Few directors have worn their influences as proudly on their bloody sleeves as Quentin Tarantino. Often accused of plagiarism, one only has to watch his extraordinary films to realise that the former video store clerk is paying homage to the shelves of his former workplace, Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles.
Nods to the work of maestros like Sergio Leone, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick jostle for position with a slew of exploitation directors including Sergio Corbucci, Jess Franco and Enzo G. Castellari as Tarantino’s fan boy credentials shine through. This is the Palme D’or winner who first met Coffy and Foxy Brown director Jack Hill clutching posters and soundtracks to be signed.
All of his films have lovingly recreated aspects of his favourite genres: crime thriller Pulp Fiction riffs on the spaghetti western and French New Wave while Jackie Brown relives the brash glories of Seventies blaxploitation. As his ninth film Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood hits cinemas, what follows is a mere hint at the smorgasbord of delights that Tarantino populates his films with, for himself, and his eagle-eyed fan.
These are the films that have influenced QT.
The Taking Of Pelham 123
Many have noted the influence of Kubrick’s heist flick The Killing on Reservoir Dogs but it was a gritty classic from the Seventies that inspired the colourful names given to Tarantino’s hardened criminals.
Joseph Sargent’s The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three tells the story of a group of desperate men who hijack New York City subway train, with Robert Shaw, Martin Balsham, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman as Mr. Blue, Mr. Green, Mr. Grey and Mr. Brown respectively, pseudonyms to hide their identities from the members of the public they are kidnapping.
Watching Pulp Fiction, the spectre of the rotund British legend Alfred Hitchcock weaves its way through Tarantino’s multi-layered twisting script.
As Butch (Bruce Willis) pulls up to a crossroads, the scene looks rather familiar – he looks at the back seat of his car at his ill-gotten gains and returns his view to the front, matching Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in Psycho, watching people pass at the crossing. Both look up to see the victim of their crime, but that is where the similarities end.
Hitch ups the tension as Crane drives on trying to avoid her boss’s accusatory gaze. Tarantino take his sequence to a deliriously violent conclusion: panicking Butch floors the gas and knocks crime lord Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) down. The ensuing gun battle leads to redneck hell and The Gimp, a surreally perverse scene that even Hitch would have baulked at.
“The film that just knocked my socks off the most was Coffy,” recalls Tarantino in his Rolling Thunder book What It is… What It Was, “from the moment she shot the guy in the head with the sawn-off shotgun and his head exploded like a watermelon!” the film drew QT into the wonderful world of Blaxploitation that heavily influenced Jackie Brown.
From the opening use of Bobby Womack’s theme from Across 110th Street, the casting of Coffy herself, Pam Grier in the titular role… even the title of the film itself is a reverential tribute to Grier’s other tough girl classic, Foxy Brown. “Don’t mess with Foxy Brown, she’s the meanest chick in town!”
Clad in a replica of Bruce Lee’s yellow tracksuit from Game Of Death, the Bride (Uma Thurman) takes on Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii’s sword wielding army. Limbs fly, heads roll and arterial blood sprays in a tribute to the stylized carnage of the Lone Wolf And Cub series, a bloody adaptation of the brutal manga series.
It’s the moment that the sword wielding beauties lock blades in a stately wintery setting, however, recalling the 1973 actioner Lady Snowblood, that most affects.
Lady Snowblood is a Japanese samurai revenge tale told from a feminist point of view, the fluid and savage fight scenes feature astonishing swordplay from Yuki, played by Meiko Kaji, whose thoughtful portrayal is completely at odds with the usual Hollywood action fare. As Yuki raises her sword in battle, you can almost see Tarantino’s flashbulb mental snapshot as he pictures Thurman and Liu doing exactly the same.
Yes, Tarantino’s WWI fairy tale was loosely named after Enzo G. Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards starring Bo Svenson, Peter Hooten and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and looked to men-on-a-mission The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, Kelly’s Heroes and Where Eagles Dare for inspiration.
Tarantino’s use of David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out The Fire)” to soundtrack the moment when Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) is putting on her war face paint before she torches the Nazi hierarchy about to arrive in her cinema is a nod to both Jacques Tourneur’s original 1942 Cat People as well as Paul Schrader's horror remake that used the Bowie track.
Natassja Kinski, the star of the salacious retelling, was actually Tarantino’s first choice to play the German film star/British war spy Bridget von Hammersmark, but talks broke down and the role went to Diane Kruger.
Taking its name from Django, Sergio Corbucci’s controversial 1966 spaghetti western about a coffin-dragging gunslinger, played by Euro legend Franco Nero, embroiled in a bitter feud between a the Klu Klux Klan and a gang of Mexican Revolutionaries, was an obvious influence but Tarantino’s Western about a German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django, a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) set out to rescue his wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), also looked to the notorious big-budget Seventies trashfest Mandingo, starring noted thespian James Mason.
Both films using blaxploitation tropes to explore racial politics and shocking themes of slavery.