Tarantino mimicked, rarely equaled

Cinema got mashed up by his pulverizing of pop

If the 17 years since “Reservoir Dogs” have taught us nothing else about cinema, it’s that only Quentin Tarantino can make a Tarantino movie. But that hasn’t stopped scores of other directors from trying.

As a result, the past two decades are littered with wannabes, including such half-forgotten films as “2 Days in the Valley,” “3000 Miles to Graceland” and “The Way of the Gun.”

To their credit, a fair number of helmers launched their careers taking cues from Tarantino, then had the good sense to branch off in their own direction. Kevin Smith added sex talk to the idea of long pop-culture conversations. Guy Ritchie riffed on British gangster pics the way Tarantino did ’70s-era crime movies, amping up his nonlinear style in the process. And the self-consciously cool characters in Doug Liman’s “Swingers” and “Go” seemed to think they were in a Tarantino movie, before Liman went the action route with “The Bourne Identity.”

But the vast majority stalled out at mere imitation. It took Troy Duffy a decade to follow up his derivative debut, “The Boondock Saints,” “Smokin’ Aces” director Joe Carnahan is stuck trying to out-Tarantino Tarantino, and Martin Brest hasn’t directed a movie since “Gigli.”

Tarantino made such an impression that his name instantly became an adjective, never more all-encompassing than a review of “The Red Violin” that insisted arthouse director Francois Girard’s style “can only be described as Tarantino-esque.”

Of course, Tarantino would be the first to admit the debt he owes other directors. The master recycler branded his production company A Band Apart — a nod to Jean-Luc Godard, the original film-buff-turned-helmer to observe that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order — and outstrips even Joe Bob Briggs as cult cinema’s most vocal champion.

Whereas Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma (magpie directors in their own right) borrowed from the greats, Tarantino admitted early on, “I steal from every movie ever made.” He popularized the notion that even rotten films have inspired moments to offer, dedicating his post-“Pulp Fiction” career to crafting big-budget homages to blaxploitation (“Jackie Brown”), kung fu (“Kill Bill”), grindhouse (“Death Proof”) and macaroni combat movies (“Inglourious Basterds”).

More than anything, Tarantino became the poster boy for the geek-chic sensibility that dominates online film discussion today. He convinced filmmakers and film audiences that it was OK for movies to be talky, while teaching them how to talk about movies in a different way.

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