If the films of Quentin Tarantino have one thing in common – in addition to large amounts of explicit and well-choreographed violence – it would be the formalistic style he uses in telling his stories. Common to “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” the “Kill Bill” films, and “Inglourious Basterds” is the intricate manner in which the director and his editors compile scenes into a coherent whole, involving innumerable flashbacks and story-related asides, as well as the use of music to complement scenes. The history of film is the history of storytelling through moving images. The stories played out in a straightforward linear manner. With the 1941 release of Orson Welles’ classic “Citizen Kane,” directors – most notably French auteur and film critic Francois Truffault -- began to appreciate the artistic freedom involved in manipulating storyline through flashbacks and story-enhancing cuts that enabled viewers to follow the story without use of conventional and sometimes tedious conventions. While “Citizen Kane” was considered controversial and innovative for its time, stylistic variations are common in contemporary cinema.
Ever since Sergei Eisenstein’s classic 1925 film “Battleship Potemkin,” Russian film directors employed cinematic techniques that were more unconventional than their American peers prior to the Second World War (or, as known in Russia, the Great Patriotic War). Photographic montages, camera angles, nonlinear storytelling, use of close-ups – but all in the service of telling a conventional story with a political purpose. Both “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” are representative of a formalistic approach to filmmaking in their strident denunciation of political developments, use of nonlinear storytelling, and unconventional camera techniques. Both films are revenge fantasies of what Tarantino would have liked history to have involved, but “Django Unchained,” is less fantastical than its sister film. Both use set-pieces to provide self-contained action sequences, but “Django” is more an example of conventional storytelling than “Basterds.”
One gets the feeling when watching “Django Unchained” of being in a dream. The cinematography lulls one into a trance-like state that is abruptly interrupted by explosions – sometimes, literally – of violence and mayhem. Common to both “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” are comically-produced climactic scenes of violence in which the final imposition of justice is meted out in crowd-pleasing cathartic fashion. How much of a debt Tarantino owes to the early-20th Century phenomenon of Russian Formalism is purely speculative. Clearly, though, the writer-director has been influenced by the less conventional cinematic techniques of his forbears than by most of his contemporaries.