My Best Friend’s Birthday, Quentin Tarantino’s 1987 Debut Film

Fewer than 40 minutes survive of My Best Friend’s Birthday, the first film directed by Quentin Tarantino. But its brief screen time runs dense with references to Elvis Presley, the Partridge Family, A Countess from Hong Kong, Rod Stewart, Deputy Dawg, and That Darn Cat. In between the rapid-fire gab sessions, we also witness a slapstick kung-fu battle and even hear a bit of repurposed early-seventies pop music. Though a fire claimed the second half of what was presumably the picture’s only print, the first half, which you can watch free on YouTube, leaves no doubt as to the identity of its auteur. In some sense, it bears an even deeper imprint of Tarantino’s personality than his subsequent films, since he stars in it as well. To behold the early-twentysomething Tarantino portraying the good-hearted and aggressively enthusiastic but jittery and distractible rockabilly DJ Clarence Poole is to behold the Quentin Tarantino public persona in an embryonic form, a distilled form — or both.

The plot of My Best Friend’s Birthday, such as it remains, finds Clarence looking to give a birthday present to his pal Mickey, who’s been freshly, and harshly, re-rejected by an ex-girlfriend. None of Clarence’s ideas — not the cake, not the call girl — work out quite as intended, though now I suppose we’ll never know how wrong things really went, or if they managed to right themselves in the end. Yet the truncated version of the film feels somehow more fascinating — more satisfying, even — than any completion I can imagine. Both the movie’s hopelessly unresolved story and its dreamy visual quality, courtesy of a beaten-up 16-millimeter print transferred onto what looks like a VHS tape, turn it into the most experimental art Tarantino has ever created. It casts adrift even the director’s hardiest fans in a stark southern California reality: long-running arguments about meaningless culture, ceaseless elevation of the disposable, and a vague, looming, but nevertheless constant sense of threat. And amid all this, it can still serve up a line like, “What made you interested in tackling prostitution as a career goal?”

My Best Friend’s Birthday appears in our collection of Free Movies Online.

Related content:

Cracking Tarantino

Filmmaking Advice from Quentin Tarantino and Sam Raimi (NSFW)

Quentin Tarantino Gives Sneak Peek of Pulp Fiction to Jon Stewart (1994)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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