‘Quentin vs. Coen’ celebrates cinematic influence on American pop culture

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Quentin Tarantino and the directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen — colloquially the Coen brothers — are icons of American pop culture. Their films pay homage to the pulp, exploitation and noir genres of the early and mid-20th century, while their filmmaking styles are distinctive late-20th century hallmarks. Violence, bloodshed, profanity, whip-crack dialogue and philosophical musings have made such films as “Pulp Fiction,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Kill Bill,” “Fargo” and so many more, classics of American cinema.

In celebration of these filmmakers’ contributions to the medium, Spoke Art Gallery in San Francisco is exhibiting “Quentin vs. Coen,” a collection of original works that showcase their impact on pop art. The artists were not given “guidelines on subject matter or content,” as the gallery’s website says, allowing for full freedom in depicting their favorite Tarantino or Coen brothers moment.

The gallery space is one room but is populated with prints, paintings, etchings and film posters that line its high walls. Visitors’ eyes wander along while the soundtracks of Tarantino’s and the Coen brothers’ films quietly play in the background. These components of the exhibition echo what Tarantino and the Coen brothers emphasize in their films: an eye for details such as memorable lines or scenes and an ear for music that encapsulates the themes they explore. In that spirit, the works of “Quentin vs. Coen” cover a wide range of scenes and characters in a number of art styles ranging from cartooning to exaggerated expressionism to hyper-realistic acrylic paintings and everything in between.

Some of these filmmakers’ most famous characters — such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Bible-verse-quoting hitman Jules Winnifeld from “Pulp Fiction” and everyone’s favorite bum, The Dude, from “The Big Lebowski” — dominate the exhibit. From Casey Weldon’s Dude-erific homage to the Zig-Zag brand of cigarette rolling papers to Greg Gossel’s screenprinted collages of both Jules and the Dude, the lasting legacy these directors’ most well-known creations have had on pop culture is evident.

Quiet assassin Anton Chigurh from the Best Picture-winning “No Country For Old Men” speaks sparingly but with intensity, as shown in Blunt Graffix’s metallic screenprint of the character in “Hand of Fate.” Oliver Barrett’s “Call It” is a profile of a stoic Chigurh staring coldly at nothing, accompanied by the faint outline of a skull and text that reads, “What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”— his most chilling line from the film.

Tarantino-inspired pieces differ from those inspired by the Coen brothers’ in one important aspect that reflects the directors’ distinct approaches to filmmaking and character development. Artists of the Tarantino camp highlight the memorability of his dialogue and darkly humorous sequences, such as Christine Aria Hostleter’s depiction of hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta) just before he accidentally shoots a man in the head while talking about divine intervention in “Pulp Fiction.” This isn’t to say that the Coen brothers do not write their characters into absurd situations or dull exposition, but emphasis is on the commanding presence and contemplation of their scene direction. The minimalist film posters of artist Mainger Germain, for example, capture the snowy but bloody landscape of the Coen brothers’ film “Fargo,” which takes place in the wintry north of Minnesota.

The title of the exhibition implies that there is a battle between the two filmmakers that can only be settled by attendees — only one director or directing team can emerge as the victor. Exploring “Quentin vs. Coen” in person tells a different story, where the staying power of their cinematic output benefits everyone who engages with them.

“Quentin vs. Coen” will run through July 25 at Spoke Art in San Francisco.

 

Youssef Shokry is the assistant arts editor. Contact him at [email protected].