If you have ever wanted to have a conversation with Quentin Tarantino about the movies that inspired him, Cinema Speculation is for you. Following the publication of his novelization of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, the Inglourious Basterds writer-director has made his first foray into non-fiction writing to discuss how his love of movies came to be, and how certain filmmakers and their features shaped his views on cinema.
Tarantino has long touted his desire to put his film theories and thoughts on paper, and with Cinema Speculation, he does just that. Hand-picking a set of key American films from the 1970s, Tarantino gives a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of each film. Written in QT’s own unique style filled with asides, footnotes, film theory, personal recollections, opinion and true criticism, this is more than just a deep dive into a handful of movies he really likes.
Born in 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Tarantino’s book is not a biography of his life and upbringing. Instead, it is about his coming of age in front of the movie screen. Relocating with his single mom to Hollywood at a young age, Tarantino was allowed to accompany his mother and her various friends and suitors to see movies not meant for kids. Young QT developed a love of movies and a first-hand insider knowledge of movies well beyond his childhood grasp at the beginning – movies like Joe, The French Connection, MASH, Superfly, and Dirty Harry while his peers were watching Bambi and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It is true that Tarantino spent his most impressionable and formative years in movies that most adults wouldn’t dream of bringing a 10-year-old to and, having been exposed to a wide range of genres and stars, opened up his worldview and mindset.
Gaining a particular affinity for Blaxploitation films and their stars thanks to his mother’s boyfriend-turned-babysitter, it is clear to see where the future filmmaker picked up much of what would lay the foundation for his own projects. It’s not just the “important” movies he has affection for, but the schlock, B movies, and horror as well, (rightfully) giving movies like Alligator praise and calling The Texas Chainsaw Massacre “one of the few perfect movies ever made”.
The movies most people would expect to see in a 1970s film book written by Tarantino are here. There’s a chapter on Bullitt, one on Taxi Driver, another on Dirty Harry and Deliverance. But with each chapter, it’s not just a breakdown and criticism of each film or a look at how a particular film may have shaped the context of the era, but Tarantino’s own personal thoughts and feelings about it. He adds in factual research, interview snippets and quotes as well as anecdotal stories told to him, as an ardent lover of movies, over the years. The Bullitt chapter is about more than superstar Steve McQueen and car chases. It tells how McQueen’s first wife, Nellie McQueen, deserves all credit for making the actor such a bankable star by choosing his projects.
While Tarantino writes in-depth about the details of each film, he writes from a perspective that is both interesting and accessible for readers who haven’t yet seen the movie he is talking about. Accepting that the plots of 40+ year old movies will be “spoiled”, Tarantino gives a thoughtful analysis of the flicks much like one can imagine him talking to customers during his years working at a video store and telling them what movies they should rent. He writes with such love and admiration for film, it is infectious.
It is not just the core ‘70s films that make up Cinema Speculation. If you have ever seen an interview with Tarantino, you’ll be familiar with his ability to name-drop and reference countless films in the blink of an eye in order to make a point or draw a comparison. Beyond the key films of each chapter, Tarantino references a whopping 947 different movies in 370 pages of text. Thankfully, there is an index to all films and key players in the book and Letterboxd user Christian Ryan has done the hard work of creating a list of every film mentioned in the book so you can see just how many you’ve seen. (This writer is sadly only at 211, or 22%.)
Any Tarantino fan can tell you he worships at the altar of New Hollywood and its wunderkinds Brian De Palma, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Schrader, among others, because their names and influence pepper nearly every chapter of Cinema Speculation. He also dedicates an entire chapter to film criticism and various critics over the years. While he name-drops several prominent film critics and historians throughout the book, this chapter proves to be one of most revealing as he opens up about his own relationship in regards to not just the films he makes but the movies he consumes.
Tarantino does add in a bit of his own story throughout the book in various chapters. Highly entertaining as he regales stories from his childhood as it relates to the movies, it is these few chapters that are perhaps the most insightful. Cinema Speculation may be Tarantino’s first non-fiction book, but these personal stories make a great case for him to write a memoir. If readers are looking for in-depth analysis of his own films or thoughts as he looks back on their production and reception, they won’t find them. Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Reservoir Dogs, for example, are only mentioned in passing.
Any Tarantino fan, aspiring filmmaker, or lover of 1970s cinema would be greatly entertained and informed by Cinema Speculation. With Christmas around the corner, it makes a great holiday gift for the movie lover in your life.