Sunday 13 January 2013

FuzzWords | Why Quentin Tarantino has every right to shut your butt down

Earlier this week, Quentin Tarantino gave an interview to Channel 4 News reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy to promote his latest film Django Unchained, released in the UK in just under a week. It's an interview which has received a fair amount of attention for Tarantino's reaction to one question in particular, posed to him by Guru-Murthy around halfway through the interview. Below is the full interview for your perusal, but if you just want to see the part I'm referring to, skip straight to around the 4 minutes 25 seconds mark.

Guru-Murthy asks Tarantino why he is so sure that there is no link between an individual enjoying violence in movies and enjoying violence in real life. Considering the recent spate of school shootings in America, as well as the shooting which took place during an opening night screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado last year, it's a perfectly justified question. It's Tarantino's reaction to the question that has caught so many people's attention. The director tells Guru-Murthy that he "refuses" the question and stubbornly resists being drawn into a discussion on the issue, at one point even telling the interviewer "I'm shutting your butt down!".

Now, don't get me wrong, the way in which Tarantino puts his refusal across could have been more eloquent and tactful. Telling an interviewer "I'm not your slave and your not my master. You can't make me dance to your tune" when the film you're promoting deals with the slave trade in America probably isn't the best choice of words. But in terms of the reasons why he refused to answer, I couldn't stand more firmly in Tarantino's corner.

To start with, I've never been a fan of Krishnan Guru-Murthy as a journalist, finding him uninspiring and quite arrogant in his approach. This interview was no exception. The way in which Guru-Murthy posed the question came across as quite sly, clearly trying to catch Tarantino off guard. The interviewer clearly wanted a reaction, and whilst it might not have been the reaction he was expecting, in some way Tarantino unfortunately gave that to him. His question was also worded provocatively, having no link to anything previously discussed. By including the "so" in his question "Why are you so sure?", Guru-Murthy is quite aggressively pointing to something that Tarantino hasn't even mentioned during the interview. I think if I was Tarantino being interviewed by Guru-Murthy I'd probably react in the same way the director did.

Tarantino's insistence that the interview in his eyes "is a commercial for the movie" again may come across as quite blunt by the director, but to be honest, did anyone (Guru-Murthy included) really think Tarantino, or any other director promoting their new film, would think of it as anything else? Yes, it is blunt, but it's also the truth. Just as blunt was Guru-Murthy's response to Tarantino here: "So you don't want to talk about anything serious?" Considering the interview has already covered the historical setting and issues of Django Unchained, including what Tarantino refers to as the "Auschwitzian aspects" of the slave trade in America, to suggest that "serious" issues aren't being covered is both patently untrue and petulant by an interviewer who isn't getting his own way.

However, the main source of criticism for many who have seen the interview, apart from Tarantino's seemingly less than calm reaction, is his direct refusal to answer the question Guru-Murthy was posing. Actually, he did answer. He just didn't answer in the way that maybe those watching or Guru-Murthy wanted him to:

"The reason I don't want to talk about it: because I've said everything I have to say about it. If anyone cares what I have to say about it, they can Google me and they can look for 20 years what I have to say. But I haven't changed my opinion one iota."

Tarantino's answer is that since his opinion on the issue hasn't changed in the two decades he's been making films, he doesn't want to repeat himself again. It's not as if Tarantino shies away from people knowing his thoughts on the issue: he invites anyone who wants to know what he thinks to do the most basic form of research in the 21st Century - type it into an internet search engine - and find out.

So I did. Unfortunately (and ironically) at the moment a lot of the hits on the first few pages of Google actually take you to different reports and analyses of Tarantino's interview with Guru-Murthy. One particularly useful hit, however, takes you to an article on The Atlantic Wire who, in response to Tarantino's claim, have listed several quotes from Tarantino from as far back as 1993 (so, twenty years then) showing his thoughts on the subject. It makes for a fairly interesting read, but more importantly confirms exactly what Tarantino said: he hasn't changed what he thinks in the time he's been making film, and anyone who wants to know what he thinks can find out pretty easily without him having to say it yet again.

The only question that remains is whether you think Tarantino should have just answered the question, trotting out a similar response to what he's always said just because he was on camera. I say no, he shouldn't. If he had been invited to a debate on how violence in film influences real-life violence, then of course he should expect to be drawn on the issue. But this was an interview about his latest film which he happily spoke about, and not just in a overly simplistic "come and see my new movie!" kind of way, but by touching on some pretty heavy subject matter. Is it going to fit Tarantino's "commercial" to start talking about how violent films do or do not cause actual violence? Of course not. So he just chose not to even entertain Guru-Murthy's baiting whilst at the same time giving a perfectly satisfactory response.

But then there's also the issue of respect. It's something which The Guardian's Ryan Gilbey touches on in his article defending Tarantino's reaction: "The problem here was not the issue of violence itself, but the wearisome ploughing of the same furrow. You've got Quentin Tarantino sitting in front of you, one of the most stimulating interviewees in the world, and you ask him questions that he was unpicking 21 years ago when he promoted his debut Reservoir Dogs? Tarantino's indignant response was proportionate and refreshing."

It's a sentiment I agree with entirely, but it also goes further than respect. This is Quentin Tarantino. He makes Tarantino films, and Tarantino films are inherently violent. As Tarantino himself said when promoting one of his earlier films: "Sure, Kill Bill's a violent movie. But it's a Tarantino movie. You don't go to see Metallica and ask the fuckers to turn the music down." And as he stated in the interview with Guru-Murthy when asked why he makes violent films: "It's like asking Judd Apatow: 'Why do you like making comedies?'... I consider it good cinema." Ask any self-respecting director why they make the films they do and you'd hope to get the same response: they make the films they want to make, to tell the stories they want to tell in a way that they think is the best, most effective, or most artistic. Guru-Murthy's question is at best redundant; at worst, it's actually quite insulting to Tarantino and his library of work.

Whether you're a fan of Tarantino's films or not, considering the critical reaction the vast majority of his films have had I think it's pretty safe to say he's doing something right. Quentin Tarantino's is a glowing and highly-regarded career in cinema, something that not every director can say. He's earned his place in cinematic history, which gives him every right to "shut your butt down" when you ask him a question he doesn't want to answer, moreover a question he's already answered numerous times over the past twenty years.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, dude. I particularly like the link collecting QT's quotes on film violence over the years - really interesting to see his continued consistent attitude.

    I think he should probably have handled himself a bit better in the interview, though - I'm not sure why he got so worked up about it - he must have been asked stupider questions by more irritating pundits before. I'm sure it's not done his rep any harm, though...