QT8: The First Eight Review
Whether you’re a fan of Quentin Tarantino or not, you can’t deny he’s one of the most exciting filmmakers around today, his pitch-perfect writing and the rich, complex worlds he creates prove him to be an engaging writer-director consistently at the top of his game. With a filmography that covers a vast array of genres, his incredible, varied narratives have continued to evolve as he builds up his Tarantino Universe, the latest addition being the wonderful, deeply melancholic Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). And it’s this journey that Tara Wood explores in QT8: The First Eight (2019) – a fascinating documentary all about Tarantino and his earlier works, as well as the endless appeal that his stories seem to have.
Wood wisely breezes past Tarantino’s formative years (his job in a video store and screenwriting success with True Romance (1993)) to get to the good stuff here, recognising that the appeal of her documentary isn’t a simple biography of the filmmaker, but rather a detailed dissection of the actual films themselves. And it’s a structure that works incredibly well. Using chapter headings that Tarantino himself would be proud of, Wood groups his films together to show how his narratives have progressed over the years, from his earlier crime stories, to those featuring fascinating female characters, to those later tales of revenge.
Talking to the cast and crew who’ve worked with Tarantino, we’re given an intriguing, behind-the-scenes perspective into his films, everyone joyfully discussing his writing and directing process, as well as what they most admire about him. There’s many a hilarious anecdote to be shared about their time spent with him too (Eli Roth’s Death Proof (2007) story is a doozy), the quirky cartoon sequences that Wood uses to illustrate some of these really adding to the humour of these moments. Yet beyond this, these interviews also act as a handy visual who’s who guide to Tarantino’s filmography, Wood using onscreen icons to indicate which of his films each person has worked on – a nice touch that makes this so much more engaging than the usual talking head segments.
Pairing these lively discussions with clips from Tarantino’s films and brilliant, never-before-seen making-of footage ensures QT8 is never dull, highlights being the intense stunts Uma Thurman, Zoë Bell and Lucy Liu tackle for Kill Bill (2003 and 2004), and the Sally shout-outs he records between scenes (little moments of the actors turning to the screen to say “Hi” to the late, great editor Sally Menke). Yet often what’s most interesting is when the people being interviewed dig deeper into Tarantino’s worlds and stories, offering their own takes on what makes his works so appealing to viewers. While there’s the usual discussion of his macabre humour, gory violence, genre homages and female characterisation, actually hearing from those who’ve worked with him gives us rare, direct insight into these subjects, producer Stacey Sher in particular going into a lot of detail about them, as well as how he’s grown as a filmmaker in recent years.
It’s these more extensive discussions that prevent Wood’s documentary from becoming a mere hero-worshipping piece for the writer-director, Wood also keen to explore how much his regular contributors have been responsible for the success of his films. After all, filmmaking is a collaborative process. The aforementioned Sally Menke is rightfully discussed in detail, her editing skills and ability to rein in Tarantino’s bigger narratives stated as the reason his earlier works were so well-received. Yet it’s the actors he chooses who often bring something truly special to his stories, producer Richard Gladstein telling us that Tarantino is more than happy to step back and let his characters be infused by the person who plays them. Indeed, it’s wonderful to hear how much Tarantino understands that his films would be nothing without the other people who help create them, something that has clearly attributed to the joyful on-set environment that many of the cast and crew talk about here (Sher even says that some of the crew members from Reservoir Dogs (1992) are still happily working with him).
Of course, there’s a huge shadow that hangs over this documentary throughout, and also over several of Tarantino’s films as we look back at them. That would be the looming figure of Harvey Weinstein – Tarantino’s long-time producer who is currently under investigation for several horrific cases of sexual abuse. While we expect Wood to shy away from this, she instead bravely tackles it head on with a frank discussion of Weinstein’s abuse of power, showing how this vile man using his position to prey on hundreds of women. Sure, it’s not the most comprehensive discussion on the subject, and most of the talking has been left to Michael Madsen (who says he understands why none of the women came forward at the time), but it’s still a bold and necessary thing to include here, especially since it’s a story that seems far from over.
Wood is also careful to share balanced opinions of Tarantino as a director by looking into the other controversies associated with him, talking with Diane Kruger about the filming of Inglourious Basterds (2009) when he actually strangled her for a scene (she seems oddly ok with this now), and the horrific car crash Thurman had during a stunt for Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004). Although Thurman is sadly missing from this documentary and therefore unable to tell her side of the story, others discuss it in her place, many of them recognising how irresponsible it was (particularly as there was no stunt team present that day), and how deeply regretful Tarantino is that it happened. It might make us view Tarantino in a new, negative light, but Wood knows it’s best to show the whole picture rather than pretend it never happened.
While Thurman not making an appearance here seems like an oversight (after all she co-created the character of The Bride for Kill Bill), there are others who are also sadly not included when they almost certainly should be. Many of his regular collaborators might be present (Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Christoph Waltz, Zoë Bell) but the lack of actors from his earlier works makes it feel as if we breeze past these parts a little too quickly, particularly the Jackie Brown (1997) segment which would have really benefitted from an interview with Pam Grier about her iconic central role. For this reason, QT8 doesn’t always feel like the most extensive documentary that it could and should be, those missing interviews a flaw in an otherwise interesting piece. Of course, there’s an even bigger name who doesn’t appear in Wood’s film: Tarantino himself. Having the chance to hear directly from him about his works and filmmaking process would have made this a real treat, especially because he’s always so enthusiastic about the world of cinema. But I suppose that will have to wait until another time.
With plenty of enthusiastic talking heads and fun titbits you’ve never heard of before (particularly about Tarantino’s way of working), this is an informative documentary that Tarantino fans, and others, will enjoy watching. Is there room for a more comprehensive film about the writer-director and his works further down the line? Almost certainly, least of all because he’s still making them. But for now, QT8 is a great documentary that is perfectly paced and consistently entertaining, and which leaves you eager to go back and watch his films with fresh eyes.
QT8: The First Eight is in Cinemas and on Digital HD from 13th December 2019, and on DVD and Blu-ray from 16th December 2019.