I just watched Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh’s latest feature. This is a film about male strippers that stars Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer. It was the only one of Soderbergh’s films that I hadn’t yet seen and now I’ve seen it, so I’ve seen them all.
The OCD part of me is very pleased by this.
Also, I am pleased because I liked Magic Mike. It is, as I mentioned, a film about male strippers. Quite a bit of the movie is taken up by men, on stage, disrobing while thrusting and gyrating and sweating. At no point in the film could you say, “You know, I really expected to see some male stripping in this scene but Soderbergh has let me down.”
That’s part of what I love about Steven Soderbergh.
He is not the type of guy to make an exploitation film and go light on the exploitation. If he makes a B-grade martial arts picture starring Gina Carano, you will not see it and decry the lack of face pummeling and real, physical stunts. You can count on him to go all in.
But I do not particularly want to speak with you today about Soderbergh. I did that a couple of weeks ago. What I want to talk about is being cool. Specifically, I want to talk about why Quentin Tarantino isn’t cool.
And what helped me solidify this undeniable fact is Magic Mike. And, illustratively, J.J. Cale.
Let’s assume for a second that you are familiar with J.J. Cale. You know that he is the guy who wrote After Midnight and Cocaine—songs Eric Clapton made famous. You know that despite his talent, he never really found his moment in the spotlight. That when he was offered a slot on American Bandstand, he passed. They had told him his band couldn’t come to the taping and he’d have to lip-sync.
Yeah, no. He told them to get stuffed.
Undoubtedly, that makes J.J. Cale cool. Cooler, in fact, than Clapton. Because cool doesn’t ever try to tell you it’s cool. Cool doesn’t even care if you know it’s cool. Cool, like Disco Stu, doesn’t advertise.
Watching Soderbergh’s work on Magic Mike, I can’t help but feel that he’s a bit like J.J. Cale in this regard. He’s not making movies to impress you. Honestly, who’d direct a movie about male strippers if they wanted to wow the world? No one, that’s who. You make a movie about male strippers because, hey, that sounds like fun. Maybe you think, “Fuck it. Nobody takes male strippers seriously. I’m gonna thong it out to 11 just because I can.”
And that’s cool.
You don’t like male strippers? You don’t want to watch Matthew McConaughey stick his buttocks in the air provocatively? That’s fine. You’re missing out, though. Because this is a movie about real people and real people stick their buttocks in the air for money all the damn time.
Quentin Tarantino, though; that guy is an clown. Maybe you grew up with Pulp Fiction being the coolest film ever, or quoting lines from Inglourious Basterds. I can respect that. I don’t want to piss on your parade. Except fuck you and your parade.
Everything Tarantino does—whether it’s any good or not—is a big show. He’s going to make the biggest noise he can with each one of his movies, using his own mouth on screen in Dolby THX if at all possible.
It’s not enough for him to make a martial arts revenge picture, for example, he’s got to make one that gropes all of the great martial arts revenge pictures that have been made in the past fifty years. It’s going to run four hours and end with a monologue that might as well be a cheesecake shot of Quentin snuggling with a passel of tiger cubs.
Kill Bill isn’t even a martial arts revenge picture. Tarantino missed the point. He took his film—and himself—way too seriously. No one makes a martial arts revenge picture that’s so self-important. That would be like making a male stripper film with no male stripping. It just doesn’t work.
The point of a martial arts revenge picture is the martial arts and the revenge, not being cine-literate or emulating directorial styles or even casting genre players. If you put the martial arts and the revenge in secondarily, like Tarantino, then you aren’t directing a homage to the genre, you’re showing off.
Hey! Look at me! I’m really cool!
It was the same with Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse. Sure, grindhouse pictures had a lot of talking in them. Filming people talking is cheap and those films were cheap. Nobody liked the talking bits, though. That was the part of the film where you went to get more popcorn or made out with your date at the drive in. Tarantino wasn’t being authentic adding endless nattering dialogue to Death Proof; he was being boring. And no grindhouse film ever set out to be boring.
Robert Rodriguez got it. His half of the double bill—Planet Terror—was chocko with B-grade action, gore, sex, ridiculously implausible situations, and a real sense of humor. He had fun making his movie. Tarantino, with Death Proof, couldn’t stop telling us how cool he was to have any fun.
And if there’s one thing that isn’t cool, it’s telling people you’re cool.
That’s why Quentin Tarantino isn’t as cool as male strippers.
I guarantee you that no one making Magic Mike came home from the shoot and dreamed of being nominated for an Academy Award or thought he was, just maybe, a genius. It’s not that they weren’t trying to put together a damn good film, it’s just they didn’t take themselves so seriously. Magic Mike is so unconcerned with being cool that it couldn’t be cooler.
I think you should see it.