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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Decline of the Auteur

Sight and Sound's latest issue features a wild bunch of out-there auteurs. Also, a fawning interview with director Quentin Tarantino. I haven't been to Cannes or seen his latest Nazi hunter film, though I know his production company once expressed interest, about ten years ago, in a Nazi hunter screenplay I'd co-written. I'll be interested in seeing his movie. I actually think Tarantino has done some expressive, stylish and startling work of importance, especially in Kill Bill 1, and he seems a key cultural figure of the 1990s. I also think it is a sad reflection on the decline of the arts, and the auteur, that, in 2009, as significant an arthouse journal as S&S should be hanging on this indie maverick's every word.

The problem, it seems to me, is that QT's ideas - if translated into a literary or literate medium (and he often speaks in terms of novelistic devices, like chapters) - would be sub-par, or even old-hat. Apart from his explorations of genre, via the lenses of violence, soundtrack and character - which he does with genius - the man has little to say. Certainly, it has become tedious to consider that his movies continue to be indulgent adolescent male fantasies, populated with sexy women, killers, and other pulp tropes. I am all for low culture meeting high culture - I am the poet who wrote a poem called Gun Crazy, after all.

I suppose I am worried that film is being colonised by a very low common denominator. Of course, Hollywood and commercial film product can and should entertain - but Tarantino makes claims to be an artist, much like Welles was, and magazines of note like S&S support such claims. Welles made the supreme B-movie - Touch of Evil - and its bravura helming is still breathtaking.

Many of the nouvelle vague films were crime-inflected, to be sure. And, the best of the film noirs are high art - as with Aldrich, one of the key original autuers, and a maker of the great Kiss Me Deadly. But is Tarantino in that Welles-Bresson-Aldrich league? Is he a Huston? I fear not, if only because his emotional palette appears so limited. He badly needs to explore humanity (if not morality) in one of his next films, much as Scorsese has done, or Spielberg. It is true that Hitchcock remained a supreme master, but also focused on depravity and murder - but his Vertigo explored a major theme that has been superficially touched upon in Tarantino's work: love.
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