Tarantino scenes that could have been shorts24 July, 2012 11:17am
We love Quentin Tarantino here at Virgin Media Shorts. He’s the king of the independent movie and is perhaps the most dynamic, out-spoken writer/director working in Hollywood today. Known for his razor-sharp scripts, snappy dialogue, long takes and countless pop-culture references, he is responsible for some of the most iconic, quotable scenes in recent cinema history.
And that’s where we come in. QT might have a tremendous lack of shorts in his repertoire, but it hasn’t stopped us from snooping through his filmography, picking our favourite scenes and exclaiming them good enough to be stand-alone...wait for it...short films! Tenuous? Nah.
So, shall we get started? Please be warned, the clips below contain explicit langauge so don't watch if you're a sensitive soul or under 18!
Reservoir Dogs – opening scene
If it were a short film – ‘A Los Angelian Breakfast’
Let’s begin waaaaay back in 1992 with Tarantino’s debut feature, Reservoir Dogs. Depicting the before and after events of a diamond heist gone horribly wrong, Dogs lays claim to some memorable scenes. However, it’s the opener in the diner – the scene that launched QT’s career – that’s the perfect material for a classy, simple short.
Not many opening scenes from debut films can foresee the style and tone of a director’s entire career, but Tarantino managed it in less than ten minutes. Kicking off with QT’s own Mr. Brown discussing the real meaning behind Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ only to have everyone else around the table disagree, the tone is set straight away. The free-flowing dialogue between the actors, the casual swearing and jibes towards one another; it’s so natural it’s as if someone’s filming best friends talking in great detail and over-thinking subjects that really aren’t worth the time, in this case Madonna’s career. Classic breakfast table small-talk.
But when not arguing about penis metaphors in Madonna songs, the scene works at setting up individual character traits. Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde casually asks Lawrence Tierney’s Joe Cabot if he wants Keitel’s Mr. White shot. He’s joking but we know he wouldn’t think twice about doing it, establishing Mr. Blonde as an unstable, violent psychopath – something which is later confirmed in the film’s most notorious scene. The conversation swiftly turns back to music – so a quick hint of darkness sandwiched between the light-hearted natter.
But it’s when Mr. Pink (the excellent Steve Buscemi) refuses to tip the waitress that the scene really kicks up a notch. We might not want to admit it but Mr. Pink’s sentiments about feeling he has to tip because society says so is something we’ve all thought at one time or another. Make no mistake - this speech is coming direct from the mouth of Tarantino. He obviously had a bad experience at a restaurant.
This one short scene combines everything that goes on to become a Tarantino trademark through his career; the pop culture references, the casual f-bombs, the hints of violence, the dark comedy, and of course the pin-sharp dialogue.
Pulp Fiction – The burger scene
If it were a short film – ‘Burgers at Dawn’
Like the opening from Reservoir Dogs, this unforgettable scene in Tarantino’s 1994 follow-up – responsible for one of Samuel L. Jackson’s most memorable moments - is overflowing with tension and suspense. And like Dogs, a trivial topic becomes the focal point of proceedings. There it was tipping, here it’s burgers, great big tasty-looking burgers (for breakfast).
It’s uncomfortable to watch but it’s filled with Tarantino’s own style of black comedy. Three young guys, a little on-edge, are enjoying their breakfast patties in their apartment only to be interrupted by the sharply-dressed Jules Winnfield (Jackson) and Vincent Vega (Travolta). Everyone knows why they’re there, and it’s probably not going to end well. But Jules remains polite. Polite but threatening, affirming his dominance from the off. After introducing themselves, the subject turns to breakfast as Jules notices they’ve interrupted theirs. Cue the friendly chatter that really makes the audience crave a burger. Jules talks nicely but takes what he wants, in this case Brett’s juicy Big Kahuna Burger and Sprite. He acts friendly, but the three guys know that there is something vicious underneath these actions.
Inevitably the atmosphere changes and Jules turns nasty. He interrupts Brett’s late apology by shooting the guy lying on the sofa. The audience fear for Brett’s life as Jules begins intimidating him, getting in his face, pointing a gun at him as he says the classic line, “Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double-dare you mother******!”. Soon enough, after an appropriate recital of a bible passage, Jules and Vince unload their guns on poor Brett. And he didn’t even get to finish his burger. Oh the humanity!
Tarantino creates a rollercoaster of emotion, flipping from hope and fear throughout and cranking up the tension to excruciating levels. This scene - or for the sake of this feature, ‘short film’ - illustrates why Quentin Tarantino is one of the best writer-directors in Hollywood, and provides a dream role for Samuel L. Jackson, who really gets to stretch his acting chops in one of his best roles.
Inglourious Basterds – Chapter One: ‘Once Upon A Time...in Nazi-Occupied France’
If it were a short film: ‘Once Upon A Time...in Nazi-Occupied France’ (don’t fix what ain’t broke)
Tarantino split his superb 2009 World War II film into five distinct chapters, each one so perfectly accomplished they could be short films in their own right. However, it’s the dramatic opening scene that we at Shorts are most interested in.
The wonderfully simple set-up - an S.S Officer questioning a visibly nervous French dairy farmer as to the whereabouts of a missing Jewish family in the area – is Tarantino at his best, and shares a great deal in common with his past work. A straightforward scene with a clear beginning, middle and end, we’ve got suspense, intensity and that all too familiar over-bearing feeling of fear.
Colonel Hans Landa, played by the film-stealing Christoph Waltz, invites himself into the farmer’s home. He’s all smiles and politeness. He asserts his dominance immediately, takes a seat, sits upright, requests a glass of milk and sends the farmer’s daughters outside. He does this so well that the farmer feels he needs to ask permission to smoke his own pipe. Similar to Jules Winnfield, Landa’s friendly enough but there’s something quite sinister and hostile under the surface that makes him a difficult character to predict.
In this masterpiece of a scene, Landa, with his menacing combination of charm, intelligence, humour and evil systematically breaks the well-meaning farmer to reveal he is in fact hiding the missing Jewish family under his floorboards. Needless to say, it all ends in a very dramatic Tarantino-esque fashion.
Like he did in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino creates another emotional rollercoaster. As Landa’s questioning becomes more intimidating and direct, his charm disappears, he locks eye contact, and the audience begin to fear for the teary-eyed farmer.
It seems that nothing in this scene is an accident, and every moment was meticulously gone over time and time again by Tarantino – from the way the characters sit, to the facial expressions they pull to the way they light their pipes. These opening twenty minutes – featuring English, French and German - are a work of cinematic genius and easily Tarantino’s best piece of film-making. Rumoured to be the first scene he wrote in the ten years he was working on the script, he was so pleased with the way it turned out he felt tremendous pressure to make sure the rest of the film lived up to the opening chapter. No need to worry there, Quentin.
If Inglourious Basterds illustrates the impossibly high benchmark Quentin Tarantino has set himself, then we’re all deadly excited to see what he offers with his awesome-looking Western, Django Unchained in January...
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