Art Unchained | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Art Unchained

If you haven’t yet seen the video of Quentin Tarantino’s interview with Channel Four, I suggest you watch it now. If you are not anywhere near a computer, iPad or phone, then I’ll give you a brief synopsis: Tarantino is interviewed by Krishnan Guru-Murthy about Django Unchained. They talk about the typical things you might expect, and then Guru-Murthy says, ‘Why do you like making violent movies?’ and the interview quickly descends into a rant from Tarantino, who exclaims, ‘I’m shutting your butt down!’ and refuses to answer any more questions.

While the video is undoubtedly entertaining – I’m sure several thousand people have flocked to the internet to watch Tarantino’s ‘hissy fit’ – the interview raises a few serious questions.

Firstly, what happened to good journalism? Tarantino has been answering the same questions about violence in his films for twenty years. Since Reservoir Dogs, everyone has been speculating about the level of violence in his films and whether or not there’s a link between enjoying ‘movie violence’ and real-life violence. During every interview since then, Tarantino has had to answer at least one question about it. The journalists aren’t asking these questions because they are interested or don’t know the answers. Tarantino hits the nail on the head when he tells Guru-Murthy that he’s only asking the question ‘for you, and your show and your ratings’. If interviewers wanted to know Tarantino’s stance on violence in cinema, they would simply have to Google it.

Secondly, the interview raises questions about how we treat artists. Tarantino states that he does not want to be a ‘performing monkey’, and, quite frankly, he does not deserve to be treated as one – no artist does. The media seems to think that artists work for it, not for themselves – you only have to look at the paparazzi-celebrity relationship to realise this. There is evidently a sense of entitlement during the interview: Guru-Murthy believes that Tarantino owes him and the whole world an answer. However, as the director states, the interview is really only beneficial to him: it will promote his film, increase his ratings, make him an internet sensation and the talk of the dinner table. The media fails to recognise that it works for the artist, not vice-versa.

Thirdly, the interview raises the question of whether or not art needs to be justified. Personally, I will immediately say that it does not. A poem, a film, a novel, a painting, a photograph is a piece of art in its own right, regardless of the motives behind it, the context of its conception or the materials and technology used to produce it. Who cares if the artist spray-painted a party hat, stuck it in the middle of the Saatchi and called it art? If that’s the artist’s process, then it is art. Does Tarantino need to justify the inclusion of violence in his films? No. It’s his signature; it’s what he’s renowned for. But more than that, the violence doesn’t make his film, it is just a crucial part of it, much like pencil or pen is part of a sketch.

Do rom-com directors ever have to justify themselves for making us sit through ninety-minutes of unrealistic relationships and twists of fate?

While we’re on the subject of violence, let’s have a look at Tarantino’s. It is not pleasant - that’s undeniable – but is it gratuitous? The violence is realistic – or rather, it happens in realistic situations. Would you rip out the eyeball of a woman who was involved in a plot to murder you? Maybe. Would you, given the chance, skin the heads of some Nazis? We’d all probably like to. Were slaves forced to kill one another and thrown to dogs when they were no longer ‘useful’? Almost definitely. At times, Tarantino’s violence is hyperbolic, but he is always playing the fine line between the real and the surreal, so that it is never gratuitous and is always part of a bigger meaning. There is definitely more to Tarantino’s film than violence: in Django Unchained, Dr. King Schultz sympathises with the slaves to a great extent, perhaps even more than Django himself. The fact is, Tarantino is intelligent – to be a director he has to be. To be an artist, one requires sensitivity to the medium in which they are working, and an in-depth understanding of what they are creating. It is for that reason that we should stop questioning the motives of art and just enjoy it.

Jenna Clake is the former Online Arts Editor of Redbrick and studies English with Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. (@jennaclake)


30th January 2013 at 4:27 pm

Last Updated

30th January 2013 at 4:42 pm