Since the release of a revelatory Reservoir Dogs in 1992, writer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino has been an institution in iconoclastic filmmaking. A rare breed of director that is as famous and even sometimes infamous as any other celebrity, Quentin has directed Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown. Quentin's distribution company, Rolling Thunder Pictures, has made a business of re-releasing such lost classics as Switchblade Sisters and Mighty Peking Man. His films and personal collections of records, posters, film prints, toys and lunchboxes are living testaments to the world of popular culture and childhood. In an exclusive internet interview with YL, Quentin Tarantino lays down the truth on G.I. Joe, Bill & Ted's Excellent Cereal, a surprising boyhood crush and a whole lot more.
YESTERDAYLAND: What was some of your favorite Saturday morning cartoons?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I remember my least favorite Saturday morning cartoon was definitely Scooby Doo. I hated Scooby Doo. I thought it was a stupid show, I mean, I actually remember watching the first episode ever shown of Scooby Doo, like the season it started. I go 'what the heck is this thing?' I never thought the mysteries were good. I always thought it was stupid and, then, I don't know if this is the case with all of the shows, but it seems like Scooby Doo started the thing where they made six episodes every year. They proceeded to repeat the same six episodes every year and then when Scooby Doo hit then all of a sudden on Saturday morning it was like you had six shows and then for the rest of the year it was just repeating them again and again and again. My dislike of Scooby Doo was a big thing. As far as like my favorite shows when I was really little, I loved H.R. Pufnstuf and I think Pink Panther was really funny but, I really liked H.R. Pufnstuf
YL: I know that breakfast cereal is a passion of yours, I want you to talk about some your favorite breakfast cereals and then I want you to talk about why you love Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal.
QT: One of the reasons that I like breakfast cereal is: one, it's really good, and two, it's really easy to fix. If you've got a good box of cereal, what could you possibly make in your house that's gonna be better than that bowl? Everything else will take so much more time then making that bowl of cereal. Cereal's like pizza: you just eat it until you get sick. I've always loved the fact that cereal is still really aimed at kids and is more fashionable and faddish than a hip-hop tennis shoe, because they will literally, constantly, come out with, like, "butterscotch toast cereal", alright? And it's on the stands for three months and then it's gone. Never to be heard of again. Especially all of the cereals they tie in with this movie or that Saturday morning cartoon or this show or this that and the other. That's always cool I like collecting stuff. I'm a collector of stuff, and so it's, like, 'Oh, I remember Hong Kong Phooey Crunch' or whatever. I have to say, most the time, they take a cereal and they do some Urkelo's or whatever, it's just another cereal like one you had before, just with a different color and a different form of a marshmallow in it or something like that. Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal was an exception to the rule. It was cool. It wasn't based on the movie, it was based on the cartoon. If they had a Dumb and Dumber cereal, they would have the cartoon Dumb and Dumber, not the Jeff Daniels on the cover. It was good; it tasted better than Lucky Charms. It was really good. It had the cartoon drawing of Bill and Ted on there and I was like, 'man, I should call up General Mills and get a year's supply of this, cause it's gonna be on the stands for four months and then it's gonna go away and never to be seen again.'
YL: What are some of your favorite classic cereals?
QT: Well, Cap'n Crunch cereal, that's kinda the classic, that's the Crystall of cereal. All of its different versions. I liked Crunch Berries, I even liked Peanut Butter Crunch, though peanut butter gets a little too much. But I still kinda like it, until that third bowl. I think [Cap'n Crunch] has the distinction that a modern ailment has been named of it. I use it and everyone knows what I'm talking about it when I use it. It's "Cap'n Crunch Mouth", which means you've had one bowl too many of Cap'n Crunch and now the roof of your mouth is hanging like shards, little strips of your gums are dangling like stalagmites. That's "Cap'n Crunch Mouth". I kinda like the fact that Cap'n Crunch is, like, the greatest thing in the world until all of a sudden you feel like you're eating ground glass. But, until you have the feeling of eating ground glass, it's the greatest thing in the world. What is that? Like, a swami or something? It hypnotizes you and then you come out of it. When the pain is too excruciating and then finally 'oh my God, I am eating ground glass.'
YL: Anything with prizes in it that you've collected in cereal?
QT: There was this kinda thing when you're a kid- if you're gonna buy a cereal that didn't have a prize in it, when there were obviously cereals that had prizes in the box, you felt like were missing an opportunity or something. You would never buy it. Even if you liked it, you'd never buy Kix. They don't have prizes in it. There's your grandma's cereal, and then there was cereal for you. Cereal and Saturday morning; they all worked together. Saturday morning was your time. That was your Vegas. That was when the network was for you, when parents didn't even bother to wake up. That was cool. Cereal was yours and you could make that and enjoy it. Prizes were always a pretty big deal when I was little. But, the better the prize, the worse the cereal. I mean, if you got a swiss army knife in a box of cereal, you knew that you weren't gonna like the box of cereal, if you got some crappy tattoo that's gonna look like a birth mark when you put it on your arm, that's probably the good cereal.
YL: Did you listen to any old radio shows?
QT: That's about twenty years before my time, however, I remember when I was a little kid- about ten- actually feeling nostalgic about a past that I never had when it came to radio shows. In the seventies they had, it wasn't KTEL but it was a [KTEL-like] version of an old radio show album. They had commercials on TV, "Go back to the fun days of yester year." It was like a four album set that had twenty minute episodes of these different shows and they were doing the whole thing, "Who knows? The Shadow knows?," or "Welcome to Gang Busters." (makes gun shot). I went, 'Wow, that sounds great!' and remember my step-dad telling me, 'Oh man, Gang Busters was a great show, it was great gangster show, it was excellent. Oh, the Shadow was great. That's Orson Welles, you know that, Quentin?' And so I was like 'I wanna hear those shows', the way, I guess, kids now who went 'wow that stuff from the seventies sounds pretty cool. I'd like to be able to watch the The Partridge Family every Friday or Get Christy Love or whatever. That's how I felt when I was watching the commercial for Gang Busters.
YL: What's your earliest TV memory and what were your favorite shows?
QT: If you asked my mom she would definitely tell you that my first favorite TV show, that I was obsessive about, was Batman. I don't even like Batman now, but I remember when I was a little kid, I was pretty gonzo about it. I lived in El Segundo for most of my memories of childhood, but I did live a little bit in another area. When I was, like, three and four and one of the few memories I do have is that I remember watching Batman. I do remember being excited turning on Batman. I even remember some car in the parking lot of the apartment building we lived in. It was like a Volkswagen kinda car and in that little back window that the Volkswagen has, that little triangle window, there was a decal of the Batman logo of the spotlight, you know, the sixties one. I remember always passing that car and looking at that thing longingly. Even kinda staring at it for a little bit. I just thought it was so cool that someone even had a Batman logo on their car and why didn't we have one on our car?
YL: I know there's another show that you liked very much?
QT: Yeah, I really, really liked the show, Julia. At the end the of the day, I think the reason that I liked Julia is I think that was the first time that I ever 100% identified with the two little kids in the show. Julia had a son and then her next-door neighbor had a son. Julia was black and her son was black. The next door was a white woman and they were both, if I'm not mistaken, single. I think it was the first time I was, like, seeing the adventures of me more or less.
YL: Your favorite crush? Talk about some of your kid crushes.
QT: My first big crush, crush, crush when my parents took me to see Cactus Flower. I just went 'wow' over Goldie Hawn. Now I knew Goldie Hawn anyway, cause I watched Laugh In, I watched Laugh In early on. I loved Laugh In, that was the greatest thing on earth. Goldie Hawn was really cool. It's funny, I actually didn't have a crush on her from Laugh In, but I think that my parents thought I did. I remember when they took me to see Cactus Flower and Goldie Hawn comes walking out in the opening scene. My mom's like 'oh, there's Goldie Hawn', like I have a crush on her. Well, it worked. The power of suggestion worked. I had a crush on her by the end of the movie. So, I had a big crush on Goldie Hawn when I was four. I had a crush on Shirley Jones. Now I didn't really know that Shirley Jones was as old as she was. Oddly enough, I got the crush, not from watching the show, but when the show was going to premiere, opening up the TV Guide and seeing a picture of her in her velvet outfit. Just a close-up of her smiling. She had a really pretty smile- close ups of her were pretty. 'Wow, she's really cute', not knowing she was the mother or knowing anything about that. You know? You see a picture of a girl you go, 'Wow!' And that's it, and no one can talk to you. That's it. I really had that crush, only to find out that Shirley Partridge was Marion the librarian from The Music Man. Now, I tended to get obsessive when I was a little kid, when I would get a crush and I would get hit by forlorn melancholy because it wasn't working out, I wasn't with them. I would really get hit with first stages of heartbreak or something and get melancholy about it. I remember one Thanksgiving, I was in the pit of my crush for Shirley Jones and I decided to kinda cry about it for a while cause I didn't know her. I was at my grandmother's house and I'm just moping around and moody and teary in her guest bedroom. Meanwhile, my grandfather is watching Oklahoma. Little did I know, Shirley Jones is the star of Oklahoma. I could've gone in there and watched it with him and it wouldn't have been such a moody thing. To this day, I was like 'I am sitting here crying about Shirley Jones and I'm like six years old and they're watching Oklahoma and I don't know it'. It was pretty wild. She's Marion the librarian and the girl from Oklahoma, she's a renaissance woman. The Partridge Family TV movie they did on VH-1 was awful, so cheap, so bad except for Shirley Jones. The woman who was cast as Shirley Jones was great. I would forget that I wasn't watching Shirley Jones for a second. She had her down, she was great. Bravo, you are the woman.
YL: I know you liked playing with G.I. Joe's, what do you remember about playing with them or other toys?
QT: When it comes to G.I. Joes, if you were ever unlucky enough to be assigned to my battalion, it was pretty much a suicide mission. I was quite the bastard because if you lost a leg, that didn't mean s*** to me, alright, you gotta keep on fighting. You lost your head? I didn't give a f***. You lost an arm? Amputees? I don't give a f***. Cripples fight just like everybody else. That was just the way. Now if that rope in the middle broke, okay, then you're retired. I didn't have enough imagination to make a hip bone the entire G.I. Joe, but you know, his arm his leg or whatever- it didn't matter, he still fought, he still played. Actually, the truth, though, is that I never really played war with them. I did what I do. I'm a director, alright? So, they were my actors. Mostly, it wasn't so much that I saw a movie and then went out and acted it out at home with the G. I. Joes. It was more like I saw the commercial for a movie I wanted to see then I took my G.I. Joes and made the movie. My version of what I thought I would see. The exception is when my dad took me to see Diamonds are Forever. I saw it at the Grauman's Chinese Theater back when it was still Grauman's. It was great. So then I was, like, playing G.I. Joe and James Bond and Blofeld and all of those characters. The thing is, I would play them and I would give them (see, I grew up in the 70's, and my parents would take me to see R-rated movies) so I had the dialog, they would be saying, you know 'Okay, you son-of-a-bitch, kiss your ass good-bye'. My uncle, who was taking care of me, would say 'Quentin, what is all of that going on?' And I was like, 'No, it's not me! It's the characters.' It's them. They're saying their dialog. It's the characters. Oddly enough, my mom kind of understood. He'd complain to my mom and she'd say 'Leave him alone. What do you care? He's in his room. He's playing with his dolls. What do you care what he says? Shut your ears, it's his room. There is not another human being in the room; he can say what he wants'.
YL: What about Evel Knievel?
QT: The first incarnation of him, alright, not the van, not the this or the that, or the special do da da, but the very first one that came in the oblong box-that you just go vroom and then let it go and then he takes off, you know, and jumps a roll of pennies hit big the Christmas it came out. It was like every other commercial on TV was for [Evel]. There was only one toy I ever wanted as much as I wanted the Evel Knievel and that was the Talking View Master. I got my Talking View Master. I was big into View Masters as a kid. That's like having a screening room in your house as far as I was concerned. 'Land of the Giants any time I want them? Oh my god!' And the Talking View Master? That's a theater! Oh my goodness! I would have dreams. Until I got it, I had dreams that I had the Talking View Master. I would dream about it. But, the Evel Knievel was when I was living in Tennessee with my Grandmother. And I wanted the Evel Knievel. And my mom [would say] 'What do you want?' 'Evel Knievel! Evel Knievel! Evel Knievel!' My aunt [would say] 'What do you want?' 'Evel Knievel! Evel Knievel!' My Grandmother [would say] 'What do you want?' 'Evel Knievel! Evel Knievel!' My Grandmother, who I am staying with, tells my mom, 'Well I know that Quentin wants this Evel Knievel thing, so I'll give him that and you give him everything else.' So my Mom becomes Diamond Jim Brady. Gets me all this stuff. Ton of stuff, sends it over, like the guilty mother she is. She gives me the Elvis Presley Christmas. Alright? But my Grandmother, her job was to get the Evel Knievel. This is no joke. It wasn't like this was a surprise and I opened it up and it's not there. She said 'I'm getting you the Evil Knievel. Shut up about the Evel Knievel. Your mom is getting you everything else and that will be the surprise, but I'm getting you the Evel Knievel.' This was said before Christmas. It was so obvious that that is what I wanted that it wasn't even a surprise anymore. What happens Christmas morning? My Mom sends her guilt-ridden, expensive booty to me, alright? I open everything under the sun and it's great, but there is no Evel Knievel. And after literally opening up an Elvis Presley Christmas?I'm like 'Okay, where is Evel Knievel? How much clearer do I have to say to you?you ask me what do I want and I just repeat one thing over and over again like Franny and Zooey.' And my Grammy [says] 'I didn't get you the Evel Knievel because I went to K-Mart and they didn't have it.' And even then- even then I fried an egg on my head! K-Mart is your universe?! I know this is Tennessee, but still. God forbid you actually get in an automobile and drive somewhere. The Rolling Store didn't have the Evel Knievel, I understand that. (It's the store they take to the hills and people buy crap with food stamps) Oh, you couldn't get the Evel Knievel with food stamps? That was the rub. Get me a pot roast next time! That bothered me. That really bothered me. You could have given me a million dollars, I didn't want it, I wanted the Evel Knievel. It was all for naught. I get mad at how oblivious adults are when it is so obvious what's important to children. How dumb do you have to be? I just get annoyed at adults' obliviousness to what's important to children. That if you opened your eyes for two seconds you would go, 'Naturally!' I think that is a thing that our generation has. We know! We didn't have to live with a lump of coal. We didn't cry because we ate grounds everyday. We cried because we didn't get an Evel Knievel. Well, now we know that that is important to us. Now we know it is going to be more important to our kids. So, as much as you hate Pokemon, buck up and deal with it cuz your kid likes it!
YL: You've talked before about public service announcements from the 1970s. Do you have any favorites?
QT: Hands down, to this day, my favorite public service announcement?I would have been proud to have directed or starred in this public service announcement? was one on drugs. It starts off with a bunch of kids. I'm talking about elementary school kids. Third grade and fourth grade. And a black guy. You never see his face, and if I am not mistaken, you may never even see his hands. But it's definitely a black guy?voice. Hands down. And it's kind of crude the way they shoot it?never showing his face. Third graders and fourth graders get out on the playground and there's a black guy (in a black suit, no less.) Like a Reservoir Dogs black suit. And he has got a table laid out in front of the school yard as the kids all come running like he's the ice cream man at the table. And he's like 'Hello little kiddies, gather around, the man with the goodies is here' And he picks up a thing of airplane glue. 'Here is a newie from me to youie?just inhale and sniff, it is airplane glue.' One little kid is basically cock-blocking his little speech, and he's like 'airplane glue causes convulsions.' 'Convulse yourself outta here, kid.' He goes, 'Here's a little thing for a little trip, it's LSD.' He throws out three pills and the same kid goes 'LSD causes hallucination.' 'Hallucinate yourself outta here, kid.' And then he whips out a joint, 'How about grass, is there anything wrong with pot?' 'They're not sure. There are not enough studies done on that yet.' Finally, the kid goes, 'Everything that you have here is bad for you.' 'Hey kid, why do you think they call it dope?' And the kids walk away. But the part that I can still remember 'Hey little kiddies, gather around, the man with the goodies is here. Here is a newie from me to youie?just inhale and sniff, it is airplane glue.'