Quentin Tarantino famously says that when people ask him if he went to film school, he tells them that he didn’t, but that he went to films instead! Being an ardent fan of his films, I would unhesitatingly add that he’s a film school all by himself and whether you like his films or not, he’s definitely not an ordinary filmmaker.
If you’ve seen his films like Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds, you know how he can build tremendous suspense in unconventionally long scenes without fancy camera work, or sharp editing but using just plain dialogue. So when he decides to write his first non-fiction book on films, you know it’ll be a gem right away.
The book is a masterpiece of time travel through film and culture of the 1970s. In his own inimitable no-holds barred way, Tarantino speculates about movies, their scenes, cast, endings, directors and critics. He tears through each of his selected films bringing out the essence of the film in a way no one else would have been able to.
Tarantino was so obsessed with the movies that he began his career working as an usher at a porn theatre called the Pussycat in downtown LA and switched jobs to become a video store clerk at Video Archives on Manhattan beach.
His parents took him to watch a movie every week. As they would drive back after the movie, Tarantino would also hear his parents analysing the movie and that added a fresh perspective on the movies he was watching. Just so they didn’t stop taking him to adult movies with them, he learnt to keep his mouth shut and not ask questions while watching them with his parents. Early in life, he says he could handle the imagery since he understood the story. And his classmates were in awe of him for the amount of movies and the knowledge he was accumulating.
The book attempts to build and post mortem at the same time over a 100 movies, mostly from the 1970s and is a hugely entertaining blend of film history and autobiography. As an excessively passionate and opinionated film fanatic and a film geek rolled into one, Tarantino does have a great knowledge of cinema and he’s not afraid to show it.
Observing some of the films, Tarantino says that violence needs to be poetic and aesthetic without giving up on the blood and the gore accompanying it.
He picks his scenes for analysis from movies as diverse as Taxi Driver, Paradise Alley, Rolling Thunder, Jaws, Getaway and Deliverance, and Escape from Alcatraz explaining how these influenced his approach to film making.
In an interview to Vanity Fair magazine, Tarantino was once described by his friend and director Paul Thomas Anderson as a loud, lovely, soft, sweet and maybe be a little mad character. That is exactly how his book Cinema Speculation is. Loud, lovely, sweet and a mad piece of writing if there was one.
Aided by a terrific memory and the info cards of hundreds of films he’s seen since his childhood, the book is a journey like no other. It attacks and refreshes everything you know about films and filmmaking.
For instance, while describing the movie Joe, Tarantino says that it was “the ugliest movie I’d ever seen, till I saw The Last House on the Left”. On the character he says, it doesn’t make Joe likeable, but it does make it enjoyable as the audience laughed at everything he tried to do.
He blends his caustic observations with a good amount of humour. The counterculture films of the late 1960s and early 1970s were exciting, he says, whether they were good or bad and they deserved to be seen, preferably stoned!
As you dive deeper into the book, you’ll learn how Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorcese and others survived and built their careers in Hollywood.
Is the book a chronicle of film history of some of the iconic films of the 1970s?
Is it an autographical journey through films that shaped his film making?
Is it his speculative revenge for what he thought wasn’t right in the movies his saw?
Is it a walkthrough of the 1970s American pop culture?
Is it opinionated rant about some of the great film makers of that time?
Cinema Speculation is all that and much more. Just like his movies, the book is so layered, rich in detail and so bright , that once you finish reading the book, you immediately want to read it again.
Literally peppered with the F word, it’s like an unforgettable ride through the films with a friend who breathes cinema.
For a person whose mother named him after two characters in the movies she loved, Quint Asper in Gunsmoke and Miss Quentin in William Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury, and who went with her to watch movies every week in his childhood and whose first jobs were at a theatre and video store, what else can we expect?
(Naveen Chandra runs a Mumbai based film studio that produces regional language feature films.)
Check out the book on Amazon