“The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino.” That’s what appears onscreen just before the title of the director’s latest behemoth, The Hateful Eight. Most movie nerds (and by extension, Tarantino fans) would guess the numerical designation refers to 8½, Federico Fellini’s seminal piece of pop autobiography. After La Dolce Vita had made him the world’s most cosmopolitan filmmaker, Fellini was creatively, romantically, and spiritually blocked. Then it came to him: his newest (after seven features and a short film) would follow a sulky, superstar director straining to make his magnum opus. After the one-two punch of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, Tarantino’s artistic empathy wouldn’t seem out of place. And to say the guy’s always had a thing for homage is to put it delicately.
On the surface, The Hateful Eight is miles away from of Fellini’s navel-gazing masterpiece. It’s an epic examination of Reconstruction that corrals the rabid dogs of American racial animosity and lets them loose in a snowbound cabin. Influenced as much by Agatha Christie as Sergio Leone, it’s a wordy, vitriolic confrontation that ends on an unexpected note of hope—even if America’s egalitarian promise is only a lie, it’s a beautiful one.
Still, Tarantino’s never met a quotation he didn’t like—especially to ’60s arthouse staples like 8½. The Hateful Eight is a similarly self-referential hall of mirrors filled with nods to his pet themes of affectation, duplicity, and role playing. A name, a prop, even an accent are potential citations to his oeuvre. The list is far too lengthy to divulge here; and even with all the space in the world, I doubt I caught every winking allusion.
Thankfully, the folks at the Alamo Mainstreet have programmed a Tarantino retrospective that begins tonight and will run throughout the week. The mini-fest starts tonight with Grindhouse, for which Tarantino provided the gearhead-slasher hybrid Deathproof. A notorious flop, Grindhosue was supposed to restart the double-bill trend: two movies for the price of one. Perhaps the nearly four-hour tun was too intimidating; perhaps audiences were turned off by the top-billed Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez’s interminably vapid zombie pastiche. That’s too bad. Tarantino’s contribution is far from his best, but the fake trailers by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and (especially) Edgar Wright are worth the price of admission. Grindhouse plays Saturday, January 23 at 10pm.
Although greeted with a shrug when released, Jackie Brown is ripe for reevaluation. It’s as restrained a movie as Tarantino will probably ever make, but its restraint is exactly what makes it soar. What once disappointed now delights: the Rashomon-style centerpiece is uncharacteristically droll and yet it thrills because it never breaks a sweat. Perhaps because the movie embraces a classicist approach with the same enthusiasm Tarantino now reserves for formal acrobatics, it earns an ending that’s genuinely heartbreaking, reminding us that there was once a Quentin Tarantino who could distinguish affection from affectation. He’s made bigger and arguably better movies since, but never one so likely to inspire as many tears as yelps. Boo yah! Jackie Brown plays Monday January 25 at 7pm.
Finally delivering on the spaghetti western promises of Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is Tarantino at his most unhinged. After Sergio Corbucci’s Django became an international hit in 1966, it spawned a slew of knock offs that inserted the character’s name somewhere in the title despite not having anything to do with the original. Tarantino continued the tradition by turning his Django into a newly freed slave in the antebellum south. Described by Tarantino himself as less of a western than a “southern,” it’s as racially charged as anything in his work, challenged only by The Hateful Eight. (In fact, The Hateful Eight began life as a sequel to Django, following the bounty hunter through the aftermath of the Civil War.) Django Unchained plays Tuesday, January 26 at 7pm.
All three movies are programmed so that you can see both The Hateful Eight and one of its predecessors back to back. Like Tarantino’s movies, the whole thing may just be an exercise in self-congratulatory back patting; then again, the same accusation has been leveled at 8½ since 1963. The refinement of Tarantino’s continuing examination of an America built on and sustained by toxic racial politics both macro and micro is undeniable—as is the pure cinematic joy of it all.