It is hard not to be entertained by QT8: The First Eight, a feature-length documentary chronicling the first eight films written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, featuring interviews with the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The clips are a reminder of the still-startling brilliance of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the slow-burn sensuality of Jackie Brown, and the two-part powerhouse that is Kill Bill. Significant time is spent on Inglorious Bastards and Django Unchained, and two films most in need of reappraisal—Death Proof and The Hateful Eight—are given proper respect.
As the title lays out, do not, however, expect insight into Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood as the ninth film from Tarantino is barely mentioned. Considering that Hollywood might be the finest film of his career (yep, I said it), one imagines a supplement to the documentary might already be around the corner. There is a much more impactful absence than Once Upon a Time, though. Missing in action in QT8 is (drum roll, please) … Quentin Tarantino himself. His voice is heard often in old interview clips and on-set footage, but even with the many, many key figures interviewed, the absence of new commentary from Tarantino is a tremendous disappointment. This is what keeps QT8 goes from being no more insightful than a Blu-ray featurette rather than an essential, confessional deep dive in line with the likes of De Palma.
Director Tara Wood’s previous documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater was similarly entertaining and star-packed. Yet, just like QT8, it felt like a skin-deep profile. Linklater was not interviewed, and his absence was felt. But it’s even more pronounced in the case of Tarantino. He is, after all, the larger-than-life cinema obsessive who became, as Roth puts it, “the voice of his generation.” His old friend, screenwriter Scott Spiegel, says it even better. He describes the filmmaker as “an overzealous geek, with the talent to back it up.” The presence of that overzealous geek may have turned QT8 into something special.
The film runs in chronological order, hitting all of the expected QT beats. Even these, however, fail to dive deep. We hear of his infamous Golden Girls appearance and residuals, but spend little time on Video Archives. His childhood is dispensed with a few (admittedly fascinating) anecdotes. (We do, however, hear of his love for TV’s Moesha thanks to Zoe Bell.) The interest for Wood is, without question, the films and the casting rather than a more personal look at how the director’s sensibilities were formed.
One of QT8’s most touching moments comes when the late Robert Forster explains how Tarantino cast him as Jackie Brown’s aging bail bondsman, Max Cherry. It was a slow period, Forster says, with good roles seemingly few and far between. Tarantino knew the actor well from Medium Cool and his television work. Yet even though QT had already resurrected the career of John Travolta, the humble, self-deprecating Forster assumed there was no way the studio would allow Tarantino to cast him. He assumed incorrectly; as he told Forster, “I hire anybody I want.” Tarantino earned that right, and thanks to those instincts, Forster’s post-Jackie Brown career was extraordinarily consistent.
Without Tarantino, the most compelling, funny, genuinely moving figure onscreen is the star of Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and The Hateful Eight: the mighty Michael Madsen. He speaks with sincerity of the effect Dogs had on his career, while also sharing the story of he and Roth literally sticking together with fake blood after a hug. Madsen’s greatest stories and insights involve Harvey Weinstein. One of the highlights is a strangely hilarious tale involving Madsen, Tarantino, Weinstein, Weinstein’s young daughter, and her doll; the ending is both laugh-out-loud funny and fear-inducing. Madsen is the straightest shooter here, and his comments on Weinstein are as stinging as they should be. The actor deserves his own documentary or one-man show.
To Wood’s credit, Weinstein is not ignored. In fact, he dominates the film’s final stretch. Wood also spends time on Tarantino’s devastatingly wrong-headed decision to have Thurman drive during a dangerous scene from Kill Bill. The actress had an accident, and the physical effects are still there. It would not have been shocking to see the incident—and the actual footage—not included in QT8. But this, coupled with the director’s failure to act on what he knew about Weinstein, help the documentary to not fall into a simple hagiographic portrait.
QT8 is a breezy look at one of cinema’s most important, influential, and consistent filmmakers, and worth a watch for its interviews with compelling folks like Madsen and Jackson. Do not, however, expect a film that changes the way you see the man or his work. There is a great documentary still to be made on Tarantino. That one, I expect, will be driven by the director’s own inimitable voice, and will come many years after his supposed 10th and final film.
QT8: The First Eight is now available on VOD.