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Cinema Speculation
by Quentin Tarantino
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, UK, 2022

If you love movies and were a frequent movie-goer during the 70s – or caught that decade later on some device or by streaming – you will want to read this book. One of the most endearing things about it is that Tarantino was only seven years old in 1970, but throughout the decade his parents took him along to the cinema – and they went to the movies a lot. In L.A., at all the iconic cinemas. Chapter one is aptly titled: Little Q Watching Big Movies. At age seven he saw a double-feature of Joe and Where’s Poppa? Peter Boyle played Joe, a racist badmouth blue-collar hard-hat worker who also hates hippies and goes on a killing spree at the end with his new-found “friend,” an upper-middle class father, whose daughter has taken up with a junkie in the hippy culture. (This was Susan Sarandon’s debut and you never forget it.) Of course I was older than Tarantino when I saw Joe. It is hard to image taking a little kid to this film. So we’re curious to get what his reaction was:

  • At the time Joe was easily the ugliest movie I’d ever seen ... But once Dennis Patrick enters the tavern, and Peter Boyle’s Joe enters the movie, the audience started laughing. And in no time at all the adult audience went from repulsed reposed to outright hilarity... Joe saying fucked up shit is a crack up. Like with Freebie and the Bean a few years later... I laughed for three reasons. One, the room full of adults were laughing. Two, even I was able to plug into the comic vibe of Boyle’s performance. And three, because Joe cursed all the time and there’s few things funnier to a little kid than a funny guy cursing up a storm.

As it turns out, he fell asleep before the blood bath at the end, but because he asked, his parents told him what happened. That the white collar worker ended up shooting his own daughter. Quentin just asked: “Was he sad?” “Yes, Quentin,” his mother said, “he was very sad.”

Tarantino gives us full plot summaries, assuming you’re familiar with the movies, but if you haven’t seen them all, that’s OK. I found myself looking at the trailers for the ones I hadn’t seen, which was fun in itself. Of course we all know Deliverance, and Tarantino’s overall (adult) critique of the movie is brilliant. As a child, he did not understand the rape scene, only that Bobby was being humiliated in the worse way, which is all you need to know.

When his mother and step-father separated (he never knew his biological father), he lived with his mother and two female roommates – one Black, one Mexican. His mom dated only Black men who were often around the apartment and who sometimes took him to the cinema, including Black cinemas where he was the only white in attendance. Of course, he saw all the blaxploitation movies and developed a love for soul music - and James Brown and Brenda Sykes. Needless to say, Pam Grier was long on his radar before Jackie Brown.

Several chapters are devoted to one movie although inevitably he wanders off talking about other movies, directors, writers, etc. Don Siegal’s Dirty Harry is given a special place. Pauline Kael, a critic he admired, and Roger Ebert called it a ‘fascist’ movie. Here he differs in opinion and gives a solid defense. There is a chapter on Sam Peciknpah’s The Getaway, with lots of good talk about Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. Horror, of course, enters in: “To me, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the few perfect movies ever made.” And remember Brian de Palma’s Sisters? A chapter on that as well.

He gives an intelligent accounting of the New Hollywood in the Seventies: The Post-Sixties Anti-Establishment Auteurs (Dennis Hopper, Robert Altman, Sam Peckinpah, John Cassavetes, Ken Russell, and Brian de Palma [then]) vs. The Movie Brats (Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Brian de Palma [later]). In discussing their movies, we are treated with a mix of astute film criticism, speculation, and some delightful trivia, such as how Jeff Bridges was first selected to play Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (!), and Harvey Keitel’s Sport was written to be a Black pimp, but Scorsese didn’t think it fit the social climate of the day, so he hired Keitel who insisted on hanging out with a white pimp to prepare for the role. Writer Paul Schrader was tasked with finding a white pimp in New York City and for all his efforts could not find one. So Keitel hung out with a Black pimp. Tarantino concedes it is hard to imagine anyone other than Keitel in that role, but he gives a great ‘what if’ rundown on what the movie would have been like if Brian de Palma had directed it with Schrader’s original script.

The prose is a delightful conversational style, written with the verve he displays in interviews, which doesn’t hold back on phrases like “mongoloid with the banjo” or “guinea hoods.” That may be too much for certain sensitive souls, but then they probably are not ardent Tarantino fans in the first place.

What can I say? If these movies and these directors and the fun trivia surrounding it all is up your alley, buy this book now. I don’t know when I’ve had a more enjoyable read. I was left hoping that Tarantino, movie geek extraordinaire, would write more about his passion, which is certainly infectious. It wouldn’t be about his time as a kid, but then most of the book is adult commentary. I want to read his take on everything from the 80s onward. And fortunately, he now says those books are to come, including one on foreign film. J.A.

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