We recently featured a Vanity Fair article on the making of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, marking the only semi-believable fact that its making happened 20 years ago. But can you accept that the making of Tarantino himself happened 50 years ago? We think of the motormouthed, grammatically unconcerned, pop-cultural blender of a filmmaker as an eternal genius adolescent, consummately skilled and passionate but never well served by the rigid structures of traditional education and craft. His recent releases like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained don’t even hint at a cooling of the fire within. As the man who (for better or for worse) represents the past two decades of creativity in American cinema crosses the middle-age rubicon, seemingly untroubled, we ask this: how does Quentin Tarantino do it? To help you find the answer yourself, we’ve rounded up all of our choicest pieces of Tarantino-related material.
“Everybody, when they talk about you — you get this sense of a kid, early on, falling in love with movies,” says Charlie Rose to Tarantino in the 1994 interview up top. That love and then some comes through in the conversation, making it one of the most compelling episodes in the history of Rose’s program. By that point, Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s second film, had already hit the zeitgeist hard, but watch him giving Jon Stewart a preview of the picture, and you can tell he’d already sensed its coming impact. You can read many more details about exactly how it came together in Vanity Fair’s oral history of the production, and might consider supplementing it with Tarantino’s (and Sam Raimi’s) advice on filmmaking. And as Tarantino himself admits, he fuels his projects with deep and direct inspiration from his favorite movies, such as the twenty he names that have come out since his own career began. More recently, he reflected in depth on his life and work, prompted by Howard Stern, in a 75-minute radio interview.
As a born storyteller, Tarantino knows that every journey, no matter how ultimately victorious, begins somewhere. Preferably, it begins somewhere humble, which brings us to My Best Friend’s Birthday (below), the very first movie Tarantino attempted to make back in 1987, five years before his “real” feature debut Reservoir Dogs. In it, the filmmaker plays a hapless young rockabilly desperately looking for a way to enliven his buddy’s birthday. Because a fire claimed all but 36 minutes of the picture, we’ll never see whether he succeeds. But Tarantino himself, an aggressive collector of film prints who owns both a reputedly astonishing home theater and Los Angeles’ respected revival house the New Beverly Cinema, should have no trouble living it up for the big 5–0. He’s no doubt planned an ambitious birthday screening: I’m thinking a quintuple-bill, all genre.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.