Wise Guys
September 30, 2019 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Scorsese uses violence well. It's galling in his films. Really gut-wrenching, and an expression of his characters, and especially of the rot at the center of them.

Tarantino uses violence because, as he has repeatedly said, it's fun. He's not Scorsese's equal in this. He's a carnival barker where violence in concerned.
posted by maxsparber at 11:09 AM on September 30 [22 favorites]

If you enjoy Scorsese talking about the Italian films he watched as a child, My Voyage to Italy is wonderful.
posted by sallybrown at 11:17 AM on September 30 [2 favorites]

That was a fascinating and worthwhile conversation. Both directors who are good talkers when they choose to be.
posted by artlung at 11:57 AM on September 30

To echo maxsparber above, I stopped going to Tarantino films a long time ago. He's the kind of guy who thinks violence is cool and exciting, because he has never even been mugged.
posted by PhineasGage at 1:46 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]

Counterpoint: I like Quentin Tarantino and think he's very good.
posted by rorgy at 2:28 PM on September 30 [6 favorites]

One of the ideas contained in that interview is the idea of viewing movies from a certain point of view. As I am in my late 40s I now have experienced seeing movies as a child, a teen, an adult, and aging. Noteworthy are movies aimed at teens where now I can see myself in the parents which brings a new dimension to them. Tarantino considering this is interesting. Scorsese watching the reaction of olds to movies from Italy as well. It has never been clearer to me how much personal POV goes not only into moviemaking, but also to moviewatching.
posted by artlung at 2:59 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]

Scorsese uses violence well. It's galling in his films. Really gut-wrenching, and an expression of his characters, and especially of the rot at the center of them.

Tarantino uses violence because, as he has repeatedly said, it's fun. He's not Scorsese's equal in this. He's a carnival barker where violence in concerned.

I would like to register my objection to the idea that using violence ‘well’ in film requires it to be galling, gut-wrenching or otherwise treated with moral seriousness.
posted by inire at 3:10 PM on September 30 [9 favorites]

If you enjoy Scorsese talking about the Italian films he watched as a child, My Voyage to Italy is wonderful.
Thanks for posting that -- I've been wondering for years what that was called.

I remember seeing that on one of the Turner channels when I was a kid. I'd always deeply disliked Scorsese's movies, and that program almost permanently turned me off to Italian cinema just by association. Fortunately, a friend of mine did their thesis on Pasolini and put an end to my embargo. :)
posted by groda at 3:35 PM on September 30

I would like to register my objection to the idea that using violence ‘well’ in film requires it to be galling, gut-wrenching or otherwise treated with moral seriousness.

Seconded—and, whether or not you agree, it's worth pointing out that this discussion is explicitly lampshaded in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Tarantino's having his villains castigate Hollywood for its casual depictions of violence immediately before an extremely elaborate violent sequence of events is absolutely his flamboyant way of disagreeing with that line of thought. And it's not like his take is simply "violence is fun": the person doing the violence in Hollywood is only nominally the hero of the story, and could not have had "this guy is a brute and a shit" said more clearly in the film.

Tarantino's take, fairly consistently across his films, is that the problem with violence in entertainment is that it's thoughtless, used to reinforce a false dichotomy of "right" and "wrong" that often justifies casually toxic ways of looking at the world. His protagonists are nearly always people who take violence for granted, or who see something righteous in violence; Tarantino doesn't set them up for a pratfall, but he places those characters in places of moral ambiguity, places where there is less straightforward of a "wrong" or "right", and where it's made explicit that the one thing about violence is that it's final: a choice, in a sense, that can't be taken back. But he muddies the waters further by setting his conflicts between two opposing forces that each intend to use violence, and by keeping either from having a straightforward rationale. He never does it the same way twice—the climaxes of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained are different from the climaxes of Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill—but that's one of the things that makes him such a fascinating writer: his films revolve around genuinely interesting violent conflicts, and play with the consequences of that violence in unsettling ways.

Honestly, it's not hard to construct an argument that, between Tarantino and Scorcese, Tarantino is the more "responsible" one where depictions of violence are concerned. Goodfellas glamorizes mob life far too much for me to feel entirely comfortable with it, just as The Wolf of Wall Street's "critique" of Jordan Belfort can feel pretty... tame. And I can turn back around and say that it's not Scorsese's responsibility to make overly moralizing statements in his films, so long as he knows his own moral center and doesn't stray from it, but, well, that defense valorizes Quentin Tarantino just as much.

I look forward for the anti-Tarantino fad to die back down. It's so tedious. It's easy to make any artist who dabbles in moral ambiguity seem shallow and gross, when you strip away the shades of gray. Genuine critiques of Tarantino are fascinated and warranted, but that's not where we're at these days. Sigh.
posted by rorgy at 4:45 PM on September 30 [24 favorites]

My favorite Tarantino film (he's made so few across the decades) continues to be Jackie Brown.
posted by hippybear at 10:18 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]

It's always enjoyable to hear people who are experts in their field with some shared sensibility discuss their craft without feeling the need to pander to the audience, but it really does read a bit like a discussion of a past age of filmmaking that is almost gone more than one of what is happening now or how movies seem to be changing.

It isn't so much that the movies they reference are old, but their whole frame of reference is that of an era closing, where the love of movies as movies was vital in making them as the "film school era" was caught up in the history of cinema and wanted to capture that history in their films. For the first wave of sixties and seventies directors like Scorsese that meant taking on the role of their heroes and "updating" the codes of the old movies to a new or changed reality/era, while for the later movie directors like Tarantino it meant making movies that basically were "about" the movies that came before, almost detached from reality as the cinematic codes themselves were the main interest.

Scorsese came into filmmaking just at the moment movies were able to address "the real" in ways they hadn't been able to since the early thirties, if ever. Violence and sexuality were allowed to be shown in ways that were impossible to the previous generations of directors and Scorsese "updated" the cinematic codes of the earlier films/genres to address these new possibilities, but at the same time holding to many of the underlying attitudes of the older films, particularly in regards to masculinity as the center of the movie world and the real.

Tarantino represents something like the epitome of the next generation filmmaker, who had digested the changes brought about by directors from the sixties and seventies, like Scorsese, but also those from Europe, who really did much to define Scorsese's perspective, and Asia, where Tarantino took much of his direct influences beyond that of Scorsese's generation. Tarantino and many other directors of that time period started making movies that were referencing less and less of the real world, in any direct fashion, and instead offering viewers a new take on their mediated experience of reality, playing with how movies/media describes the world. Tarantino's movies are all about the movieness of reality, to the extent the intersect with reality at all. They're not simply the old style wish fulfillment devices, those still exist, they instead tease apart the workings of how movies use the real as their raw material, which Tarantino essentially then posits as its own value, but like Scorsese is still tightly bound to the underlying values movies had held at their center throughout the decades, particularly around violence and masculine values.

Both directors are deeply invested in the process of experience one goes through in watching a movie and the craft that helps build that experience. They aren't so much questioning movie going or media as trying to refine it to provide the right mix of strong emotional response when they want it. They want to keep the movie going experience essentially as it is, but twist it to fit their own purposes. This is opposed, to some extent, by a director like Olivier Assayas who also is a "film school" type director who knows the history of films and is deeply invested in craft, but who seeks to explode something of the old relationships between audience and movie and ask them to see it in a different manner.

All the directors of this "school" load their movies with quotes or references to films and media because that it at the heart of their perspective. There are other filmmakers though who do not use movie history in that way, in part because they were left out of that history or found it misrepresented their interests or points of view. That latter group seems to me to be those who are really defining movies of the 21st century in their changing patterns, even as, of course, commercial filmmaking will always seek largest audience appeal as their first priority. Scorsese, Tarantino, and many of the other directors from their eras aren't going to just fade away or be found suddenly without audience or any importance, but their time is passing and their perspectives feeling more out of date in many ways for tying them to an even farther back history of film that is also being brought into continual question for its problematic sides.

Audiences today are more sophisticated than ever about the codes of movies and how they work in their most basic sense, Tarantino managed to keep finding fresh ways of providing a novel experience in his film construction/story telling methods and Scorsese did much the same by the force of his style. That's why they remain important directors, they know their craft as well as anyone but it is a craft they still see as tied to the past instead of something looking to a future loosened from those old models, which would require a different kind of artistic leap that other directors have been attempting and sometimes succeeding in doing.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:46 AM on October 1 [5 favorites]

re: violence. the ending of hollywood was strange. it was at one and the same time cartoonishly funny and hilarious, but also disgusting and realistic (there were no fountains of blood, instead burnt and smashed flesh which you could almost smell). seeing tarantino as representing exclusively either one of those poles is to reduce him to either to a simple entertainer recreating sequences of tom and jerry in his movies or as a (failed) moralist. he is neither a moralist nor an entertainer, instead someone who inhabits the space between (or a zone of indistinction, as agamben would say), forcing us to think through movies as he himself has. to cringe or to laugh? why not both, at the same time.
posted by sapagan at 3:59 AM on October 1

That was interesting. I wish there was video and maybe supplementary links, I wish I could see the puffs of powdery dust they are talking about.
posted by fleacircus at 5:07 AM on October 1

Here's the scene from Once Upon a Time in the West they were talking about with the puffy dirt. (I jumped ahead to the moment, which happens at about 6:20 in the video, but it's the ending of the movie, so it's all sorts of spoilery. It's also more fun to watch from the start of the video link to see the build up, or, even better, from the start of the movie, but whatevs.)
posted by gusottertrout at 5:23 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]

If liked or loved Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood then you’ll love this thorough deconstruction.
posted by furtive at 6:50 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]

[One comment deleted; we can have a thread on this and still treat each other like people we're interested in engaging with. People have been pretty carefully explaining what they think is interesting or worthwhile etc about Tarantino in here. It's fine to not want to engage with those explanations, or fine to disagree with them, but please don't accuse others of saying things in their comments that they haven't.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:15 AM on October 1 [3 favorites]

I wish there was video and maybe supplementary links

Here's what I could find for ya:

"lower Manhattan" as seen by Scorsese Dead End Kids

Paisan intro by Scorsese

"Very dark view of Hollywood" Sunset Blvd clip

"beautiful technicolor" The Elusive Pimpernel
(The Drums Along the Mohawk comments are amusing because most clips online are in black and white too, even though the movie was also shot in technicolor. You can see a dubiously legal dvd rip of the color version here compared to the B&W youtube trailer here.)

Pesci scenes from Death Collector

Street scene from The Naked City, the movie The Cool World, the movie Shadows, "Searchers" scene from Who's That Knocking at My Door

Trailer for Before the Revolution & trailer for Accattone

Shutter Island glass of water scene (prompted to 4:00 mark for specific reference)

Taxi Driver shootout scene (cigarette bit here low quality video)

Short video essay on von Sternberg's style, with an example of the tracking shot at about :45

Vivre se Vie record store scene (at 9:42 mark)

Marnie "running with the gun" scene (cued at 127:33 mark in a distorted/misframed full movie video that still shows the mentioned detail)

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid trailer (not cued, but I think Tarantino is talking about the bit at around the 2:24 mark, not exactly as he described it, but roughly close)

New York, New York "Happy Endings" number
A Star is Born "Born in a Trunk" number
The Band Wagon "Girl Hunt Ballet" number
posted by gusottertrout at 8:44 AM on October 1 [5 favorites]

Just because you disagree with my take on Tarantino does not mean it is shallow or ill considered, but I will note that violence in his movies are directed at women and people of color with surprising frequency and detail, and often alternate between being comically exaggerated or weirdly lurid.

You may like that. The fact that I don’t doesn’t mean I haven’t actually thought this through and am just jumping on a trend, and it’s shitty to behave as though I have.
posted by maxsparber at 11:10 AM on October 1 [8 favorites]

I’d like Tarantino if he didn’t seem to love to choke women so much in his films.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:38 PM on October 1 [4 favorites]

I will note that violence in his movies are directed at women and people of color with surprising frequency and detail, and often alternate between being comically exaggerated or weirdly lurid. You may like that.

Speaking of uncharitable interpretations of others' views...

Anyway, there are plenty of grounds to criticise Tarantino's treatment of women and people of colour in his films (and his views in general), but violence isn't what springs to mind for me. Lurid, detailed and exaggerated violence is liberally applied to Tarantino's major and minor characters - a bunch of those characters are women and POC, but I have difficulty seeing the violence as being focused on them to any undue degree. (That's not the same as saying that no individual depiction of said violence is problematic, of course.)
posted by inire at 12:54 PM on October 1

Let me guess: you’re white and male? Maybe that’s why it passes unnoticed... maybe check privilege
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:04 PM on October 1

That’s to say you’re lucky it’s abstract for you.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:05 PM on October 1

I'm white and male, and like many white males I know, I have been on the receiving end of violent attacks several times in my life. Violence isn't abstract for me, not at all. I don't really care who finds Tarantino movies repellent or not -- I can certainly understand feeling put off by them -- but that's not a cool generalization to make.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:30 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]

We live by generalizations and it’s disingenuous and sometimes even gaslighting to pretend we don’t. I’m standing by that one.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 1:35 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]

[Hi, we can have a conversation about whether Tarantino is good/bad/etc that doesn't turn into dueling accusations about individual people in the thread. It's totally fine to give your own take on something, including that it's horribly problematic -- just leave it at giving your take. Don't mind-read other people (whether that's "you only think x because you're going along with a trend" or "you only think y because you've never experienced z" etc). Just keep it about yourself and your own ideas/perspective.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:16 PM on October 1 [5 favorites]

(thanks gusottertrout!)
posted by fleacircus at 6:05 AM on October 3

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