How Ridiculous Marketing Strategies Can Sometimes Advertise Amazing Things

What is it with the whole “XX” thing that seems to be in fashion right now? Other than the pretty stellar band The xx, there’s been a rash of other artists using the whole XX marketing shtick as a way to, I guess, make their 20th anniversary of some product seem cool again. There’s Rage Against the Machine – XX, there’s The Breeders LSXX, and now there’s Tarantino XX.

Tarantino XX celebrates 20 years of Quentin Tarantino’s filmmaking, and while that’s certainly fine by me, I’m not sure I get the whole XX part. Is it supposed to indicate the number 20? I guess XX looks and sounds cooler than the number 20. I digress.

On December 4 there was Tarantino XX: Reservoir Dogs and on December 6, Pulp Fiction. These are equally stellar films in Tarantino’s oeuvre and getting to see them on the big screen again is a great case for spending $12.50. Not to mention, in pure QT fashion, they come prefaced with a couple new interviews with actors and others who worked on the films, and they also come prefaced with “hand-picked” trailers of movies that inspired him, from Tarantino’s own collection.

pulp-fiction

Watching Pulp Fiction again in a theater was a great experience. After seeing it at home alone or with a couple friends over at a time for the better part of 18 years, having the opportunity to see it on the big screen with a full audience in attendance who were actively engaged throughout, was exhilarating. It almost makes you want to go out and make films. Even though it’s easy (especially after multiple viewings over a long time) to find the problems in the production or the craft behind the film, it’s such an incredibly fresh and twisted narrative, with such incredibly rich and twisted (yet realistic) characters, that you can’t really look away.

Pulp Fiction prides itself on shock value and its ability to make you unregrettably look at bad people as cool or comical. Literally almost every movie that has ever tried to imitate or take inspiration from Pulp Fiction has failed in being effortless for the audience. They are always either too heavy handed, or too melodramatic, but there never seems to be just the right consistency to the mixture.

The audience in the screening I was at, found themselves inadvertently taking part in the movie. Unlike like watching a Rocky Horror screening where you prepare for what’s coming next so you can sing along, dance or throw rice at the screen, with Pulp Fiction, it creeps up on you – the guy behind me found himself muttering many of the famous lines of dialogue before they even appeared in the scene. This is beauty of Pulp Fiction: it’s fun, it’s grown-up, it’s down to earth, and it’s just plain cool. This is a movie that will go down in history like the Breathless of the ’60s or the Easy Rider of the ’70s – a game changer.

The Man with the Iron Fists

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Quentin Tarantino should be sincerely flattered right now. Rapper and musician RZA (who also worked on the score for Tarantino’s Kill Bill), has just directed his own schlocky debut feature, The Man with the Iron Fists. Spoiler alert: the titular Man is RZA himself. While certainly not impressive, RZA’s debut film is relatively entertaining; equal parts good and bad.

RZA plays a cool-headed blacksmith living in China where he is paid rather royally to basically outfit all the rivaling clans with weapons they can use to kill each other. The blacksmith also narrates the film in that uniquely lispy urban poetry-like voice he has going for him. It’s frankly one of my favorite things about the whole movie, despite his less-than-remarkable acting.

The story starts off a little sloppy in its narrative, and keeping track of all the rival gangs is almost laughable in itself (maybe intentionally?), but by the middle of the film when things take a turn for the worst for the blacksmith, the story (which up until then was disposable), becomes a little more gripping. Unfortunately, storyline, directing style, set design, characters, nor props in many cases can be seen as anything original and it seems that inspiration for RZA seems to have quite obviously come from Tarantino’s Kill Bill, or the more widely seen martial arts cult classics such as Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

The problem with a movie like this is, it’s trying hard to imitate and be inspired by these types of grindhouse movies where it’s more about sensationalism than plot and filmmaking. But what we now look at as cult classics or grindhouse genre films are just movies that were doing what they could with what they had back when they were made, probably not even trying to fall into the trash cinema classification which they have since then (retroactively marketably) fallen into. RZA, however, has the assistance of Tarantino (a master in his craft of revitalizing the cult and trash cinema genres to critical acclaim), way more resources and budget than many of the films he’s trying to channel from the ’70s and ’80s, and yet Iron Fists still looks cheaper and is weaker than most of those predecessors.

Tarantino gives the film a lift with his name attached, of course, and maybe that will help with marketing it to QT devotees, and even smartly help increase the awareness and anticipation for Tarantino’s latest revitalization, Django Unchained. There’s even a special trailer for the film running prior to Iron Fists, where QT himself intros it (also giving props to “his man” RZA’s film you’re about to see).  So see, it really all comes down to advertising, and if I was just a tad more cynical, I’d even go so far as to suggest RZA only got the damn greenlight for this film because of the beautiful marketing opportunities it would present.

El Topo

I was told the word “el topo” in the Spanish language translates to “the crazy,” and after seeing the 1970 film El Topo by Alejandro Jodorowsky, I believed this translation was correct. However, after careful research I have discovered 1.) I have a friend who either lies or doesn’t know as much Spanish as he thinks and, 2.) “el topo” actually translates to “the mole.”


While a title like “The Crazy” would have been very fitting, I can also understand the reasoning behind the fable-like title of “The Mole.” If the (supposedly) lone gunman all clad in black and traveling through the desert in a spiral path is not the first giveaway, there’s always the more obvious association, when the gunman buries himself in the thick, hot sand of the desert plains. However, it is also said the film’s name was due to the way such underground films in the late 60s and early 70s were finding their way to the surface and becoming commodities. Although somehow I believe this may have been a post-interpretation of the title.

This film became popular (if one can call it that) after its initial underground release, but when one Beatles’ member (namely John Lennon) watched this film for the first time, he loved it so much that he encouraged businessman Allen Klein to buy the rights to the film and distribute it. Allen Klein’s company (ABKCO) was primarily intended to distribute records, and there is much debate over the motive behind Klein’s ownership of many recordings and especially of this film. The story even goes that due to a dispute between ABKCO and the filmmaker Jodorowsky, the film never received distribution until just this year.

Now a deemed cult classic, El Topo is anything but refined Hollywood filmmaking, yet still holds water with the best of today’s independent cinema. While most stories today take more straightforward narrative approaches, there are still filmmakers striving to append to the genre Jodorowsky fits in. Take a look at Harmony Korine, Werner Herzog, Elias Merhige, and even Gus Van Sant.

Definitely not a film for everyone, the intent is for viewers to take their own meanings from films like this. I couldn’t help but draw conclusions to the Vietnam war throughout this film, most assuredly at the end when the “reincarnated” mole sets himself on fire much in the tradition of Buddhist monks in protest of the Vietnam war (most famously, the one who did this directly outside the US Embassy circa 1963). In fact it almost seemed kind of a rip-off of that associated press imagery that everyone now knows thanks to not only the media, but more recently the rock band Rage Against the Machine.

The mole is on a quest for enlightenment (get it?), and during this quest he encounters four “masters” of who each he will have a duel with. The mole generally cheats during these duels, and thereby wins, but the last “master” commits suicide before the mole gets a chance to duel with him (is this a statement to the banality of dueling?) I have read many interpretations of this film which call it a Biblical allegory; however, I don’t buy into this interpretation, because it’s too simplistic. Everything in art (and especially surrealistic art) seems to always be interpreting or alluding to some type of religious icon. That’s too easy. Jodorowsky was certainly into the religious iconography, but I do not believe that he was trying to allude to the Old or New Testament here intentionally.

War is what this film is about, and the banality and vanity of it. Atrocity is something we are faced with in the first few shots of the film, and along with a disjointed soundtrack, this makes for a film that is meant to keep us annoyed, even edgy but still interested at all times, much like following the day-to-day reports of a war through the media. The “masters” appear to be no more than various types of politicians, and the razed town that he encounters at the beginning feels too much like it may have been a town he was familiar with at one time. In this way the film could almost be a story of revenge in which the viewer is just not fully aware of the mole’s ulterior motives. We are let on at the beginning that the mole at one time did have a wife, who is now dead (as his young son buries her picture with his stuffed animal). His wife was also a mother to the young son which the mole eventually leaves with monks at the onset of the story. Was his wife killed by the outlaws that massacred everyone in this desert town? Does he leave his son with the monks because he plans to seek his revenge on the killers?

For me the imagery in the film is what’s most striking, and the soundtrack has a quality not unlike another cult classic Eraserhead. I believe Jodorowsky, in the grand tradition of other primarily surrealistic filmmakers, was simply trying to shock and appall audiences in 1970. But unlike the Luis Buñuel’s of the filmic world, whose surrealism is not nearly as simplified, but more convoluted and oftentimes more of an examination of religion, Jodorowsky examines the advent of war, by stripping down its main players (the politicians, high-ranking military officials, middle class promoters and innocent by-standers), and dissecting it for signs of a catalyst, purpose and realistic resolution.