Whatever you think of Quentin Tarantino, and for what it’s worth I’m a big fan, it’s clear that few people think about movies as much as he does. Cinema Speculation is a collection of film essays in which his opinions fly at you at breakneck speed. There will be some you agree with and some you vehemently disagree with. And if you’re like me, the majority of them you won’t have any real opinion on because only Tarantino could care that much.
Most of the essays in Cinema Speculation are in-depth looks at one particular film. The films featured here largely came out during the director’s childhood and adolescence. He frequently mentions his mother’s permissive attitude towards his viewing habits. When he was a young child she would bring him to any movie she wanted to see, even ones she went to on dates. Over the course of the book the reader gets a small glimpse into Tarantino’s childhood from dribs and drabs. As someone younger than Tarantino I was a little surprised how much freedom Quentin had from a young age to travel all over Los Angeles by himself to scope out double features. Some readers may cringe a little at his accounts of seeing black movies in black theaters, though his love for those experiences seems genuine.
How much the reader will enjoy the individual essays likely depends on how familiar they are with the film under discussion. There’s no real organizing principle to Tarantino’s choices, and some of them are harder to track down and watch. In retrospect, I do wish I’d made more of an effort to have seen the movies in question before reading. I enjoyed the essays on Bullitt, Taxi Driver, and Dirty Harry more for having that familiarity.
That being said, there are interesting ideas in all of the essays. Tarantino has an obsessive’s knowledge of the actors and directors of the 1970s and is especially good at examining their strengths and weaknesses. He’s got incredibly strong opinions about which actors have been miscast and which actors should have replaced them. Equally strong are his opinions about directors like Don Siegel, Paul Schrader, and Brian DePalma. He devotes a lot of time to dissecting their capabilities and the films that best showcased them and the ones that got away from them.
For a true ’70s film buff, a standard I fall a little short of, given that I hadn’t even heard of some of these films, Cinema Speculation is a much read. For any fan of the movies it’s a intriguing glimpse into the tastes of one of our era’s major directors. And unless you’re as obsessive as Tarantino is, you’ll probably come away with a number of films to add to your watchlist.