Once described as the “single most influential filmmaker of our generation,” American auteur Quentin Tarantino has changed the way we think of cinema. Ranging from cult classics, including Pulp Fiction and recent gems like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino has proven to the world that he still has what it takes to operate at the very top of his field. However, the veteran director is finally thinking of retiring after his tenth and final project.
“Most directors have horrible last movies,” Tarantino said. “Usually their worst movies are their last movies. That’s the case for most of the Golden Age directors that ended up making their last movies in the late ’60s and the ’70s, then that ended up being the case for most of the New Hollywood directors who made their last movies in the late ’80s and the ’90s. So to actually end your career on a decent movie is rare. To end it with, like, a good movie is kind of phenomenal. I mean, most directors’ last films are fucking lousy.”
He had previously discussed retirement as well, claiming: “I kind of feel this is the time for the third act [of my life] to just lean a little bit more into the literary, which would be good as a new father, as a new husband. […] I wouldn’t be grabbing my family and yanking them to Germany or Sri Lanka or wherever the next story takes place. I can be a little bit more of a homebody, and become a little bit more of a man of letters.”
While the talk of retirement will rumble on until we catch a glimpse of his immediate plans, let’s pay tribute to the lasting cinematic legacy of Quentin Tarantino.
Here, we take a look at some of the most iconic shots from his illustrious filmography.
10 greatest shots of Quentin Tarantino:
‘The Door’ – Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The opening sequence of Inglourious Basterds is a lesson in cinematic storytelling, showcasing how one should maintain narrative tension. One particularly memorable part is the use of a frame within a frame in the scene where Shoshanna escapes ‘The Jew Hunter’ (Christopher Waltz) and runs off into the distance. It is inspired by the likes of John Ford, who used similar techniques in films like The Searchers.
Tarantino said: “On this movie, there’s one real big roadblock, and that’s history itself. And I expected to honour that roadblock. But then, at some point, deep, deep, deep into writing it, it hit me. I thought, Wait a minute: my characters don’t know they’re part of history. They’re in the immediate, they’re in the here, they’re in the now, this is happening.”
9. ‘Trunk Shot’ – Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Although the Trunk Shot is a signature element that Tarantino has repeatedly used throughout his career, its most iconic iteration is definitely in Reservoir Dogs. Drawing inspiration from Anthony Mann who first used the technique, Tarantino has successfully introduced it to popular culture.
The director commented: “One of the things I get a big kick out of in Reservoir Dogs is that it plays with theatrical elements in a cinematic form—it is contained, the tension isn’t dissipated, it’s supposed to mount, the characters aren’t able to leave, and the whole movie’s definitely performance-driven… almost cut to the rhythm of performance.”
8. ‘Opening Shot’ – Jackie Brown (1997)
Jackie Brown manages to engage the attention of the audience from the very beginning, blasting Bobby Womack’s ‘Across 110th Street’ while Pam Grier glides along a walkway in motion. The shot is fluidly transgressive, urging the viewers to confront the nature of the medium itself.
“This entire film takes place at locations everyone has a visual relationship to such as a mall and an airport,” cinematographer Guillermo Navarro explained “There’s no interpretation that can cross the everyday vision of these places, so I had to take a very realistic approach.”
Adding: “But being on location can be very difficult, because you don’t have any of the benefits you’d have on a soundstage, where you can make lighting and production design decisions, you’re just stuck with the space. Since the story is very dialogue-driven, it became complicated to execute some of the shots [in a visually interesting way].”
7. ‘Cinerama Dome’ – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
Tarantino’s most recent project, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has certainly been a critical and commercial success. Robert Richardson’s cinematography incorporates neo-noir elements as the film paints a nostalgic portrait of a lost Hollywood, signifying the existence of multiple timelines.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson said: “The aim was to evoke the past and the present. Quentin and I wanted to have a look that was here and now, but that also pushed a little bit back in time. We didn’t speak about it, but in my mind I thought, ‘Let’s make something past, present and future.’”
6. ‘Blood on the Cotton’ – Django Unchained (2012)
Although it is well-known that Tarantino has an uncontrollable penchant for cinematic violence, this scene ranks right up there with some of Tarantino’s finest works. The powerful imagery of blood spattering over the white cotton plants contains political and philosophical implications which are impossible to ignore.
“What happened during slavery times is a thousand times worse than [what] I show,” Tarantino maintained. “So if I were to show it a thousand times worse, to me, that wouldn’t be exploitative, that would just be how it is. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it.”
5. ‘The Briefcase’ – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Many fans have tried to guess what is in the briefcase that Vincent Vega opens, with some claiming that it contains Marsellus Wallace’s soul. The beauty of the shot lies in the fact that it says so much with so little, sparking the imagination of the audience to this day.
The filmmaker explained: “When I’m writing a movie, I hear the laughter. People talk about the violence. What about the comedy? Pulp Fiction has such an obviously comic spirit, even with all the weird things that are happening. To me, the most torturous thing in the world… [is] to watch it with an audience who doesn’t know they’re supposed to laugh.”
4. ‘Widescreen’ – The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Hateful Eight is Tarantino’s cinematic tribute to a genre that he has always loved — the iconic western. Shot on 70mm film with Ultra Panavision lenses, the film perfectly captures the nuanced landscape of Colorado. Even though the narrative isn’t as compelling as Tarantino’s other films, the cinematography is mesmerising.
Tarantino revealed: “The thing that wasn’t a sure thing wasn’t the idea of shooting it in 70mm. That, we figured would be okay. Other people have done it before. Using the lenses that we used — those Ultra Panavision lenses from the late ’50s, early ’60s — that was the thing that wasn’t a sure thing. We did tests on them and everything. So we knew they worked.”
3. ‘Blue Silhouette Fight’ – Kill Bill (2003)
Kill Bill remains one of Tarantino’s finest achievements, a perfect example of grindhouse cinema. This particular shot is an unforgettable moment from the action flick, featuring an expertly choreographed fight between The Bride and the Yakuza which is supposed to be a reference to Nakano Hiroyuki’s Samurai Fiction.
The producers were pushing, “‘He’s one of the greatest cinematographers in the world, what’s it going to hurt to sit and have Thai food with him?’” Tarantino said. “So we got together and started talking, and I told him that I had already hired two other guys. And we talked and we talked and basically, I just fell in love and I let those two guys go.
2. ‘Mexican Standoff’ – Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Tarantino’s directorial debut is full of several iconic sequences but none of them can surpass the mastery of the auteur’s own version of the legendary Mexican Standoff. It is visceral, violent and morbidly funny, highlighting the absurdity of life and the chaotic nature of human existence.
“I always try to understand what’s in a director’s mind, so we talked very loosely about the project,” cinematographer Andrzej Sekuła said. “Quentin and I also watched a couple of films, like The Killing and Breathless. When we came together on the set, we really understood each other.”
1. ‘The Dance’ – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Although many people have accused Tarantino of stealing the dance sequence from Federico Fellini’s 8½, Travolta has claimed that this scene was completely improvised. It is emblematic of how two characters from vastly differing backgrounds can experience momentary freedom by shedding the restrictions of their social roles.
“That was improvised quite a bit,” Travolta told The Daily Beast. “I’d actually told Quentin about the dances I grew up with. The Twist is what he wanted, but I said, ‘There were other fun dances from that era! The Spin, The Batman, The Hitchhiker.
“You can expand this, and don’t have to include just The Twist.’ And he said, ‘Okay.’ So I said, ‘Why don’t you film it, and you call it out? We’ll start with The Twist, and then when you get bored with The Twist, throw out something else.’ So he was behind the camera going, ‘The Swim! The Batman!’ He’d mix-and-match. We shot it during the section of the day, and there weren’t that many takes.”