Can you believe that we are nearly a full generation removed from Reservoir Dogs? It has been eighteen, long years since Quentin Tarantino burst onto the scene with his mishmesh gulash of characters in suits arguing about pop music and casual dismemberment. It was a grimy, visceral little bastard of a film that was a controversial alternative to that years more conventional, popular films like Beethoven, Newsies, or Sister Act, and its unstructured, controlled chaos approach was something cinema fans were craving.
To the current crop of film fans, who may have only experienced Reservoir Dogs as a wikipedia article, an Itchy and Scratchy parody, poorly received Playstation 2 game or BEST BITS montage on youtube, it would be easy to judge the film on age and circumstance. Remember that an entire generation of artists raised on and inspired by Tarantino films are now making films of their own, daring to go bigger and bolder with each subsequent gunfight or explosion, causing big daddy RD to be considered a big nothing by comparison. Just an angsty response to kidsy fluff now relegated to the Wednesday, 2pm time slot on VH1.
But unlike many of his constituants, Tarantino’s debut had a certain authenticity and energy behind it that appealed to both hardcore genre fans and casual people just looking for a cool movie; both at the same time. Because he was armed with the zen like knowledge of 100 years of filmmaking before him, and he was gifted with convenient access to the first wave of something the kids were calling “home video” he became the poster boy for a generation of VCR filmmakers. A shining example of a man who got to grow up in an unprecedented age of film preservation, archiving, and distribution. As he’s said before: “he didn’t go to film school — he went to films”
Despite all of his awards and fanfare, Quentin Tarantino’s greatest achievement is undoubtedly in being the greatest video store customer service representative of all time. A former clerk at the now defunct Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, California, you can bet ‘ol QT won his share of daily bundle awards and up-salesman of the week honors just by having an insatiable love of film. You can just picture his eyes lighting up when someone would plunk down a VHS of Hard to Kill on the counter and he’d immediately vault into his “OH HAVE YOU SEEN JACKIE CHAN’S POLICE STORY…” monologue as he takes someones hand down the genre film yellow brick road. Your own personal hyperactive, friendly enough narrator who more assuredly knew more than you but who was so excited to share his knowledge on hundreds and hundreds of genre films in the hopes you’d join his band of cinemaniacs. In the interest of saving you time, I paired it down to ten.
1. Where Eagles Dare (1968)
Nestled in between more heralded “men on a mission” classics The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen is Where Eagles Dare. A 1968 Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood picture that finds them as a couple of GI regular Joes who parachute behind enemy lines as part of a rescue mission in Nazi Germany and end up embroiled knee deep in layers of espionage and deception.
It’s easy to see why Tarantino would love an intimate, dialogue meaty film like this full of characters secretly plotting a secret plot TO COUNTERACT the secret plot that they’ve been plotting all along. Add in that it also stars Eastwood fresh off of the Leone westerns and was scripted by Alistair MacLean, famous for another Tarantino favorite The Guns of Navarone. Back in 1992, Tarantino was quoted as saying “if I was going to make a war movie where a bunch of guys get blown up by a Nazi gun, that would be my Where Eagles Dare” showing it to be his go-to prototype in the years where he was fordging what would become Inglourious Basterds.
2. Enter the Void (2009)
Gaspar Noe’s 2010 psychedelic float through a night of semi-consciousness begins with an unapologetic full-frontal assault on your eyes and ears with a 2 minute and 26 second bombardment of technical credits pieced together in more fonts and styles than a kidnapper’s ransom note while a cruel mashup of EDM and metal machine music makes you question if your equipment is working properly. Say what you will about Noe and his divisive film, but he certainly knows how to get your attention. It got Tarantino’s, as he said in his Best of 2010 list: “Hands down best credit scene of the year … Maybe best credit scene of the decade. One of the greatest in cinema history.”
3. Fort Apache The Bronx (1981)
Controversial and considered outdated in tone and in its depiction of both Hispanic and African-American individuals, FATB isn’t considered a particularly moving picture by Tarantino, but rather an acting showcase for one of his all time favorite actors: Pam Grier. And listening to Pam document her process while promoting her book, Foxy, getting into character by purposely staying awake for 48 hours, existing on a diet solely of coffee and cherry pie, and showing up at her audition in full haggard, desperate costume; it’s hard not to fall in love with her effort and willingness to show vulnerability. Her role in the film is indeed minor, but it’s a graphic turnaround from catchphrase spouting asskicker to a desperate, circumstantial killer. A great showcase of her range and a lesson in appreciating the many layers of Pam Grier.
4. They Call Her One Eye AKA Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)
Touted by Tarantino as “the roughest revenge picture ever made” (and you’d have to think he’s seen some rough and tumble work) They Call Her One Eye is a Sweedish revenge thriller that is a direct inspiration to his Kill Bill villainess Elle Driver: outfit matching eyepatch and all. In hindsight, it adds quite a bit of depth to the Elle character if you imagine her untold backstory to be as fueled by abuse and torment as Christina Lindberg’s titular heroine is, and she becomes tenfold more of a sympathetic character caught in cruel handler Bill’s clutches as opposed to just another miniboss for The Bride to take out on her quest. In the vacuum of the They Call Her One Eye-iverse, it’s impossible for your heart not to go out to One Eye here as her constant mistreatment and belittlement simultaneously makes you sad and bloodthirsty at the same time.
5. The Sell Out (1976)
Not so much of a specific film recommendation by Tarantino, but more of a happy accident and an experiment you can try at home. He reminisced about watching a low quality print of this Richard Widmark/Oliver Reed film years ago and realized it was missing a rather large chunk of the movie in the middle. Once he figured out the foible, QT said: “I like having to figure it out. Widmark has this girl, and you can’t tell if Oliver Reed had sex with her in the missing reel or not. Maybe he did, and that’s why they’re all mad at each other. I don’t even want to know what happens in the missing reel. I’ve come to like it that way.”
While the idea made its way into his 2007 flick Death Proof, the concept is something uniquely Tarantino where you are tasked with the idea of coming to your own conclusions and choosing which characters you see as the villian or the hero. A kind of choose your own adventure when it comes to an otherwise upfront and straightforward film. So while this one takes a little work from you, the viewer, to facilitate looking beyond the surface and into the subtext, it’s a neat trick that can breathe new life into otherwise underdeveloped films. Looking at you: Freddy Got Fingered.