QT8: The Poster

How you end up feeling about QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT depends a lot on how you felt about Quentin Tarantino already. Fans with a hunger for anecdotes will likely enjoy the 100 or so minute survey of his directorial career. The documentary even makes time for mentions of his first two sold scripts, TRUE ROMANCE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS. For those interested in, perhaps, a more in-depth or challenging exploration of the writer/director’s work? QT8 will rarely if ever leave them feeling fulfilled.

QT8: Video Store Daze
Tarantino around the time he sold his first script, RESERVOIR DOGS, as scene in QT8. (Courtesy of Entertainment Squad)

QT8 Feels Like A Chill Hang

The problem lies not with the quality of material on-screen. Director Tara Wood and her team have selected an excellent range of Tarantino collaborators. All seem plenty happy to discuss him as both genius and enthusiast. Some of the stories are likely to be familiar to any Tarantino fan. Still, the doc features enough stories or on-set that viewers will likely find at least one anecdote new to them.

It often gives the movie the feel of hanging out at party with lots of friendly strangers. Sure, you’ve just met them. They are cool though and they love to talk about their buddy Q. If Quentin won’t be showing up at this party, this is surely the next best thing.

The Shallow End

However, as anyone who has paid attention to film this year know, Tarantino is a controversial figure. In fact, he might be as controversial as ever now. The handwringing about his ultra-violence has largely faded, but that does not mean he does not still offer a range of reasons for people to question the necessity of many of his choices.

To the documentary’s credit, many of these controversies are referenced either directly or glancingly. There are moments where Tarantino’s arguably gratuitous use of the “n-word,” his recklessness with Uma Thurman on KILL BILL, and his relationship to Harvey Weinstein all are noted.

The film does not engage with the biggest criticism as of late, the treatment of women in HATEFUL EIGHT and ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. Given that HOLLYWOOD is only mentioned as his current project, this makes sense. However, the docalso stresses how many incredible, strong women characters he has created over the years. In light of the past year, accidentally or not, this reads as a sort of backdoor pushback on that narrative.

However, this engagement feels so very thin. These are complex issues, but the movie would have you believe that almost no know thinks they’re valid.

QT8: Talking Heads as Hagiography

It does not take long to see the pattern. Concerns are raised, touched briefly, and then immediately shuffled offstage by a tangentially related topic. For instance, Michael Madsen narrates the movie’s largest section about Harvey Weinstein. In it, Madsen seems to get a full head of steam going and begins to talk about the scandal in a straight ahead manner. He addresses Tarantino’s possible complacency and the pain all of Weinstein’s victims had to be living with. Then abruptly, the tone shifts for an anecdote about Weinstein at Cannes. The story is interesting, certainly, and insightful about the kind of guy the producer could be. In some ways, it shows how invasive his need to control spread beyond his work and women. However, it closes often a fascinating area to be explored just as it seems to be going somewhere.

At other times, the movie just piles up head after head refusing to see how a criticism could be valid, even if they disagree with it. This is the approach to the “n-word” section, where collaborator after collaborator excuse the white filmmaker for his love of peppering his script with the slur. The closest we come to a counterpoint is a mention of Spike Lee’s objections to it followed by an extended bit of Jamie Foxx mocking Lee for his position.

QT8: Quotable
QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT never has interviews with Tarantino in it, but presents his quotes interstitially in this style. (Courtesy of Entertainment Squad)

Words on the Screen

Sometimes, the controversy cannot be denied or shuffled away. For example, the story of how Uma Thurman ended up with permanent injuries during the filming of KILL BILL. Over footage of Thurman in a car, taken from the backseat, a chyron explains both what happened and Tarantino’s expression of regret. That this regret only was expressed years later when the accident was exposed is not commented on.

The image is distressing. Thurman’s body lolls left and right. As others enter the frame, the concern and fear amongst everyone becomes clear. However, the film shies away from exploring what it means to Tarantino’s reputation as a man who respects women and strives to give them good roles. It barely notes how it destroyed his close friendship to Thurman herself. In fact, the film, time and again, show pictures of the director and the star together at various events, smiling and supporting each other. Even with stunt artist Zoe Bell as one of the talking heads, the doc remains frustratingly incurious about the event.

Again, this movie should not be about burying Tarantino. However, by refusing to engage in some of the more ambivalent aspects of his work and relationships, the film denies itself depth. How can I appreciate a filmmaker in total when you insist on showing me some little of his true self?

QT8 Tells It With Style

Talking heads documentaries are, by their design, difficult to spice up visually. Wood does dip into the usual bag of tricks — behind the scenes footage, still photos, newspaper headlines, and bits of his screenplays projected on the screen. It is predictable, but it works. They wouldn’t be familiar if they did not achieve some measure of success.

She also utilizes occasionally animated scenes that are probably the smartest stylistic choices. These moments also account for the closest Tarantino comes to being actually alive in the film. While his friends relate tales of him, we see his animated avatar recreate the moments. While not direct, no other moments come as close to giving us some sense of the director beyond his work.

QT8: Hateful Eight
Quentin lines up his shot in behind the scene footage in QT8: THE FIRST EIGHT. (Courtesy of Entertainment Squad)

That’s a Wrap

As I noted in the beginning, your enjoyment of this documentary lies a lot in expectations. If you only want a kind of living scrapbook of Tarantino’s first movies, you will find plenty to enjoy here. If, however, you want a film that has insight into its subject, that explores the controversies of his work with insight, QT8 will only frustrate. It knows what is controversial about Quentin Tarantino but it stubbornly refuses to engage with why.

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