It’s still a while to wait for his tenth (and, according to himself, the last) film, but Quentin Tarantino is not sitting still. After his novel version of Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood does he have with Cinema Speculation a first non-fiction book. One in which he shows himself to be an enthusiastic, crazy film professor.
“Quentin, I’m more concerned when you watch the news. A movie won’t hurt you.” One of the unsung heroes in film history is Connie McHugh, a single mother who, averse to parental guidelines, repeatedly led her young son to the cinema. That boy’s name was Quentin Tarantino, grew up to be a film nerd and then the celebrated director of films like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood.
In the first chapter of his new book Cinema Speculation Tarantino describes how his mother and her boyfriend took young Quentin on their cinema dates, provided he behaved himself. “I knew this adult time was,” Tarantino writes. “If I wanted to hang around during adult time, my little ass better be fucking cool.It had a quote from Pulp Fiction can be: even if he does not write films but writes about films, the film-maker shows his talent for elevating vulgar colloquialism into witty prose.
Maybe he got that from the movies he saw in the 1970s, from age seven to seventeen. Kind en Gezin would probably not recommend taking your nine-year-old to a double bill from Deliverancein which a fat man from the city is anally raped by a hillbilly, and The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah’s ultra-violent western. But those kinds of films left a deep impression on the young Quentin, who sang about his love for them in the films he made based on references, and in this book – after the novel version of Once Upon a Time his first non-fiction work.
Tarantino’s first movie, Reservoir Dogsopened with a scene in which he himself, in that typical snarling voice, explained what was behind Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ (“It’s a metaphor for big dicks”). In the same way – you almost hear him tell it when you Cinema Speculation reads – he gives interesting and often very idiosyncratic analyzes of films like bullitt (1968), The Getaway (1972) and Rolling Thunder (1977).
They are not reviews, not scientific tracts, but personal reflections in which he often gets carried away by details that others forget: he sings of Andy Robinson, who plays serial killer Scorpio in Dirty Harrya lot more elaborate than protagonist and superstar Clint Eastwood.
order from Cinema Speculation you don’t need to have seen every movie Tarantino discusses, let alone every movie he mentions. There is nothing that doesn’t touch something else, Jeroen Brouwers already knew, and every film Tarantino sets his sights on is like a cluster bomb that explodes anecdotes about thirty-eleven other films.
The chapter about Sylvester Stallones Paradise Alley is as much about that movie as it is about Rocky, Rocky II and The Lords of Flatbush. Tarantino also writes one-sentence reviews about films that are otherwise irrelevant. (“Brewster McCloud is the cinematic equivalent of a bird pooping on your head.”)
Still, it goes without saying that anyone who has never seen a film that came out before Titanic has served little will be of no interest to Cinema Speculation. Tarantino doesn’t pick out the biggest or most obvious films – in the 1970s you might as well have opted for The Godfather, The Exorcist or Star Wars – but those are readers Taxi Driver (1976) may nevertheless be taken for granted. Let that film be your entry into the maze of 70s cinema, and hire Tarantino as your guide. “If you’re reading this book about cinema,” he writes, “and your head is spinning with all the names you don’t recognize: congratulations, you’re learning something.”
Tarantino takes his role as a crazy movie professor seriously enough and sets the historical context where necessary: he devotes an entire chapter to the difference between the cynical “Anti-Establishment Authors” of the late 1960s, such as Arthur Penn and John Cassavetes, and the more romantic “Movie Brats” of the 1970s, such as Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma. Yet it never becomes a dry history lesson, especially when he begins to speculate about how Taxi Driver what would have looked like had it not been Scorsese, but De Palma who had been behind the camera.
Now and then he also lets involved parties have their say: Steve McQueen’s ex-wife Neile McQueen, screenwriter-director Walter Hill and his colleague Paul Schrader have all contributed to his argument about his favorite film decade in conversations with Tarantino. But they all play only striking supporting roles in Cinema Speculation: like the biggest star of any Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction the director is, that’s how it goes Cinema Speculation around his person, his preferences, his graceful writing style and his unparalleled love for cinema, which jumps off the pages and will infect many readers.
“Some parents didn’t even want me to play with their kids at school because of the wild movies I saw and talked about,” Tarantino recalls. But: “Because I was allowed to see things that other kids weren’t allowed to, I seemed sophisticated to my classmates. And because I watched the most challenging films in the biggest film period in Hollywood history, they were right: I was too.”
Cinema Speculation (400 pp., €29.95) was published by Harper Collins.