Quentin Tarantino traces the birth of his aesthetic back to the day, many years ago, when he read Pauline Kael’s review of Band of Outsiders. In particular he cites the passage wherein Kael likens Godard’s film to “a reverie of a gangster movie as students in an espresso bar might remember it or plan it….It’s as if a French poet took a banal American crime novel and told it to us in terms of the romance and beauty he read between the lines…” “And when I read it,” Tarantino told an interviewer later, “I said that’s my aesthetic, that’s what I want to do, that is what I want to achieve.”
It should be noted that it was in a diner that Tarantino first read this review, since the review compares a film that partially takes place in a diner to something that was first conceived in a diner, and also since Tarantino (who loved to hang out in diners) would make similar diner-inspired movies that also take place partially in diners. (Tarantino’s production company, A Band Apart, is also a vulgarization of the French formulation of the title of Godard’s movie.) One part of Kael’s review that Tarantino doesn’t publicly identify himself with is where she claims that young filmgoers, some of them, “are so proud of how compulsively they see everything in terms of movies and how many times they’ve seen certain movies that there is nothing left for them to relate movies to. They have been soaked up by the screen.” It’s as if she were eloquently stealing the words, preemptively, from the mouths of all of Tarantino’s eventual critics.
It’s true that there not only doesn’t seem to be a terrible film extant that Quentin Tarantino hasn’t seen, but that there doesn’t seem to be a terrible film extant that Tarantino hasn’t admired, and that hasn’t somehow informed his work, in a fundamental way. Each one of his films is a high-gloss tribute to some hackneyed old genre: heist, gangster, grindhouse, blaxploitation, and kung fu. Recently, he even went to war—with the Greatest Generation, no less—and twisted military history until it fit his purposes. There are plenty of other genres left to rescue and elevate, and we can be sure that before he reaches his anticipated retirement age of 60, Tarantino will have stayed up somewhere all night and told us all about them.