Quentin Tarantino turns 60 today, and to celebrate the fact he was ambushed with cake by Jamie Foxx in front of 2,000 people at the London Palladium last night. Don’t go looking online for photographs of the occasion, though: the surprise came at the end of a two-night event promoting the director’s recent memoir Cinema Speculation, for which all in attendance had to turn off their mobile phones and put them into lockable pouches for the duration. Phones are famously forbidden on Tarantino’s sets, and his live appearances are no exception.
Originally set to be a one-off, Saturday night turned out to be a warm-up for Sunday’s main event. As Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Whole Lotta Love” faded, the house lights dipped and a quick blast of Pete Moore’s “Asteroid” — AKA the kitsch 30-second Pearl & Dean jingle famous to all British moviegoers over 40 — signified the start of the show. As speculation mounted as to the identity of the host, any fears that it might be an idiot (an affliction that curses many such in-person events in the U.K.) were quickly quelled when Last Night in Soho director and Tarantino confidante Edgar Wright took to the stage.
Fully aware of the Palladium’s place in British light-entertainment history, Wright began with a roll-call of some of the “baddest mother*ckers in showbusiness” to tread the boards there, including Bruce Forsyth, Ken Dodd and “Ronnie f*cking Corbett”. (These names did not faze Tarantino, who expressed a liking for Palladium favorite Tommy Steele.) Wright went on to note that the word “Tarantinoesque” — now an official word in the “O.E.F.D” (AKA “the Oxford English f*ckin’ Dictionary) — could be used to describe “almost all thrillers made since 1992 and 100% of Guy Ritchie’s movies”.
Surprisingly, the f-word was largely retired for the rest of the evening, and, aside from the opening ten minutes, so was the subject of Tarantino’s own films. Easing into the role of M.C., Wright began by asking the director to reflect on his history with London. Tarantino replied that, after his debut film had come and gone as a specialist title in America, London was the first city to see Reservoir Dogs as a mainstream hit, with many critics giving it lead-review status over Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain, which came out here the same week. It was only when he was recognized buying a pile of P.A.L. videos at Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus that he realized that his film had somehow become part of the zeitgeist.
Instead of his back catalogue, much of Saturday night’s conversation was predicated on Tarantino’s incredibly precocious childhood as a movie buff (“Cineaste wasn’t really a word we used back then”). Despite the comparatively lax ratings system in the U.S. that allows under-18s to see adult movies with a parent or guardian, Tarantino explained that he was an anomaly even under that system, thanks to his mother Connie, who took him to see movies as inappropriate as Deliverance and The Wild Bunch, often on a double bill. Tarantino reveled in the fact that part of his book’s “narcotic” appeal in the U.K. was the fact that his British contemporaries were literally forbidden access to such X-rated material by law. “It didn’t matter how cool your mother was,” he roared. “It couldn’t happen!”
Such reminiscences weren’t for everyone, however, and there was a modicum of drama when a boorish audience member began complaining loudly that the conversation wasn’t the straight career interview he was expecting, presumably having missed all the promotional material for the event. A puzzled Tarantino simply told the offender to “bugger off”, adding, “I’m sure there’s a pub you can go get a drink at.”
Back on a track, a brief discussion of film criticism ensued, leading to some of the audience’s own cinema speculation: would Tarantino broach the subject of the film rumored to be his tenth and final movie project, The Movie Critic? Reader, he did not, but the director’s thoughts on the matter suggest that, whatever The Movie Critic turns out to be about, it will not be a hatchet job. Citing Los Angeles Times critic Kevin Thomas, Tarantino opined that “you don’t have agree with a review to find it fun to read”. In summary, he noted, “It’s easy to denigrate film critics. But without film criticism, all you have is advertising.”
Similarly , another significant moment came and went when Wright suggested that a film like Taxi Driver couldn’t be made today. “I could do it. I could make Taxi Driver,” said Tarantino. “I could set it up at any studio I wanted.” “This is why you can’t retire,” Wright replied, but nothing more was said on the matter.
The night ended with Tarantino reading from Cinema Speculation’s opening chapter, “Little Q Watching Big Movies”, which seemed like an odd piece to close with, since it recapped a lot of material from the previous 90 minutes.
Would Sunday simply be a re-run of the same events? Thankfully not. After tentatively recycling Saturday’s intro, adding the bonus news that Bruce Forsyth’s ashes were actually under the stage, Wright took off in a whole new direction, with a now fully energized Tarantino racing off at tangents in a style more reminiscent of his freewheeling Video Archives Podcast.
Some of the esoteric subjects that followed included a meditation on the tragically short life of Daisy Miller star Barry Brown, the money shots from some of Tarantino’s favorite films (notably Rolling Thunder and Russ Meyer’s Supervixens), Michael Winner’s catchphrase (“Calm down, dear!”), and the one and only time Tarantino spoke to the legendary Pauline Kael, on the phone, in the early stages of his career (“By the way,” she said, “I just want to tell you that I like seeing you talking about Blow Out on talk shows”). He also settled Wright’s question as to whether Army of Darkness is better than Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, voted Sight & Sound magazine’s recent choice as the greatest film of all time. “I don’t agree with either,” he said flatly.
Tarantino ended with a passionate reading of the last chapter of his book, “*Floyd Footnote”, which proved a much better vehicle for his talents and made sure the evening ended on a high. So much so that the appearance of Foxx to congratulate Tarantino on becoming “30 times two” nearly blew the roof off the Palladium and almost certainly sent Bruce Forsyth’s ashes swirling. “You’re my Django, baby!” enthused a clearly humbled Tarantino.
Obviously, there was more to both nights than this. But as the saying goes, you really had to be there.
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