"Quentin was always a great talker," Avary recalls. "The only difference now is that everybody's listening." At first there was some tension between the two. "We were a little competitive about who knew more about movies," says Avary. "Eventually, though, we realized that despite being very different people, we had the exact same tastes. It was kismet." Avary – who contributed to the story of Pulp Fiction – sees himself and Tarantino as part of a whole new out-of-the-stores-and-onto-the-screens movement. "Film schools have become completely franchised," Avary says. "There's a fresh generation of filmmakers, and they're coming out of the video stores. All of us have the advantage of a data base of thousands of movies."
Unsurprisingly, then, a few naysaying critics have called Tarantino's work derivative. Some saw Reservoir Dogs as borrowing heavily from earlier movies, including Kubrick's The Killing. "Generally, I've been treated really well by the press," says Tarantino, who still regrets that famed New Yorker critic Pauline Kael – "one of my biggest influences, my Kingsfield," he calls her – retired before Reservoir Dogs came out. "But a few critics have said, ironically enough, that Dogs felt like a film-school movie – that it's a film more about movies than about life experiences. I don't agree. I think one of the strengths of the film is that it is realistic. It does give you a glimpse into the criminal life. But I also like the idea of my films commenting on film itself. A lot of directors I love have done that." Suddenly, Tarantino grins wildly. "And the fact of the matter is, the shots I actually did rip off no one has caught yet.
"Part of the fun of making movies is that you're on ground that's been covered before," he says, "and you can use that as a jumping-off point for all the weird places you want to go. I'm trying to make a combination of a movie movie and a real movie. I want to make movie movies with real consequences."
One real consequence of the artful brutality that has marked the movies Tarantino has made thus far is the reputation it has earned him – like Peckinpah before him – as the thinking-man's poet of violence. Some audiences still may be having flashbacks to the ear-amputation scene in Reservoir Dogs, which Tarantino – a pop-music lover of extremely catholic tastes – played out to the cheerful strains of Stealers Wheel's '70s classic "Stuck in the Middle With You."
"It never bothered me when people walked out," Tarantino says. "It just meant that scene worked. Go to a video store and nine out of 10 films in the action-adventure section are more graphic than mine. But I'm not interested in making a cartoon. I'm interested in making the violence real."
Still, when Tarantino showed the film early on at a horror festival in Spain – where it followed a splatterfest called Brain Dead – he figured that he had found an audience that wouldn't be thrown by the sadism on display. "So we show the movie, and, like, 15 people walk out during the torture, including [cult horror director] Wes Craven and [horror special-effects artist] Rick Baker," says Tarantino. "Wes Craven – the guy who directed Last House on the Left, for God's sakes – walked out of my movie. Stuart Gordon – the guy who did Re-Animator – was one of the judges, and he was burying his head in his hands. It was hysterical." Tarantino later ran into Baker, who told him: "Quentin, I walked out of your movie, but I want you to take it as a compliment. See, we all deal in fantasy. There's no such thing as werewolves or vampires. You're dealing with real-life violence, and I can't deal with it."
Pulp Fiction offers no shortage of scenes for its exhausted but exhilarated audience to talk about on the way out, including that memorable male-on-male S&M rape scene. "Well, Deliverance did it," he says. "American Me did it, too. There's like three butt-fucking scenes in American Me. That's definitely the one to beat in that particular category!"
As it turned out, nobody beat Pulp Fiction at Cannes. The victory of the Palme d'Or surprised many observers but not Tarantino himself. "I thought it was in the realm of possibility," he says, smiling. "Basically, it was like no one knew about our movie, then it was like boom! It's like people who really shouldn't know what the Palme d'Or is, they all of a sudden knew that I won. I guess it's sort of like sex, lies and videotape just coming out of nowhere. After Cannes was over, I went to Paris to chill out. Let me tell you, when you win the Palme d'Or, don't go to Paris to chill out. Cannes is their Oscars, so everyone was coming up saying, "You're the American who won the big award.' "
Today, Tarantino – who doesn't have a girlfriend at the moment and who has apparently failed to develop the habit of having torrid affairs with his actresses – says that he wants to take a break. "I've got to take some time to have a life," he says. But a few weeks later, word comes that Tarantino's going back to work. In October he'll star as Jimmy Destiny in director Jack Baran's Las Vegas-set Destiny Turns On the Radio. After that, he'll direct one segment of an anthology movie called Four Rooms, which will also call on the talents of Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell and Robert Rodriguez.
Tarantino, who was thanked by Kurt Cobain in the liner notes for In Utero, seems to be on the verge of turning into a cinematic slacker icon. But his mother – who is boycotting Natural Born Killers out of respect for her son – says success hasn't spoiled him yet: "No, I haven't seen any change in Quentin. He's just as self-confident as he's always been."
In terms of the long run, Tarantino explains that he simply wants to stay on the treacherous career path that he has set for himself. "When you look at a career in Hollywood, it seems like there's two roads," he says as he sits back happily among the meaningful clutter of his home. "There's the studio-hack career or the art-film career. They're both dangerous roads. Nobody wants to turn into a hack. But the art-film trip is just as bad because you get lost and start disappearing up your own ass. But there is another road, I think, where the budgets of your film depend on what type of movie you're making, where you're making a movie you really want to make and that someone might really want to see.
"All I have to do is stay on that road."
This story is from the November 3rd, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.
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