When any person remotely familiar with the art of filmmaking hears the name “Quentin Tarantino,” there are a number of ideas that might come to mind. Whether it is the unparalleled mastery of explicit dialogue, the bizarre concentration on highly stylized, yet unrelentingly brutal violence, or the love for non-linear narrative structure and chronology, film fans know a Tarantino film when they see one. Yet, along with this undeniable craftsmanship, Tarantino always brings along his fair share of controversy. Perhaps the dialogue and use of racial slurs becomes unnecessarily explicit at times. Maybe the graphic blood and gore is too gratuitous. Should a white male filmmaker raised in Southern California be given free rein to explore such sensitive historical periods as American slavery in the antebellum South, or the Jewish Holocaust in World War II, without any restraint, or even adherence to historical accuracy? And all of this is not even to mention Tarantino’s close relationship with Miramax Films and the disgraced Weinstein Company. From writer, director, and producer Tara Wood, QT8: The First Eight is a documentary which sets out to dig into everything that makes Tarantino tick, without shying away from the tough and challenging questions.
The majority of the documentary relies on interviews from dozens of Tarantino’s closest collaborators in the film industry. This includes stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Zoë Bell, Christoph Waltz, and Jamie Foxx, production partners like Richard Gladstein, Stacy Sher, and Scott Spiegel, and many other recognizable names that are too numerous to list. If there is one takeaway from each and every interview, it is that the sincere passion and enthusiasm of Tarantino’s filmmaking bleeds into every single person involved with his projects. The one-of-a-kind nature of Tarantino’s writing and directing is a reflection of his unique, practically undefinable personality. He has such zeal for his work, and he commits the full energy and focus of his incomparable charisma into his writing pen and directorial procedures. Judging from the interviews in this documentary alone, the adoration for cinema and general enthusiasm for art felt by Tarantino is contagious in every sense of the word. There is a genuine feeling of excitement in each conversation with the actors, writers, and producers. This diverse group of individuals sheds light on various components of Tarantino’s writing and directing processes and personal identity. This includes some of the more contentious elements of his filmography. Tarantino’s liberal usage of the N-Word in his screenplays is often criticized, including from fellow filmmakers like Spike Lee. However, Samuel L. Jackson, a veteran collaborator with both Tarantino and Lee, expresses his support for Tarantino’s inclusion of this slur in his films, when examining the overall context. It is not that Tarantino incorporates this vocabulary into his personal, everyday life. Rather, this is a form of his artistic expression, often used as a social commentary device to depict the harsh realities of the world. This is indeed an extremely touchy point of conversation, and viewers of all races are bound to have wildly different perspectives on this specific topic. Yet, Jackson’s comments on this matter provide a more intimate glimpse into the discussion, considering his close relationship with people on both sides of the conversation.
There is something intriguing to be gleaned from every interview and snippet of conversation over the course of QT8, but it is perhaps longtime stuntwoman Zoë Bell who gives some of the most compelling insight. Referencing the way in which Tarantino portrays women in his films, such as Pam Grier’s hard-boiled con-artist role as the titular character in Jackie Brown (1997), or Uma Thurman’s ruthlessly vengeful Beatrice “The Bride” Kiddo from Kill Bill (2003/2004), Bell describes how extraordinarily authentic these female characters appear. Rather than being painted as the quiet, mannerly, submissive stereotype, these women are foul-mouthed, cutthroat, and unapologetically honest. As Bell puts it, Tarantino has such a grip on what women are truly like, that he “must be one on the inside.” Additionally, Bell’s comments on Tarantino’s direction on her stunt performances serve as a perfect encapsulation of his overall dedication and discipline as an artist. Bell worked as Uma Thurman’s stunt double on Kill Bill, a role that demanded great physical and athletic prowess, and incredible acrobatics. Still, Tarantino made sure that Bell had just as much of an emotional connection and familiarity with “The Bride” as Thurman. Despite the fact that it was Thurman who delivered the direct performance on screen, Bell should be in tune with her character and motivations to the same degree. This is only a singular example of Tarantino’s immovable fixation on the perfection of his craft. QT8 is chock-full of nuggets like this that paint a marvelous portrait of a legendary creator.
As for the perceived issues of overly barbaric violence in Tarantino films, the documentary also administers an explanation for Tarantino’s intentions. Essentially, he wants the violence to be operatic in nature. No, it does not need to be this graphic and over-the-top, but, it adds an unmistakable flair, pizzazz, and expressive punch that has become a trademark for Tarantino. There is no denying that it is indulgent and flashy and Tarantino would have it absolutely no other way. His imagination is so remarkably detail-oriented, and his brain is wired in a fashion that enables him to interpret these ideas from a script onto a screen with optimum visual impact. One rather humorous account from a crew member of Django Unchained (2012) describes how a special effects artist broke down crying as Tarantino first laid out his plans for the infamous “Candyland Shootout” sequence. It was so overwhelming to even think about constructing such a complex scene, but the end result was astounding. This is yet another testament to the unbelievable dexterity of Tarantino, and the stunning quality of his skills as a director, through thick and thin.
The way in which QT8 goes about telling the tale of Tarantino is, in contrast to his filmmaking narrative style, mostly linear. It starts at the very beginning, detailing the composition of his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs (1992), a low-budget cult hit set in a single warehouse for most of the runtime. In the progression of the following years comes the pop culture phenomenon, Pulp Fiction (1994), Tarantino’s tribute to the blaxploitation genre with Jackie Brown (1997), the feminist Samurai/Western-hybrid of Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), and then the subversion of the grindhouse exploitation film with Death Proof (2007). This is followed by Inglorious Basterds (2009), a masterpiece of a war film with a great deal of talking and very little war; Django Unchained (2012), another blaxploitation revenge tale set in the American South in the period of slavery; and The Hateful Eight (2015), which is basically a Western version of Reservoir Dogs taking place shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War. As the documentary explores the making of these films through the excellently edited (Jeremy Ward) configuration of interviews, wonderfully quirky 2-D animations, and behind-the-scenes B-roll clips, it is easy to get lost in the rich, vivid world of one of the greatest filmmakers of the last 25+ years.
If there is one gripe to be made with how QT8 handles a certain section of the narrative, it is the commentary on the debacle with the Weinstein company. There is only a sequence of about 10 minutes devoted to this calamitous story. Unfortunately, it appears that the documentary’s filmmakers could not find a handle on how to effectively weave this account into the narrative. This particular topic was never going to be easy to discuss, but even still, the manner in which it was folded into the fray felt especially awkward. Yet, the fact remains that at least attempting to review a controversial affair such as this one is much better than completely ignoring it. While a smoother navigation would have been preferable, this is a small segment in an otherwise terrific documentary.
Tara Wood’s main objective was to analyze the inner workings and shifting gears of the Quentin Tarantino engine, and this was achieved with a satisfactory output of commanding effort. There is so much fascinating material concerning Tarantino’s filmography packed into QT8, and you will probably walk away with more than a few interesting factoids to impress your movie-loving friends. The viewer gets an honest, sincere impression of the unadulterated passion of Tarantino as a visionary writer and director. This gusto sparkles in all of his films, and it shines through this documentary as well.
Available on VOD and digital beginning December 3rd, 2019.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
*This review was originally published by Elements of Madness on December 3, 2019, at https://elementsofmadness.com/2019/12/03/qt8-doc/.