The Hateful Eight
© Copyright 2020, By Austin Brookner. All Rights Reserved.
I remembered the lines. New York City always seemed to have lines of adults, standing, waiting, usually at night, for something that I knew nothing about, and my youthful mind could not comprehend what compelled those line goers to stand outside, not moving, not doing much of anything except chatting, and remain so. Now, I am one of these adults, and while I am vaguely aware of what it is that the herds are waiting for – a movie, a concert, an artisan hamburger – I still don’t understand it. Why anyone would wait and stand around like that, for something that is bound to underwhelm, is beyond me. Nevertheless, there I was on one of those lines with a friend of mine in 2015, as we went to the opening of Quentin Tarantino’s movie The Hateful Eight at Village East Cinema on 2nd Avenue, after deciding we had no better plans.
It was a decision rooted in desperation and hope – a most wretched thing – that we would find something different from the mass sea of mediocrity. Tarantino had not made a good movie since Jackie Brown, which at the time was two decades ago. When Tarantino began making good movies with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the violence was always there, but that was not what made them stand out. There was an overall different voice behind the work. Something you could tell was its own thing. Later when he got to the Kill Bill movies, the work became increasingly more and more solely about violence, which after a while gets pretty boring. I had not seen Django Unchained or Inglorious Basterds. What was I missing – black slaves killing white slave-owners? Whoa – stop the presses. Jews killing Nazis? Haven’t we had enough moon-pictures with Nazis as the bad guys? How many times they gonna do that one? Give it a rest, Hollywood. You’ll wind up making them look sympathetic. This time I thought perhaps maybe Tarantino was going back to what made him good and had gotten all the cartoonish buffoonery out of his system. Maybe we’d get something like his first three movies; fun entertainment with a devil may care attitude.
I researched The Hateful Eight on the computer beforehand in hopes that maybe my instincts would prove incorrect, and the movie would not be so terrible. All the promotion I found for the movie talked about the special type of camera that was used to shoot it. I took this as a bad sign. If all they can do to sell this flick is talk about the camera, and nothing about the movie itself, then I figured it must really suck. It didn’t take long to understand where the movie’s title was derived: after eight minutes I knew I hated it. The only saving grace of the evening was that I had my pal there to commiserate with over how bad the movie was – that and the free popcorn refill at intermission (in addition to being very bad, the movie was also very long).
The herd of moviegoers applauded at intermission. The only reason I could see for applauding would be in sarcasm, joy at there being a break, or in self-congratulations of one’s tolerance for torturous tedium. But their applause seemed to not be in the spirit of any of these, it appeared sincere. This frightened me. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the applause was merely a perfunctory act by the herd.
For most of the movie, it appeared that Tarantino tried to write a real story, with dialogue and a plot. But the dialogue was just some gumbo ya-ya, and whatever narrative there was was in such a jumbled mess that by the end he literally has to shoot his way out of it. All the movie did with any conviction is a big shoot ‘em up, gory, bloody scene where everyone blasts each other’s brains out. It spent three or fours hours (that feel like an eternity) trying to build back story and suspense where there wasn’t any, only to finally have everyone haphazardly kill each other off. All one could do is laugh at the absurdity of it. The movie’s score, written by Ennio Morricone, which unlike everything else in the movie could actually stand on its own feet, but like everything else in the movie was grossly out of place and out of context, as there was no context in the movie whatsoever that anything could possibly fit.
Tarantino’s dialogue used to stand apart from the rest as it’s own type of voice. Such as Mr. Pink’s, played by Steve Buscemi, thesis on tipping in Reservoir Dogs, or the banter between Jules and Vincent, played respectively by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. But in The Hateful Eight it is as though Tarantino thinks it is rebellious to see how many times he can put the word nigger in a white actor’s mouth. Like the over and over and over-the-top violence of the Kill Bill movies that becomes very dull very quickly, after the fiftieth or so “nigger” in The Hateful Eight it becomes clear the word is being used only to try to garner a reaction rather than as part of how a character would authentically speak. The movie was so bad I swore I would never watch another new Tarantino movie again, and true to my own word, did not stand on any goddamn line to see Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. My friend summed up the experience much more succinctly than me and my verbose grandiosity in saying: “Nice movie house. Bad film.”
The Hateful Eight was so terrible that it made me question Tarantino’s other good movies. Maybe Jackie Brown, certainly a movie that shows maturity far beyond any of his others, was an anomaly that can be attributed to two things: it is the only one of his films that is not an original story, but rather an adapted screenplay from the Elmore Leonard novel “Rum Punch”, and it is his only movie with Robert De Niro in it. Since Jackie Brown the movies seem to come from the mind of a juvenile adolescent boy who has managed to get the freedom to do whatever he wants. This would certainly explain why his movies make so much money.
Maybe it boils down to this: at some point people run out of shit to say. The best, the truly great, such as Bob Dylan and a fine bottle of port, are the few who actually continue to get better and better. I cannot recall who I heard say this, though I think it was Lou Reed. It was something to the effect that the first juice is the strongest. There is definitely a lot of truth to that. When you don’t really know what you’re doing, and haven’t been polluted yet with outside ideas and are still in your own bubble, you tend to have a better chance at coming up with something that is strong and not like everything else.
Heck, nobody can bat one thousand. Everyone is entitled to a few duds now and again. But something strange has been going on in general. And I think there is more to it than just running out of good ideas or not being able to replicate the initial creative juice. Lars von Trier made a great film with Melancholia, and every other Trier film is so god awful that it makes you look differently at Melancholia, as though it was just a big fluke. Gaspar Noe made one standout movie – Irreversible - and that’s all. His follow up had a great title, Enter The Void, and it blew. Which is odd. Rarely do you see a good title and a horrible flick. The Coen Brothers last good movie was A Serious Man and is more than a decade old now. But even in that one, there was something missing from it as compared to Fargo, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski and O’ Brother Where Art Thou? It’s been over two decades since Ghost Dog, the last good movie Jim Jarmusch has made. In music, Nick Cave is doing this “I am a poet” nonsense. His last couple albums are so embarrassingly unlistenable that they are threatening to put a stain on his entire catalogue. Mick Jagger won’t sing the complete lyrics to “Some Girls.”
Does everybody want so badly to join the self-censored herd of mediocrity? Is the force to be a part of the crowd that strong? Are these the only works that have a chance of being funded and put out because the gatekeepers will only allow works of political correctitude to be released? When one gets a smartphone does that automatically make one stupid, and part of the sea of mediocrity? Are some of these people too nice and are letting doofuses into their circle who are dragging them into the mud? Is the disease of Los Angeles to blame? And it oughtta be noted that New York City is basically turning into another Los Angeles. The difference between the two cities has increasingly become hard to discern. Nick Tosches told me that even Hubert Selby Jr., towards the end of his life, was intent on being buried at the famous Los Angeles Chinese Cemetery, and that is was one of his dying wishes. If L.A. can get to Hubert Selby Jr. then it can get to anybody.
Several years ago, maybe four or five years before I saw The Hateful Eight, I went to the movies with Nick Tosches. We went during the weekday and caught the first show of the day – 11am or 12pm noon or something like that. It was the only time that Nick would ever go to a movie theater. It was summer. Robert Mitchum was on the Johnny Carson show when doing obligatory promotion for the great movie based on the great book by George V Higgins, The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. When asked why people should see the movie Mitchum replied something along the lines of: “It comes out in August. It’ll be summer. It’ll be hot out. The movie theater is air-conditioned. You could do worse.” So Nick and I were going to the movies for the same reason.
It was a movie by the director of Memento with Leonardo Di Caprio in it. “America’s number one lead male actor,” Nick wryly said. I can’t remember the title, which tells you how memorable it was. Nick told me once that if I writer can’t do three things, which are come up with a good title, a good opening line, and a good closing line, then they can’t do the job. We sat with one or two seats between us. Each of us dozed off at separate times. Occasionally we looked over at each other and smiled and softly chuckled to ourselves in tacit agreement, signaling without words that each of us had no idea what the hell was going on in the movie, nor did we care. As we left the theater Nick said to me: “This is why guys like us don’t have a chance.” Nick saw the way things were headed. He was doing research in his last years that could have possibly turned into a book – we’ll never know. But he said if he ever did write another book he would just write the thing on his own and see if anyone wanted to buy it when he was finished. He wouldn’t do it in conjunction with any publishers.
I think the crux of the reason why there is a dearth of great works and great voices is that when there are no real, genuine life experiences to be had, where is a great work going to come from? If the adage that the truth is stranger than fiction holds, when everyone is pretty much doing the same thing and everything is pretty much all the same, then how is one going to overhear some great, hip saying, or oversee something truly out there, or come to know a one-of-a-kind crackpot from which to draw a work of authentic life and depth? Doug Stanhope touched upon this in his comedy special No Refunds. He said his generation would be the first to look upon the younger one with scorn not for how outrageous and crazy they are, but for how boring. If you can’t go on a date without having a lawyer present, how wild can you get? Believe it or not I actually used to be young and cute. I had girls I didn’t know slap my ass when I was standing on line in the school cafeteria. I had girls shout out to me: “Nice butt,” when I was going for a run. It didn’t happen that often, but when it did it was considered completely normal behavior. And at the risk of being sentenced to jail for the rest of my life, I’ll confess your honor that I’m sure I kissed girls that didn’t want to be kissed. When you’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old – this is what you’re supposed to do! You have the rest of your life to be old and boring and sit on the couch. When you’re young that’s when you should be out fucking around.
Even though I’ll never see another new Tarantino movie ever again, I’m starting to warm up to the guy. He may not be doing anything all that different or all that good anymore, but at least it seems like he’s trying. And at least he made three good movies, which is a lot more than can be said for most others around. I’m not looking for anything from this shit other than entertainment and diversion. If I can sit through something to the end than that’s good enough for me. If something comes along that is really good it’s a bonus. I just want something on in the background to be wallpaper, but for the most part, I can’t even stomach this stuff for that.
Phantom Thread and Killing Them Softly, based on the George V Higgins’s book Cogan’s Trade, were both great and are more or less recent movies. Higgins is perhaps the most under appreciated overlooked titan of American literature of the twentieth century. Phillip Roth’s last book, The Humbling, was an amazing note – slash – bang to go out on. But could a masterpiece such as Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater ever be published if it were written in today’s climate, or if he hadn’t already been established? Could a writer like Roth ever have the opportunity to establish himself today? Would anybody ever publish him? Would he have enough Facebook friends to get the interest of an agent or a publisher? Is the next Phillip Roth out there right now, in literature as well as in music and film and whatever else, and nobody will give him or her a chance to get started? Everyone has to start somewhere. You don’t get to a Sabbath’s Theater right away. I watch late night reruns of The Honeymooners and I’m thinking, would this show even be allowed to air today based on all the fat jokes? Or would it be condemned by the political correctitude mob for body-shaming?
When I look back on my life I don’t think about what I should not have done. I think about what I should have done. I should have studied less, cared less about tests and cared more about chasing skirts and taking dope when I had the chance. I should’ve raised more hell than I did. Blown my dough on whores and tailor made suits. Told more people to fuck off. Basically to have said, “fuck it” to more things. It all amounts to forgotten memories in the end. No amount of diplomas or accolades or “Thatta boy, way’ta go” ever saved someone from the graveyard. Might as well not give a shit and have some fun, do good things for good people, and tell the rest of them to blow it out their rear entrance if they give you a hard time. None of us are here for very long. Life is to be celebrated, not restrained.