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Laughing at Your Frustration
May 28, 2004 — 1:15 am

Noah Berlatsky makes an excellent observation about the nature of Quentin Tarantino’s films (via Jesse Walker on the FilmFlam list):

Discussions of Tarantino’s work usually reduce him to an obsessive movie fan. His films are an excuse to show off what he knows, the argument goes; at his best he merely reproduces the stylistic tics of his heroes. So for Denby, when Gordon Liu comes off as “a prancing little snit” it’s a mistake — martial arts masters should be treated with respect, right?

But in fact Tarantino’s refusal to fulfill genre expectations is the reason to watch him. He doesn’t want to make a Hong Kong action movie or a blaxploitation flick; he wants to have a conversation about one. And that’s what his movies seem like: long, dramatic arguments with other filmmakers and other films. For me the most enjoyable part of Jackie Brown was Tarantino’s treatment of Robert De Niro, whose inept, henpecked bad dude took the piss out of decades of macho posturing — this guy, Tarantino seems to say, is just another honky who wants to be tough. Likewise, in Pulp Fiction the thugs so celebrated by Scorsese and Coppola are presented as sitcom buffoons.

I’ve never thought about it in those terms, but this may be one of the primary reasons I like Tarantino — and, for that matter, why I like Andy Kaufman. It amuses me when anyone frustrates audience expectations. The joke is on us.

Remember Tom Green’s movie Freddie Got Fingered? By almost every account, this was a horrible film; I don’t think I read a single positive review. But I had fun seeing it in the theater, watching the discomfort and revulsion of the other members of the audience. Tom Green’s comedy works on TV because we get to laugh at him annoying unsuspecting people on TV. I think people hated the movie because they were no longer in on the joke — they were the joke. Tom Green was annoying them. So I think the movie only worked for people who realized this and were suddenly in on the joke again — getting to watch Tom Green annoy unsuspecting people in the audience who didn’t realize that this time they were the objects of ridicule. Suckers.

I don’t think I’d enjoy watching it at home, though, because I can’t laugh at other audience members if I’m the only one there . . .

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

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Eric D. Dixon

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