Noir vs Tarantino

I recently became embroiled elsewhere in a debate about the films of Quentin Tarantino, which I dislike, finding them ugly and fascist in their violence, misogyny, and concern with the squalid aspects of contemporary America.

Others however, wax lyrical on his “vision”, the “beauty” of his dialog, and his technical re-invention of the exploitation genre of the 70s. This perspective is justified using high language and erudition.

What has this got to do with film noir? Well, it is about film, why films are made, and what makes them of value.

Films are essentially entertainment, Hollywood films anyway, and commodities produced for profit. Somehow, this endeavour has produced and continues to produce films that not only have wide appeal but value as works of art to a lesser or greater degree. The great films noir had both popular appeal and artistic merit because their themes address the human condition and the frailty of normal lives, which at any moment can be plunged into the chasm of chaos, through chance or individual action – innocent or otherwise. How moral ambivalence, lust, love and greed can destroy lives is explored outside the closed romantic realism of mainstream movies.

What do the films of Tarantino offer outside some appeal to a coterie of aficionados who elevate technique over content? Violence, criminality, and baseness as urban cool.

7 thoughts on “Noir vs Tarantino”

  1. Hey Tony,

    The point remains for me that the moral universe you describe for the golden age of noirs is by no means equally applied to all Noirs. Now you might say that it is only relevant to the “great” noirs, but here again we get into the murky space of taste equaling value.

    For instance, say I value Noirs for what they tell me about a particular city during the 40s? Or for the way they depict a culture’s attitude towards children and/or violence? Or even the way folks dressed and wore their hair? You might suggest this is not what a film’s value should be judged on, nor does it even present a criteria for deciding whether or not a film is good or bad, but I would disagree. Because I think the critical formula that only gives the choices between a good movie and bad movie is flawed.

    I think the universal values you apply here are universals cliches that really don’t say much about any of these movies in any specific sense. In fact, I think the value of the film noir was reclaimed in the 70s, 80s, and 90s by a conscious Modernist-inspired re-invention of their value legitimized by erudition.
    In other words, we were provided with a way of reading these films that distilled many of the values you are assuming here.

    Offering a reading of Tarantino’s value as a filmmaker, and reading his films is all we were doing in that previous discussion. The difference here is that you are reading films that have for the most part been accepted as great, allowing for a bit less in the way of heated discussion about the status (value?) of this greatness, but rather examining the nature of their greatness.

    What was so fun about our discussion about Tarantino is that his value as a filmmaker is still very much in question, and discussions that we’re having may in some way help frame an argument for or against his value (value is constructed to given -like a moral universe).

    You voice in the discussion was extremely was essential, and I would do you a great disservice if I were to pretend to agree with you on all points. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t think about this stuff together, each in our respective ways.


  2. Thanks for your comment Jim.

    I won’t pretend to understand everything you have said, but let me address one statement: “universal values you apply here are universals clichés”:

    Firstly, I was not talking about values but “value”. Value as Robert Pirsig struggled to understand “quality” in his book, Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    Secondly, if “universal values” have become “universal clichés”, it is because we only pay lip service to them not that they are any less relevant.

    Thirdly, films noir is a genre not an accolade I bestow. In my posts I am just as ready to dismiss many noirs as of little or no value, as I am to praise another film. Let me submit my post on The Set-Up (1949) in support of why “quality” matters.

    As for Tarantino, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader said of Pulp Fiction: “punchy, flamboyant surface is all” (1001 Movies 2004).


  3. As a footer to this post, I have just read simply the best description of Tarantino’s work in the Rough Guide To Film Noir (2007 – p 270): “glib pop-culture references” and “knowing genre pastiche”.


  4. Tarantino does not know how to edit his stories and scenes. Once his shock value wears off, his stuff is boring, revealing limited imagination in developing plot and characters. Within the genre, Robert Rodriguez does a much better job of telling a tight story through better editing. But at the end of the day, the genre is just cheap-thrills pornographic violence. I prefer watching the original material: the grind-house B movies of the 60s and 70s and Japanese samurai flicks.


  5. I think it’s wrong to write off Tarantino so quickly. Although he’s a filmaker that founds a lot of his style on his somewhat voyeuristic fascination towards violence, it seems to be rather bad to simply assume that that’s… bad. You’re argument is founded upon a logic statement that simply assumes without the probing critical quest that it probably deserves.

    I’m not writing a Tarantino love letter here but his cultural impact and his experimental film style is at least something to be taken a crack at.

    Actually you’re argument could be applied film noir in the 50s to!! Film noir was all about sex, violence and its contemporary squalid view on America. Film noir, film ‘black.’ From the description alone, film noir is meant to be bleak, moody, gritty, sexy and violent. Should I not like Out of the Past because he shoots somebody off of a cliff?

    And as a quick aside, The Maltese Fiction is based on a serial released in a Magazine in the thirties. And interestingly enough serials like that were called ‘pulp fiction.’ Just sayin.


  6. Hey Black Mask. My view here of Tarantino is very personal and, even after five years, and two or three movies from Tarantino later, unchanged. I respect your position. I just don’t think he is saying anything worth saying.


  7. Tarrantino makes better movies than 98% of Hollywood directors. Not to mention he writes them all using that brilliantly written diaolgue that flows just like normal conversation in the real world. The subject matter put forth in his movies can be somewhat controversial at times, but there’s always a means to this in end of all his movies. He will go down as one of the greatest American film makers of all time simply based on how great his writing is and how his movies flow seamlessly through the story being portrayed throughout the movie. If you appreciate great writing and film making you should appreciate Quentin Tarrantino


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