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Saturday, May 27, 2023

"Quentin [Tarantino] — this may have changed — but about a month ago he was making a film, had something to do with filmmaking in the ’70s," Paul Schrader said on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast last week. "And part of this, he’s going to use clips from movies from the ’70s, but he’s also gonna remake movies from the ’70s. And he asked me, ‘Can I redo the ending of Rollling Thunder?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, go for it. I’d love to see you redo the ending of Rolling Thunder.’ Who knows whether he actually will or not. But it was something that was tickling his imagination in a very Tarantino-esque way."

This week, Tarantino presented a mystery screening at the Cannes Film Festival that turned out to be Rolling Thunder. France 24's David Rich provides some details about Tarantino's subsequent Masterclass at Cannes:

A fixture of the Palme d’Or contest, [Marco] Bellocchio is yet to win a prize in Cannes – aside from the career award he picked up two years ago for his lifetime achievements. His lack of success here stands in stark contrast with that of another Cannes stalwart, Quentin Tarantino, who showed up for a masterclass on Thursday before an ecstatic crowd of several hundred, packed inside the Théâtre de la Croisette.

The superstar director of “Pulp Fiction”, who won the Palme at his first attempt in 1994, is currently at work on what could be his final feature film. His Cannes talk came two months after the release of his book, “Cinema Speculation”, in which he recounts his first steps as a film buff and details his love of the movies.

Tarantino kicked off the talk with a surprise screening of John Flynn’s “Rolling Thunder”, an obscure movie about a Vietnam veteran pursuing the criminals who killed his family – which he introduced as “the greatest revenge flick of all time”. With its gun-blast violence, lyrical badmouth, and cathartic final bloodbath in a Mexican bordello, it had all the hallmarks of a Tarantino favourite.

The screening of “Rolling Thunder” was a chance for the filmmaker to reflect on his approach to on-screen violence, a subject he touched on in his book, describing how his mother would take him to the movies as a young boy and let him watch violent films – as long as the violence was contextualised and “understood”.

Morality should not dictate the aesthetics of a film, Tarantino argued at the Cannes talk. The most important thing is to “electrify the audience”, he added, quoting American director Don Siegel. He did, however, draw a red line at on-set violence against animals, noting that “killing animals for real in a film (…) has been done a lot in European and Asian films”. The taboo applied to insects too, he quipped, eliciting laughter from the audience.

“I'm not paying to see death for real. We’re here to pretend, which is why I can put up with all this violence,” he explained. “We’re just being silly, we’re just kids playing, it’s not real blood and nobody gets hurt.”

Tarantino also asserted his preference for edgy and divisive directors, as well as those – like Flynn from “Rolling Thunder” – who never got the credit they deserved.

“Everyone loves Spielberg and Scorsese, there was no question of me joining the club of the most popular guys, that’s not my style!” he said, echoing a theme he mined in his book, in which he detailed his love for Brian De Palma’s more divisive movies. “Part of my love for De Palma came from the possibility of getting into trouble defending him, sometimes to the point of coming to blows,” he added.

Touching on his last Cannes entry, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (2019), Tarantino said his primary motivation for making the film was to “avenge” Sharon Tate, the actress who was brutally murdered by members of the ‘Manson Family’ in the 1970s, by imagining an alternative ending to the tragedy.

He was distinctly less chatty when quizzed about his new project, the forthcoming film “The Movie Critic”, billed as another ode to cinema. “I'm tempted to give you some of the characters’ monologues right now. But I’m not going to do that, no, no,” he teased the audience. “Maybe if there were fewer cameras.”

Tarantino has repeatedly suggested his tenth feature film is likely to be his last, based on his belief that filmmakers only have a limited number of good films in them. Whether or not he quits as a director, the conversation about movies will go on, he added, wrapping up the talk with a simple, “To be continued”.

Posted by Geoff at 11:38 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, May 27, 2023 11:43 AM CDT
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Thursday, May 25, 2023

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CDT
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Friday, February 3, 2023

"Despite Tarantino’s zeal for the cinema of this era, his prose is a chore to read," Jonathan Kirshner writes in his review of Quentin Tarantino's Cinema Speculation, at New Left Review's Sidecar blog. "The style is exhausting, characterized by an avalanche of obscenities which are presumably intended to seem honest and unbuckled, but which strike the reader as a tiresome affectation. Similarly disfiguring is the endless stream of unmotivated name dropping (‘The comedian Robert Wuhl once told me, “I’ve seen Bullitt four times and I couldn’t tell you what the plot is about’’’), all in the service of confidently expressed, unreflective assertions presented as gospel. This is not writing, it is talking – endless talking, and it is more than a little repetitive, as if the chapters were written individually and never intended to form a coherent whole."

Here's a bit more of an excerpt from Kirshner's review:

The movie chapters are a little better – or at least more distinct – but collectively they amount to something less than a mixed bag. Things get off to an unpromising start with Bullitt, fifteen pages that are essentially a mash note to Steve McQueen, with nary a glimmer of insight into this rich and multifaceted film. The treatment of Dirty Harry, in contrast, is a pleasant surprise. In the best and most thoughtful chapter in the book, Tarantino shines, contextualizing the film in the context of director Don Siegel’s long career, and engages with uncharacteristic nuance in the debate surrounding the film’s problematic politics. Even here, though, the tendency to speak in breathless soundbites (‘If Dirty Harry were a boxer it would be Mike Tyson in his knockout prime’) derails the momentum of sustained analysis. Still, if every chapter in Cinema Speculation flashed the strengths of this one, it would be worth pushing through all the braggadocio and monologuing.

Perhaps the biggest bust in this volume is its treatment of The Getaway. A still from that production graces the cover, featuring the filmmaker’s favorites Sam Peckinpah and McQueen, so presumably Tarantino would have something to say about this one. Instead we are treated to twenty-five pages of not very much. Our raconteur picks apart a few holes in the plot, and tells us that ‘I asked Peter [Bogdanovich] what he thought about [the] novel.’ Observations about the movie, however, are limited to tossed-off remarks such as ‘It’s my feeling that Ali McGraw’s moment to moment work in this film is essential’ and ‘I used to like the ending more than I do now.’ The Getaway is no masterpiece, but it is a film worth talking about, and even taking seriously. Christina Newland, in a thoughtful, engaging and enthusiastic essay for Little White Lies, says more in a thousand words than Tarantino offers here.

Sisters provides the opportunity for an appreciation of the early films of Brian de Palma, and its long discussion of Taxi Driver knows enough to ask a key question: is this a movie about a racist or is it a racist movie? Unfortunately, yet again, over thirty pages there is not a single moment of critical acumen (nor any appreciation of the filmmaking). Instead, now too recognizably on brand, serious engagement with one of the landmarks of the New Hollywood is eschewed in favour of here’s-what-I-think-off-the-top-of-my-head. There is a time and place for such things – check out Tarantino’s brilliant revisionist interpretation (in character) of Top Gun from the 1994 movie Sleep with Me – but this isn’t it. Cinema Speculation gives the impression that any hint of visual analysis or even appreciation would fall under the category of highbrow – which, to Tarantino, is the ultimate obscenity. According to the index (yes, the book has a fucking index, probably to help people look themselves up), Alfred Hitchcock appears over twenty-five times in the text. Yet there is no engagement with the marvellous Hitchcockian flourishes that characterize some of Taxi Driver’s finest scenes. Instead, the discussion is limited to observations like ‘Travis was a fucking loon,’ and ‘no fucking way was Travis in Vietnam’ (um, okay, if you say so); and a report of the audience reaction at a favorite grindhouse cinema: ‘I dug it, they dug it, and as an audience, we dug it.’ Say what you will about these comments, but they are definitely not highbrow.

Quentin Tarantino is an accomplished filmmaker, and, necessarily, a capable artisan. One could not tell that from this book, which reads like a movie geek perhaps terrified at being seen as a movie nerd. This likely accounts for some of the odd gaps in the narrative, which runs away screaming from anything that might be remotely characterized as thoughtful. Robert Altman, whose many seventies landmarks include McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Nashville, is barely noted, invoked primarily as the target of ad hominem broadsides; Alan J. Pakula (Klute, The Parallax View) goes unmentioned; Woody Allen’s output is reduced to a few words of high praise for the ‘early funny ones’. This list could easily be elaborated, but these examples raise a larger, more general concern.

Cinema Speculation presents itself as a celebration of ‘the most challenging movies of the greatest movie making era in the history of Hollywood.’ A sentiment that I (and many others) share. What is, finally, most bizarre about its baker’s dozen of features is not so much the idiosyncratic films included, but those that are left out. In trying to make the case that the seventies were indeed a golden age, it is unlikely that this set of movies would convince anybody of anything (although Taxi Driver soars, and you could argue the case for a couple of the others). Even Tarantino isn’t sold on some of them, largely deploying Hardcore as a vehicle to trash Paul Schrader (this is a book that pauses to settle numerous scores), and noting ‘Nothing that deep happens in Paradise Alley. It’s all surface.’ As for Fun House, Tarantino rates Hell Night from the same year as ‘far superior’. I haven’t seen Hell Night, which concerns a fraternity hazing ritual wherein four pledges are dropped off at an (apparently) abandoned mansion, but Roger Ebert’s one-star review plausibly describes it as ‘a relentlessly lackluster example of the Dead Teenager Movie.’

Maybe for some Hell Night is a towering achievement of the New Hollywood era, but while reading page after page about low-budget slasher flicks of modest repute, it is hard not to think of fifty treasures from that extraordinary decade left on the cutting room floor. Of course, much of this may simply boil down to questions of taste. In my view, Peter Yates’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of the landmarks of the seventies film – among its enormous strengths: razor-sharp dialogue, bravura location work, and the contributions of the players, including, arguably, Robert Mitchum’s greatest performance. Yates’s Mother, Juggs, & Speed, by contrast, is an unmotivated, incoherent mess, an embarrassment to its distinguished cast, and littered with car crashes about once a reel as if fearful the audience would otherwise nod off (or walk out). In Tarantino’s assessment, Eddie Coyle is ‘overrated’ and Juggs ‘underrated.’ For those who share that view, Cinema Speculation might be a book worth reading.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Friday, January 27, 2023

James Owen, the film columnist for the Columbia Daily Tribune, has written an interesting piece about Quentin Tarantino's new book, Cinema Speculation. Here's an excerpt:
Cinema Speculation” is a hardcovered series of essays Tarantino wrote about formative films he watched from the late sixties to the early eighties. Each chapter is presented as a piece of film criticism. Although it also reads as a memoir of a young film geek who tagged along with his mom and her dates watching age-inappropriate films with rowdy crowds. If you wonder how Tarantino developed his oddly hyperkinetic personality, “Speculation” is rich in psychological self-evaluation.

The book also provides insight into a defining modern filmmaker. When Tarantino talks about other movies, he is really identifying films and filmmakers that formed his style. A write-up of Brian De Palma or John Ford reads not so much as objective analysis but rather how those directors influenced Tarantino’s work. In that way, “Cinema Speculation” is not so much film criticism as it is autobiography. Which, frankly, is more valuable than criticism.

Writing about Tarantino’s collection requires us to define what film criticism is. Many mistake it for someone offering their opinion. That’s more like being a film columnist, which is what I do. Although I try and give context to an opinion so the reader can formulate their own decision to watch a movie or read a book or whatever. Criticism is about context. Criticism digs into the history and tastes of the filmmakers. The method of acting style employed by the performer. But criticism doesn’t just concern itself with technicalities. Considerations for evaluating a movie should also include the time and place where it was conceived and later consumed by audiences. All of these factors help define a movie and its place in the larger cultural conversation. That’s criticism.

Using that standard, Tarantino does much more. He does do a good job of explaining why films like “Dirty Harry” or “Taxi Driver” thrived at the time they did. He delves into whether Eastwood’s Harry Callahan is fascist or Paul Schrader’s take on the lone cab driver is meant to be racist.

If you dig into what film critics were saying at the time these films were released, Tarantino isn’t saying anything new. In fact, Tarantino goes out of his way to quote immediate reactions that offered these very arguments. What’s interesting is how the filmmaker talks about these controversies. Tarantino, too, has been accused of racism and glorifying violence. When he defends these films, you hear self-defense. You may not agree with the position taken, but Tarantino makes a vigorous and entertaining case.

When the topic turns to plot points or camera angles, Tarantino talks why this certain scene worked and something else does not. By talking technique, Tarantino offers a glimpse into how he works. He talks about the decisions he would have made had he directed those earlier films. This, again, isn’t criticism, but rather a glimpse into his own moviemaking in a very engaging and entertaining writing style.

If you’re not much of a reader, there are other options to observe Tarantino’s metamorphosis as the co-host of the “Video Achieves” podcast with fellow filmmaker Roger Avary. Both shared the Oscar for writing “Pulp Fiction” and both got their start as clerks at the Video Achieves store in Manhattan Beach. There, a burgeoning QT dazzled customers with his encyclopedic knowledge of every movie known to man. (Indeed much of the Tarantino myth is that he absorbed all of this knowledge and became a legendary director seemingly through osmosis.)

When the store closed, Tarantino bought the entire inventory and now he and Avary spends ninety minutes every week talking about titles they seemingly pluck out of the air.

I’ve listened to every episode and never once been compelled to seek out any of these exploitative grindhouse flicks. What captivates me about the podcast – as well as “Cinema Speculation” – is how Tarantino lets you into his filmmaking mind. Not only that, but Tarantino has such enthusiasm for watching movies. Every filmgoing experience has the promise of something amazing. This certainly is out of vogue for most critics who seem to look for reasons to hate everything they see. I don’t relate to that; Tarantino suspects most critics hate themselves or their job. I don’t disagree so I reject most other critics.

But the unbridled hopefulness endears me to Tarantino, who remains a fan despite going into his fourth decade as a Hollywood veteran that could make anyone a cynic.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Sunday, September 5, 2021

As Quentin Tarantino's first novel is published, GQ's John Phipps has a profile piece in which some other QT writings are mentioned:
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is, at its heart, a book about the sadness and excitement of expectation: Sharon Tate, the next-big-thing actor with her unborn child; Aldo Ray, a washed-up alcoholic with his own kind of dignity; even Manson feels more like a relatable kind of loser, trying to make it big as a hippie folk singer, than the electromagnetic pulse powering a murderous sex-and-bullshit cult. At one point the book quotes the film critic Pauline Kael: “In Hollywood you can die of encouragement.”

It’s the losers, I think, who have Tarantino’s heart. Maybe that’s why [Cliff] Booth’s education in cinema feels so real. “I think it’s the solitary experience he ends up liking,” says Tarantino, turning reflective. “Which, actually, is kind of interesting. I hadn’t thought about it before – but that was, for the most part, you know, me. From, like, 14 to 22 or 23, I saw so many movies. But it was rare, unless the movie was a huge hit, that I saw something other kids in school saw or my family saw. For the most part, I’m seeing a whole lot of movies and I’ve never talked to anybody about them.”

The man GQ is speaking to today sounds blissfully happy, revelling in the joys of new parenthood. (He says he does bath time, but not nappies.) It’s been a slow growth towards contentment from the “piss and vinegar”.

“I think that’s the goal,” he says, laughing, “and most of us more or less achieve it.” But the young Tarantino was alone in his obsession. “It was a completely solitary experience. Whatever I felt about it, and however much I liked it, it was unexpressed.”

After that electric loneliness in the dark theatre, Tarantino would cut out magazine clips from his favourite music and movie critics and stick them into organised scrapbooks. “So I’d have my Pauline Kael books, my Stanley Kauffmann book, my Michael Ventura book.” Kael remains a guiding light. He not only owns all her books, but he also buys every different edition he sees. Fans have long wondered if Tarantino would ever get round to some of the projects he’s teased: a movie about the Vega brothers; a Silver Surfer film; a third Kill Bill. There are a few ideas today – the most surprising being that he’d like to write a novelisation of someone else’s movie – but the great forthcoming Tarantino work, for my money, will be a book of film reviews, slated for release in the next few years. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Beyond that, there are big books of essays that he has been adding to for decades and which he can never seem to finish, on the work of filmmakers such as Brian De Palma, Sergio Corbucci, Don Siegel and Robert Aldrich. “I don’t think I’ll finish them,” he says, laughing. “They’re sitting un-typed in a drawer.” He has other plans – not settled yet, but vague, floating enticements that might grab him. He says he can see himself doing a novelisation of True Romance or Reservoir Dogs. What about – it seems so obvious – making Pulp Fiction into pulp fiction? A pause. “Nah, that doesn’t interest me.”

The answer is immediate. Because he knows instinctively, by this point, how to listen to his instincts, the ones that took him to where he is today. Before the mountain of paper, the one-handed typing, the rewrites and edits and inevitable accommodations with practicality, every project starts with an idea, an interior excitement, something he’s wanted to do for a long time, something that sparks the same sense of momentum he felt as a young guy adding dialogue to other people’s movies – that pregnant sense of direction and certainty. So he sits down to write. Very quickly, almost immediately, he knows if he’s on to something.

“I know within the first couple of scenes: I’m gonna finish this. This is it. This is the next one I’m doing. I started doing it and I was right.”

Posted by Geoff at 11:42 AM CDT
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thank you to Antonios for sending us the link to the video above, in which Quentin Tarantino speaks at a press conference last week at the Cannes Film Festival. At about the 9:27 mark, while answering a question about dealing with pressure amidst expectations of each new film he makes, Tarantino mentions how, when he was younger, he would wait with heightened anticipation for each new Brian De Palma film. Vulture has a pretty good transcription of what Tarantino said, but the video above shows that certain points were left out (such as when Tarantino talks about how he would have "Scarface dreams," he adds that that was easy to do, having seen the original Howard Hawks movie). Anyway, here's the excerpt from Vulture:

When asked if he finds it harder and harder to top himself as he gets more famous and established, Tarantino said it's not something he thinks about. "Frankly, it’s not a pressure I ever feel because, to me, that should always be there. I want people to expect a lot from me. I want people waiting with great expectation for my next movie." It makes him feel connected with directors he grew up idolizing. "I mean, when Brian De Palma would come out with a new movie, the whole first two weeks before the movie opened, I would count down the days. That week before Scarface opened, that was Scarface Week. You know, 'Six more days to Scarface!' 'Five more days to Scarface!' I’d have Scarface dreams ... And then the new De Palma movie would open. I’d go see the first show, the first day, and no one could come with me. I had to see it by myself. Then I’d ruminate about the film all day long and then I’d go to see the midnight show that night, and then I could actually have some friends with me. That kind of excitement for a filmmaker is one of the things that keeps filmmaking alive, and vital, just like in Bob Dylan’s time waiting for Bob Dylan’s next album. Or in Norman Mailer’s time waiting for his new novel. I don’t consider that pressure. I consider that a luxury, that I actually have people who like my stuff and are waiting for the new one. I wouldn’t want it any other way. The opposite of what you’re talking about is I’m making a movie and no one gives a damn and it opens up and no one cares. That would be horrible."

Posted by Geoff at 3:35 AM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 3:36 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The 1994 BBC video above includes an excerpt from a conversation between Quentin Tarantino and Brian De Palma. A transcript of the full conversation appears in the John Boorman-edited Projections 5, as well as in Brian De Palma: Interviews, edited by Laurence F. Knapp. Prior to the excerpt, Tarantino shows a scene from De Palma's Casualties Of War (which he says is probably his favorite war movie), describing how he watched the film while he was writing Reservoir Dogs as sort of a guide for the emotions of his film. Tarantino also flips through his De Palma scrapbook for the camera. (And you'll note that the video begins with music from Blow Out, followed by soundtrack clips from the other two movies Tarantino named at the time (along with Blow Out) as his three favorite movies, Taxi Driver and Rio Bravo.)

Posted by Geoff at 6:54 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 7:35 PM CDT
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Monday, February 7, 2011

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

The above video (I can't seem to get the embed code to work, so you'll have to click on the link above to watch), Everything Is A Remix by Kirby Ferguson, is part two of a planned four-part series that explores culture as a perpetual remix of previous (and current) culture. Part one focuses on the consistently recycled bassline from Chic's Good Times before delving into Led Zeppelin and the birth of "heavy metal." In the recently completed part two, above, Ferguson discusses how movies cannot help but be a product of films that came before, and he spends a good deal of time on a well-researched and edited montage of George Lucas' Star Wars, noting several of Lucas' influences with side-by-side comparisons. At the end of the video, Ferguson touches on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, which he deems Tarantino's "remix master thesis."

"The killer nurse scene in particular is almost entirely a recombination of elements from existing films," states Ferguson, who narrates the videos. "The basic action is the same as this scene from Black Sunday, where a woman disguised as a nurse attempts to murder a patient with a syringe of red fluid. Darryl Hannah’s eye patch is a nod to the lead character in They Call Her One Eye, and the tune she’s whistling is taken from the 1968 thriller, Twisted Nerve. Capping it off, the split screen effect is modeled on techniques used by Brian De Palma in an assortment of films, including Carrie."

I wrote a comment on Ferguson's blog to say that this sequence in Kill Bill Vol. 1 always seems to give me a tinge of De Palma's Dressed To Kill in the mix, as well, especially regarding the scene in the latter where Bobbi kills the nurse and steals her clothes. Something about the fetishistic aspect of Tarantino's shots touches on this. In any case, Robert Grigsby Wilson was recruited by Ferguson to complete the study on Kill Bill, and you can watch that one below.* (And speaking of Carrie, I think one can make a case for that De Palma film being included in the mash-up of the scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 where the Bride (Uma Thurman) punches her fist from the grave.)

*(Again, I can't get the embed code to work, so click the link below to watch the Kill Bill remix.)


Everything Is A Remix: KILL BILL from robgwilson.com on Vimeo.

Posted by Geoff at 9:51 PM CST
Updated: Monday, February 7, 2011 10:11 PM CST
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Monday, February 8, 2010

The video above comes courtesy of Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeffrey Wells, who attended a "Directors On Directing" panel yesterday at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The panel, moderated by Variety's Peter Bart, featured Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Lee Daniels, Pete Docter, and Todd Phillips. The clip above shows Tarantino going into the anecdote he has told before about the De Palma/Scorsese rivalry, but he really plays it up this time in a highly entertaining way. Speaking of Scorsese, an interview article by Terrence Rafferty published yesterday in the New York Times discusses how, for the new Shutter Island, Scorsese and his music supervisor Robbie Robertson decided to use modern classical music to paint bursts of sound walls, the way Scorsese usually uses rock music. Should be an interesting effect-- looking forward to seeing it.

Posted by Geoff at 10:26 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 8:35 PM CST
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Posted by Geoff at 1:02 AM CDT
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