"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

USA 1 - The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)

Monday, 22 February 2016 11:58

Gonzalo de Pedro Amatria


Coming Home

In his book The American planet(El planeta americano), the Spanish essayist and philosopher Vicente Verdú tried to define, or at least understand, the essence of this country called the United States, contradictory, hateful and fascinating at the same time, a country that seems to ignore the rest of the world while plays as an attentive guardian of the international balance; a country where the nationality, rather than an identity is a religion, a belief, and where anyone can become a US citizen just by embracing the faith with enough strength, "America - Verdú write - is like a combination of the entire world to the mythical composition of a new world, and become American would not mean as much to acquire a nationality but to embrace a higher mythology. Someone, in the past, could be Romanian or Vietnamese, but now, once there, he is American. In fact, the history of the United States seems to never lock back, with its inevitable shadows -genocide, slavery, Great Depression - but always looking to a clear future. In the popular belief, America is not only the modernity but the continued future and the beginning of a human superfuture”.


Somehow, Quentin Tarantino seems embarked on a similar project, and his new movie (the eighth of his film career, according to the credits, the ninth, according to IMBD), The Hateful Eight, could be called also American planet, because its almost demonic duration, its grand dimension, its boundless daring and ambition are hidden, among other things, an attempt to understand what it is, where it comes from and how it was build that nation called United States of America: an inquiry into the roots of that mythology which Verdú spoked about, ranging from popular music to racial identity, working with accents, dialects, mixing the myth of the eternal conquest, the self-made man myth, the role of women, blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities in the construction of this social imaginary. Encompassed in that genre of Tarantino movies that can be called “chamber films” (as Reservoir Dogs, the beginning of Death Proof or Inglourious Basterds), movies or passages in which Tarantino holds his characters in isolated spaces, cut off from the outside to confront dialectically, in a crescendo of verbal tension, The Hateful Eight is a purification of what Tarantino has been working over his first films: the exploration of mise en scene as a tool for design and construction of the world, the endless possibilities of the most basic elements of film language: words, bodies, space, and the camera as a demiurge who creates meaning, controls the time, the information, and makes the story move forward, little by little, letter by letter, shot by shot. While a superficial analysis of his films would notice the finesse, the rhythm and the humor of the dialogue, a real analysis should pay attention to the camera, because, through a group of staging decisions, is the final responsible of everything that happens on the screen. In other words, it is the camera, their movements, and it’s relation with space and shot, who drags his films and makes them much more than clever scripts. It is in that mise en scene and spatial direction that we should understand the decision to shoot and distribute (in the few theaters that have not rejected the filmic technologies) the film in 70mm celluloid, and in a format wide-screen format called Ultra Panavision, also known as Camera 65, which was not used since 1966. A decision that make much more complicate the shooting, forcing the production to recover obsolete lenses, and complicate the distribution in an industry that has turned its back on analog technology: is not a matter of creating spectacular images, but a way to build and explore the boundaries and the possibilities of the framing as a constructor of meaning and narrative. The ultra-wide images are not empty images, but they are the vehicle for the ideas, the way that the film deals with the past of the country and the tension between violence and dialogue and the impossibility of reconciliation. Everything fits in this ultra-wide image, and everything is possible inside them: word, and action, shot and reverse shot, background and detail, the main and secondary, the mobile and the immobile, the space and the characters, the present and the past and the future.

Those seeking another hallmarks of Tarantino, the aberrant movements, the all-seeing cameras, the eternal travellings will find a especially tense and still camera shooting a situation of change, an internal struggle between progress and standing, between progress and reactionary, between violence and dialogue, word and deed. This review of American myth passes through politics and unresolved opposition between word and deed, between dialogue and violence, between movement and immobility: tripod, still image, (apparent) stillness of the staging are the vehicle used by Tarantino to talk about the dialectical tension in a country with open wounds.



 The proposal of the film is so extreme, three hours for a film in two spaces, that the reaction of the critics has been in some cases furious; one of the most repeated, and fallacious, critic says that Tarantino has gone from others remix to the remix of himself. And, in a sense,The Hateful Eight might seem a self-remake of Reservoir Dogs, because both two films are beckettians studies about offscreen, about waiting, about stillness, about what happens outside and remains invisible, what happens inside and how it happens, both are studies on the cinema of the mise en scene, both are films about an enclosed space, frozen in time, and characters waiting for something external to end the situation. It might seem a self-remake, we said, but in reality is the claim that all, or nearly all, what interested to Tarantino was contained in that first film, and the passage of time has only place him in the position to re-do it unfettered: Tarantino, probably the only author in the modern sense of the term that still lives in the increasingly icy waters of the industry, has reached the point in his career where he can shoot what he want, and how he want. And he has provided an immense artistic display serving something apparently minimal, eight characters, one or two spaces, the shot, the framing, the space and the tension. If Death Proof was a personal laboratory of unfinished forms, The Hateful Eight is a sovereign study of word and action, space and time, camera and characters. On film, in short. The past cinema and especially the future cinema. Others have tried, but only Tarantino arrives home, the space of myth, like Roy Orbison said in the thrilling song credits, “Listen all you people / Try and understand / You may be a soldier / Woman, child or man / But there won’t be many coming home / No, there won’t be many coming home / Oh, there won’t be many / Maybe ten out of twenty / But there won’t be many coming home”.



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