not in our stars, but in ourselves
You might have heard that Quentin Tarantino sat down for an interview with Bret Easton Ellis recently. It was ostensibly for The New York Times Style Magazine October 25 issue, titled “The Greats,” featuring nice photoshoots and medium-length interviews with a variety of “greats” – some who’ve earned that title (Steve McQueen), some who’ve shammed their way into it (Jonathan Franzen). Tarantino’s interview was really promotion for his upcoming movie, The Hateful Eight. Now, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with insidious movie promotion, not usually. However, Tarantino was supposedly half in the bag when Ellis showed up to interview him, and he was especially chatty. I’ll let him damn himself with his own words, which I’m sure you’ve all heard by now:
We touch on this year’s Oscars and the supposed Oscar snubbing of Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King movie ‘‘Selma,’’ which caused a kind of national sentimental-narrative outrage, compounded by the events in Ferguson, and which branded the Academy voters as old and out-of-it racists — despite the fact that ‘‘12 Years a Slave’’ had won Best Picture the year before. Tarantino shrugs diplomatically: ‘‘She did a really good job on ‘Selma’ but ‘Selma’ deserved an Emmy.’’ ‘‘Django Unchained,’’ with its depictions of antebellum-era institutionalized racism and Mandingo fights and black self-hatred, is a much more shocking and forward-thinking movie than ‘‘Selma,’’ and audiences turned it into the biggest hit of Tarantino’s career. But it was also attacked for, among other things, being written and directed by a white man.
Such controversy is not new to Tarantino. ‘‘If you’ve made money being a critic in black culture in the last 20 years you have to deal with me,’’ he says. ‘‘You must have an opinion of me. You must deal with what I’m saying and deal with the consequences.’’ He pauses, considers. ‘‘If you sift through the criticism,’’ he says, ‘‘you’ll see it’s pretty evenly divided between pros and cons. But when the black critics came out with savage think pieces about ‘Django,’ I couldn’t have cared less. If people don’t like my movies, they don’t like my movies, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter. The bad taste that was left in my mouth had to do with this: It’s been a long time since the subject of a writer’s skin was mentioned as often as mine. You wouldn’t think the color of a writer’s skin should have any effect on the words themselves. In a lot of the more ugly pieces my motives were really brought to bear in the most negative way. It’s like I’m some supervillain coming up with this stuff.’’ But Tarantino is an optimist: ‘‘This is the best time to push buttons,’’ he says a few minutes later. ‘‘This is the best time to get out there because there actually is a genuine platform. Now it’s being talked about.’’
After a fair amount of backlash, Tarantino sent a letter of clarification to Indiewire (censure enough in itself) to explain that he’s never actually seen Selma, and it’s not such a bad thing to say that it looked more like a TV movie, and anyway it was Bret who said the mean thing in the first place. Read the passage above again. It’s entirely possible that Ellis is just a sloppy, imprecise writer, and he attributed his own quote to Tarantino – but it certainly looks like QT was the one who said Selma deserved an Emmy instead of an Oscar. Ellis also offered his own dumbass opinions of television, perhaps based on things Tarantino said, but perhaps just Ellis’s asinine commentary:
We talk about the differences between TV and movies, and how TV relies on a kind of relentless storytelling whose main job is to constantly dispense information, while movies depend much more on mood and atmosphere — TV is a writers’ medium and movies are a directors’ medium. Even in the Golden Age of Television, the notion of TV as art is now considered something of a media-made joke that is finally being publicly deconstructed by critics, journalists and showrunners alike. The best TV shows still have sets that look a little ragged and threadbare because of the reality of TV economics — and to Tarantino this matters. The bigness of his recent movies — ‘‘Inglourious Basterds,’’ ‘‘Django Unchained’’ and now ‘‘The Hateful Eight’’ — feels like a rebuke to the smallness of TV and its increasing relevance to audiences, a fight against watching a series of medium shots and close-ups on your computer, your iPad and your iPhone. The belief in visual spectacle is part of Tarantino’s message in the era of Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
I mean, I don’t have to tell you how stupid that is. You know. If you’ve watched any cable or streaming programming in the past couple of years, you know that television is often more interesting, challenging, dynamic, and rewarding than 75% of Hollywood’s movie output. And while your screen at home may be smaller than that of your local multiplex, it’s probably not a staticky little cube, either – as Ellis and/or Tarantino seem to imagine.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed many Tarantino movies, very much. Inglourious Basterds is one of my all-time favorites. I doubt I would enjoy being in the same room with him, regardless of his “encyclopedic” knowledge of film history. He sounds like an out-of-touch prick, a tendency that I’m sure Ellis exacerbates. (I tried reading American Psycho, because I like the movie so much. I think I made it 70 pages before I rolled my eyes and threw it aside. For a man who hates women as much as he does, he owes a LOT to Mary Harron, the director of his book’s movie, and thus the mitigating factor in the book’s reputation.)
That wasn’t the only egregious interview in this particular issue, however. While the other “Greats” were interviewed by mostly respectable journalists and academics, Rihanna was interviewed by Miranda July. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love Rihanna. Her songs are great, her style is visionary, and her story – from manipulated teenager to pop star to abuse victim to icon – is inspiring, frankly. In interviews, she’s always smart, funny, and anti-bullshit. She says what she thinks. As such, she deserves much better than being interviewed by twee, boring, annoying, navel-gazing wastes of skin like Miranda July. It’s supposed to be a profile of Rihanna, correct? And yet, we get more information about Ms. July than Rihanna – unless you count physical details, which July reports with fetishistic detail:
Souls are funny things. They stay constant even when the outside changes, or when the heart makes mistakes. Souls don’t really care about good or bad, right or wrong — they’re just true. Everlasting. It makes you sound dumb to talk about this stuff, which is why no one could tell me exactly what it was about Rihanna. But millions of fans don’t seem to need it explained to them. A soul just knows a soul. I never told you she was pretty because that’s not what I experienced. My understanding, from the moment she sat down, was that we were in love. We were the most in love any two people had ever been. The sun was finally setting. We’d been talking for almost two hours. […]
Night fell as we drove across Los Angeles. It took hours to get to Rihanna, but I was home in half that time — too soon. Oumarou and I agreed to keep in touch and waved goodbye. Before stepping inside my house, I lifted my blouse to my face; her perfume was still there. The problem with this kind of romance is that it all falls apart in the retelling. My husband and 3-year-old son tried but couldn’t really understand how overwhelming and profound my connection with Rihanna was. And I’ll admit that as the days go by, even I am beginning to doubt whether our time together meant quite as much to her as it did to me. It doesn’t matter. My heart still jumps every time I see her face.
I’m sorry I just made you all read that, but I need to show you what I mean. What kind of self-indulgent bullshit is this? This passes muster with the Times now? I mean, I have lots of opinions about unimportant things. I used to fall deeply in love with fictional characters when I was a kid. Should I start a column? Seems like they’ll take just about anything these days.
Look, I get it, in some ways. We live in dumb, clickbaity times. There’s a lot of name-brand recognition in interviews with currently relevant people (Rihanna, QT) performed by formerly relevant people (oh, sorry, I forgot that July and Ellis have active Twitter accounts). But why can’t we hope for better things, especially from an institution as self-important as the Times? Why not have Tarantino interviewed by McQueen, and watch the former sweat a bit?
Why not have Rihanna interviewed by Beyoncé? Why can’t the Times get someone to interview celebrities without spewing all kinds of imbecilic internalized misogyny? Why don’t they just let Wesley Morris interview everyone? Why not find writers with insight, writers who can read their subjects, writers who know how to avoid making a celebrity profile about their own bizarre hangups? Times powers-that-be, I am available. I’m not great, but fuck it, I’m better than any of the trash previously cited in this post. Drop me a line. Let’s see what we can do.