Quentin Tarantino has written a book called Cinema Speculation, where he writes about everything from his earliest film influences, to how his perspective on certain films has changed over time, to which film critics he loved and loves and tons more. To promote the book, Tarantino invited the LA Times into his LA home (he also has a home in Israel) to chat about films, filmmaking and this book. The LA Times piece is a great read – even if you’re not particularly a fan of Tarantino, I don’t think anyone can deny his encyclopedic knowledge and love of film, and his fascinating critical eye. You might not agree with his perspective, but he has one and he can back it up enthusiastically. Tarantino is not fully highbrow or lowbrow – he’s not “only” into art films, nor does he refuse to acknowledge the fun and joy of popcorn entertainment. This comes up in the interview, especially when the topic of superhero films comes up. Some highlights:
Traumatized by ‘Bambi’: “I think ‘Bambi’ is well known for traumatizing children. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. The only other movie I couldn’t handle and had to leave was at a drive-in in Tennessee. I was there alone, sitting on the gravel by a speaker, watching Wes Craven‘s ‘Last House on the Left.’ So for me, ‘Last House on the Left’ and ‘Bambi’ are sitting on the f— shelf right next to each other. Both take place in the woods. and both had me saying, ‘I gotta get out of here!’”
Respect for real film criticism: “Doing this made me respect the professionals of film criticism even more for the simple fact that I realized I couldn’t do what they do. If my job was to go and watch the new movies every week and then write what I thought, I can’t imagine I would have anything to say about everything, other than offer a plot summary and a ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘indifferent’ verdict. With the book, I wanted to find something quirky that’s interesting and worth talking about.”
He wrote a lot about screenwriter/filmmaker Paul Schrader: Schrader is known for films centered on tormented men and their righteous fury. “I don’t want to be the one to break down his theme in a sentence, but inarticulately, lonely men with nothing but a profession existing in four walls. And sometimes those four walls are their apartment, sometimes they’re a city, sometimes they’re the f— planet Earth. Sometimes it’s just other human beings and how they bump up against the four walls until, usually, there’s blood all over them.”
QT has some snarky moments in the book: Tarantino calls them “snarky little asides out of the corner of my mouth,” and they usually arrive in a parenthetical, such as when he muses that, just as ’60s anti-establishment auteurs rejoiced when studio musical adaptations fell out of favor, today’s filmmakers “can’t wait for the day they can say that about superhero movies.”… “The analogy works because it’s a similar chokehold,” Tarantino says.
When will the tide turn on superhero films? “The writing’s not quite on the wall yet. The way it was in 1969 when it was, ‘Oh, my God, we just put a bunch of money into things that nobody gives a damn about anymore.’”
Why he’s never done a comic book movie: “You have to be a hired hand to do those things. I’m not a hired hand. I’m not looking for a job.”
Star Wars versus Jaws: Jaws “might not have been the best film ever made. But it was easily the best movie ever made…Of course, I liked ‘Star Wars.’ What’s not to like? But I remember — and this is not a ‘but’ in a negative way, but in a good way. The movie completely carried me along and I was just rocking and rolling with these characters…. When the lights came on, I felt like a million dollars. And I looked around and had this moment of recognition, thinking, ‘Wow! What a time at the movies!’ Now, that’s not necessarily my favorite exact type of film. At the end of the day, I’m more of a ‘Close Encounters [of the Third Kind]’ guy, just the bigger idea and Spielberg setting out to make an epic for regular people, not just cinephiles. Few films had the kind of climax that ‘Close Encounters’ had. It blew audiences away.”
One of the things I appreciate about Tarantino is that he really and truly appreciates “the critic.” He might not agree with many critics, but he reads what they have to say and he values film criticism more than nearly every other director. As for what he says about comic book films… I’ve had that feeling too, that at some point, the bottom is going to drop out of the whole business model. But he’s right, it hasn’t happened yet and it probably won’t happen for years. But there is this pervasive sense within Hollywood of “when is this sh-t going to end” and “can we do something to disrupt this business model.”
Photos courtesy of Alessandro Serrano’ / AGF Foto / Avalon.