by Ursula Rogers
Quentin Tarantino swung by the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas for the penultimate leg of his book tour, for just released Cinema Speculation. His first non-fiction book manages to blend memoir with film criticism with a focus on the era of new Hollywood, from approximately 1967-1981. His goal was to revisit movies he saw growing up that influenced him-inspired by his dislike of the current movie era we are living in. His talk was informative and not without controversy.
Fans of the Oscar -winning director filled the Paramount Theater with the new book in tow. A copy of Cinema Speculation was given with the purchase of a ticket. Tarantino came out to an Austin crowd with thunderous applause as moderator, Louis Black, welcomed him to the stage. The two long-time colleagues displayed their mutual respect for one another and Austin. Tarantino even displayed a bowling style shirt that paid homage to Austin.
Black and Tarantino wasted no time diving into the book’s topic like a long-awaited meal. Each morsel of information more savory than the one before. They spoke at such a rapid pace with no space for film novices. I was interested in their talk about Cinema Speculation’s first chapter and formation. “Little Q Goes to Big Pictures”, lets the audience know almost everything they need to about the mind of Quentin Tarantino. From approximately age 4-10 he saw such “new” Hollywood films as Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of The Night, with his mom and stepdad. As Tarantino phrased it, ‘he was a kid watching movies with an adult audience’. He paid attention to the response of the adults to the movies rather than solely the content of the movies themselves. “To me the responses to his films are just as captivating as the films themselves.”
In order to write he had to have a conversation between him and the page. This type of writing was difficult to start, it was like a 1,000-pound weight was on him and gradually got lighter. Writing Cinema Speculation was like Sisyphus pushing that rock up a hill. He’d write about a film but then have to start over. Some of the films written about include Deliverance, Paradise Alley, and Taxi Driver. He included Paradise Alley because it gave him a chance to write about Sylvester Stallone as a writer and director in a serious manner. I was surprised to learn films such as American Graffiti were not included. He mentioned his dislike of the question about the perfect film. He said one of the films closest to it is The Wild Bunch. Also, Tarantino left out westerns from the book, which surprised me.
While people were thrilled to hear him speak, I overheard some attendees express disappointment that the famed director did not talk much about his own films. After the intermission Tarantino made it clear he wasn’t trying to write about his own work. He mentioned how this came to him organically not just as a film buff but as someone who makes films. That point of view is too often left out of the discourse.
The talk was illuminating in so many ways. Terintino is often dealing with controversy, and often brings these topics up in interviews, including with Kanye West who continues to claim the idea for hit Django Unchained came from him-which Quentin denies. Of course, Tarantino’s love of film overall was clear but also, I felt some of his disregard for black people. Louis Black spoke about how Tarantino’s use of the ‘N’ word isn’t what’s important about him. It’s that he humanizes people. During the second half of the talk, Tarantino blessed the audience by reading a chapter from the book. The chapter he read focused on a black man named Floyd. From his reading, Floyd made a huge impression on the acclaimed director. He had the opportunity to speak about film to someone who knew what they were talking about, for starters. His acknowledgement of Floyd’s knowledge of film wasn’t the main issue for me. It was the “Blaccent” of it all. While regaling us with tales of Floyd’s cinematic knowledge and flakiness, was it necessary to talk in that way? As a Black woman I am familiar with complaints of the use of the ‘n’ word. I know what I think doesn’t matter. I recognize that is the only way some people see racism but microaggressions are real. Earlier Louis Black mentioned how Tarantino humanizes people. But does he humanize Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPoC)? Does he see us as human or are we characters in his life? Is he just another white man who basks in the culture of Black people without respect? Of course, he used the ‘N’ word during his talk as did Louis Black, “in context”. All I’m saying is he could have told Floyd’s story without sounding like B-Rad from Malibu’s Most Wanted mixed with a 1970s undercover cop.
Anyway, at the end of this chapter we find out Floyd wanted to be a screenwriter and had penned two scripts which were among the first Tarantino had read, ever. It’s truly amazing where people garner inspiration from. Overall, the crowd seem honored to share space with Quentin Tarantino. From the talk it sounds like any cinephile would be happy to own Cinema Speculation. If you do read it, maybe do so without the blaccent?
With a short November tour -L.A., Portland, Austin, NYC- we were thankful Tarantino chose to come here at the iconic Paramount Theater.