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Professor Barlow Writes Book on Maverick Film Director Quentin Tarantino
Ever since he was a Brooklyn high school administrator in the early 1990s, Aaron Barlow, now an assistant professor of English at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), has been fascinated by the controversial movies of writer/producer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino, a high-school dropout whose radical work has influenced a generation of filmmakers.
Barlow’s new book, Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes (May 2010), his fourth for Praeger, is arguably the only book on Tarantino to focus squarely on his directorial output, approaching his work from a scholarly stance rather than a pop culture viewpoint.
Barlow analyzes Tarantino’s influences, and describes how his 1992 directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, quickly established him as a force in American cinema, a position cemented two years later with the release of Pulp Fiction, which earned him a screenwriting Oscar.
From Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill to Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s films bend the standard formulas and shun the mainstream to create their own nostalgic counterculture, one based on films often long ignored, a past sometimes forgotten and myths we pay too little attention to. In all of his films, Tarantino makes use of the past, in fiction, fact and cultural belief, to create worlds that speak to and about our own.
“One of the things that inspired me to write a book on Tarantino was his use of extreme violence as a metaphor,” Barlow explains. “Tarantino pushes cinema in new directions with violence so over-the-top that is can hardly be considered as anything more than farce.”
“No contemporary filmmakers take risks the way Tarantino does. No one else is quite so willing to fail. And no one is as dedicated to reinvention as he is. He is the perfect topic for a film writer, for there is always something new to say, even about his old films, each time one watches a movie he has made,” Barlow says.
Two of Barlow’s previous books, Blogging America: The New Public Sphere (Praeger, Nov. 2007) and The Rise of the Blogosphere (Praeger, March 2007), focused on citizen journalism and new media. He is currently writing a third volume in that series, in collaboration with City Tech English department colleague Robert Leston. That book, Beyond the Blogosphere: Information and Its Children, is scheduled to be completed later this year.
The DVD Revolution: Movies, Culture, and Technology (Praeger, 2005) provides a history of home viewing of movies, concentrating on the impact of the DVD on the film industry. In Quentin Tarantino: Life at the Extremes, Barlow discusses new ways of looking at film and sets forth his belief that “Movies, at least as much as literature has done, provide us a way of looking at ourselves while looking away; they give us tools for talking about ourselves. They also provide a means for challenging ourselves, especially when they begin to consider those aspects of life and culture that we’d rather not face — including our fascination with violence.”
By not looking at violence, he says, “We perpetuate it, perhaps more strongly than if we were to face it directly.” He also examines the filmmaker’s storytelling ability and mastery of his craft: his work is based on classical Hollywood traditions, yet Tarantino blends narrative and spectacle in original ways.
A consistent theme of Tarantino’s films is that “life cannot be lived to its fullest with eyes in blinders. Actions have consequences.” To Barlow, who lives in Lefferts Manor, Brooklyn, Tarantino’s background and his achievements are valuable examples to his City Tech students, who are also exploring life and the world. “The most important lesson anyone can take from Tarantino is the importance of passion, in both life and work. Because he is so passionate, Tarantino often steps over lines, but he learns, reflects and moves forward undaunted.”