Cinema Speculation: Quentin Tarantino – Book Review. By Joe Muldoon.
The printing presses hardly having cooled since printing 2021’s marvellous Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (a rethinking of the 2019 film of the same name), Cinema Speculation serves as Quentin Tarantino’s debut nonfiction work. Trying to pin it down as a personal memoir or a history or critique of the New Hollywood movement feels somewhat redundant; by all accounts, it seems as if this work is meant to be all of these things and none of them at the same time. The classic advice almost always given to filmmakers and writers is to ‘write what you know’, and for Tarantino, what he clearly knows is cinema.
Picture this: you’re sat at a diner across from Quentin (perhaps Jack Rabbit Slim’s, with Mia and Vincent sat a few booths away), captively listening to him unfurl his stream of consciousness at breakneck speed whilst you unconsciously stir your milkshake with your now-soggy paper straw – that’s how Cinema Speculation reads. It’s not dissimilar to the Rae’s Restaurant scene between Clarence and Alabama in 1993’s Tarantino-written film True Romance. The book undoubtedly carries the filmmaker’s distinctive voice, as if simply a transcription of an unfiltered discussion of his; some writers spend years trying to find their voices, but Quentin had his before he even put pen to paper.
From the opening chapter (aptly named ‘Little Q Watching Big Movies’), we become witnesses to the genesis of a lifelong obsession and dedication to film. No doubt, when Quentin first entered the doors of the Tiffany Theater in 1970 with his mother and stepfather to watch a double-bill of Joe and Where’s Poppa, the essence of his feelings was captured by Humphrey Bogart’s final line in Casablanca: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.
As they appear throughout his tales of formative cinemagoing, the descriptions of the important adult figures in his early life are genuinely endearing. Going by what’s said of them, we have a lot to thank these people for, particularly Floyd Ray Wilson, the man who nurtured Quentin’s drive to write screenplays. Though we’re given a glimpse into the journey towards becoming an award-winning director, most of the work focuses on some of his favourite features from the beloved New Hollywood movement, starting with the classic 1968 McQueen thriller Bullitt and finishing with the now-overlooked 1981 Hooper slasher The Funhouse.
As the chapters go on and we’re introduced to more of Quentin’s favourite New Hollywood flicks (most notable of all being the revengeamatic Rolling Thunder, the namesake of his future short-lived film distribution company), we’re treated to a loosely-formatted collection of critiques, personal stories, and mini-histories of how each film was made and could’ve ended up looking – who can really imagine Jeff Bridges in De Niro’s shoes as Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver? In some instances, we’re also given somewhat of a genealogy of the most famous New Hollywood revengeamatics, with the author tracing many of the 70s’ best films back to the 1956 John Ford epic The Searchers.
Whilst Tarantino’s own films are left largely untouched, we’re offered a few references here and there with regards to which films and actors inspired some of his characters. One of the most interesting sources of inspiration for a Tarantino picture is Robert Forster’s role in the 1980 B-movie horror Alligator, which influenced his depiction of Max Cherry in 1997’s Jackie Brown. With the speed at which they’re thrown at us and namechecked, a degree of familiarity with B-movies is assumed of the readers – that is, unless you don’t mind having their plots (including endings) spoilt.
All in all, Cinema Speculation is an exciting account of infatuation (and, at times, loggerheads) with the stars of one filmmaker’s life: the films, the directors, the actors, the writers, the childhood role models, and almost surprisingly, the critics. I’ve no doubt that the reading experience is identical to listening to Quentin enthusiastically bombarding you with film recommendations and trivia from behind the counter at Video Archives back in the late 80s. Ultimately, Tarantino’s debut (and hopefully not last) nonfiction book is a stunning (and borderline encyclopaedic) 370-page love letter to cinema.
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