Creativity is a matter for the police. The first law of creativity is theft.
LA HAINE has a powerful scene where Vincent Cassel performs the ‘You talkin’ to me?’ scene from TAXI DRIVER (1975). Its a great piece of short-hand that reveals a great deal about the character, but it also reveals how directors in the 90s were very comfortable in acknowledging the repertoire of film-history that had gone before.
Tarantino is not alone in playing tribute to other films. Scorsese himself has referenced Bresson, Michael Powell and Godard in TAXI DRIVER alone. Audiences are increasingly cini-literate with an awareness of the key moments in ‘classic’ films so filmmakers feel comfortable in making direct quotes from other films. Its done best when it is not there for its own sake.
Mel Brooks is the master of the film parody. The blind man scene from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) is replayed with hilarious results in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). The bean-fart scene from BLAZING SADDLES (1974) is straight out of RED RIVER (1948).
However, the examples that I’ve selected here are those that use quotations for dramatic intent (sometimes funny, dramatic intent, but dramatic all the same.)
SAY THAT AGAIN
“There’s love and hate …” from DO THE RIGHT THING
Arguably, the reference to TAXI DRIVER in LA HAINE was more of a reference to this scene in DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) in an odd way. When in comes to hot summer, ethnic tension, then this film is clear fore-runner to Kassovitz vision. In this direct to camera moment, Lee quotes Robert Mitchum’s preacher’s menacing scene, in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) interlacing his tattooed fingers to demonstrate the interaction between Love and Hate. This is an interpretation with some added bling.
Here it is used for no other narrative reason other than it’s super cool.
“…and for the rest of your life.” from PLAY IT AGAIN SAM (1972)
ALLAN: If that plane leaves the ground, and you’re not on it with him, you’ll regret it – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
LINDA: That’s beautiful!
ALLAN: It’s from Casablanca; I waited my whole life to say it.
“Criss cross” from THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN (1987)
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) is one of my personal favourites of Hitchcock’s films. The central premise of the film – strangers on a train swapping murders – is replayed here for comic effect. Its much better than it should be.
Some people don’t deserve to be alive.
“I, am your father.” from TOY STORY 2 (1999)
Pixar and Lucas were going to be disqualified on the grounds that they self-reference to such a degree that they’d make Tarantino blush. There’s the well publicised appearance of ET and Indiana Jones in the prequels and the hidden previews of future Pixar films within all of their output. These are usually in the form of wry, knowing jokes that seem to have been spontaneously added by special effects people. However, we all know that NOTHING appears by accident in these tightly controlled efforts.
I’ve included Zurg making his paternal announcement to Buzz because it has similarly dramatic resonance as when Darth says it to Skywalker Jnr.
“You talking to me?” from ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2000)
I think I’m paraphrasing Stewert Lee by describing this as a moment when De Niro was pissing on his own obituary. I don’t blame him for wanting some cash, running swanky restaurants can cost an arm and a leg (in protection alone), but there are limits. I can live with Schwarzenegger wearing out his ‘I’ll be back’ catch-phrase at every opportunity, but this is not permitted under Dirk law.
De Niro parodying his masterwork only serves to remind us what he has lost. Shame.