Cinema Speculation: Tarantino Explores the Films that Made him as a Young Man

Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino -

All good books are about something. But in most good books, the theme is not evident at first sight. There’s the obvious “something”, the story that shows, and then there’s the not-so-obvious “something”, the one that is really the soul of the writing.

In this case, at first sight, you could conclude that the book is about what Tarantino thinks about American films of a certain period: the mid-sixties to the seventies. And I’m not saying it’s not.

But Cinema Speculation is not really about that. Yes, Tarantino has a lot to say about many films, and that’s what the book looks like on the surface.

A voyage of discovery

But the book is really about a very young Tarantino falling in love with movies in a given place and time, in a period full of daring, crazy, blaxploitation, revenge movies -many great and many not that great- that molded him forever.

The book gives you a sense of the period and of young Quentin’s life. Is it an autobiography? Not as such, but it is about how a kid falls in love with certain movies in a certain place and time, surrounded by certain characters who share his life and have an influence on him. So the book is not only about assessments and critical views. It has a pulse; it’s alive as the story of someone going through a life-changing experience, and this is precisely what makes it so special.

More than entertaining and instructive

Cinema Speculation is indeed instructive. But I do think that to enjoy it thoroughly, you have to have an interest in the period. If you are not, give it a chance. If you love movies, there’s a bunch that Tarantino discusses here that you should become familiar with: “Dirty Harry” (1971), “Deliverance” (1972, oh, that scene), “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979), “Taxi Driver” (1976)… The book gives you context, makes you feel like you are watching them in their time next to young Quentin, and makes you see things in them that you never considered. This is the book’s power.

Thanks to it, I’ve watched a bunch of films that I wasn’t familiar with ( in my case, “The Outfit” (1973), “Rolling Thunder” (1977), “Daisy Miller” (1974)…). I do not share the level of Tarantino’s admiration for some of these movies, but I love how he presents his cases. The way Tarantino reveals why she likes one aspect of a specific movie but hates another makes the book personal, heartfelt, and unique. 

This is not about thinking if Tarantino is right or wrong in his assessments, it’s the deconstruction of the hows and whys of a picture from his point of view that is priceless. Films are subjective storytelling, and that’s what makes them worth watching because they make us experience how someone sees life. Cinema speculation is about how both young and present Tarantino see the world, discovering life through movies.

The launching of a career

The last story in Cinema Speculation, which is about a fantastic real character named Floyd Ray Wilson, sets Tarantino on the launching pad of filmmaking.

This was what the book was about.

ROLLING THUNDER, the Spanish way

If I were to talk to Tarantino, I would tell him an anecdote about “Rolling Thunder”’s release in Spain. The film is a drama, a revenge movie starring William Devane, directed by Tarantino’s favorite John Flynn

The thing is that the film was made in 1977, but it didn’t open in Spain until 1982. Meanwhile, in December 1978, Alan Parker’s film “Midnight Express” (“El Expreso de Medianoche” in Spanish) opened in Spain and became a success. Now you are wondering: What’s the connection between both films? None at all. 

But, for some mysterious reason, the Spanish distributor of “Rolling Thunder” decided to suggest there was one by changing “Rolling Thunder”’s Spanish title. So the film opened in Spain with the title “El Ex-preso de Corea”, which in English will be something like “The former prisoner of Corea”. 

The main character in the film used to be a prisoner of war, that much is correct, but “Rolling Thunder” thematically has nothing to do with Corea, but with Vietnam. For some reason, the distributor thought that having the word “Corea” in the title would make the film stand out. It did not.

And the word “Ex-preso” (“Ex-prisoner”) in Spanish sounds like “Expreso” (“Express”). 

The end result was a title that, although it didn’t make any sense at all, resembled “Midnight Express” in Spanish (“El Expreso de Medianoche” vs. “El Ex-Preso de Corea”). “Rolling Thunder” bombed in Spain. Maybe the Spanish distributor should take some of the blame.

There’s a reference to “Taxi Driver” on the Spanish poster (“Another explosive story from the author of Taxi Driver”) that tries to cash in on writer Paul Schrader‘s seminal work. At least this line makes sense.

“Rolling Thunder”s Spanish poster, here below:

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