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Let's Get Ramblin': the words of Quentin Tarantino
by Matt Berry

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Coffee Shop Culture is King in QT's world

Coffee Shop Culture is King in QT's world
The Tarantino effect was strong throughout the 90's (and beyond), and I hope to address him often in my grunge era- obsessed column. There are so many aspects of the man's work that beg critique, analysis, and discussion. Much, much discussion...which is appropriate because if there's one thing QT loves, it's TALK! Big and small. Highbrow and low. Meaningful and hollow. The man simply adores the art of conversation, and I believe he wants nothing more as a writer/director, as an artist of any kind, than to generate lively, heated, and fun conversation.

So for the first in a series of pieces pondering QT's work, I'm getting down and goddamn dirty into his way with words. I'll be examining what makes his dialogue tic, what makes it ring so true yet so false, and why it has had such a lasting impact on film and television in a little piece I'm calling...

the wild words of Quentin Tarantino



To put it simply, Quentin Tarantino (the writer) changed the way characters talk in the movies. The language of Tarantino, that hyper-speak babble that peppers his films with pedantic digressions, obsessively specific rants, and near poetic profanity, has gotten almost as much attention as the films themselves. And certainly, a critical dissecting of the words his characters speak and how they speak them has preoccupied fans, essayists, and reviewers alike.

Like the best screenwriters and playwrights, Tarantino crafts a lingo that is all his own, wholly original and instantly recognizable, yet (like the best poetry) universal in its ability to connect with a wide audience. It springs from the hep snap of beatnik cool and sprawls to incorporate the tough talk of the film noirs, the fast patter of the screwball comedies, and the hustle and jive of the Blaxploitation genre. But what Quentin does that is unique to his vision is to inject his lingo with the enthusiasm of a movie geek, a passionate people
the best convos take place over breakfast

the best convos take place over breakfast
watcher, and a pop culture junkie.

His language is precise. There is very little adlibbing on the set of a QT film. His scripts hinge so closely on the rhythms and rhymes of his words that to change even a line or two could alter the entire story. And what those words say about each individual character finds equal importance to the end result.

But beyond their importance to the overall story, his dialogue is simply remarkable to listen to, mesmerizing in its cadence, and, most importantly, damn entertaining! After the blitz of RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, TRUE ROMANCE, FOUR ROOMS, and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN all hitting theaters and video stores in a span of just a few years, QT forever changed the way that movie characters speak to us as well as to each other. And somehow along the trip, he managed to change the way we ALL talk to one another.

"...And All the Men & Women Merely Players"

"I'm a character. People are always saying to me, 'You know you're a quite a character.'"
-George Costanza

"Just because you ARE a character, that doesn't mean that you HAVE character."
-The Wolf

Before examining more words, it seems a good idea to take a quick look at the characters who spout them. Because first and foremost, the function of QT's dialogue is to reveal his players and the world they live in.

Quentin's world, of course, is a dark, volatile place populated with thugs and thieves, brawlers and badasses, and scores of heroes and villains. So the language they speak is Rough & Tumble, buff with bravado, and potentially lethal (see Ezekiel 25:17!). They hurl insults with ease, spew racism with little resistance, and talk in the kind of cop show catchphrases we like to imagine all crooks engage in.

And they bring that same level of intensity to every topic, whether it be pop music, fast food, or the level of intimacy implied by a foot massage. QT's stable of cops, crooks, soldiers, and assassins choose their words describing the regular, mundane business of their
Tarantino takes on Girl Talk in DEATH PROOF

Tarantino takes on Girl Talk in DEATH PROOF
personal lives from the same pool that spawns the threatening, tough language of their day jobs.

In RESERVOIR DOGS, the conceit of continuous small talk works organically from the situation. These crooks are not allowed to share anything personal about themselves per their boss' orders (tellingly, in a pinch, some choose to break this rule), so they're left with little else to ramble about but the job and their shared pop culture experiences. The usual boring, getting' to know ya' chit chat. In DEATH PROOF, the focus is Tarantino's take on Girl Talk and what he sees as a subgenre of tough-speak that exists among women on the road. And in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, the words spoken by its characters are used to distract and deceive, to uncover and undermine.

Regardless of the situation and the people involved, Tarantino finds a way to make his trademark staccato and sturm work. And in the end, his crazy hyper-speak is how his characters relate to one another. They wear their hearts (and their opinions) on their sleeves and even as they puff chests, try to throw people off their trails, and hide who they are, they end up finding connections to one another in fairly profound ways. The crooks in DOGS end up bonding despite themselves. Two assassins in KILL BILL end up connecting over a pregnancy test. Butch and Maria Villa Lobos develop a camaraderie during a short cab ride.

And clearly, Tarantino uses his dialogue to express himself on a variety of topics both fun and philosophical. In every film, there is an obvious stand-in for the director, a character who fills in a space on his Creator's behalf. MR. PINK, CLARENCE WORLEY, BUD from KILL BILL, they all share thoughts and diatribes that are distinctly Quentin.

But he is capable of seeing the truth in each of his characters and is careful never to let them fall victim to being his mouthpiece, always allowing each invention their own voice. It's just that they all inhabit a world where everyone speaks in beatnik bounce and lengthy expounding.

I Lost It At the
Clarence&Alabama at the movies (surely they will have coffee and pie after)

Clarence&Alabama at the movies (surely they will have coffee and pie after)
Motherfuckin' Movies

As a newcomer to his movies, the first thing that strikes you about Tarantino's dialogue is that it's fun. The fun he has writing it is palpable, and the fun we have hearing it is the kind of kick the movies were made for. As a lover of (nearly) all things Quentin, I get a visceral thrill listening to his dialogue for the first time and a residual high with each re-watch.

In deference to the care with which his words are written and the Jenga-like caution he exercises in building his storytelling out of seemingly disconnected conversations and amusing exchanges, he simply knows how to goose an audience with a funny phrase or a slice of life observation. Aside from wanting to generate after-theater discussions over cigarettes, coffee, and pie, Tarantino's second agenda is to make sure his audience has a good time watching and experiencing his films.

And to that end, he infuses every line, every pause even ("don't you hate that? Uncomfortable silence.") with a level of attention not often found in mainstream American cinema. He is a master to the extent that the very same lines in any other screenwriter's hands would not have the same pith, charge, or giddy resonance ("Bacon tastes good." "Charlie Brown!" "Motherfucker, I'm tryin' to watch The LOST BOYS!"). And not to take away from the actors who speak these lines or T's influence directing them, but even on the script page, these lines have a life of their own.

Tarantino wants you to have a good time at his movies. As characters deal with all manner of existential crisis, life-and-death predicaments, and even Adolf Hitler himself, he still wants his audience to share something special, something that demands involvement like an amusement park ride, and something that is (more than anything) worth their time and money.


In PART 2, I will delve into his characters' pop culture obsessions, their tendency to talk about a whole lot of "nothing," and his dialogue's ability to speak directly to his viewers' rascally inner-kids.

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Mike Thomas
Sep 4, 2012 11:54 AM
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I like Tarantino because his characters do talk, but I feel he ges a little too much in love with the dialogue. His best scenes are the ones that precede the action. But is pattern seems to be dialogue, action, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.

Still he's a great storyteller that knows what his actors can say well.

I look forward to Part II.
Sep 4, 2012 12:38 PM
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Thanks, Mike! Part 2 addresses some of those indulgences.

Sep 4, 2012 6:16 PM
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I've always been a big fan of Tarantino's dialogue. People don't really talk like that, but the world would be a much more entertaining place if they did.

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They Called Them The Rebel Kind
Every other Tuesday

The 90ís was one of the great decades in American Cinema, and I intend to explore it one film, genre, or director at a time.

Other Columns
Other columns by Matt Berry:

The Top 10 Most Influential Films of the 90's

Lookin'California:the Top 5 Cult Movies of the 90s

The Darkness Reaching Out For the Darkness


Let's Get Ramblin': the words of Tarantino (VOL 2)

All Columns

Matt Berry
Matt Berry is a copy writer, music journalist & occasional author of Weird Tales-inspired short fiction from Illinois who loves talking and writing about movies and music almost as much as he loves the music and the movies themselves. And the more coffee, pie, and cigarettes consumed during those discussions, the better!

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Matt Berry by clicking here.

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