EXCLUSIVE: Quentin Tarantino, sitting in the shade on the Carlton Hotel terrace, revealed to this column that his new film will indeed be about a movie critic from the 1970s but he stressed that it won’t be about the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael. Instead, it will be based on a man who wrote for a porno magazine.
Tarantino was speaking to this columnist ahead of announcing a special screening in Directors’ Fortnight this afternoon of John Flynn’s 1977 movie Rolling Thunder starring William Devane. Today’s event is billed as as a ‘Rendezvous-vous with Quentin Tarantino’.
The filmmaker dedicates an entire chapter to Flynn’s revenge thriller in his book Cinema Speculation.
As it happens, his new film The Movie Critic, which goes into “pre-pre production” next month, is also set in the same year that Rolling Thunder was released.
The Movie Critic takes place in California in 1977 “and is based on a guy who really lived, but was never really famous, and he used to write movie reviews for a porno rag.”
RELATED: Quentin Tarantino’s Career In Directing Film Gallery: From ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ & ‘Kill Bill’ To ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ And More
One of Tarantino’s jobs when he was a teen was loading porn magazines into a vending machine and emptying quarters out of the cash dispenser. “All the other stuff was too skanky to read but then there was this porno rag that had a really interesting movie page.”
The filmmaker did not want to reveal the name of the magazine but for The Movie Critic it’ll be called The Popstar Pages.
I ask if the critic in question was “known”. Tarantino throws his head back: “Well, he was known if you read the Popstar Pages!!”
He explained: “He wrote about mainstream movies and he was the second-string critic. I think he was a very good critic. He was as cynical as hell. His reviews were a cross between early Howard Stern and what Travis Bickle [Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver] might be if he were a film critic.”
Sipping his juice, he added, “Think about Travis’s diary entries.
“But the porno rag critic was very, very funny. He was very rude, you know. He cursed. He used racial slurs. But his shit was really funny. He was as rude as hell.”
Tarantino did research into the reviewer’s life. “He wrote like he was 55 but he was only in his early to mid-30s. He died in his late thirties. It wasn’t clear for a while but now I’ve done some more research and I think it was it was complications due to alcoholism.”
No one has been cast. He acknowledged that there aren’t any actors in his repertory company in that age range. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, he conceded, are too old for the part.
“I haven’t decided yet but it’s going to be somebody in the 35 year-old ball park. It’ll definitely be a new leading man for me.”
I pushed him on who it could be but he refused to tell. “I do have an idea of somebody I can imagine doing it really well,” but he’s unsure whether to give it to that person.
After Cannes he’ll return to his wife and two children in Tel Aviv. Then later next month, he’ll relocate to Los Angeles for “pre-pre production and then I want to start seeing who else is out there.”
I ask if he can’t find his leading man in the United States, would he look elsewhere like the UK?
“No,” he said empathetically. “The truth of the matter is, yes, obviously, a Brit could pull it off, but I don’t want to cast a Brit.
“Obviously, nothing against the Brits, but we’re living in a really weird time now. I think when people look back on this era of cinema and it’s just all these British actors pretending to be Americans and all these Australian actors pretending to be Americans, it’s like phantoms. Nobody is acting in their own voice.”
Questioned as to why this has come about, he said: “We just happen to be in an era of really, really good British actors who for the most part can pull it off.”
Sure, but what does that say about the American screen actor? “I would say that for the most part the Americans gave up their own ground. I think it’s just a case that a bunch of Brits became more famous than the others. The Americans ceded their own ground. When I look at 70’s cinema I want to see Robert De Niro, I want to see Al Pacino, I want to see Stacy Keach, you know, I want to see people like that reflecting the culture back to me.”
He added: “There are just a lot of good British actors and they’re pretty good at it.”
I argue that Barbara Broccoli would never consider casting a non British actor to play James Bond.
Tarantino hit back, “But then she considered James Brolin at one point when they cast Roger Moore. There was a consideration for James Brolin.”
He sat back then clarified, “By the way, I’m not being xenophobic. The Brits would have a hell of a lot more problems if a bunch of American actors came over there with their Dick Van Dyke [Mary Poppins] accents playing famous Brits. They don’t want to see that shit.”
Back to Rolling Thunder which has William Devane returning to his Texas home after eight years in a Viet Cong prison camp. “I’ve always been a champion of this movie,” says the filmmaker.
“We’ll be screening a 35 mm print of Rolling Thunder. And so the idea being that I’m responsible for bringing Rolling Thunder to Cannes is a very, very cool thing.
“I saw it the weekend it came out with a double feature of Enter the Dragon; I saw it with my mum and her second husband.”
Tarantino was 14 or 15 at the time. “I thought: wow, this is like the best combination of character study and action film I’ve ever seen.”
Back then, he noted “movies left theaters and that was it. But it left and all of a sudden it would be playing the bottom half of a double feature with something else and then it would show up again in Long Beach and I’d take the bus and go and see it. I’d see it again and again and then I’d start having little theories about it, and then I’d start having theories about what the William Devane character was going through, the war and things he felt about it, and how the country was falling apart when he came home.
“It was just the first time that I started looking at something other than just the narrative on screen. I started building around the narrative, the movie before the movie starts, what happens before it’s over .Then I started going to see the director’s other movies.”
He reckons he’s seen it “a bunch of times, probably 15 times over the years.”
Tarantino first came to Cannes over three decades ago. Reservoir Dogs played at Sundance in 1992. And it had a special screening at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. “It played at the Palais, it was like official selection outside of competition.”
“They invented something for our screening that they’d never done before, they put an orange sticker in the ticket that said:T his movie may be too violent for you to watch. And they’d never done that before and they ended up putting the same sticker on Pulp Fiction when it played here in 1994,” he laughed.
“And then at some point with Lars von Trier they stopped putting the sticker on.”
He “absolutely” knew what Cannes was when he was growing up, he says as he orders an Americana and an orange juice.
“I totally knew what Cannes was. I’d heard about it forever,” and he’d seen Michael Ritchie’s 1979 movie An Almost Perfect Affair starring Keith Carradine and Monica Vitti,” and that whole movie takes place at the Cannes Film Festival and I’d always heard about the Palme d’Or and I’d heard about the Directors’ Fortnight and it was literally a dream to come out here.”
Check back in later for Part II of our chat…
Must Read Stories
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.