Quentin Tarantino

Director/screenwriter/actor/producer Quentin Tarantino was perhaps the most distinctive and volatile talent to emerge in American film in the early '90s. Unlike the previous generation of American filmmakers, Tarantino learned his craft from his days as a video clerk, rather than as a film school student.

Consequently, he developed an audacious fusion of pop culture and independent art house cinema; his films were thrillers that were distinguished as much by their clever, twisting dialogue as their outbursts of extreme violence.

Tarantino initially began his career as an actor (his biggest role was as an Elvis impersonator on an episode of The Golden Girls), taking classes while he was working at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, CA.

During his time at Video Archives, the fledgling filmmaker began writing screenplays, completing his first, True Romance, in 1987. With his co-worker, Roger Avary (who would later also become a director), Tarantino tried to get financial backing to film the script. After years of negotiations, he decided to sell the script, which wound up in the hands of director Tony Scott. During this time, Tarantino wrote the screenplay for Natural Born Killers.

Again, he was unable to come up with enough investors to make a movie and gave the script to his partner, Rand Vossler. Tarantino then used the money he made from True Romance to begin pre-production on Reservoir Dogs, a film about a failed heist. Reservoir Dogs received financial backing from LIVE Entertainment after Harvey Keitel agreed to star in the movie. Word-of-mouth on Reservoir Dogs began to build at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, which led to scores of glowing reviews, making the film a cult hit. While many critics and fans were praising Tarantino, he developed a sizable amount of detractors.

Claiming he ripped off the obscure Hong Kong thriller City on Fire, the critics only added to the director/writer’s already considerable buzz. During 1993, Tarantino wrote and directed his next feature, Pulp Fiction, which featured three interweaving crime story lines; Tony Scott’s big-budget production of True Romance was also released that year.

In 1994, Tarantino was elevated from a cult figure to a major celebrity. Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival that May, beginning the flood of good reviews for the picture. Before Pulp Fiction was released in October, Oliver Stone’s bombastic version of Natural Born Killers hit the theaters in August; Tarantino distanced himself from the film and was only credited for writing the basic story. Pulp Fiction soon eclipsed Natural Born Killers in both acclaim and popularity: Made for eight million dollars, the film eventually grossed over 100 million dollars and topped many critics’ top ten lists. Pulp Fiction earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Tarantino and Avary), Best Actor (John Travolta), Best Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson), and Best Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman).

After the film’s success, Tarantino was everywhere, from talk shows to a cameo in the low-budget Sleep With Me. At the beginning of 1995, he directed a segment of the anthology film Four Rooms and acted in Robert Rodriguez’s sequel to El Mariachi, Desperado, and the comedy Destiny Turns on the Radio, in which he had a starring role. Tarantino also kept busy with television, directing an episode of the NBC TV hit ER and appearing in Margaret Cho’s sitcom All-American Girl.

The latter half of the ‘90s saw Tarantino continue his multifaceted role as an actor, director, screenwriter, and producer. In 1996, he served as the screenwriter and executive producer for the George Clooney schlock-fest From Dusk Till Dawn, and the following year renewed some of his earlier acclaim as the director and screenwriter of Jackie Brown.

The film, in which Tarantino had a voice-over cameo, reunited him with Fiction star Samuel L. Jackson and won him the raves that had been missing for much of his post-Fiction career. Also in 1997, Tarantino appeared in Full Tilt Boogie, a documentary about the making of From Dusk Till Dawn. His film work the following year was essentially confined to a role in Julia Sweeney’s God Said, Ha!, and in 1999, he was back behind the camera as the producer for From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money.

Though he would lay relatively low in the early years of the new millennium, hype would soon start to build around his fourth feature, Kill Bill (2003), in late 2002/early 2003. A kinetic homage to revenge movies of the 1970s, Kill Bill featured Uma Thurman as a former assassin known as “The Bride.” Waking from a five-year coma after her former comrades turn her wedding day into a frenzied bloodbath, “The Bride” vows vengeance on both the assassins her former boss Bill (David Carradine).