January has brought us the release of the new Quentin Tarantino flick, The Hateful Eight. Packing the movie with some old regular favourites from Michael Madsen, Samuel L Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh the film promises the standard blend of piercing dialogue and classic set-pieces amid the backstabbing, tension and violence. Because, even in some of his lesser (more recent?) offerings, the one thing about QT is that he really knows how to create a killer scene.
Which makes now perhaps a good time to look at just a few of Quentin Tarantino’s greatest scenes. Such as:
Elle vs The Bride – Kill Bill Vol. 2
It’s a personal thing, I know, but oh, how I wish Tarantino had opted to make just one Kill Bill movie rather than spread it out over 2 epically proportioned sagas.
Nevertheless, while the films may suffer from a bit of bagginess overall (again, just a personal view) there’s no denying that they offer some moments of cinematic brilliance such as this classic duel duel between Uma Thurman’s Bride and Daryl Hannah’s Elle.
With balletic brutality, the fight is a blend of brilliant sword play and a sort of martial art tribute to the movies of Tarantino’s childhood. Set within the confines of a stereotypical trailer park this is QT combining his love of oriental action films with a splash of down and dirty Americana. the carnage is choreographed to perfection, shifting seamlessly between pitch-black comedy and downright horrendous. The introduction of snakes is particularly troublesome for my own personal phobias and the violence at the scenes conclusion is so visceral and shocking as to make you wince, even in the wake of all that’s preceded it.
The Sicilians – True Romance
An early glimpse at Tarantino’s talent for creating tension through killer dialogue. With the emphasis on killer. This is Tarantino the screenwriter rather than directer, with the film itself helmed by the late Tony Scott (Top Gun).
Hostage in his own home and trying hard to protect the whereabouts of his son Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper) squares off against sinister mob boss Vicenzo, played with a typical blend of menace and panache by Christopher Walken. it’s a battle he knows he’s going to lose, but that doesn’t mean he’s going pass an opportunity to antagonise his foe with a racially suspect theory on Vincenzo’s heritage.
Deliberately playing to Vincenzo’s obvious prejudices, he enraptures all with his softly spoken words, his eyes ablaze with defiance and sadness at his predicament while The Flower Duet plays softly in accompaniment. And as the story ends and the music reaches its crescendo, so we see the camaraderie among men, betrayed by Hopper’s defeated demeanour as we move towards an ominous, inevitable end.
The Madonna Riff – Reservoir Dogs
This was Tarantino’s audacious introduction into the industry and a fore runner of the pop culture influenced universe in which his movies’ exist.
The group of men, all dressed in black, sitting around a restaurant table at breakfast, the camera slowly moving around and among them. The talk is very small, insignificant in content – and yet laced with an undercurrent of something bigger playing out, an uneasy sense of threat permeating the inanity.
Over the small talk and cigarette smoke we pick out Tarantino himself, playing Mr Brown, as he starts to offer his theory on the Madonna song Like A Virgin. The theory is delivered naturally, a funny, near surreal moment of sordid theorising of a piece of hugely popular culture of the 80s (see his similar riff on Top Gun in the film Sleep With Me). In an instant, the tone is set; not just for the direction of the film but for the Tarantino inspired Indy landscape that would last a decade.
A defining moment of 90s cinema and one of Tarantino’s greatest scenes.
The Opening Scene – Inglorious Basterds
Many list makers tend towards the tavern scene when waxing beatifically on Tarantino’s revisionist war epic. However, for an example of Tarantino’s sense of foreshadowing and an excruciatingly drawn out moment of malevolence, the brilliant opening scene of Inglorious Basterds is a masterclass in terrifying scene building.
As the softly spoken, painfully polite ‘Jew Hunter’ Col Landa, Christoph Waltz delivers a virtuoso performance in understated menace. Arriving at the family farm house, seeking Jewish families who have gone into hiding, he speaks to the home owner Perrier LaPadite (Denis Ménochet), sitting at the kitchen table.
His voice never alters, never rises, yet the threat in his uber-pleasant demeanour grows unbearably. As the scene patiently unfolds we know there is a terror on the horizon, the tension heightened through the calm. It’s an example of the faith Tarantino possesses in his ability to draw out a scene, unhurried and unsettling; darkly humorous before the shocking climax we all knew was coming but from which we couldn’t avert our eyes.
Royale With Cheese – Pulp Fiction
An earlier version of Tarantino’s patient build up and willingness to let the tension mount through seemingly inane action.
Another scene that has gone in to filmic folklore from the opening of the masterpiece that is Pulp Fiction. A near perfect encapsulation of every trope in the Tarantino playbook. His use funky pop tunes as a playful backdrop to the frankly hilariously daft pop cultural dialogue between Jules (Samuel L Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta).
Even as we laugh along to their superficial and trite musings on everything from hamburgers to old TV shows, we have the familiar sense that things are not as nice as they appear; the entire scene laced through with malevolent threat. Moving with languid ease from their chit-chat in the car through a debate on foot massages and the metric system to the suddenly sinister entrance to Brad’s apartment as Jules’ demeanour grows cold as the executioner he is in the chilling end-sequence.