Today we have good and bad news for Tarantino fans. Let’s start with the bitter pill: during an interview, the director of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) has once again insisted on his withdrawal from the sets, assuring that “it is time to close the beach bar ( …) I don’t want to become an old man out of the loop , much less when I already feel a bit like an old man out of the way with respect to the movies that are coming out now.” He also added that he does not see much point in working in what he considers one of the worst times that Hollywood has experiencedthroughout its entire story, where he’s not even sure “what a movie is right now. Something they put on Netflix? Is it something they put on Amazon and people watch from their sofa?
And now the good news! Cinema Speculation , his first nonfiction book, is a sensational, revealing, expansive, and ultra-entertaining tour of the movies that marked him as a child. For Quentin Tarantino, the American cinema of the seventies is a state of mind, a kind of Shangri-La that he considers essential in his training not only as a filmmaker, but also as a human being. In its pages we discover, among many other things, the film that gave him “permission to become a director” (seriously, that’s how he puts it), the time he had the best time in a movie theater, their relationship with the three great father figures of his life (mediated, of course, through the big screen), the private interviews that he had with some of his heroes or the way in which he had filmed some key sequences of his sentimental video store, well not there is nothing more interesting than reading Tarantino looking for the tickles of jewels like The Escape (Sam Peckinpah, 1972) or Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976).
Cinema Speculation also includes a few revelations that even the most obsessive Tarantinophiles might not know about their idol. For example, now we finally know which were the three specific films that most impacted a child whose mother allowed her to attend sessions that her classmates could not even dream of. For example, little QT was the only boy in his class to see The Wild Bunch (1969) during one of its many theatrical revivals, but Peckinpah’s masterpiece was not the first of those three films that traumatized him, rather the shock came with his double session companion: Defense (1972), by John Boorman. Tarantino has spoken on more than one occasion about how the sequence in which a couple of hicks kidnap and rape Ned Beatty left a deep impression on him, but now we can read a whole chapter dedicated to it. As if that weren’t enough, the author provides an incredibly lucid analysis of Lewis, the character played by Burt Reynolds , as well as the way in which he relates not only to the actor’s own personality, but also to that of James Dickey, the writer of the novel on which Defense is based .
The second film that gave a boy a really bad time who, let us remember, attended as if nothing had happened to shows by Joe, an American citizen (John G. Avildsen, 1970) or Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) was nothing less than The Last House on the Left (1972), by Wes Craven . In the prologue to Cinema Speculation , Tarantino explains that some of the most terrifying moments he experienced in cinema during his childhood did not occur during the films themselves, but during the trailers: Alone in the Dark (Terence Young, 1967), for example, left him mute for the rest of the session, while the 200 Motels(Tony Palmer and Frank Zappa, 1971) seemed, for some reason, too psychedelic not to scare him. He also talks about how Oliver Reed and Alan Bates’s fireside fight shown in the trailer for Women in Love (Ken Russell, 1969) left him more confused than terrified – and that sentiment may have inspired a particularly bloody scene in Django Unchained (2012)– but The Last House on the Leftit seemed to him, apart from the scruffiest movie he had ever seen, the only one that could disturb him much more than all those trailers. Craven managed to sustain that feeling of terror throughout the footage, leaving poor Quentin rooted in his chair and convinced that he would have nightmares that night. The most ironic thing about it is that, two decades later, Tarantino saw Wes Craven leave one of the first public screenings of his debut film, Reservoir Dogs (1992).
“I can’t believe that the guy who made The Last House on the Left has left (from my film),” protested the young debutant. To which Craven replied that ” The Last House… was about the horror of violence without trying to glorify it . This movie glorifies it.”
To finish, we go with the only movie that, as QT confesses, really surpassed him completely. Defense and The Last House on the Left put him temporarily out of the picture, yes, but there was just one display of atrocities so gigantic, twisted and evil that the poor lad was scarred for life. We are talking, of course, about Bambi (David Hand and vv.aa., 1942).
Tarantino’s mother took him to see the Disney classic on the occasion of its third revival in US theaters, which means that the Cinema Speculation writer must have been around four or five years old when he witnessed nightmarish scenes like, without going any further , “Bambi walking away from his mother, her being shot by the hunter and that horrible forest fire”. Despite understanding that “those Bambi sequences have screwed up child viewers for decades”, Quentin Tarantino believes he knows the specific reason why they affected him so much: “Beyond the psychological dynamics of the story, it was the shock of being before a film that took a turn towards the tragic in such an unexpected way. The TV commercials didn’t emphasize the true nature of the movie: instead, they focused on Bambi and Drummer being adorable. Nothing prepared me for that harrowing turn of events. I remember my little brain screaming the version of “What the fuck is going on?” What would a five year old think ? If he had been ready to see what he was going to see, I think he would have processed it differently.”