Althouse | category: Tarantino



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

Quentin Tarantino's alternative reading of the Body Snatchers movies.

From his new book, "Cinema Speculation" (boldface added):

[T]he Pod People transformation is closer to a rebirth than a murder. You’re reborn as straight intellect, with a complete possession of your past and your abilities, but unburdened by messy human emotions. You also possess a complete fidelity to your fellow beings and a total commitment to the survival of your species. Are they inhuman? Of course, they’re vegetables. But the movies try to present their lack of humanity (they don’t have a sense of humor, they’re unmoved when a dog is hit by a car) as evidence of some deep-seated sinisterness. That’s a rather species-centric point of view. As human beings it may be our emotions that make us human, but it’s a stretch to say it’s what makes us great. Along with those positive emotions—love, joy, happiness, amusement—come negative emotions—hate, selfishness, racism, depression, violence, and rage....

Imagine in the fifties, when the [first "Body Snatchers"] film was made, that instead of some little town in Northern California (Santa Mira) that the aliens took root in, it was a horribly racist, segregated Ku Klux Klan stronghold in the heart of Mississippi.

Within weeks the color lines would disappear. Blacks and whites would be working together (in genuine brotherhood) towards a common goal. And humanity would be represented by one of the racist Kluxers whose investigative gaze notices formerly like-minded white folks seemingly enter into a conspiracy with some members of the county’s black community. Now picture his hysterical reaction to it (“Those people are coming after me! They’re not human! You’re next! You’re next!”).

Bob Dylan's "The Philosophy of Modern Song" is out today.

Here. I've put it in my Kindle.

Also out today, Quentin Tarantino's "Cinema Speculation." I just put that in my Kindle too.

Is that too much pop culture to read all at once?  I guess I did not think so. Better to read whatever Genius 1/Genius 2 have to say about songs/movies than the last gasps of politicos hankering for next week's elections.

It's too late for October surprises. It's November — remember.

When Quentin Tarantino was 8 and his mother's black boyfriend took him to see 2 movies about black people in a theater with an all-black audience.

Great storytelling from Tarantino here: 


"The first movie is sort of a message-y movie... and the crowd hated it" — Bill Maher prompts.

Listen to the whole story, and you may be curious about this movie the audience jeered at, "The Bus Is Coming" (1971).

I went looking for something about it and easily stumbled into the entire movie:

I've only watched the first 3 minutes, and I won't presume to know what the crowd back then found worth shouting down for the entire length of the movie. Maybe it's just that it's slow-moving and un-slick, or maybe it's that it was just much more fun to talk back to the movie. Tarantino makes it sound very fun.

I take it the mother's boyfriend — who, we're told, was an L.A. Rams football player — thought the "message-y" movie would be good for the boy, but Tarantino, like the rest of the audience, greatly preferred the second movie, a slickly entertaining film starring Jim Brown. Or maybe the football-player boyfriend wanted the Hollywood movie featuring a man like him to win young Tarantino's admiration. 

The anecdote comes from Tarantino's new book "Cinema Speculation." The link goes to Amazon, and I think I'll buy it. I'd like to hear the rest of the story. I'm guessing the "speculation" is about why the commercial Jim Brown movie is superior to the the earnestly arty "The Bus Is Coming."

"The same worlds where abuse was likely to have been taken seriously and codified during the rise of Me Too—cloistered, rivalrous, impossibly competitive, liberal-leaning zones like television networks, academia, and Democratic politics..."

"... are now the worlds in which the accusations are most easily weaponized by power players seeking an advantage. Zucker may be the most recent example, but he’s certainly not alone....  It is only by dint of the world taking sexual misconduct so seriously that it has become something to be cynically exploited, ironically enough. The Zucker affair is starkly similar to this month’s scandal at the University of Michigan. It was another situation where an affair—between the university’s president, Mark Schlissel, and an employee—was consensual, but the power dynamic made it against policy... [T]he people who actually seem most likely to turn Me Too into a targeted weapon are those who already have power, or are actively seeking it. 'It’s like the ending of Reservoir Dogs,' one TV executive said of the Zucker/Cuomo situation to Vanity Fair’s Pompeo, citing a movie that was distributed by Harvey Weinstein. Everyone leaving one another splayed out, riddled with millions of dollars’ worth of lawsuit settlements and exit payments."

From "Did Jeff Zucker and Chris Cuomo Make Me Too a Weapon in Their Power Struggle? The former CNN executive’s workplace romance sure doesn’t seem like the real reason he’s resigning" by Noreen Malone (Slate). 

Doesn't that seem as though she's saying that, in retrospect, the Me Too movement was a mistake, that instead of elevating the subordinated, it's made the powerful more intensely and chaotically powerful?

Isn't that what feminist theory would predict — that the patriarchy will endlessly reinforce the patriarchy? To expect anything else is naive feminism. For sophisticated feminism, it's vindication.

"Tarantino has turned his most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, into a novel: messing with the timeline, cranking up the backstories, mulching up reality..."

"... and alt.reality pastiche, ladling in new episodes. The result comes packaged in something like those New English Library paperbacks that used to be on carousel displays in supermarkets and drugstores. In the endpapers he cheekily includes ads for old commercial paperbacks real and imagined, such as Erich Segal’s Oliver’s Story, sequel to Love Story ('Soon to be a major motion picture').... [T]he book is entirely outrageous and addictively readable on its own terms – even the wildly prolix digressive sections and endless savant riffs about movies and TV.... He’s maybe not in the Elmore Leonard league but, like Leonard, he’s refreshingly unconcerned with the literary mainstream. I read this in one sitting – just like watching a film."

From "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood review – Tarantino’s debut novel shines/The director’s pulpy novelisation of his most recent film is entirely outrageous and addictively readable" (The Guardian). 

Here's the book, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel." I put it in my Kindle. 

I did not — as I usually do — add the audio version of the book. I listened to the sample and was sorry to hear that the narrator is a woman with creaky voice — an unusually heavy, perhaps intentionally exaggerated creaky voice. 

Who is it? Oh, it's Jennifer Jason Leigh. Sorry, I am not amused. I am annoyed. No way I'm plugging that into my ear.

"We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby... Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal."

Said Joaquin Phoenix, accepting the Oscar last night for his performance as a clown-faced murderer. As you can see in that short quote, he's expressing effusive empathy for his fellow creatures, but I wouldn't see his movie, because I believe there is something soul-damaging — something erosive of empathy — in watching the graphic depiction of murder. I don't know why Phoenix considered "Joker" a good place to put his talent, then lectures us about our insufficient love for the living things of earth. And I'm writing that as I drink my coffee with milk.

Here's the full transcript, worth seeing in text, because the actorly performance of the text makes it harder to understand the rationality of it. It feels like an emotional cascade. You get caught up wondering how does he feel and does he really feel what he is expressing and what is he really saying and is he coherent and is coherence necessary?
I’m full of so much gratitude now. I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room, because we share the same love...
This speech will also end with "love" — "Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow" — and we just saw a montage of the nominated actors that ended with Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) saying "Remember, truth may be vital, but without love, it is also unbearable." But the love in question at this point was:
... the love of film. And this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don’t know where I’d be without it. But I think the greatest gift that it’s given me, and many people in [this industry] is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.
Oh, no! It's going to be a political speech. The Oscars got off to a bad start with Brad Pitt — who won the best supporting actor Oscar — saying he only had 45 seconds to speak, "which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week" and maybe Quentin Tarantino could do a movie about the impeachment where "in the end the adults do the right thing." Tarantino has been doing movies based on historical events where the good guys win in the end, and the movie Pitt won his Oscar for is one of those movies, so his line was well-crafted, but I hated seeing one political side given precedence. The show was just starting, and he was telling half the country their perspective on the world is not valued. Ah, maybe not. His remarks are focused on the desire for witness testimony in the Senate, not the quest to be rid of the President. That puts him in the Susan Collins position, which isn't all that divisive. But it rubbed me the wrong way. Me — and I'm not a Trump voter — I'm just someone offended by the 3 years of disrespect shown to the people whose candidate won an election.

But Phoenix didn't go into partisan politics. In fact, he is trying to pull people together:
I’ve been thinking about some of the distressing issues that we’ve been facing collectively. I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality.
That's the opposite of divisive.
I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity. I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world. Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view, and we believe that we’re the center of the universe. We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakeable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.
We're called back to nature, away from the disconnection. If we put milk in our coffee, there is — somewhere out there — a cow that was used. Phoenix doesn't go from there into a PETA lecture. He gets back to human life:
We fear the idea of personal change, because we think we need to sacrifice something; to give something up. But human beings at our best are so creative and inventive, and we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and the environment.
That's almost right wing. It's at least inclusive of the right. The environment matters, but we can go for innovation and technology and find solutions. It's not about giving things up. Then comes another right-wing-friendly idea, personal responsibility:
I have been a scoundrel all my life, I’ve been selfish.
This reminds me of Trump, last Thursday, going on about his impeachment acquittal: "We went through hell, unfairly, did nothing wrong, did nothing wrong, I've done things wrong in my life, I will admit, not purposely, but I've done things wrong." Oh, Trump couldn't confess "I have been a scoundrel all my life," but he did confess "I've done things wrong in my life."
I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other. Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes...
A clear statement against the cancel culture.
... but when we help each other to grow. When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption. When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said: "Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow."
The brother, River Phoenix, died in 1993, when he was 23. He wasn't rescued or educated or guided. Joaquin Phoenix was 19 when he lost his brother, and now he resurrects that brother's spirit in a simple call for love.


Anybody want to talk about the Oscar nominations?

They just came out this morning. Here's the list.

I haven't seen much of that stuff, but I did see "Rocketman," and Taron Everton (who played Elton John) did not get a nomination. And I recently streamed "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" on my TV and then restreamed it the next day. Thought that was good, obviously, or I would not have rewatched. It was great for rewatching, because there were lots of details — like the different flavors of Wolf's Tooth dog food (rat, raccoon, etc.) — to pay attention to at your leisure without the distraction of thinking about what's going to happen next.  "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" did very well, with lots of nominations, but I'm in no position to say whether Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt were better than the actors in movies I did not see, and, really, it doesn't matter.

Did you know the New Yorker film critic, Richard Brody, called "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" "obscenely regressive"?
Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else.... ...Tarantino delivers a ridiculously white movie, complete with a nasty dose of white resentment; the only substantial character of color, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), is played, in another set piece, as a haughty parody, and gets dramatically humiliated in a fight with Cliff [Brad Pitt]....

“Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood” is about a world in which the characters, with Tarantino’s help, fabricate the sublime illusions that embody their virtues and redeem their failings—and then perform acts of real-life heroism to justify them again. Its star moments have a nearly sacred aura, in their revelation of the heroes that, he suggests, really do walk among us; his closed system of cinematic faith bears the blinkered fanaticism of a cult.
I don't agree with much of that, but I won't bore you by explaining why. Instead, here's Brad Pitt feeding his pit bull (Pitt bull) Wolf's Tooth dog food:

"We ate their lunch!"

Exulted Nancy Pelosi, quoted in "‘We ate their lunch’: How Pelosi got to ‘yes’ on Trump’s trade deal/After tough fights, the speaker cut a deal that unions, the president and Democrats all like."

ADDED: I did some research into the idiom "ate their lunch," because I was just talking about last weekend's SNL skit showing Trump getting bullied by the popular kids in a school lunchroom. I said it makes me sympathetic to Trump to see the smug "cool" kids doing whatever they could to humiliate him, so it was interesting to me to hear Nancy Pelosi triumphing in a way that I thought evoked schoolyard bullies who steal lunch from their victims. But is that the source of the phrase "ate their lunch"?

Researching, I see that "ate their lunch" is a popular idiom in business. Investopedia says:
Eating someone's lunch refers to the act of an aggressive competition that results in one company taking portions of another company's market share.... This can be achieved through the release of a better or newer product, aggressive pricing or marketing strategies or other competitive advantages...
That doesn't explain the origin of the metaphor. What are we talking about? Next, I notice the very similar phrase: ate him for lunch. Are these 2 phrases of the same lineage? If so, which is the corruption?

I saw this at Urban Dictionary and thought it was very funny:
Many don't believe me, but in March of 1967 a buddy and I were sitting in a local bar. Something was said about lunch, I responded by saying, "I'll eat your lunch". All laughed and went on. The group that was there started using that line. Next thing I know everyone is using it. Believe it or not.
Looking for another way into this problem, I try googling "did the phrase eat your lunch originate in a bully who steals other student's lunch."

The first thing that comes up is "Bullying In The Lunch Room—What You Need to Know/Is your child getting bullied about her lunch—or being the food police with other kids?" in Parents Magazine. Totally the wrong subject! That's not about the old-time bullying where the kid's lunch is stolen, it's about kids making fun of what other kids are eating or criticizing it as "toxic" or whatever.

The other thing my new search turns up — and I'm going to stop after this — is a TV Tropes page, "Enemy Eats Your Lunch":
"The best tasting food is stolen from the mouths of the enemy." — Griff, World of Warcraft, "War Forage"

A classic tactic of psychological warfare.

You've just met someone. They don't know what to make of you. They happen to be eating at the time. What do you do?

Take their food. It's a step beyond just invading personal space, and it shows who the alpha dog is. Frequently the victim is too stunned by the audacity of such a move to protest....
The illustration there is from this classic scene in "Pulp Fiction" (so imagine Nancy Pelosi in the Samuel L. Jackson position and Trump as Brad):

ALSO: Here's a nice palate cleanser — "Someone at work ate my sandwich!"

"Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else."

"... Tarantino delivers a ridiculously white movie, complete with a nasty dose of white resentment.... 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood' is a tribute to the people behind the scenes and below the line, the ones who secretly infuse movies with their practical knowledge, life experience, and athletic feats..... Cliff’s unhappy marriage isn’t depicted as a site of conflict but as his endurance of the shrill and belittling rage of a shrew.... The movie’s most prominent female character, Sharon Tate (Robbie), is given even less substance; she is depicted as an ingenuous Barbie doll who ditzily admires herself onscreen.... There’s a peculiar sidebar, when Cliff picks up a teen-age hitchhiker who calls herself Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), who’s actually a member of the Manson Family, and...  when she offers Cliff a blow job—and Cliff distinguishes himself from Hollywood predators by asking her age, demanding to see proof of it on her driver’s license, and gallantly declaring that he doesn’t intend to go to prison for 'poontang.'"

From "Review: Quentin Tarantino’s Obscenely Regressive Vision of the Sixties in 'Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" by Richard Brody (in The New Yorker).

I haven't seen the movie (yet), but I can't understand the assertion that the director's vision is regressive. Characters do all sorts of things in movies. How do you decide to attribute their failings to the moviemaker? Also, when does a regressive vision become obscene? I guess — as Justice Stewart said about pornography — Richard Brody knows it when he sees it.

Hey! "I know it when I see it" has its own Wikipedia article.
The phrase "I know it when I see it" is a colloquial expression by which a speaker attempts to categorize an observable fact or event, although the category is subjective or lacks clearly defined parameters. The phrase was used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio. In explaining why the material at issue in the case was not obscene under the Roth test, and therefore was protected speech that could not be censored, Stewart wrote:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.
I like the "see also" list there. It includes "Duck test":
The duck test is a form of abductive reasoning. This is its usual expression:
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck...
Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916) may have coined the phrase when he wrote:
When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.
A common variation of the wording of the phrase may have originated much later with Emil Mazey, secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, at a labor meeting in 1946 accusing a person of being a communist:
I can't prove you are a Communist. But when I see a bird that quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, has feathers and webbed feet and associates with ducks—I'm certainly going to assume that he is a duck.
The term was later popularized in the United States by Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr., United States ambassador to Guatemala in 1950 during the Cold War, who used the phrase when he accused the Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán government of being Communist. Patterson explained his reasoning as follows:
Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says 'duck'. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he's wearing a label or not....
Douglas Adams parodied this test in his book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency:
If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands....
The Liskov Substitution Principle in computer science is sometimes expressed as a counter-example to the duck test:
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck but it needs batteries, you probably have the wrong abstraction....

"The 'Kill Bill' script called for Uma Thurman to be spit on by co-star Michael Madsen, but Quentin Tarantino was the one who did it."

"He didn’t trust anyone else to spit right. 'I’m the director, so I can kind of art direct this spit,' Tarantino told Deadline on Monday. 'I know where I want it to land. I’m right next to the camera. So, boom! I do it.'... And the choking? Tarantino claims it was Thurman’s idea to have the chain — which in the movie is thrown at the Bride by Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama) — actually wrap around her neck and choke her. 'Not forever, not for a long time,' he said of how he did it. 'But it’s not going to look right [without really doing it]. I can act all strangle-ey, but if you want my face to get red and the tears to come to my eye, then you kind of need to choke me.'"

From "Everything you need to know about the growing Quentin Tarantino controversy" by Sonia Rao in WaPo.
When Quentin Tarantino was 8 and his mother's black boyfriend took him to see 2 movies about black people in a theater with an all-black audience."The same worlds where abuse was likely to have been taken seriously and codified during the rise of Me Too—cloistered, rivalrous, impossibly competitive, liberal-leaning zones like television networks, academia, and Democratic politics...""We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby... Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal."Anybody want to talk about the Oscar nominations?"We ate their lunch!"

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