15 November 2009
"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal."
--T.S. Eliot, 1920
Perhaps the loudest - and most recurring - criticism of the work of Quentin Tarantino indicts the master auteur with cinematic plagiarism. He simply usurps set-ups from classic films, known and unknown, polishes them wish modern luster, and voilà, is proclaimed a genius, so they say. To his loudest critics, Tarantino isn't so much a master originator as he is a master thief.
From a purely technical perspective, this view is highly flawed. Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds surely borrow elements from both film and literature, but the shocking novelty of their central conceits is undeniable. It must be this reality that boils the skin of all the haters; it seems to me these philistines must be of the same crowd that denies Shakespeare to be the sole author of his plays and sonnets, and who are convinced our President was born in Indonesia, or worse, Kenya.
Not a single of Shakespeare's plays exhibited original plotting. The comedies, the tragedies, the histories, can trace their antecedents to Aristophanes, Sophocles, Plutarch, Petrarch, Boccaccio, just to name a few. What Shakespeare did - what all great artists do - is take an established good idea and present it in a refreshing and revealing way. Through this method, Shakespeare elevated himself to the greatest contributor of world literature in history!
The French New Wave is widely considered to be one of the greatest eras in filmmaking. Beginning in 1959 with Les Quatre Cents Coups, by the end of the 60s, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Jean-Pierre Léaud became household names. The French New Wavers were obsessed with American film noirs of the 30s and 40s - and they translated that aesthetic into a wholly new French form. Looking back, arguably the first true New Wave film came in 1956 with Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur. Melville was so in love with American culture that he changed his surname to reflect his favourite author. Here is the trailer to Bob:
The homage to American ganster/heist films is crystal. Nowhere is the adulation of American cinema more obvious in the French New Wave than Truffaut's often overlooked 1968 revenge film, La Mariée était en noir. Truffaut adored Hitchcock. So he essentially set out to make a French version of a Hitchcock thriller. Truffaut employs Hitchcock's favourite cinematic device, the macguffin, by misleading the audience into investing itself into who/what caused Julie Kohler's (Jeanne Moreau) husband's murder, he raises the suspense ten-fold as we watch the inconsolable bride take revenge in increasingly manipulatively inventive ways. To top it all off, Truffaut brought on Hitchcock's composer, Bernard Herrmann, to compose the score: