Quentin Tarantino Embraces Role as Elder Statesman of Movies at Brash, Funny ‘Cinema Speculation’ Tour Stop

Nostalgia fuels Quentin Tarantino’s career, as his movies bear the DNA of his obsessions, be it blaxploitation (“Jackie Brown”), Shaw Brothers classics (“Kill Bill”) or the Los Angeles of his youth (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”).

Yet the last few years have marked a turning point for the auteur. Instead of letting his movies do the talking, Tarantino has embraced more of a professorial role. In July, he launched the podcast “Video Archives” with former video store co-worker and “Pulp Fiction” co-writer Roger Avary, in which the pair pick random selections from their former rental place (the inventory of which Tarantino bought once they shuttered) and analyze them. It’s a joy to hear motormouthed Tarantino shoot the shit with an old friend who can break him out of filibuster.

On Nov. 1, Tarantino released a more formal analysis of film with his first non-fiction book, “Cinema Speculation.” Structured as essays mixed with memoir, it finds the director in a reflective mood, touching on a childhood that lead to film obsession interspersed with analysis of classics like “Bullitt,” “Taxi Driver” and “Escape From Alcatraz.”

Plenty of factors seem to have contributed to this new phase since “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” debuted: The slowdown of the pandemic, becoming a father for the first time, career-spanning longform interviews on podcasts like “WTF with Marc Maron” and “The Joe Rogan Experience,” and his insistence that his next film will be his last.

Tarantino has also hit the talk show circuit lately, blending stories from his past (like the transformational experience of seeing the 1972 film “Black Gunn” in the theater) and adding fuel to Film Twitter debates (making the case for “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” as a “perfect” film). He also embarked on a book tour for “Cinema Speculation,” and at the closing date on Nov. 16 at New York City’s Town Hall, an audience full of movie obsessives saw Tarantino fully transition from bold young director to elder statesman of cinema.

In a conversation moderated by Tarantino’s friend, the film historian and multi-hyphenate Elvis Mitchell, the pair dove right into a regionally-specific section of the book, which discusses Brian De Palma and other filmmakers in the New York New Wave movement, which also includes Martin Scorsese, Jim McBride, Shirley Clarke, Paul Williams and Paul Morrissey. Tarantino debated that while French New Wave was united by a central Paris, New York’s unique neighborhoods created different communities within this movement.

Predictably, things only got more dense, but never heavy, as the two friends often made each other erupt in laughter. Tarantino paid tribute to Mitchell’s mentor, the legendary film critic Pauline Kael, with funny anecdotes about the director disagreeing with her opinions despite being wowed by her wit, and the one time he was able to speak with her on the phone. Even more telling was how Tarantino’s obsession with her work allowed him to understand how to make a movie, by learning from the narrative flaws she would pick apart in lesser works, and how his desire to hypothetically debate her reviews strengthened his self-diagnosed “contrarian streak.”

Among the stories and discussion of the book’s chapters, Mitchell was able to conjure plenty of headline news from the director, including updates on his upcoming TV project, his thoughts on Marvel movies and the news that he has completed a play.

After the discussion and a brief intermission, Tarantino gave a lively reading of the first chapter of the book, which documented a childhood filled with going to the theater and seeing films for adults, including “The Godfather,” “Dirty Harry” and “The French Connection,” and the rowdy crowd reactions that he’s been chasing ever since as a director.

The only sour note of the night came near the final third of the discussion, when a disruptive fan close to the stage kept interrupting the show by yelling out gibberish, leading venue security to physically eject him. Tarantino tried to diffuse the situation by respectfully, but sternly telling the man to quiet down. Then, a separate attendee started jeering the director, accusing him of being insensitive to a potentially mentally ill person, which kicked off a longer rant where she invoked the Second Amendment and was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd.

After both disrupters were ejected, Mitchell quipped, “We’ve got a real 42nd Street crowd here tonight,” evoking the grimy, dangerous Times Square theaters of the ’70s that have since disappeared. The quip got Tarantino and the crowd laughing and back on track, proving once again the power of the shared language of film history.

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