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Book Review: Quentin Tarantino – Life at the Extremes by Aaron Barlow

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"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." says Bob Dylan.   "You don't need a movie critic to tell you if you like a movie." says Bob Etier.

If you agree with my two favorite Bobs, then you might just as well take a pass on the first three chapters of Quentin Tarantino — Life at the Extremes by Aaron Barlow.  I read them all — and learned a great deal.

Some people compliantly take their prescriptions for years and enjoy the benefits thereof.  Others want to know how the drug works in their bodies to provide those benefits.  They do their research and discover that a bit of basic anatomy and pharmacology are needed to get their answers.

Some people enjoy Tarantino's movies and are pleased with the entertainment. Others want to know "Why is it good?" or "Why does it appeal to me so much?".  If you fall into the latter category, then this is the book for you!

Barlow provides the basic "anatomy and pharmacology" for the technically-challenged movie fan (like me) who wants to know more about film and why certain ones appeal to us.

The first chapter discusses movies, novels, art, the theater, and where/how Tarantino fits into the mix.  There are some interesting theories, philosophies, and genres discussed and Barlow reassures us that Tarantino "has never lost his sense of himself as a member of the audience."

Chapter Two has a biographical aspect as we learn a bit about Tarantino's youth, education, and evolution from a teen working in porn houses to an award winning director.  We are told about specific movies, personalities, big names in the motion picture industry, and events that influenced Tarantino's career.

One noteworthy milestone in the industry was the success of Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape  which marked the start of current American independent film and laid the groundwork for Tarantino's success three years later.

Chapter Three is a thorough, readable, basic primer on violence.  We are reminded that violence is a part of our lives and that movies reflect reality.  Audiences always react to what they see on the screen and the debate rages over whether or not that reaction personifies itself in real-life harm to others.

According to Barlow, our current debate over movie violence began in the early Sixties when the old Production Code was replaced with the Motion Picture Association of America's new rating system.  The use of the squib (a packet of blood-like liquid that explodes and simulates the impact of a bullet) and the release of movies like The Wild Bunch moved attitudes towards a more graphic depiction of violence.  Barlow adds that Tarantino shares that attitude but that he is "generally nowhere near as graphic in his violence as many contemporary directors."

Chapter three ends with provocative questions that will permeate the remainder of the book.  "Why is blood worse than, say, torture represented without blood?"

Six of Tarantino's movies,  Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, are each examined in detail as they relate to the issue at hand — violence.  Throughout the book, Barlow draws upon the knowledge and opinions of an impressive cast from Roger Ebert to Noel Coward, Thomas Pynchon, James Agee, and even Nietzsche and Aristotle.  There are frequent references to influential works of other artists, particularly writings and film.  

A three-page timeline precedes an extensive list of author's notes, bibliography, and index.  

Barlow can be characterized as an apologist for Tarantino but leaves the final conclusion to the individual reader.  Most likely book buyers that have vowed not to see another violent Tarantino movie will shy away from this book and Barlow will be left preaching to the choir — hopefully, the un-enlightened will give it a shot.

The book concludes with another reminder that all behavior results in either positive or negative consequences, and Tarantino's challenge to his audience to "look to the extremes of what they can do and to follow their imaginations, just as he does for himself."

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  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir dogs.. Just watched Desperado last night for the millionth and one time. Even Little Nicky is on my ‘don’t bother putting it away’ list. I just love Tarantino, as actor or director, machs nix. I never really understood the whole kung-fu fixation though. But he has brought several former stars out of hibernation and I’m grateful for the introduction. I was a bit young for Foxy Brown, but I’m a big Pam Grier fan now.

    Of course, I seem to be the only person in America who loved ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ so I guess there’s no accounting for taste. For my taste anyway.

    I’m not sure I want to analyze too deeply. As they say, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. I have no frickin’ idea why, but I’m sure it’s for all the wrong reasons.