JACKIE,OH!

In short, it turned Tarantino into his own tough act to follow—which may be why it's taken him three years to get behind the camera again. A number of potential projects have crossed his path. At one point he talked to Warner Bros. about a big-screen version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., "with George Clooney as Napoleon Solo and me as Ilya Kuryakin," he says. But mostly he has spent the après-Pulp period concentrating on other matters. Like acting in a film made from one of his earlier screenplays (1996's vampire comedy-thriller From Dusk Till Dawn, in which he really did get to costar with Clooney), script-doctoring on Crimson Tide, goofing off with Dave and Jay on late-night TV, and turning up in the tabloids with girlfriend Mira Sorvino ("The actress of her generation," he calls her). In fact, the only actual directing he's done over these last three years was an episode of ER and a segment in Miramax's famously dreadful Four Rooms.

For a time, it looked like Tarantino was in danger of becoming a professional celebrity, a sort of skinnier, nerdier Orson Welles, more famous for his talk-show patter than for his groundbreaking filmmaking. The overexposure helped spark an anti-Tarantino backlash in the press. "That's one of the reasons I didn't do TV for a year and a half," he says, still a bit touchy on the subject. "I wanted the celebrity thing to go away. Critics couldn't see the work because I was in the f---ing way, so I gave up my membership in the celebrity club. I'll renew it when I need to sell a picture again."

Actually, it was renewed for him last fall, with the publication of a juicy little volume titled Killer Instinct—the book that made Tarantino go medieval in that restaurant in L.A. A dis-and-tell account of the filming of Natural Born Killers—which Tarantino wrote (and Oliver Stone rewrote)—by one of the film's producers, Jane Hamsher, it portrays Tarantino as obnoxious, duplicitous, and arrogant, as well as a bad speller. Hamsher even quotes her producing partner, Don Murphy, as saying that he would "openly celebrate Quentin Tarantino's death."

What happened next, on Oct. 22, when Tarantino bumped into Murphy in an Italian eatery in West Hollywood, is a matter for the judiciary to decide. Murphy claims that Tarantino slammed him against a wall and began hitting him so hard his watch flew off his wrist. Tarantino has admitted hitting Murphy—in fact, he gleefully pantomimed the entire incident on The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show last month—but claims he merely "bitch-slapped" the producer three times ("A little bitch slap don't hurt nobody," he told Wayans). Police were called to the restaurant; Tarantino was ushered into a cop car (where, Murphy says, he mockingly blew kisses at him) and was nearly carted off to jail—until Miramax cohead Harvey Weinstein, who was dining with Tarantino, managed to persuade Murphy to drop the charges.

Tarantino is no longer very talkative about the fight "because of the lawsuit," he says. But Murphy—who's described in Hamsher's book as 6 foot 2 and 220 pounds—is a regular chatterbox on the subject. "I didn't say I wished Quentin Tarantino was dead," he explains. "I didn't say I wanted him dead. I just said I'd celebrate his death." In other words, he meant it in a nice way.