I am a genre lover—everything from
spaghetti western to samurai movie.
I’ve gotten a bit of the side-eye from other writers when I admit my love–possibly borderline obsession–with Tarantino films. Maybe because in their mind I don’t fit the mold of his type of moviegoer. Maybe they think I’m too sweet to like the type of ultraviolence his films are know for. Maybe because they don’t equate a romance lover and writer with enjoying these types of stories.
There’s much we can learn as readers and moviegoers and writers from Tarantino films. I’ve been inspired and continue to be every time I watch his movies.
This obsession started when I saw Pulp Fiction while in college. I’d never heard dialogue spoken like that before, never seen a story told non-linearly. I immediately bought the soundtrack and waited patiently for the film to come out on VHS (FYI: this was a long time ago).
A writer should have this little voice inside of you saying,
Tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.—Quentin Tarantino
On the soundtrack were bits of dialogue that I enjoyed hearing as much as the songs like the Royale with Cheese conversation between Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta):
After this scene, Jules and Vincent go to an apartment to collect money for their boss from a group of young guys. The confrontation quickly becomes tense before escalating into a violent shootout—Tarentino style.
However, as writers, we’re taught that everything from dialogue to actions should move the story forward. How does a conversation about Europe and burgers and pot move the story forward?
Tarantino stories are character driven. This scene introduces us to the relationship between these characters and puts a seemingly normal conversation about fast food and Europe into the mouths of two top-tier henchman working for a crime lord. They seem approachable. This conversation humanizes them by talking about fast food, which most of us eat, and later even gossiping about their boss, which many of us have done. But this conversation serves other purposes. Later Jules decides to take off and leave the crime life behind. In this scene, Jules talks about wanting to go to Europe, setting the foundation for him leaving the business later.
For Screen Prism, Jeff Saporito wrote a blog about and dissected the dialogue in Pulp Fiction:
It’s organic and casual, effortlessly working to set the scene and establish the tone of what’s happening (or soon to happen) using philosophical and thought-provoking conversation. In short, it’s interesting … every word contained in each seemingly innocuous piece of conversation comes back to have greater meaning later.
Saporito quoted the late movie critic Roger Ebert who made this observation about the opening sequence:
They talk about … what Quarter Pounders are called in Paris, and the degree of sexual intimacy implied by a foot massage … Tarantino’s dialogue is not simply whimsical. There is a method behind it. The discussion of why Quarter Pounders are called ‘Royales’ in Paris is reprised, a few minutes later, in a tense exchange between Jules and one of the kids (Frank Whaley). And the story of how Marsellus had a man thrown out of a fourth-floor window for giving his wife a foot massage turns out to be a set-up: Tarantino is preparing the dramatic ground for a scene in which Vincent takes Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) out on a date, on his bosses’ orders.I steal from every movie ever made.
Like Tarantino, I’m a genre lover. I enjoy books and films from horror to romance to historical to action and everything in between. If the story is good, I will watch/read it. And if the writing is superb, I will learn from it and be inspired and maybe steal a technique or two. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Pulp Fiction. But every time I do, I notice a new reason for an action or a piece of dialogue or a prop. Tarantino doesn’t waste words; he doesn’t waste scenes. There is a reason for everything.
As I write and revise my manuscripts, I constantly ask myself, why they are doing/saying this?
Do you have a director or writer outside of your genre who inspires your creativity?