We need to call bullshit on bullying 'genius' auteurs

With Uma Thurman’s recent revelations about the bullying, alleged endangerment and general misbehaviour of Quentin Tarantino, is it time to ask if these auteurs are really all there?

Article by John Bleasdale | 07 Feb 2018
  • Kill Bill

Kill Bill begins with an old Klingon proverb: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Well, Uma Thurman’s New York Times revelations came as something of a shock.

There was the expected – but still horrifying bullet – of her accusations against Harvey Weinstein, but Thurman also performed a two pistol action that John Woo would have been proud of, kneecapping Quentin Tarantino too. Not only did she accuse the director of knowledge and to a degree complicity with the then head of Miramax – the house Quentin built – but there was an accusation regarding a car crash that happened in Mexico during the filming of what would become Kill Bill Volume 2.

According to Thurman, she objected to having to drive a car that was felt to be defective at speed along a dangerous Mexican road, but Tarantino insisted. However, the video that Thurman shared on Instagram (provided to her by Tarantino) proves she was right to be worried. According to her then-husband Ethan Hawke, who went toe-to-toe with the director following the incident, Tarantino “was very upset with himself and asked for my forgiveness.”

i post this clip to memorialize it’s full exposure in the nyt by Maureen Dowd. the circumstances of this event were negligent to the point of criminality. i do not believe though with malicious intent. Quentin Tarantino, was deeply regretful and remains remorseful about this sorry event, and gave me the footage years later so i could expose it and let it see the light of day, regardless of it most likely being an event for which justice will never be possible. he also did so with full knowledge it could cause him personal harm, and i am proud of him for doing the right thing and for his courage. THE COVER UP after the fact is UNFORGIVABLE. for this i hold Lawrence Bender, E. Bennett Walsh, and the notorious Harvey Weinstein solely responsible. they lied, destroyed evidence, and continue to lie about the permanent harm they caused and then chose to suppress. the cover up did have malicious intent, and shame on these three for all eternity. CAA never sent anyone to Mexico. i hope they look after other clients more respectfully if they in fact want to do the job for which they take money with any decency.

A post shared by Uma Thurman (@ithurman) on

But Maureen Dowd’s piece – This is Why Uma Thurman is Angry  also includes this evidence of a systemic contempt of women on the part of the director: “Thurman says that in Kill Bill, Tarantino had done the honors with some of the sadistic flourishes himself, spitting in her face in the scene where Michael Madsen is seen on screen doing it and choking her with a chain in the scene where a teenager named Gogo is on screen doing it.”

And this is nothing new. Diane Kruger getting strangled at the end of Inglourious Basterds? Those are Quentin’s thumbs at the jugular. Now some, including good friends on Facebook, have pointed out that directors often give body parts – hands usually – a Hitchcockian cameo when it comes to violence. Dario Argento made a point of being the hands that strangled, drowned and stabbed numerous Italian actresses in his famed giallos. Despite the sterling work of daughter Asia Argento in bringing to light Weinstein and his ilk, the use of her dad’s women-dicing ouvre is unlikely to win over any feminist allies when it comes to a defence. The counterpoint has also been made that it’s noticeable Tarantino never spat in Samuel L. Jackson’s face in his pursuit of authenticity.

Directors Behaving Badly

But Tarantino is a great auteur and great auteurs do this shit, apparently. William Friedkin needed to elicit a more emotional performance from a non-acting priest in The Exorcist, so he slapped him across the face as hard as he could. The famous car chase you love in The French Connection? No permits, no insurance, one of the vehicles totalled was an innocent Sunday driver that just got in the way and one of the producers – jumping out of a following vehicle, cheque book flapping – hastily compensated.

Christopher Frayling tells the story of how Sergio Leone ran after the ambulance of his just suicided actor Al Mulock to retrieve the costume he was wearing when he jumped from a hotel window so his scenes for the next day could be completed by a stand-in. David Lean used footage in Doctor Zhivago that involved an accident that cost an extra her leg. Stanley Kubrick scarred Malcolm McDowell’s retinas getting the Ludovico treatment scene in a Clockwork Orange in the can and did who knows what damage to Shelley Duvall with his endless takes for The Shining.

And there have been fatal accidents. Brandon Lee was fatally shot on the set of The Crow in 1993 and on 23 July, 1982, Vic Morrow and two children – seven year old My-ca Dinh Le, and six year old Renee Shin-Yi Chen – were killed  while filming Twilight Zone: The Movie, when a helicopter crashed into them. Although director John Landis along with others were acquitted of manslaughter, numerous safety measures had been ignored or evaded and at one point Landis – on being told of the dangers – had joked “we may lose the helicopter”. One of the film’s producers Steven Spielberg broke off his friendship with Landis, remarking: "No movie is worth dying for. I think people are standing up much more now than ever before to producers and directors who ask too much. If something isn't safe, it's the right and responsibility of every actor or crew member to yell, 'Cut!'"

Modern movie sadists

Of course, these days we would like to think that things are different. Friedkin has repeatedly expressed his regret from some of his earlier excesses. But just as Friedkin claimed George Stevens and John Ford as his inspiration for his cajoling and bullying methods, there are still modern directors who take a macho inspiration from him. Darren Aronofsky in a behind the scenes documentary of The Wrestler can be seen slapping Mickey Rourke during a crucial scene. And fatalities still happen when productions roll roughshod over all those health and safety concerns we pretend to despise but which keep us alive. For which, read about the fatal movie Midnight Rider, which never got completed, let alone released, and cost second camera assistant Sarah Jones her life.

Ultimately, a workplace is a workplace, whether we’re making art, movies, iPads or plastic buckets. Not only human life, but human dignity and well-being come above any economic exigencies or ‘artistic vision’. The ruthless auteur should be criticised as harshly as the at-all-costs industrialist and the tech entrepreneur who outsources work to countries with lax labour laws and terrible human rights records. The Tarantino case opens up a new front in the argument and as the Bride might say: “We have unfinished business.”