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It’s not easy for every film to be a hit, but Quentin Tarantino wants his body of work to be as close to perfect as possible. Almost every movie he’s ever made has been met with widespread critical acclaim, and he plans to keep it that way. Although there’s no surefire way to make every movie a success, there is one method that Tarantino’s sticking to — quit while you’re ahead.
Two of Tarantino’s favorite directors are old Hollywood auteurs Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder. Both have a diverse set of hits in their extensive filmography, from noirs like “The Big Sleep” to musicals like “Some Like it Hot” and Westerns like “Rio Bravo.” They also churned out successful movies for decades, but Tarantino and most critics would agree that they continued working past their prime. Making a film like “Rio Lobo,” the sequel to “Rio Bravo,” is Tarantino’s worst nightmare as an artist.
When it comes to avoiding a flop, “It’s age, it’s absolutely age,” Tarantino explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m really well versed on a lot of directors’ careers, you know, and when you look at those last five films when they were past it, when they were too old, and they’re really out of touch with the times […] [like] Billy Wilder with ‘Fedora’ and then ‘Buddy Buddy’ or whatever the hell.”
However, Tarantino knows it’s not impossible to make a bad movie at the height of your career. His 2007 film “Death Proof” was met with mixed critical reception. It might not be as bad as “Buddy Buddy,” but he’s hoping that it’ll be his worst film.
“‘Death Proof’ has got to be the worst movie I ever make,” Tarantino insisted. “And for a left-handed movie, that wasn’t so bad, all right? So if that’s the worst I ever get, I’m good.”
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
If a director makes a number of incredible, ground-breaking films, is it really so bad if they helm a few duds? Quentin Tarantino seems to think so. “I do think one of those out-of-touch, old, limp, flaccid-d*** movies costs you three good movies as far as your rating is concerned,” he explained. Every flop is a point against a director in their “grade-point average,” as Tarantino put it, and every new project risks bringing that average down — especially as their age climbs up.
“I think I risk failure every single time with the movies I do, and I haven’t fallen into failure,” Tarantino said. “Risking failure is not what I’m afraid of. Failing is what I’m afraid of. No, they’re not the same thing, and I do think it’s a young man’s game. I really do.”
Directing might be a young man’s game, but falling in love with films is for even younger men. Tarantino first found one of his favorite filmmakers when he was still a teenager.
“I discovered Howard Hawks when I was 15. I saw ‘Rio Bravo’ and thought it was fantastic,” he recalled. “Then I ended up going to some film festival, and I saw ‘His Girl Friday.’ Then all of a sudden I’m at home, and I notice that a movie called ‘Barbary Coast’ is being played, and it said in the TV Guide, ‘Directed by Howard Hawks,’ and so I watched that. Well, those three movies in a row really got me into that director.”
Hawks has a lot of top-tier work, but in this case, picking something at random could’ve gone terribly wrong. Imagine if “Rio Lobo” had been on TV that day instead of “Barbary Coast.” Would Tarantino still have fallen in love with Hawks — or with film in general?
Directing Is A Young Man’s Game
For Quentin Tarantino, tacking terrible movies onto a solid filmography presents a huge risk. What if a hypothetical young fan indiscriminately picks up one of his films? No matter what they choose, it has to have the same magic as his best work, like “Reservoir Dogs,” and the same auteur’s touch as his most distinctive work, like “Pulp Fiction.” He explained:
“I fantasize about another 12-year-old girl or boy, 20 years after I’m dead, seeing one of my movies, liking it, [and thinking] ‘Who the hell did that?’ Seeing another movie, and then whatever they choose from the pile — ’cause they don’t know what’s good and what’s bad, all right? — I have to keep their d*** hard! I have to keep them wanting to go back for more. They can’t grab ‘Buddy Buddy!’ They can’t grab ‘Buddy Buddy!’ It can’t — that can’t happen!”
“Buddy Buddy” was Billy Wilder’s last-ever film and is often considered his worst. It stars Hollywood legends Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, two incredible actors in their day, but in “Buddy Buddy” all three seem to have completely lost touch with what once made them world-renowned artists. The dramatic moments are more pathetic than compelling, and the comedic timing is several beats too slow. Making a film on par with “Buddy Buddy” after directing something as wonderful as “His Girl Friday” is Tarantino’s worst nightmare.
Not every film made late in life is a total wash — for example, Tarantino described Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” as his “favorite movie of ” — and perhaps every new movie risks being as big of a failure as “Buddy Buddy,” no matter how old the director is. Still, as someone who found success at a young age, Tarantino knows when it’s time for the old guard to make way for the new.
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