Tom Shone is a film critic who, after publishing two retrospectives on Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen respectively, has written a third one about the great Quentin Tarantino (released in the United States in late 2017). The book is a beautiful object of more than 250 pages of giant format of fine quality and it looks extremely good visually with a series of photographs and frames of Tarantino and of his works, as well as an interesting text. This makes it nice to just browse the pages by taking a look at the images, and since I’ve just finished reading it here I am writing two lines on the blog.
The book begins with fifty pages containing an introduction on Quentin Tarantino and two sections on his early years in the world of cinema and his first screenplays. For example, he wrote both True Romance and a first version of Natural Born Killers, films that were then directed by Tony Scott and Oliver Stone, respectively. For me that I love all eight Tarantino’s films and have seen them several times (and having read a lot about them too), I find this first part of the book to be the most interesting, since I knew his personal story but not in such great detail. Tom Shone recounts all the coincidences and sliding doors of life that led this B-movies nerd to become one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.
Before his success, in fact, Tarantino worked in a red light cinema (one of the now disappeared chain Pussycat, in California – even though he didn’t really want to: he said that when he finally managed to work in a cinema it was one projecting the only movies he wasn’t interested in!) and distributed questionnaires in a mall for market research purposes. And then when he was 21 years old he ended up in the famous Video Archives rental store in Manhattan Beach. I wrote “famous” because if you are familiar with the life of the director you probably know that it’s in that video store that he began writing screenplays and cultivating the idea of making films.
The following nine chapters are devoted to the eight films directed by Tarantino plus a “bonus” chapter on Four Rooms (he directed its final segment) and From Dusk Till Dawn (of which he wrote the screenplay and in which he played one of the co-protagonists under the direction of his friend Robert Rodriguez). The book ends with a brief chapter on the possible future projects of Tarantino which is a bit ridiculous because it includes a dozen potential projects but not Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on which the director is working right now. On the other hand, the crazy US director is absolutely unpredictable!
Each of the eight specific chapters on the Tarantino’s movies (from Reservoir Dogs to The Hateful Eight) tells the genesis of the film, what happened between the first day of shooting and the end of post-production, and how it was received by critics and by the audience. There are interviews to those who participated in the creation of the movies and also articles and reviews, creating a kind of collage of information that results very interesting. So many anecdotes!
What struck me most is to find out how Tarantino creates his stories taking a lot from his private life as well as from his vast cinematographic knowledge, and how he chooses the actors he wants to work with. Also, I was surprised to see how many of his films have been badly received by critics once they have been released in theaters. I have always thought of Quentin Tarantino as a maestro, but it is enlightening to see how much opinions about him are scattered throughout the entire critical arch, from great director to buffoon, depending on who’s talking.
Also I enjoyed reading Tarantino: A retrospective because it made me think about the filmography of the director as a whole. I usually think of a film as a work done and finished on its own, but in reality it’s not possible to see it isolated from the rest of works of the artist who created it. Just as a Van Gogh painting is suddenly more interesting once you know the life of the artist and when and where he painted it, the path that led Tarantino to make the films he made (and in the order in which he made them) made me consider aspects of his craftsmanship that I hadn’t considered before. To conclude, I recommend reading this book to anyone who’s passionate about cinema (or photography! The images of the book are really beautiful), you won’t regret it! Ciao!