Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is sadly not out in the UK yet. I’ve still got a little while to wait before I can see what is shaping up to be one of the strongest films of the year. The reviews are looking good, and the hype is growing. Whilst I wait for the release of his latest movie, I look back on the previous eight movies (I also count Kill Bill as one movie) and note key patterns and trends. There are many tell tale signs that you are watching a Tarantino movie. Knowing these key tropes, motifs and recurring stylistic choices, which can be found everywhere in his filmography, from Reservoir Dogs (1992) to The Hateful Eight (2015) can allow one to speculate over what to expect in his latest film.
Before cinematic universes became the rabbit hole Hollywood have been continuously digging into since the release of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, Tarantino was setting all of his films in one crazy, violent and chaotic universe. Linking his characters through invented brands, such as Red Apple cigarettes or the Big Kahuna burger, and even family names, Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction and Mr Blonde from Reservoir Dogs are related. We have not had the big crossover event yet, though. Perhaps Tarantino is leaving that for his final film. Given the very low success rate of such crossover films (Marvel being the only studio to do it well), it is probably a good thing that Tarantino has not depicted The Bride taking down Marsellus Wallace (I bet greedy producers have suggested the idea, though). Nevertheless, these visual Easter eggs linking all the films together are always a nice bit of fun for the avid Tarantino fan.
These visual Easter eggs also draw attention to the fact the audience is watching a movie- Tarantino’s movies never allow the audience to get fully immersed. Mia Wallace, when calling Vincent Vega a “square”, draws one and this square actually appears on screen, as if chalked on. His use of chapter titles and on-screen text throughout his filmography also take the audience out of the narrative. Further, the repeated use of trunk shots and longer than average tracking, bird’s eye view shots reminds the audience that the narrative is being created the same auteur that created the other films. These are all uses of non-diegetic film techniques. Within the diegetic world of his films, too, the audience is constantly made aware of a wider filmic context. Most of his films include a Mexican Standoff, a trope paying homage to his favourite genre, the Western. Tarantino always has a cameo in his films, much like Alfred Hitchcock, using himself as a watermark for his work, reminding the audience the same auteur has crafted all these movies. Furthermore, his films are littered with pop culture references, particularly to other movies, deliberately situating his own movies within a larger cinematic context. For Tarantino, his movies are not portals into an immersive world. They are films, crafted by an auteur, and he wants you to know it.
The most significant link between all of Tarantino’s movies is his treatment of time as malleable. It can be bent into any shape. History is often revised. Hitler does not die by his own hand in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, for example. His soundtracks are often anachronistic, as songs from the last few decades are used in his films set in the past, or as older songs are used in his present day films. The most famous example being the use of “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel in Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino is not concerned with picking authentic songs from the period in which his films are set. Would any song from 1992 have suggested the nonchalance and laidback nature of Mr Blonde as he tortures the police officer as well? Tarantino is more interested in mood and character; to develop both of these, songs from other periods of history are often required. What is the best way to tell this particular story? This is clearly the driving question behind the construction of his movies. This explains the eclectic range of shapes his plots come in, too. Pulp Fiction is the quintessential non-chronological film. Kill Bill tracks Beatrix Kiddo as she seeks to execute Bill and the Deadly Vipers, as an act of revenge for their atrocious actions on her wedding day. It opens with Beatrix killing the second member of the Deadly Vipers, with the rest of the film depicting her struggle against the first member. Further, we do not see key events, such as the wedding and Beatrix’s training, until the second half of this story of ten chapters. If the film you are watching is historically accurate, uses references and music from the period, and is told chronologically, then Tarantino definitely did not direct it.
I have only touched the surface. There are many more tropes, motifs and stylistic choices linking these films together. Whilst the plot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been kept under wraps, there is still a lot we can speculate accurately and predict with confidence. It will certainly reference more movies than you can count. Leonardo DiCaprio will probably end up in a trunk at some point. The film will probably open at the end, and end in the middle. Expect a song from the seventies. I cannot wait to look out for these tropes all over again when Tarantino’s 9th film is finally released in the UK.