27 March 2007

Happy 44th, Mr. Brown

Today is Quentin Tarantino's 44th birthday--and no doubt he'll be celebrating it in style with a round or two of the "Welcome Back Kotter" boardgame and a marathon of Jack Hill flicks in his private screening room (and if his Jay Leno appearance circa "Kill Bill 2" is any indication, more than a few drops of fire water...).

It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since "Reservoir Dogs" erupted from the Sundance circuit scene and changed independent and mainstream filmmaking--for the better, IMHO. If Tarantino has achieved anything--beyond making consistently damn fine movies--it's that he's eroded the line between "indie" and "mainstream" and "low" and "high" culture like no one else before him, or since. These days, smart actors no longer hold out only for leads in A-ticket releases and take a walk on the wild side in supporting roles and in off-the-beaten path fare that once upon a time would be considered career-killers, and journeymen performers once permanently sentenced to the grindhouse/DTV circuit can get a chance to perform for a new generation on a couple of thousand screens and show the Rodeo Drive set how it's done when a second take is not an option. Even television has lost its stigma--these days it seems that as long as it's recorded on film or on video and aspires to spin a tale whatever the structure, budget, or transmission medium, it's all good. I firmly believe we have QT to thank for that.

He's helped make life just a bit easier for fans of so-called "junk culture" like myself who have spent so much of their lives "defending" their non-PBS approved tastes to film snobs and armchair Jane Austen scholars that Roger Corman and the publishers of Fangoria should include some of us on their boards of directors. But it irks me that people--including many self-avowed fans who profess to "get" his work--have misinterpreted Tarantino's infectious celebration of "B" cinema as an irony, and frequent Shaw Bros. revivals and midnight Fulci screenings as a post-modern, "Rocky Horror"ish pose. He takes this stuff very seriously, and views melodrama and over-the-top violence as powerful dramatic devices, every bit as legitimate as kitchen-sink realism or earnest docudrama.

I was first made aware of Tarantino's existence (and exuberance, with which I instantly clicked) via an interview with him in the summer 1992 issue of "Film Threat", back when it was one helluva fine print publication. "Reservoir Dogs" had made its splash (splatter?) at Sundance in the interum and I was jazzed when I learned that it would be playing at the Toronto International Film Festival. Lidia and I were there at the Uptown 1 for its screening, with stars Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, and Steve Buscemi in attendance. Suffice to say, the film did not disappoint--we caught it two more times that week (once upon a time, the TIFF would rescreen the fest's most popular titles on the final Sunday). Of course, like so many of your reading this, I've since bought it in every home video format known to man--three times alone on DVD.

Surprisingly, "Reservoir Dogs" was not a box-office hit when released a few months later. Despite critical raves, numerous awards, and my own unsolicited shilling for its considerable virtues to friends and coworkers, it was met largely with indifference within my own social sphere and didn't catch on en masse until it debuted on home video and cable.

I missed a rare chance to meet Tarantino, pre-"Reservoir Dogs", due to my sister's wedding, ill-timed (for me, anyway) during the first weekend of the 1992 fest. But my roommate recognized him from the "Film Threat" article (just this once, I wasn't angry that he read all my stuff for free and never once picked up the occassional magazine) and saw the future Mr. Brown lurking, more or less anonymously, in the lobby of the Bloor Cinema following the midnight screening of Bernard Rose's "Candyman" adaptation. He asked Tarantino for his autograph on the back of my "Candyman" screenplay (which I'd given him in the hopes that he'd get Rose and Virginia Madsen to sign it--and he did), to which Tarantino graciously consented, seemingly surprised that he'd been noticed at all. Boy, would that change just a few days later.

I eventually did get to meet Tarantino at the movie poster shop "Hollywood Rennaissance" in downtown Toronto (before it moved from its Yonge Street location), where he was hanging out often while visiting then-girlfriend Mira Sorvino on the set of "Mimic" (on which I worked briefly as a storyboard artist, but never on-set). Despite tabloid and message board dirt that he was rude to fans and arrogant, he was very nice to a pair of girl friends who rushed out to by a disposable camera to take pics with him, to the store's manager Shane, and to me, as I asked him about his plans to adapt "Rum Punch" (which would become "Jackie Brown") and we discussed how great "Escape From New York " was as we flipped through posters in the "Sci-Fi/Horror" section (btw, he bought the German one-sheet out from under me).

Despite that fact that he was quickly dismissed as just another "flavour of the month" by the time he co-starred in "Destiny Turns On The Radio" and has been blamed (as John Carpenter had been with "Halloween") for the slew of disposable rip-offs of his debut and lauded follow-up "Pulp Fiction" inspired, Tarantino's shown commendable "screw you" resilience to his knee-jerk naysayers and has been choosey about his followups, to say the least. Unlike his buddy Robert Rodriguez, who never seems to take a rest (and finds the time to teach himself music composition and 3D animation between writing, directing, shooting, and editing his features), Tarantino is that rare artist who waits for inspiration, but then attacks it with an Italian zombie's insatiable hunger.

Of course, I need not mention that his next collaboration with Rodriguez (after "guest-directing" a segment of "Sin City") is the ultra-cool-looking "Grindhouse", for which he contributes one of two 90-minute short features, set to open next Friday.

Hopefully, once the guests have gone home, he'll get back to that "Inglorious Bastards" screenplay? After all, Stallone's combat-ready...