Vol. 1" in 2003.

    Tarantino next added his name to Eli Roth’s second feature, “Hostel” (2006), a brutal horror flick about two American college buddies (Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) lured to an out-of-the-way hostel in a Slovakian town rumored to house desperate, but beautiful Eastern European women. Following their wrong heads, both Americans get trapped in a truly sinister situation that plunges them into the dark recesses of human nature. Tarantino teamed up with directing pal Robert Rodriguez once more to direct “Grindhouse” (2007), a compilation of two 90-minute long horror flicks helmed by both directors that was a throwback to the days of bloody, sex-fueled, low-rent double features that played in seedy 42nd Street theaters in New York City. Tarantino’s offering was a slasher-cum-road rage flick called “Death Proof,” starring Kurt Russell a crazed killer who tries to mow down young women—including Rosario Dawson and Zoë Bell—in a black Chevy Nova. Despite widespread attention lavished on the film—including exhaustive rounds made to various media outlets by Tarantino—“Grindhouse” failed to generate a large crowd to theaters—even some of the ones who did show up walked out halfway after Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” segment thinking the movie was over.
    * Also Credited As: Quentin Jerome Tarantino
    * Born: March 27, 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee
    * Job Titles: Actor, Director, Screenwriter, Executive, Producer, Telephone sales representative, Usher (at the Pussycat Theater in Torrance, California), Video sales clerk Family
    * Father: Tony Tarantino.
    * Mother: Connie Zastoupil. works for a home medical organization; part-Cherokee
    * Step-father: Curt Zastoupil.
    Significant Others
    * Companion: Allison Anders. no longer together
    * Companion: Margaret Cho. no longer together
    * Companion: Mira Sorvino. together from c. January 1996 to February 1998
    * 1965 Moved, with mother, from Knoxville, Tennessee to Los Angeles (date approximate)
    * 1985 Spent five years working at Video Archives, a well-stocked video store in suburban Los Angeles; co-worker was future writing collaborator Roger Avary (dates approximate)
    * 1990 Commissioned to write a screenplay based on a 6-page story by Robert Kurtzman (co-founder of the special effects makeup company KNB Effects); eventually became "From Dusk Till Dawn"; was paid $1500 and offered free makeup effects on his "Reservoir Dogs"
    * 1990 TV acting debut as an Elvis impersonator in an episode of "The Golden Girls"
    * 1991 Co-founded A Band Apart Productions with producer Bender to make "Pulp Fiction" and subsequent projects
    * 1992 Feature debut, co-wrote (with Avary), directed and acted in "Reservoir Dogs"
    * 1992 Met future collaborator writer-director Robert Rodriguez at the Toronto Film Festival
    * 1993 First film as screenwriter only, "True Romance", directed by Tony Scott
    * 1994 First film as producer only, executive produced "Killing Zoe", Avary's debut as a writer-director
    * 1994 Made career transforming feature, "Pulp Fiction"; directed, co-wrote and acted in
    * 1994 Played a cameo as a fast-talking bartender in Alexandre Rockwell's "Somebody to Love"
    * 1994 Received story credit for Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers"
    * 1994 Received strong notices for performance in "Sleep With Me"
    * 1994 Subject of profile, "Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood's Boy Wonder" on BBC-TV's "Omnibus" series
    * 1995 Did a guest shot on the ABC sitcom "All-American Girl"
    * 1995 Did an uncredited rewrite on Tony Scott's "Crimson Tide"
    * 1995 First collaboration with writer-director Rodriguez, played a small role in "Desperado"
    * 1995 Played first feature lead, Johnny Destiny in "Destiny Turns on the Radio", a romantic comedy-adventure
    * 1995 TV directing debut, "Motherhood", an episode of the hit NBC medical drama "ER"
    * 1995 With Bender, launched A Band Apart Commercials, a commercial production house under the Miramax banner
    * 1995 With producer Bender, set up Rolling Thunder, a specialty distribution label under Miramax Pictures, designed to acquire, distribute and market four films a year
    * 1996 Had earliest screenplay, "My Best Friend's Birthday", acquired by a number of old associates including former manager of seven years Cathryn James and "Natural Born Killers" producers Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher; rewrite assigned to Avary and the original co-writer Craig Hamann
    * 1997 Sued for $5 million by producer Don Murphy after Tarantino assaulted Murphy
    * 1997 With Lawrence Bender, formed A Band Apart Records to market and distribute recordings made on Madonna's Maverick label
    * 1997 Wrote and directed "Jackie Brown", adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel "Rum Punch"; tailored leading role for actress Pam Grier
    * 1998 Starred on stage opposite Marisa Tomei in a revival of "Wait Until Dark"
    * 2000 Had featured role in "Little Nicky", starring Adam Sandler
    * 2002 Played recurring role in episodes of the popular ABC drama series "Alias"
    * 2003 Wrote script "Kill Bill" for actress Uma Thurman; was scheduled to direct in 2001 but postponed after Thurman became pregnant; Released in two volumes "Kill Bill vol. 1" in 2003 and "Kill Bill vol. 2" in 2004
    * 2005 Directed the season finale of the CBS drama "CSI"; also helped develop the story for the final episode (aired in May)
    * 2007 Helmed "Death Proof," the slasher themed half of the goretastic double feature "Grind House" a collaboration with Robert Rodriguez
    * Began making (unfinished) first film, "My Best Friend's Birthday", from a screenplay co-written with Craig Hamann; they both co-starred
    * Began studying acting
    * Dropped out of high school at age 15 after ninth grade
    * Hired with Avary as production assistants for a Dolph Lundgren video after impressing John Langley--producer of Fox-TV's "Cops" and a regular customer at Video Archives--with their film knowledge
    * Raised in Los Angeles
    * Working at Cinetel Productions, met future producer Lawrence Bender and finished script for "Reservoir Dogs"

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