Tarantino’s Cul-de-Sac

by Michael Reiss

        After 30 years and nine official films does anyone feel sort of betrayed by the cul-de-sac of Tarantino‘s career arc?  When he began his career, the younger version of Tarantino was perpetually fawned over and heralded as the leader of the 1990s independent film rebirth and revolution (for which most of the credit should really go to Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh, and Richard Linklater) and Tarantino’s films have always been excessively gushed over. Tarantino does know how to make engrossing films, but his screenplays often are like versions of one another in different settings with sometimes a different tempo, different music, a couple of different actors, and so on.  But okay, since most film lovers drank the Tarantino kool-aid a while back, let me put together a different portrait of a director who probably didn’t need to be as celebrated as Tarantino has been.
        The relative lack of anything much going on in the narrative of his films outside of fights is often why Tarantino makes up for it with explosions and distracting jokes and heads being blown off and engrossing crap like that.  And I suppose you could say that his films going nowhere philosophically with rapid-fire dialogue about cheeseburgers and all of his favorite things does kind of match (1) the go-nowhere path of his country of origin, the United States of America, also (2) of Harvey Weinstein, (3) of Hollywood, (4) of style over substance, (5) of the depthless nature of being a celebrity, (6) of vacuous celebrity worship, (7) of the dark side of popular culture, (8) of this generation being a hall of mirrors via online social cliques and alienation, (9) of the pursuit of no real end goal, (10) of Tarantino’s goal of 10 films and done, (11) of Tarantino’s attempt to deify faded actors or any actor at all (who are never gods), (12) of helping Scientologist John Travolta to return from the dead only for Johnny T. to die off again in a similar Hubbardian self-immolation.  But this is not an intentional go-nowhere aesthetic by Tarantino, but a go-nowhere of actually simply nothing at all underneath, no depth, no purpose or real abiding vision that will matter decades from now, no magic behind the curtain.  And the Tarantino defenders drink the kool-aid because they love the violence and they could give a shit about implications, giving Tarantino a pass and giving him cover, saying it’s “like a comic book” or “it’s a B-movie”, which is sort of like letting a Wall Street white-collar thief get away with it because “they all do it”.
        Maybe Tarantino is merely a Trojan horse filled with pig blood. It’s not entirely clear … but there’s really not enough proof that he isn’t just a Trojan horse filled with pig blood.    In Tarantino’s limited comic book universe, portraying the Manson family in the new movie as “bad” is stating the obvious, very good guy vs. very bad guy in the writing department of the new movie, and most of us are already aware of what happened with Charlie Manson and the runaways living on George Spahn’s ranch.  The latest Tarantino film is just a kind of comic book justice “heroes-always-win-in-the-end” claptrap Marvel or DC resolution.  As horrible as what happened to Sharon Tate and the others murdered by the Manson family was, the moments in history of losing innocence are important for a reason, because good guys don’t always win and re-writing it to have a happy ending with good-guy heroes is as dumb as Tarantino’s ending for Django giving the horror of Antebellum slavery some kind of easy redemption by having the hero of that movie ride off into the sunset on a horse with his woman.  Rewriting history to create catharsis needs a surgeon, not a butcher.  Traveling back in time to kill Hitler in his “Inglourious Basterds” film… one of history’s biggest killers the Nazis did their irredeemable damage and it is never undone.  Denial is futile. There was no God to stop it. Nothing will ever reverse the fact that people were tortured and slaughtered and by no means nor will a low-grade Tarantino B-movie dolled up to look like a major production.  The amount of money that Tarantino gets from people like Harvey Weinstein for the past 30 years to make movies will not undo history.  Using a fictional device like Tarantino does in this latest movie and in his films about Antebellum slavery and World War II works better as a dream sequence, not spinning harebrained fiction from fact. A better film about actually reflecting the pain of American slavery came out the same year as Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”, the historically accurate and emotionally brutal film “12 Years a Slave”… and 12 Years won best picture that year.  Not Tarantino's regressive schoolyard emission Django. 
        Tarantino‘s inability to handle the persistence of the past is tantamount to a tantrum, something to which Tarantino is prone. Watch many of his old interviews where he's challenged intellectually and you’ll see the same child-throwing-his-ice-cream-on-the-ground reaction.  So Tarantino using his most recent film from 2019 as a time machine back to 1969 to put members of the Manson family to death is kind of like a child who can’t handle the fact that his father is gone or that his older brother died in a car accident.  Tarantino visiting upon history a flexibility so he can simply resurrect Sharon Tate to exact revenge and capital punishment on three members of the Manson brood is Tarantino not being able to accept mortality and tragedy, even though his films traffic in mortality, albeit a flippant comic-book Hollywood mortality. Tarantino’s relatively (compared to how he is over-regarded) under-developed intellect and his obsession with comic book-level storytelling, but at the same time being treated as a major filmmaker, is a dilemma that’s been a problem in the film industry since the younger Quentin Tarantino came into the public consciousness in 1992. And he has inadvertently contributed to the dumbing-down effect of filmgoers, who still largely expect mayhem and blood and violence and way too much action and really not that much in the department of brains.
        One of the things one tends to get from Tarantino‘s interviews is that there is a boorishness and a crudeness to Tarantino‘s temperament, something resembling the glare and intimidation of over a quarter century in the auspices and the loving embrace of his career-making grand-demon father figure Harvey Weinstein and that kind of fuck-you gangster Weinstein mentality is evidenced by the increasing misanthropy and misogyny on full display in Tarantino‘s films, peaking maybe in the brutal and ugly hanging at the end of “The Hateful Eight” (2015), along with a healthy dose of tongue-lolling while hanging from a noose from the only female character in that film. So Tarantino now trying to redeem himself in this latest movie of his by going God-like in his own mind into 1969 to let Sharon Tate live again is a page, perhaps, out of Richard Linklater’s alternate reality theory of his seminal indie film “Slacker” in 1991, that all threads in time and space exist in one form or another. But Tarantino is not delicate or adept at the metaphysical acrobatics the way Linklater is.
        It is strange that Tarantino’s films are the ones turned into Hollywood events, because if you look at Richard Linklater’s impressive artistic development from “Slacker” onward, for the sake of parallel careers and seeing the growth of an artist in the public eye, both filmmakers give us a lot to talk about, but Tarantino’s drivel tends to be mostly forgettable, ultimately, where Linklater’s dialogue is very evocative and resonant decades later.  To be fair, one of the other celebrated directors of that era was also “El Mariachi”‘s director Robert Rodriguez, a close friend of Tarantino’s, and he developed even less than Tarantino, as an artist, Rodriguez’s films normally even more exclusively devoted to blood-spilling and destruction. But the blossoming of directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Linklater, Soderbergh, and Jim Jarmusch (and a few others) is one of the details of how Tarantino being spoiled and doted on far too much by master-rapist Harvey Weinstein arrested Tarantino‘s development as an artist, kept him from doing more and better rewrites on his screenplays, screenplays that tended to sound too much alike, and the lack of rewriting is why Tarantino’s films often have long aimless lulls in the middle. You could say that Tarantino’s films are kind of how James Cameron films used to be regarded as events, for some reason (mostly because Cameron sucked up all the oxygen, money, and any other available resource for his cinematic turkeys), but culturally, as with Tarantino, James Cameron films have become sort of insignificant and disposable, no real value other than eye candy and vicarious adrenalized releases for two or more hours.
        People seem to be resistant to criticism of Tarantino. His films are like comfort food and they want that comfort. Or maybe it’s closer to the way cocaine used to seem cool in the ‘70s and ‘80s and only sleazeballs still use cocaine now.  And the development of the love-hate relationship with Tarantino is that at first you love his films and you love him also and then you love his films and begin to hate him personally (and his shitty attitude)… and then you realize that it’s hard to love his films because you hate him and his shallow philosophy and his addiction to spurious and pointless ultraviolence.  The other category and chosen direction by those who become actual fans is those who look the other way and go to his films anyway because they’d rather not think about it or factor ethics or virtuosic writing into their decision.  By virtuosic writing, I mean narrative; Tarantino is masterful at writing dialogue, of course. 
        As Tarantino drifted through many failed romantic relationships in his personal life and spent a good deal of his life as one of the very closest friends of Harvey Weinstein, Weinstein clearly being Tarantino’s main enforcer and protector, benefactor, financier, and surrogate father/godfather/uncle, you can see from his actions, films, and interviews how warped and arrested Tarantino’s worldview remained.  Weinstein himself called his relationship with Tarantino “the best marriage I have ever had”.  In the direct wake of Weinstein going to prison for the rest of his life, Tarantino suddenly got married and had two children in what seemed almost like course correction or a public relations move.  Almost like a Hollywood image adjustment.  Linklater, on the other hand, without a sugar daddy holding his hand, grew by quantum leaps as a filmmaker, as did Paul Thomas Anderson, who loathed Weinstein after one early film and thereafter steered clear of the beast.  Outside of their films, Linklater and Anderson are not as ethically warped as Tarantino or as surly as Tarantino is with most people, outside of movie stars.  Tarantino’s pissy attitude is noticeable primarily in interviews. Tarantino seems stunted as an artist, having the same violent tantrums in his films, the same tantrums in interviews with journalists who challenge his films, the same Tarantino-talking-to-Tarantino-about-life that is much of the dialogue in his films, dialogue sometimes seemingly lifted from an Elmore Leonard novel, literally in the case of the adaptation of “Jackie Brown” (1997) from Elmore Leonard’s “Rum Punch” novel.
        In Tarantino‘s latest film, the notion that the Manson family and the murders they committed represented the total loss of innocence in Hollywood and/or represented a turning point in Hollywood history or anywhere else is completely false and badly narrow-minded, if one looks even one year prior:   1968 … Robert Kennedy was killed in LA/Hollywood, Martin Luther King was also killed that year, and the ‘68 DNC in Chicago was a bloody disaster of excessive police brutality.  Or we can talk about the assassination of Medgar Evers and JFK in 1963 and Malcolm X in ‘65 or the insane bloodlust of the Vietnam disaster that started unofficially in the early ‘60’s and lasted officially until 1975.  Cities burning and raging across the United States, pre-1969.  And Hollywood was declining steeply as soon as television became normal in every home, long before the Manson family went blood-red. Hollywood itself was never an ideal place or fair to most of its inhabitants, the Los Angeles dream machine spinning illusions at a rate that kept pace with the equally false political sleight of hand, both lying shamelessly about something manufactured out of whole cloth called the “American Dream”. There was never anything remotely resembling innocence in Hollywood and throughout Los Angeles county.  Or anywhere on any continent.  
        Saving Sharon Tate via a shallow and superficial film device accomplishes only another protective and self-serving fetish for Quentin Tarantino and he is mainly indulging in an insecure male savior-complex exercise of thinking he is saving a Hollywood angel, Sharon Tate, from the demon Charles Manson. But really, psychologically, this is only Tarantino trying to make up for the misogyny that he has directed at women in his recent films and our memories aren’t so short from a couple years ago that we don’t remember that Uma Thurman herself disavowed Tarantino and his shallow feminism from “Kill Bill” as recently as 2017, during the year of the exposure of Tarantino‘s godfather Harvey Weinstein as one of the main culprits in the rape culture and crushing career abuse that Weinstein exacted on anyone and everyone, and there were many of those anyones. Tarantino himself seems to have done a very good job of disappearing the writer Roger Avary, who co-wrote “Pulp Fiction” with Tarantino and shared the Oscar with Tarantino when the Oscars were handed out the following year, and years later, decades after their falling out, Avary now seems like was one of the main reasons that “Pulp Fiction” was much better written than all of Tarantino‘s other efforts.  
        In terms of being an entitled and spoiled beneficiary of Harvey Weinstein‘s crushing blows to the careers of many others in favor of Tarantino‘s, Tarantino’s entitlement issue is much more on display in his most recent movie.  More than just running to defend Sharon Tate’s honor, this Hollywood film is also Tarantino saying “How dare anyone, especially a nobody, kill a presumed future member of Hollywood royalty and then become somebody more famous than Tate”, as Manson did, because Tarantino very much loves being Hollywood royalty, even though he remains perpetually nouveau royalty, even after 30 years (no one else has been as large of an asshole, if one were able to measure those rectal depths).  This new movie feels more like Tarantino at a restaurant saying to a busboy who asks him a personal question “How dare you talk to me” and a lot like Weinstein‘s abuses and liberties that were taken.  Tarantino wants there to be a pecking order and an immortal royalty, a God-given chosen selection of special important VIP people.  That’s why his films are always so reverent of the star machinery itself and of himself, but pose as something accessible.  And it is also why Tarantino is always obviously trotting out the music he listens to and the films he watches and was influenced by and the people that he hangs out with, a deep need of his for being liked, wanted, adored, respected, and worshipped.  But people tend to buy the Tarantino schtick, hook, line, and sinker, also because most other films ejaculated out of Hollywood are so god-awful and even more shallow:  Disney pabulum, Star Wars and Marvel hot dog-adjacent garbage, the artistic nutritional equivalent of beer-battered fried beef rinds or ranch dressing.  But the shallowness of pop culture is infectious to some, colors and lights pop in people’s eyes, a whole generation now having grown up with screens in their face most of the day, a generation completely plugged into the matrix and loving it.  So, to them and a lot of the population, a film like Tarantino‘s is almost like high culture. Seeing a Tarantino orgasm on screen, they feel like they’ve used their brains more than usual … and that expenditure of brain cells sort of feels like depth sometimes.
        What Tarantino has accomplished by his flaws and via his excellent technical ability with film illusions is a kind of dialogue from Tarantino that always feels more like a monologue.  And Tarantino snipping at critics often has a flavor of his not being happy or satisfied that his wildest dream of becoming a powerful Hollywood player came true, absolutely everything in life he ever wanted – Hollywood supremacy is his, final cut, the last word in whatever he wants to say through the characters and stories... and savagely wealthy.  Even with all that, one rarely sees other directors getting as offended or as surly as Tarantino for having a moment in one of his films challenged or criticized with a fair question in a Q&A after a screening.
But Tarantino‘s self-aggrandizement and the obviously sensationalized adrenaline rush of his films, a lot like the cover of the New York Post or the New York Daily News, the dialogue which then drops into the background after a film, ceding to his yammering angrily in interviews like Donnie Trump, and it seems that somehow, to Tarantino, journalists are the enemy for daring to challenge him or his beloved surrogate father and main patron Harvey Weinstein. So when the blowback occurred of Weinstein finally getting what he deserved and getting arrested for rape, Tarantino responded by acting like he’s a champion of all women. Then, in Quentin’s very next film, Quentin rushes to save Sharon Tate from one of the most horrible murders in modern history, trying to set himself up to be immune from criticism, attaching himself to a character for whom everyone feels sympathy in Sharon Tate. As a piece of history, it was an obvious choice for Tarantino, but would’ve been much better handled by a more capable artist. Tarantino seems to like to go big and obvious with his historical projects: World War II, American slavery, and Charles Manson. But a lot of it, especially his new movie, appears to be in the category of Tarantino manipulating the perception of himself, something Harvey Weinstein himself taught Tarantino to do, manipulate the PR to one’s advantage. Tarantino uses his new film to try to shield himself from the Weinstein rape blowback and the collateral damage… and somewhat successfully so far.
        Momentarily saving Sharon Tate from history’s permanence accomplishes only a small reprieve for Tarantino, even though he’s now again catapulted himself back into the gullible audience’s good graces, back in the territory of being an untouchable by having had a more recent financially successful film and a big opening weekend that impresses studio executives, with this latest emission.  This only lasts because of audiences buying tickets. But if you look at someone like David Lynch, who has already devoted most of his best work to the theme of salvation, alternate realities, archangel time travelers (agent Cooper), and has handled it in a way that was much deeper and more enlightened than anything Tarantino has approached, it puts it in a clearer perspective. Lynch seems to put a marker on the “loss of innocence” in America (that Tarantino sees marked at the Manson murders or Nazis, both low-hanging targets) somewhere closer to the nukes being unleashed in 1945.  Both directors seem, like a lot of artists, concerned with the theme of how salvation can be achieved. Lynch is much better at reflecting the core values and the ugly history of Hollywood decadence and tragic illusions in a film like “Mulholland Drive”, not a worshipful rewriting of history like the drunken, weaving, and lazy Tarantino Hollywood fantasy tale, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”.  Both directors are mistaken if they think life in America or anywhere else in the world was ever really that ideal or innocent.
        More should be said of Tarantino‘s foremost film world bestie and longtime godfather, Harvey Weinstein, who finally fell into that beckoning pit of comeuppance, ignominy, and perdition. Tarantino, only now that it’s well-past time, is acting like the contrite son with some calculated media spin and unfortunately predictable deflection to separate himself from Weinstein’s fall.  Rather than doing anything outside of the usual damage-control rhetoric, like establishing a foundation for women in film or some other substantial and major commitment of some kind, Tarantino is now claiming that he was victimized somehow by Weinstein.  His stunt after Weinstein’s fall from power and Tarantino’s distraction to look like a victim was a claim that Weinstein owes him $5 million dollars.  Tarantino also seems to be doubling down artistically with this new movie, rather than trying to show another more human and compassionate side.  One of the lessons of Twin Peaks and David Lynch’s agent Cooper character is that when violence is unleashed it is not redeemed and it can never be redeemed or reversed, it simply isn’t undone, and when someone has suffered badly they can never unsuffer.  So Tarantino trying to write or direct his way out of his being an accessory to Weinstein’s crimes and wealth accumulation rings really very hollow, especially by trying so hard to show how much he supposedly cares about Sharon Tate.  Tarantino’s attempt to wax emotional about Tate seems entirely contrived and designed as an attempt to send a feminist message, but it fizzles coming from the guy who shielded Harvey Weinstein’s crimes for over two decades. (And seriously…?  By sending a failing actor and a stuntman in his latest film, both men no less, to be the heroes?   If he mainly responds via his art, Tarantino is digging himself an even deeper, darker hole.)
        The reason that Tarantino‘s celebration of violence is so dumb and doesn’t just artistically reflect human behavior to prove a point is the same reason something like pro wrestling or mixed martial arts are so damn pointlessly dumb – it’s because we don’t have time for it anymore. It’s that the human race has reached the point where the base instincts of violence and primordial impulses can’t be coddled anymore with excuses or through any other kind of justification, whether that excuse becomes calling it “entertainment” or “a good film” or any other mediocre bullshit excuse like “I just needed to let off a little steam” or “lighten up“ or “my dad loved boxing”.     “Just a movie” is one of the ultimate bullshit excuses.  The vast majority of the world and the United States gets a lot of its influence from movies and also a lot of its behavioral information.  And these Hollywood films definitely aren’t “just movies” anymore, they are not just passing entertainments, a lot of people still having their entire psyches shaped by these films and TV shows.  Tarantino has never really fully understood or grasped the importance of this, or just conveniently dismisses it, and it shows in his shallow films, but he was always in the position to understand it and he chose not to and chose to deflect instead. And that has made him even more dangerous in terms of the effects of his films and the glamorizing effect of his polishing bloody turds, and also how many critics and viewers treat his films like important events.  Tarantino films stopped having any depth pretty much right after he dismissed Roger Avary, the fantastic and essential co-writer of Pulp Fiction. Tarantino did also attempt to take full credit for the writing of “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, which Avary fortunately prevented. But sadly, most people don’t think of Roger Avary when Pulp Fiction is mentioned now, Avary still owning an Oscar for writing much of Pulp Fiction.
        In terms of destroying careers and the effect of Harvey Weinstein and blacklisting people in the film industry, director Peter Jackson has recently made a full admission that he followed orders and blacklisted actors like Rosanna Arquette and Mira Sorvino at the request of Harvey Weinstein, so one can easily do the math on how Tarantino may likely have destroyed the career of people like Roger Avary and probably others, still trying to back away from that shitty association with Weinstein.  Now is the time to again speculate about that kind of horrific crap. But instead, people still cream all over a new Tarantino film, as normally happens when the PR ramps up, and film audiences look the other way for the sake of watching Tarantino’s indulgent films guilt-free, and audiences are myopically celebrating his career again.  The new puritans and the Internet squawkers target many of the wrong artists, but ignore an insolent poser like Tarantino. 
        Some critics have put Tarantino under the microscope, but they don’t often like putting it in print because people are afraid of Tarantino, just like they were afraid of Weinstein … and that’s exactly why Weinstein was able to stay in power another 20 years in the independent film world after everyone already knew he was a rapist and a pig and a bully, rather than removing him for being an unfit person who crushed other people’s dreams to benefit and enrich himself.  The same way that the excessive showering of attention and wealth on Tarantino by Weinstein took resources and attention away from other better filmmakers that deserved far more financing and attention.  But Tarantino and Weinstein, both being the same variety of self-immersed asshole, enjoyed each other‘s company so much that the relationship remained intact for 25 years and was only reluctantly pulled apart by force a in 2017 due to the persistent and inescapable rape charges surrounding Weinstein.    Tarantino distanced himself because it was convenient for himself to do so (and untenable to not) and because everyone else had abandoned the toxicity of Weinstein by then.  Tarantino was conspicuously late to admitting to his complicity in that obvious crime scene.  The DNA of those kinds of unapologetic cool-guy gangster motivations is written into most of Tarantino’s screenplays, but played out in real life with the long-standing and very dear friendship between Tarantino and Weinstein.
        Richard Brody of New Yorker magazine did excoriate Tarantino and a lot of what Tarantino‘s new film represents and there are other critics who have also been good at putting Tarantino under the microscope, rather than worshipping Tarantino’s every move, unlike many undiscerning critics and many lazy filmgoers in it for a quick fix, a quick high, another mainline dose of Tarantino junk.  For a lot of them, Tarantino became a restaurant in a good location, kind of like bar food when you’re drunk. Or a great drug dealer.
        We’re at a point in time where people have to see these things for themselves.   I personally don’t expect filmgoers to change their habits because the film world has continued to degenerate into a focus on action and blood, on the small screen also, and vocabularies have been diminished via social media and smartphone culture, intelligence dropping.  The most recent Tarantino film is technically and stylistically very well-made and that is part of the main seduction of Tarantino, so people are under the impression that they are getting a masterpiece by an auteur. But what they’re really getting is Tarantino’s adrenalized and masculinized films that have the same basic effect as Stallone or Schwarzenegger’s films did in the 1980s, where stylizing and reflecting violence is justified, except the ’80s crap is so patently and intentionally dumb that it was taken less seriously, whereas with Tarantino films he poses as an intellectual to a primarily gullible liberal audience, his main demographic, and a few other demographics, who buy it, eat it in heaping portions, and wallow in the rush of his violent and graphic adolescent displays of gratuitous horseshit. The testosterone intoxication of Harvey Weinstein’s monster (QT) is very much like what audiences expected from a Steven Seagal film, circa late ‘80s.  Tarantino‘s accomplishments are really much closer to a kid showing off in the Camaro his dad bought him, peeling out of a parking lot.  Tarantino’s relatively good taste in music and production design aesthetics do make his films seem like they are more than they really are, but when broken down and deconstructed there’s a resounding hollowness.  All this is evidenced in Tarantino’s intellectual vapidity, his use of his films to reinforce the death penalty on villains with a simplistic Abrahamic morality, his addiction to violence, his reliance on stylized coolness in pop culture to deflect criticism and closer scrutiny, his posing as a B-movie guy to justify creative laziness and his superficial dialogue and sloppy narrative choices, the classism and racism built into his treatment of characters, and, of course, his inability and unwillingness to properly address all of these intellectual queries in interviews with legitimate journalists asking him fair questions, journalists who are too often willing to give him free time to promote his films, because … he’s Quentin Tarantino.
        One of the main flaws many people are overlooking in his most recent movie is that the centerpiece of the film is saving Sharon Tate, but in the context of his career in association with Harvey Weinstein, it does still appear strictly as a weak apology, more rhetoric to shield himself from blame, and even as such you only have to look at the misogyny in his previous movie “The Hateful Eight”, the last film he made under Harvey Weinstein‘s auspices to see what Tarantino really thinks.  And you can also look at what Tarantino does to the two women at the end of his Hollywood love-letter movie and how badly they are brutalized, even compared to the death of Tex Watson in the same scene.  Tarantino’s misogyny can’t help but express itself, even when he's trying to dodge it.  And his films are pretty heavily populated and dominated by male characters, as female characters are often more an expression of the apologist side of himself or the side of himself that always wanted to appear more evolved or progressive than he actually is.  Or the female characters are just casually hyper-masculinized, as Uma Thurman was in “Kill Bill”.
        Tarantino is now at the point in an artist’s career when you can make more of an assessment of how profound of an impact said artist has made and have they been truly insurgent or has it been primarily sales?  His only significant film with any depth since “Pulp Fiction” is “Inglourious Basterds”. Most of his films are riddled with undiagnosed misogyny, casual racism, and inherent misanthropy, as I have hammered home. Tarantino films at this point tend to be vanity pictures that cater to his own insecurities and his own need to burnish his legacy and his reputation or talk about what he loves, so he uses the best actors, the best cinematographers, the best production team money can buy, all with few budgetary constraints… but there’s nothing really that new in the chamber with a Tarantino film anymore (some might argue “ever”, as his films are all extremely derivative) and his last film that was truly independent and did not have vast sums of money available was “Reservoir Dogs”, made 30 years ago.
        Miramax was owned during its “Pulp Fiction” heyday by Disney and the Weinstein brothers were hardly an independent outfit since they had all the money in the world at their disposal and Harvey Weinstein was only taken down due to serious criminal charges, even despite Weinstein‘s very close relationships with Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton and … fill in the blank. (Obama‘s daughter Malia interned at the Weinstein company in her year off before college and was there at Harvey’s company only weeks before the rape charges against Harvey surfaced. Weinstein was a longtime Democratic supporter and donor and Michelle Obama always spoke very highly of Weinstein, at one point in 2013, actually calling Weinstein “a wonderful human being, a good friend, and just a powerhouse.”)
        Again, this relationship with Harvey Weinstein is important because without Weinstein‘s resources we would not have seen a whole lot of what Tarantino‘s career became and Weinstein having been the most powerful single figure in the film industry for years was one of the biggest reasons why Tarantino rose as high as he did.  The resources at Tarantino‘s disposal were not just film production resources, but things like being able to blacklist people he didn’t like via Weinstein, Weinstein being known for using high-level intelligence agencies to spy on actresses he had blacklisted, like Rosanna Arquette, Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, and Ashley Judd, to name a few of the most well-known of Weinstein’s victims, and innumerable names and people we would not recognize because they never got off the ground due to Weinstein’s nuclear career-crushing tactics.   Where was Tarantino then, when these actresses were being harassed and blacklisted?   One of the main tools of Tarantino’s years as Harvey Weinstein’s favorite son was the “Weinstein threat”.  No one dared to cross Harvey Weinstein and Tarantino was hyper-aware of that and liked the fact that his main benefactor operated like a gangster. So no one dared to cross Tarantino. Tarantino has always romanticized gangsters and operating like a “bad-ass“. And his audience vapidly and willingly eats that shit up.  
        None of this would be as bad if Tarantino wasn’t passing himself off as a genius in almost every aspect of his interviews and if he did not do things like naming his production company after a Jean-Luc Godard film (Bande a part) in order to command legitimacy, so his intellectual bankruptcy really comes from his lack of humility and his not knowing his own limits as an artist or as a faux-intellect.  His films operate on a gut level, mainly extreme violence and snarky, sarcastic dialogue, an uncannily natural fit for the millennial generation.   His appeal to his audience is a similar appeal that Trump’s followers have or any megalomaniacal cult of personality.  People are seduced and enthralled and then are intractably under the sway of that figure, until such a time comes as they figure out the betrayal by that false sense of safety they felt under the influence of the figurehead.  Sounds a lot like the effect Charles Manson also had on his band of outsiders and runaways.  Only, in this case, with Tarantino, the excuse is it’s “just a movie”, so people could care less about the toxic effects of the philosophy at hand.  It’s an even softer seduction, with popcorn, candy, and chocolate all within arm’s length.
        Pretty often Tarantino’s defenders and apologists say don’t be so critical, you don’t know him personally, why so harsh?”, and so on, but this is in comparison to other directors and artists who have the same success and comparing it to Tarantino’s snarky, pissy outbursts and interviews and the way his films tend to bludgeon, preach, and misrepresent important things that then become part of the official documentation, rather than a crazy pile of weed-addled fantasy to which his films usually are closer.  I did have an insider’s view however, having worked at Miramax in the mid-'90's in the marketing department and was there for the “Pulp Fiction” release, so much of what I am reflecting here is what I observed while employed at Miramax.  Somehow people are seeing Tarantino’s films and rethinking actual history or learning it all for the first time via Tarantino’s impotent revenge fantasies.  This is an important mistake people are making, rather than reading more about an event in history or engaging in longer, more erudite studies.
        The problem with drawing as much attention as Tarantino has in this chaotic demon-spawned cultural climate, a void where everyone wants blood and revenge now, is that Tarantino is supposedly a liberal voice, but has fallen right into the bear-trap promoting the tools of violence, blood-spilling, revenge, pubescent fascinations, and money lust.    Mostly what I hear from Tarantino fans about the capital punishment ending of his latest film is immediate thoughtless dismissals “No, it’s not” or “So?”, rather than entertain the idea that Tarantino might possibly have extreme views on the matter of executions, whether he knows it or not.  The defensive reactions by some fans are closer to an acolyte defending their master.  There’s a useless projection of infallibility onto Tarantino by his audience in the filmlover and filmmaker community, as if Tarantino were some kind of lucky charm who mustn’t be spooked, startled, angered, prodded, tested, or told he might have botched an ending or a whole movie.  It really is too bad about that deification of Tarantino by his audience, particularly after his long association with the slime of Harvey Weinstein.  How one is in the rarefied community of film moguls and successful directors, producers, and actors can be measured by how that person treats a busboy, for example.  Guess how Quentin‘s godfather Harvey Weinstein treats busboys?  And his reputation preceding him, Tarantino isn’t too nice to a lot of strangers, but is nice to, for example, Brad Pitt… because he’s Brad Pitt.   Tarantino, for example, strictly and pointedly demanded that critics not divulge any plot points of his most recent release, which would be fair normally, but in the context of Tarantino‘s life and treatment of people it comes off as yet another dick move by Tarantino angrily demanding things and lecturing people unnecessarily.  Journalists from whom Tarantino demanded this also knew they’d be blacklisted if they did reveal anything at all about his latest film.  I like what one writer said “you can read the review I wrote after you see the film“, letting Tarantino know what to do with the condescending demands.  Tarantino’s regard for the press is a lot like the regard the orange American president also has for the press.  They’re the “enemy”.  Mussolini crap from these bloated egos.
        So again, um… you don’t see an apology to Weinstein’s victims anywhere at the beginning or even in the end credits of Tarantino‘s Hollywood film do you?  (The one directly after the Weinstein crash.) 
Or were a portion of that film’s profits committed to protecting women in the film industry and elsewhere?
But people keep making excuses for the Tarantino fella.  Some of the QT fans will boycott Woody Allen and Roman Polanski based on stuff that’s less proven and less toxic than Harvey Weinstein, but every time they watch “Pulp Fiction” or “Reservoir Dogs” or “Kill Bill” or “Inglourious Basterds” Harvey Weinstein gets paid yet again.
        Tarantino always had a choice to go to any other studio, but remained with Harvey Weinstein. Tarantino was very committed to Weinstein, even after knowing of the allegations and even after having at least two of his girlfriends groped and/or attacked and/or raped by Harvey Weinstein… and this is while Tarantino was still actually dating those women.
And the same could be said about Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen, Samuel L. Jackson, etc. and why all of those guys also didn’t say anything, major figures in the Hollywood community.  But Tarantino did have more of a responsibility to say something, particularly since two of his girlfriends were molested by Weinstein.   And the two girlfriends of Tarantino’s who were sexually assaulted by Weinstein, Mira Sorvino and Uma Thurman, were giant stars, not unknown struggling actors, they were both world-famous, and Sorvino had back then recently won an Oscar for best actress for her role in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite".  None of those aforementioned actors of Tarantino’s stable, Buscemi, Jackson, Keitel, etc., and so many others, said a thing about the black plague of Weinstein’s rape couch, apparently.  Seems like a whole lot of neglect and looking the other way.  The most fundamental failure is that the ’90’s “revolution” failed to transform Hollywood at all.  The leadership of Tarantino and Weinstein failed in totality to change anything more than a small circle and an even smaller aesthetic, because they were not interested enough in much more than the high life and the image. History shouldn’t be kind to that.
        It really was good to see Richard Brody of the New Yorker delicately eviscerate Tarantino in July of 2019 in his coverage of the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Tarantino movie, mostly because Brody, mentioned earlier, is one of the critics who is among the most accomplished and also among the most unencumbered by not caring if Tarantino gets ruffled by a searing review.  Brody’s review feels much more honest than the sycophantic articles by other critics and is clearly not directed by the editors to produce favorable coverage so as not to upset Tarantino or the studio Tarantino now works for or anyone else involved.  And Richard Brody is one of those critics who is aware that Weinstein is responsible not only for shitty Hollywood casting couch crimes, but also for being so repulsive in his actions that the entire #MeToo movement unfolded in the wake of his finally being held accountable and arrested.  Weinstein was the worst of the offenders … and Tarantino knew about it for decades.  The New Yorker published the first major article that blew through the fortress around Harvey Weinstein and helped #MeToo emerge and develop successfully.
        The theme of preserving old Hollywood in that 2019 Hollywood-adoration film of Tarantino’s is important not for Tarantino‘s reasons, but because Tarantino is the artistic manifestation of Harvey Weinstein, of old casting couch Hollywood being preserved or resurrected, the bad-ass producer who did whatever he wanted and no one correcting him, no one having any oversight over him, that’s why Weinstein put so much of his time and his money into Tarantino, not simply because of Tarantino being able to make watchable entertainment, but because Tarantino was the embodiment of Weinstein‘s aggression… and also of Weinstein‘s essential impotence; something fundamental to who Weinstein really was his rage, which became the entirety of his feared reputation at the time of his downfall.  Tarantino has had no lasting backlash whatsoever, only a minor blip, and that is indeed largely due to his willing and complicit audience, everyone and anyone who is willing to look the other way and not realize how much of a primary enabler Tarantino was for Weinstein‘s crimes.  To just keep giving Tarantino money and not realize how criminal what Tarantino did all those decades was.   In a major rape felony, it’s aiding and abetting, being an accomplice. At minimum, Tarantino was an accessory.
        Tarantino has and always had powerful allies and actors like Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt and many producers and powerbrokers in Hollywood, of course.  Tarantino surely fielded many lucrative offers of studios wanting to back his next films, after the Weinstein relationship collapsed when Harvey was taken into custody, at which time Tarantino immediately began acting like a victim, even though he had been a Weinstein enabler. Actors like DiCaprio and Pitt and others like making “cool” films and want the pageantry, visibility, and prestige of a Tarantino film event, kind of the way people continue to go to the Oscars even though the Oscars are an exclusive and offensive dog show designed for the rich and famous to be further worshipped by people who still bother to believe in Hollywood’s false promises and the “dream machine” that’s been built on the backs of thousands of exploited workers and countless raped women.  And the repulsive Hollywood beauty pageant continues to exist in a similar operation mode. The vast majority of the film industry has always been that way, dominated by real-life bullies, abusive bastards, criminals, and actual gangsters. And you keep going to the movies, for some reason. You’ve boycotted local mom & pop businesses for far lesser offenses.
        In normal circumstances, these pulpy B-movies from a technically adept director like Quentin would be adequate entertainment.  And they’d be better than the utter horseshit hitting the screen and monopolizing the minds of the current generation with all of the awful superhero and Disney pabulum that will populate their subconscious with useless and blunt morality for decades to come, maybe longer… and the effects are already showing up in base social media mob-rules morality.  But these aren’t normal circumstances.   Tarantino is a direct product of the Weinstein rape-machine reign of terror and has been the greatest beneficiary of Harvey’s empire of fear and Tarantino has accumulated enough capital in the Hollywood film production community to be an untouchable for the rest of his days, the same way that Elia Kazan built up enough political capital in Hollywood to avoid being held accountable for throwing many great writers and filmmakers under the bus during the McCarthy red scare years in Hollywood. Kazan was even honored for a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, presented by none other than Martin Scorsese, and Kazan not once acknowledged the victims of the McCarthy terror during his speech, Kazan doubling down and continuing his lousy and remorseless attitude, acting the victim, a lot like Tarantino.  And surely, the Academy will honor Tarantino with a lifetime achievement award someday and the crimes of his godfather, protector, and pursestrings, Harvey Weinstein, will not be mentioned or considered.  They’ll say “Let it go.” And “It’s a business.” Ethics, schmethics. Lifetime achievement award. “Pass the champagne. Who’s the bimbo?”
        Ironically, Tarantino really is like an untrained dog who can’t help chasing a ball and then chewing it up to bits, pissing around the place, and marking his territory, claiming whatever he feels he’s entitled to.  Clearly, however, Tarantino would like to be known alongside Jean-Luc Godard or Stanley Kubrick or Richard Linklater when he is done and his legacy is assessed.   Quentin aspires to be as introspective or as meditative or as metaphysical as an ancient Egyptian god or a lovely sun-soaked cat, but he’s destined to remain a dog, shit-matted fur and horrific breath. And Tarantino remains the single most significant creation of Harvey Weinstein's criminal psyche and twisted legacy...  Weinstein the rapist, manipulator, and destroyer of careers. Tarantino’s ticket to the big time.

Michael Reiss has been writing for 30 years and has also worked in the film industry.  He lives in Rochester and has a weekly radio show on WAYO.