Here’s what’s going to happen. Quentin Tarantino will one day die and we’ll spend a lot of time talking about the violence in his movies or the legitimately problematic aspects of his movies. We might talk about his range of influences or his weird relationship with genre. What we won’t talk about is Tarantino’s absolute mastery of the technical aspects of scene building and filmmaking.
Inglorious Basterds is a perfect example. From the first trailer, a reasonable expectation would be that Tarantino was going to make a rolicking World War II farce along the lines of Kelly’s Heroes. That would have been wildly inaccurate.
Instead, what we got was a masterclass on building tension carefully. From the first scene, as explained in this video from Lessons from the Screenplay featured on Kottke, Tarantino moves his characters through space and time with the sole purpose of keeping us hanging by a thread. (He does a similar trick, by the way, in The Hateful Eight, only stretched out over the length of an entire movie.) The video does a better job of explaining than I will, so I’ll let it speak for itself.
Here’s why it matters: Tarantino is able to use his technical ability to support the trappings of whatever genre he’s interested in exploring. The Hateful Eight is a fairly similar movie to his first, Reservoir Dogs, in that it takes place in a single room and derives tension from supplying and depriving audience knowledge in a deeply careful manner. Similarly, this scene from Basterds leads us by a string. Our experience of those movies is wildly different–the genre trappings have more or less nothing to do with each other–but they’re all identifiably Tarantino because he has such a strong grounding in the fundamentals of filmmaking. The key to experimentation of any kind, even something as basic as switching from World War II to Western and back again, is that he’s using the same playbook as did Hitchcock, Hawks, Ford and all the rest of the studio masters. They shot whatever was put in front of them. Tarantino uses their techniques to bring his genre obsessions to the big screen.
Watch the video below. Read our interview with Tarantino here.