Quentin Tarantino stood at a crowded bar, drinking in the atmosphere. The throng of reporters and photographers, all the well-dressed New Yorkers and Hollywood heavyweights at the cocktail party, they were all at the Museum of Modern Art for an evening in his honor. It's a distinction given to just one filmmaker a year, and a festive dinner was waiting.
Executives and MoMA board members came to shake his hand and offer their congratulations, peppering them in during Tarantino's chat with the actor Dennis Christopher, who appears in the director's upcoming film, Django Unchained. The filmmaker called the 57-year-old "one of his Teen Titans," referring to the DC comic heroes.
The Hollywood Reporter asked Tarantino which of his movies he would show first to a younger sibling who had never seen any of his work. "Well, how old is the brother?" he replied, wheels turning in his head; the sibling was said to be 17 -- the age required to see an R-rated film.
"Well, I find it hard to believe he hasn’t seen one of my movies by now," Tarantino responded with a laugh, before being assured it was purely a hypothetical situation.
"You know, I don’t know if I have an answer for that because it would really kind of depend on the person," he said. "Some people I would say Kill Bill, some people I would say Pulp Fiction, some I would say Reservoir Dogs or Inglourious Basterds. I don’t really have a sense of it. But I wouldn’t pick 17 as the starting point; 12, that’s the starting point."
Coming from Tarantino, a virtual encyclopedia of film knowledge, it is perhaps not a surprise that he would be so nuanced in his response. He had an easier time answering an inquiry into which of his films is his most personal work: "Probably Kill Bill."
That Uma Thurman-starring, two-part martial arts revenge film, like all his others, is both fiercely original and filled to the brim with allusions and homage to other movies from throughout the history of the medium. If a director wanted to pay homage to Tarantino's style, then, what would that look like?
"I guess probably a lot of shots up from trunks," he remarked, laughing again. Shots looking up from the trunks of cars have appeared in nearly all of the films Tarantino has directed.
Later in the night, Tarantino told THR that despite being a cinephile, he has yet to see any of the other films in contention for Oscars this year. "I have a lot of catching up to do," he said.
Soon after, attendees of the cocktail party were taken down several escalators to a small theater. Friends and collaborators including Diane Kruger and Peter Bogdanovich gave short speeches praising Tarantino's energy, vision and exhaustive knowledge of cinema, among other things.
"A Quentin Tarantino picture is exactly that: It's all him. It's all his. Dynamically, viscerally, excitingly his," Bogdanovich said. "An unmistakable signature. And he has had a remarkable influence over American and foreign movies since Pulp Fiction burst on the screen in the mid-'90s. Indeed, I would say he is the single most influential director of his generation."
He also said that he had just seen Django the night before and considered it Tarantino's best work yet. "I'm still shaking," he remarked.
Then, Bogdanovich introduced the director himself.
In his speech, Tarantino remembered his first trip to New York, during the preproduction on Reservoir Dogs, his first feature film. The trip was sponsored by star and co-producer Harvey Keitel, who was in the audience Monday, and meant to explore the New York talent pool to fill out the cast. During the visit, they found Steve Buscemi, who ended up co-starring in the film and was sitting next to Keitel in the theater. Also on hand was Harvey Weinstein, who has executive produced all of Tarantino's films.
"Being in New York for the first time and having Harvey Keitel show you around is a little bit like going to Texas and having John Wayne show you around," Tarantino cracked, drawing laughter from the crowd. "New York might as well be Dodge City and he's [Marshal] Dillon."