With the release of Quentin Tarantino's eighth film The Hateful Eight earlier this month in the UK, the director and his work have once again been thrust into the media spotlight. And, once again, the interest has largely focused not upon his inimitable style or the fact that he remains one of the most consistently acclaimed filmmakers working today, but on the use of violence in his work. As a long-time fan of Tarantino and his films, I was all set to write a piece about the way in which the director has in the past explained and picked apart the way he uses extreme violence... and then I felt an overpowering sense of déjà vu.
You see, I'd already written on this very topic almost exactly three years earlier in a previous blogging life, when Tarantino was doing the rounds to promote his seventh film, Django Unchained. The article I wrote focused particularly on Tarantino's interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, a subject I have since revisited for his inability to successfully interview Robert Downey Jr. As I reread more and more of what I'd written in 2013 - quite possible for the first time since typing it three years ago - it became increasingly clear that everything that was relevant then continued to resonate just as significantly now.
So, rather than covering the same topic again, I've decided to republish the article below. Everything you read beneath the picture of Leo DiCaprio showing you his favourite DIY implement is the original article as I wrote it in January 2013, right up to the picture of Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson having a heated argument about who gets to build a snowman first.
Why Quentin Tarantino has every right to shut your butt down
Originally published on 13th January 2013.
Earlier this week, Quentin Tarantino gave an interview to Channel 4 News reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy to promote his latest film Django Unchained, released in the UK in just under a week. It's an interview which has received a fair amount of attention for Tarantino's reaction to one question in particular, posed to him by Guru-Murthy around halfway through the interview.
Guru-Murthy asks Tarantino why he is so sure that there is no link between an individual enjoying violence in movies and enjoying violence in real life. Considering the recent spate of school shootings in America, as well as the shooting which took place during an opening night screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado last year, it's a perfectly justified question. It's Tarantino's reaction to the question that has caught so many people's attention. The director tells Guru-Murthy that he "refuses" the question and stubbornly resists being drawn into a discussion on the issue, at one point even telling the interviewer "I'm shutting your butt down!".
Now, don't get me wrong, the way in which Tarantino puts his refusal across could have been more eloquent and tactful. Telling an interviewer "I'm not your slave and your not my master. You can't make me dance to your tune" when the film you're promoting deals with the slave trade in America probably isn't the best choice of words. But in terms of the reasons why he refused to answer, I couldn't stand more firmly in Tarantino's corner.
To start with, I've never been a fan of Krishnan Guru-Murthy as a journalist, finding him uninspiring and quite arrogant in his approach. This interview was no exception. The way in which Guru-Murthy posed the question came across as quite sly, clearly trying to catch Tarantino off guard. The interviewer clearly wanted a reaction, and whilst it might not have been the reaction he was expecting, in some way Tarantino unfortunately gave that to him. His question was also worded provocatively, having no link to anything previously discussed. By including the "so" in his question "Why are you so sure?", Guru-Murthy is quite aggressively pointing to something that Tarantino hasn't even mentioned during the interview. I think if I was Tarantino being interviewed by Guru-Murthy I'd probably react in the same way the director did.
Tarantino's insistence that the interview in his eyes "is a commercial for the movie" again may come across as quite blunt by the director, but to be honest, did anyone (Guru-Murthy included) really think Tarantino, or any other director promoting their new film, would think of it as anything else? Yes, it is blunt, but it's also the truth. Just as blunt was Guru-Murthy's response to Tarantino here: "So you don't want to talk about anything serious?" Considering the interview has already covered the historical setting and issues of Django Unchained, including what Tarantino refers to as the "Auschwitzian aspects" of the slave trade in America, to suggest that "serious" issues aren't being covered is both patently untrue and petulant by an interviewer who isn't getting his own way.
However, the main source of criticism for many who have seen the interview, apart from Tarantino's seemingly less than calm reaction, is his direct refusal to answer the question Guru-Murthy was posing. Actually, he did answer. He just didn't answer in the way that maybe those watching or Guru-Murthy wanted him to:
"The reason I don't want to talk about it: because I've said everything I have to say about it. If anyone cares what I have to say about it, they can Google me and they can look for twenty years what I have to say. But I haven't changed my opinion one iota."
Tarantino's answer is that since his opinion on the issue hasn't changed in the two decades he's been making films, he doesn't want to repeat himself again. It's not as if Tarantino shies away from people knowing his thoughts on the issue: he invites anyone who wants to know what he thinks to do the most basic form of research in the 21st Century - type it into an internet search engine - and find out.
So I did. Unfortunately (and ironically) at the moment a lot of the hits on the first few pages of Google actually take you to different reports and analyses of Tarantino's interview with Guru-Murthy. One particularly useful hit, however, takes you to an article on The Atlantic Wire who, in response to Tarantino's claim, have listed several quotes from Tarantino from as far back as 1993 (so, twenty years then) showing his thoughts on the subject. It makes for a fairly interesting read, but more importantly confirms exactly what Tarantino said: he hasn't changed what he thinks in the time he's been making film, and anyone who wants to know what he thinks can find out pretty easily without him having to say it yet again.
The only question that remains is whether you think Tarantino should have just answered the question, trotting out a similar response to what he's always said just because he was on camera. I say no, he shouldn't. If he had been invited to a debate on how violence in film influences real-life violence, then of course he should expect to be drawn on the issue. But this was an interview about his latest film which he happily spoke about, and not just in a overly simplistic "come and see my new movie!" kind of way, but by touching on some pretty heavy subject matter. Is it going to fit Tarantino's "commercial" to start talking about how violent films do or do not cause actual violence? Of course not. So he just chose not to even entertain Guru-Murthy's baiting whilst at the same time giving a perfectly satisfactory response.
But then there's also the issue of respect. It's something which The Guardian's Ryan Gilbey touches on in his article defending Tarantino's reaction: "The problem here was not the issue of violence itself, but the wearisome ploughing of the same furrow. You've got Quentin Tarantino sitting in front of you, one of the most stimulating interviewees in the world, and you ask him questions that he was unpicking 21 years ago when he promoted his debut Reservoir Dogs? Tarantino's indignant response was proportionate and refreshing."
It's a sentiment I agree with entirely, but it also goes further than respect. This is Quentin Tarantino. He makes Tarantino films, and Tarantino films are inherently violent. As Tarantino himself said when promoting one of his earlier films: "Sure, Kill Bill's a violent movie. But it's a Tarantino movie. You don't go to see Metallica and ask the fuckers to turn the music down." And as he stated in the interview with Guru-Murthy when asked why he makes violent films: "It's like asking Judd Apatow: 'Why do you like making comedies?'... I consider it good cinema." Ask any self-respecting director why they make the films they do and you'd hope to get the same response: they make the films they want to make, to tell the stories they want to tell in a way that they think is the best, most effective, or most artistic. Guru-Murthy's question is at best redundant; at worst, it's actually quite insulting to Tarantino and his library of work.
Whether you're a fan of Tarantino's films or not, considering the critical reaction the vast majority of his films have had I think it's pretty safe to say he's doing something right. Quentin Tarantino's is a glowing and highly-regarded career in cinema, something that not every director can say. He's earned his place in cinematic history, which gives him every right to "shut your butt down" when you ask him a question he doesn't want to answer, moreover a question he's already answered numerous times over the past twenty years.
So, if Quentin Tarantino made it abundantly clear that he's said all he has to say about violence in films at the start of 2013, why is he still being quizzed about the same topic three years later? The answer, sadly, is simple: violence continues to be a part of everyday life, as well as being reported on prominently pretty much daily. It's easier to grab the average person's attention and generate an emotionally driven response with a story about the rights and wrongs of extreme violence in cinema than it is to report on any other aspect - either positive or negative - of Tarantino's craft.
As a fan of the director, and of cinema as a wider medium, I'd love to see just one article from a significant media outlet about the fact that Tarantino is perhaps the only major director working today who is continually given carte blanche to make the 18-certificated cinema he wants to make, exactly how he wants to make it, whilst turning a decent profit for the studio backing him. The brain-dead churning out of violence in cinema as the only topic of conversation surrounding Tarantino in the mainstream media is nothing more than cheap, sensationalist journalism. Such vapid, agenda-driven reportage seems far more harmful than any of the blood and brutality Tarantino chooses to put on screen.