Controversy

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE FOOLING has helped me create a lot of enemies. Some of them came in the guise of friendship, and others wanted to scratch my eyes out. I preferred the eye-scratchers, personally. While they aren't into civil conversation, at least they're honest. That's something that can't be said for those New York Underground boys.

I can't say many good things about Chris, but I can say that at least he could figure out what was going on in WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE FOOLING. The same cannot be said for a lot of people. I've gotten quite a few hilarious questions over the years after people watch the video:

"Where'd you get all those Asian guys to act for you?"

"Now, let me get this straight, Tarantino ripped you off with RESERVOIR DOGS?"

"Is Mike White your real name?"

"Why do you hate Tarantino so much?"

It seems that I just can't explain this simply enough.

I've gotten a lot of flack for "hating" Quentin Tarantino and for making a case out of "nothing." The first person who ever attacked me for "hating" QT had never even seen the video or spoken to me--nice unbiased attitude for someone in the "news" business. That person was Touré from Mtv. I think he must have been some sort of flunkie or intern because he was completely unprofessional and lacking in many of the social graces. He had gotten my name from Lisa Kennedy of The Village Voice and asked me to send him a copy of my video after I explained to him that I don't hate Quentin Tarantino.

If you'll sit back and free your mind, perhaps you'll understand where I'm coming from. I don't hate Quentin Tarantino (how many times do I have to say it?). RESERVOIR DOGS is still one of my favorite films. Sure, I wasn't that wild about PULP FICTION and really could have done without FOUR ROOMS, but I really enjoy QT's writing.

The issue here is not one of personal vendetta. It's about giving credit where credit is due. Think back to all the articles and interviews Quentin's given this decade:

When asked for a top ten list of favorite movies in September '94 issue of Details and December '94 issue of Vox, several of the films that influenced Quentin were there, but CITY ON FIRE was missing.

When comparisons were made between Jean-Pierre Melville's LE DOULOS and RESERVOIR DOGS in the July/August '94 issue of Film Comment, Quentin missed his chance to correct the interviewer and say that the biggest influence on the film was Ringo Lam's CITY ON FIRE.

The only mentions of Lam that Tarantino made in 1994 (two years after RESERVOIR DOGS was released) were to say that he owns the movie poster:

"I loved CITY ON FIRE, I got the poster framed in my house, so it's a great movie."

- Film Threat, Issue 18, pg. 23.

"I've got the poster right here. That's Danny Lee. Ringo Lam is like my second, after Jackie Chan, third favorite of all the Hong Kong directors."

- The Village Voice 10/25/94 No. 43, pg. 31.

Other than the "Great Poster Defense," Tarantino's been mute on the subject, despite what Marcy Granata of Miramax pictures says:

"Quentin has always been really open about the movies to which he was making homage, including CITY ON FIRE."

- USA Today 3/16/95

Where is that? If anyone could find a mention of CITY ON FIRE in anywhere, then I'd be happy to apologize for calling Quentin a plagiarist. I'll need dates and concrete evidence. I've heard too many, "I remember him saying that"'s over the last few years.

When Tarantino wrote the screenplay to RESERVOIR DOGS he thanked Jean-Luc Godard, Andre DeToth, Chow Yun-Fat, Leonard White, Roger Corman, and Timothy Carey. The person missing from that list is Ringo Lam, director or CITY ON FIRE, the movie on which RESERVOIR DOGS is based.

So, is it plagiarism or is it homage? Milton would say that since CITY ON FIRE was "made better by the borrower" that no theft has occurred. Others would say that there is nothing new and that good artists paint while great artists steal. And then there are some that say if you don't give credit to your sources in your bibliography then you'll be thrown out of school on your ear.

Was Vanilla Ice simply paying homage to Queen? Did this trash-talking, material-stealing, bad-acting, "from the streets" kid make his original material better by sampling?

In Quentin's case, the answer would have to be "Yes." His ability to take such crappy material and make it shine is truly commendable. However, I'd be even more proud of the lil' nipper if he had 'fessed up. If Tarantino had come clean right away, saying that CITY ON FIRE was one of his biggest influences, and then I saw Lam's work, I would have been really impressed. Instead, I was pissed since Quentin didn't feel it was necessary to give Lam his due.

While we're in a crucifying mood, lets take a look at somebody else that needs some blame: the media.

It would have been nice for Quentin to volunteer the CITY ON FIRE information early on. But once the story was out there, shouldn't everyone gotten to the bottom of it? For a year, the only magazine to cover the story was Empire, nearly a year later Film Threat tried to get the story rolling again. However, it was all dead in the water. Even during the controversy surrounding the New York Underground Film Festival, the majority of mainstream sources either stayed away from the story or downplayed it by dismissing the "similarities" as flights of fancy and never bothering to get their facts straight.

As an example of the mainstream media's ineptitude, let's compare how this story was handled by Paper versus Premiere. In her article "Outlaw Cool" from the May '95 issue of Paper, Dana Dickey took the time to come out to the New York Underground Film Festival, suffering through RAGING BOIL to see my video and talk to me. Meanwhile, Holly Sorenson of Premiere lives in a delusional world where she believes she can trust Todd Phillips and Andrew Gurland, the directors of the NYUFF, and reports in her June '95 article, "The Subterraneans" that Gurland, unbeknownst to Phillips, planted the rumor that Miramax was putting the screws on the festival. Uh-huh. Sure.

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