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With 'Cinema Speculation', Quentin Tarantino Brings You The World Of Movies Like Few Others Can

One can only hope that Tarantino's essay collection marks the beginning of a dazzling career — not unlike his filmmaking — as a writer and storyteller of cinema: Harsh Pareek reviews 'Cinema Speculation'.

With 'Cinema Speculation', Quentin Tarantino Brings You The World Of Movies Like Few Others Can
Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino; nonfiction

Last Updated: 11.00 AM, Feb 21, 2023


IF YOU ARE FAMILIAR with even one of Quentin Tarantino's nine films (and it's likely that you are, at this point in his decades-spanning, star-studded career), it's rather obvious that the man is a writer. A good one at that. And if you have ever read/watched/listened to a few of his interviews, you would be aware as well of his encyclopedic knowledge on all things film, and that perhaps more than anything in the world, he loves to talk about them.

Some years back, when the American filmmaker began reiterating his conviction of only making 10 feature films, the all too understandable, yet disappointing nonetheless, decision was cushioned by the announcement that he would be writing and publishing books going ahead. 2019 rolled by and with it, Tarantino's latest project, the third in his revisionist history trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Two years on, in June 2021, the filmmaker debuted as an author with the novelisation of said film. While being a tie-up comes with it own quirks, the pulpy fiction(!) further established the writing credentials of the two-time Academy Award winner for best original screenplay (Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained). And now comes his first nonfiction, an amalgamation of film criticism, behind-the-scenes production chronicles, a fair bit of reporting and history, both personal and that of the Hollywood in the 1970s — Cinema Speculation.

In the opening chapter, recounting his first brushes with cinema in his childhood and then the ever-growing love for the same in his teenage years, Tarantino introduces readers not only to his life and family dynamics in Los Angeles at the time, but also defines the parameters of the book. Cinema Speculation is to be a collection of essays around select American films, mostly from the '70s, that the author saw (and was impressed by) in his youth. That said, the book unfolds in a typical Tarantino-esque free-flowing, conversational style, each chapter covering a lot more ground than the film at its heart. And the collection is all the better for it.

To read Cinema Speculation is to embrace the author's infectious, unbridled enthusiasm for films. Tarantino effortlessly manages to make his book on film history and criticism a page turner, a far cry from the oft dry and almost academic titles engaging in similar endeavours, without compromising on analysis or practical details relating to his chosen subjects. One of the reasons for this is how personal the book feels.

From his early outings to the cinema with his mom and step-dad (and their conversations on the way back home) to sneaking into R-rated movies, to his first attempts at screenwriting... the book is backlit with a soft autobiographical glow. Ever-present in the margins is also Los Angeles, the author's home for most of his life. The meticulously maintained records of when he watched each film, and more impressively, in which theatre, paints an unconventional picture of the city and its many neighbourhoods through the lens of the author's coming of age with 70s cinema. Some of Tarantino's most vivid memories here are tied to him encountering films in these theatres, be it a Blaxploitation film he watched in a Black neighbourhood or the audience's reaction to Travis Bickle's blood-soaked rampage at the end of Taxi Driver. The author goes on to describe how these experiences — at times far removed from what he read of in the reviews — entirely changed his understanding and appreciation of films.

Each essay in Cinema Speculation centres on a film from the 70s that made a deep impression on Tarantino as a youth.
Each essay in Cinema Speculation centres on a film from the 70s that made a deep impression on Tarantino as a youth.

And what were some of these films? Tarantino dedicates an essay each to discuss Bullitt (1968), Dirty Harry (1971), Deliverance (1972), The Getaway (1972), The Outfit (1973), Sisters (1973), Daisy Miller (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), Rolling Thunder (1977), Paradise Alley (1978), Hardcore (1979) and The Funhouse (1981). But as mentioned earlier, these films often act as a reference point around which a wide-ranging dialogue revolves and evolves. In the Paradise Alley chapter, for example, the author perhaps spends more time discussing The Lords of Flatbush and the Rocky series, than the 1978 film itself. But these detours never feel overly self-indulgent, and if anything, they give the book a certain character of sincerity fused with excitement.

Reading Tarantino's fervent and revealing break down of Steve McQueen's persona and the non-plot of Bullitt, the politics of Dirty Harry, the script compromises on Taxi Driver, William Devane's character in Rolling Thunder, or the derailment of the plot in Hardcore (among hundreds of other observations), gives one a revived sense of appreciation for the art form, but more importantly, makes them more approachable in general. Remember that one film you watched that made you want to make movies or understand them better, made the whole undertaking seem so exciting and within grasps? Cinema Speculation does the same for film criticism and theory.

If you're an admirer of the Tarantino's work, the book certainly provides an insight into his work over the years, his personal film language and inspirations. But even if not, the collection of essays stands by itself. The author is uniquely positioned when it comes to dissecting films and the industry at large. From indie beginnings to casting the Hollywood powerhouses, the filmmaker can reasonably claim to have seen it all. And then there is the fact of first-hand access. Curious about how a certain film production went down? Tarantino will just talk to the producers. Wonder how Paul Schrader feels about the adaptation of one of his scripts? Rather than hypothesise (that does happen a fair bit as well) endlessly, Tarantino will just drop him an email.

Films and production sagas aside, there is plenty more to chew on in the book. One of the most interesting essays concern Los Angeles Times film critic Kevin Thomas. The author discusses how Thomas' reviews introduced him to a whole new world of cinema, but also the role critics played at large in not only shaping the public opinion, but also the careers of upcoming filmmakers. Or how one's experience of a film can be altered just by virtue of a critic's suggestion.

The lives of lesser known, yet fascinating individuals, like the actor (and writer) Barry Brown, whom Tarantino remembers fondly, but who has all but been forgotten by the film world, are peppered throughout the book. So are contemplations on racism, violence, legacy and more. If the book lacks somewhere, it's the polish (and once in a while, cohesion). There are times when it feels as though the collection could have used one more draft or another round of editing. But at the end of the day, nothing too egregious to get in the way.

Whether discussing the post-sixties anti-establishment auteurs or the Movie Brats, deep diving into exploitation films or so-called 'revengeamatics', or just recalling a blast of an afternoon at a theatre from decades back, Tarantino brings the world of the pictures to you like few others can. One can only hope this title marks the beginning of a dazzling — not unlike his films — career as a writer and storyteller of cinema.

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