Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood just received a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy.” Not only that, but Tarantino picked up a Best Director nomination as well. If you haven’t seen it, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a nostalgic love letter to movies, a look back at mythic Hollywood and the films that made Tarantino the filmmaker he is today. So what better time to release a documentary that looks back at Tarantino’s work, right?
That’s what Tara Wood attempts to do with QT8: The First Eight. The documentary is not an intimate biography nor an exhaustive career retrospective, but rather a general look at the eight films that Tarantino directed prior to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It’s not overly critical, nor does it explore the films’ deeper themes, so it might leave the hardcore fan seeking more. But QT8: The First Eight is packed with enough behind-the-scenes info and cast/crew insight to satisfy the curiosity of the fledgling Tarantino fan, or even devotees looking to bask in the glow of the films and the director for another hour and a half.
Wood, who released a similar career retrospective with 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014), borrows Tarantino’s own framing technique here, breaking up the eight films into segments. Chapter Two, for example, is titled “Badass Women & Genre Play,” examining Jackie Brown, Kill Bill and Death Proof. Each film gets more or less the same level of analysis. There’s some behind-the-scenes information presented, talking head style. Some real stars show up — Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Foxx, Michael Madsen — but there are just as many that don’t (e.g. John Travolta, Uma Thurman). Along with the stars, producers like longtime collaborator Richard N. Gladstein lend a voice, but loyal Tarantino fans won’t find much new information in QT8: The First Eight. However, Wood does offer new and revealing interviews with key players who offer insight on everything from costumes to Tarantino’s playful on-set energy.
Visually, QT8: The First Eight looks good, as Wood and company emulate the gritty, grindhouse style of Tarantino’s films, complete with faux cigarette burns in the titles. Retro-style animation sequences dramatize events never caught on film, like the time that Tarantino and Death Proof cast members drank shots into the wee hours of the morning. QT8: The First Eight isn’t one of those shoddy, “unauthorized” docs that appear so often. It’s a clean, professional production.
More than anything, QT8: The First Eight is a celebration. But there’s no thesis presented, nor are there any major takeaways other than that Tarantino is an eclectic and “genius” director who carved out his own path. And there is only passing mention of his other filmmaking work, like Natural Born Killers and True Romance.
Wood heads into dark territory a few times throughout QT8: The First Eight, and these scenes are, without a doubt, record-scratch moments. First, there’s the accident during the filming of Kill Bill that resulted in actress Uma Thurman being injured. But that’s nothing compared to the many mentions of Harvey Weinstein, who produced Tarantino films through Miramax. Weinstein’s shadow looms large over Tarantino’s career, and he can’t go unmentioned, but QT8: The First Eight certainly takes a jarring turn in these moments.
For the Tarantino disciple, the ones who know every single flick referenced in his movies, QT8: The First Eight might seem lacking. Tarantino is a movie fanatic, so it’s somewhat odd to watch a documentary that’s so middle-of-the-road, so unreflective of his gonzo, frenetic style. It’s also instantly dated. What good is an overview of Tarantino’s career without a look at the big hit that was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
QT8: The First Eight is a serviceable, well-edited survey of Tarantino’s filmography prior to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
John Brhel (@johnbrhel) is an author and pop culture writer from upstate New York. He is the co-author of several books of horror/paranormal fiction, including Corpse Cold: New American Folklore and Resurrection High, and the co-founder of independent book publisher Cemetery Gates Media. He enjoys burritos and has seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom way too many times.