Book Review:  Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino: Part Two

When I wrote part one of this review of Cinema Speculation, my grandson Charlie was nine and a half months old. Today is his first birthday. That’s how long it has taken me to obtain a copy of the book from the Seattle Public Library system and read the second half. It’s a popular book so I had to wait.

The second half begins with a synopsis of film history in the sixties and seventies. Specifically Tarantino explains how the anti-traditional films of the sixties and early seventies (such as Easy Rider) gave way to the seventies blockbusters (such as Star Wars and Jaws). Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of film and his obvious love affair with cinema make these explanations fascinating. He brings up as examples a lot of directors and actors that I have never heard of, but that’s okay. His style of writing is as frantic and fast-paced as the movies he directs, which makes for an exceedingly entertaining ride.

Tarantino spends a major part of the second half of the book considering a trend in cinema back then that he calls Revengeamatics. This phrase describes the spate of revenge films that came out after the box office success of Death Wish with Charles Bronson. A lot of the low-budget revenge films were crude stereotypical examples of Revengeamatics, but a number of movies that ostensibly follow the formula transcend the genre. Among these are Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder, and Hardcore, each of which has their own fairly long chapter in Tarantino’s book. According to Tarantino, a strong influence on these films is The Searchers, a John Ford western starring John Wayne as a Civil War veteran who searches for his kidnapped niece among the Comanche Indians. In both Taxi Driver and Hardcore, the protagonist is trying to rescue a young woman from unsavory characters, just as John Wayne does in the western. The quality of the writing, direction, and acting of these films cause them to transcend lesser works with similar basic plots.

One of the ultimate examples of Revengeamatics, in fact, is the Kill Bill duo by Tarantino: Kill Bill Volume 1 and Kill Bill Volume 2. In honor of finally finishing Cinema Speculations, I re-watched Kill Bill Volume 1 last night. When Tarantino attempts Revengeamatics, he pulls out all the stops.

I don’t really share Tarantino’s cravings for violence and horror in film, and I don’t always agree with his assessments of particular films or with his analysis of what films he considers great. I like his own movie creations, for the most part, not despite the fact that he tends to go over the top, but because of it. He has a singular approach to his material that is a lot of fun to watch. It’s the same with this book. He is an opinionated man, and he is straightforward in Cinema Speculations about what he likes and doesn’t like. You don’t have to agree with him to enjoy the book. Take his pontifications with a grain of salt, buckle up for the ride, and afterwards form your own opinions.

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