Recensie: Cinema Speculation (Quentin Tarantino)

Onlangs heeft Mr. Quentin Tarantino zijn tweede boek afgeleverd na ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ vorig jaar. Het heet ‘Cinema Speculation’ en is een non-fictieboek over films uit de jaren 70’, het tijdperk van zijn jeugd en volgens de de schrijver-regisseur het beste tijdperk voor films in Hollywood ooit. (Voor mij is dat de jaren 90’, het filmdecenium van mijn jeugd waarin Tarantino als regisseur een grote rol speelde).

Tijdens het lezen had ik voortdurend IMDb openstaan om de titels op te zoeken die QT beschrijft. Één van de eerste films die hij analyseert is Joe van John G. Avildsen (regisseur van Rocky en The Karate Kid). Het gaat over een right wing gun nut die hippies haat en ze wel wil vermoorden en dat op een gegeven moment ook gaat doen… Duidelijke inspiratie voor Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lijkt me.

Zijn moeder en haar vele vriendjes namen de jonge QT (vanaf 7 jaar) mee naar de meest gewelddadige films uit die tijd. Hij zag slechte exploitatiefilms, maar ook vele klassiekers, zoals de Dollars trilogie van Sergio Leone (zijn favoriete regisseur), Where Eagles Dare, Dirty Harry, The Godfather en The Wild Bunch. Hij was meestal het enige kind in een zaal vol volwassenen en begreep niet altijd alles van de films. Zo snapte hij niet dat de freeze frame op het einde van Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid betekende dat de hoofdpersonen dood gingen. Maar een voorwaarde van zijn moeder was dat hij geen domme vragen mocht stellen.

Zijn moeder ging een tijdje uit met zwarte mannen en die namen hem af en toe mee naar Blaxploitation films. Zo zag hij met een bijna volledig zwart publiek de film Black Gunn met Jim Brown. Hij observeerde goed hoe het publiek reageerde op zo’n film en op de acteurs. Hier heeft Tarantino zijn voornaamste opleiding genoten: in de bioscoopzaal. Vaak bij geweldige Double en Triple Bills die ze in die tijd nog vertoonden in de bioscopen in Los Angeles.


Op de cover: Regisseur Sam Peckinpah en filmster Steve McQueen op de set van The Getaway.

De film maestro geeft verschillende films een eigen hoofdstuk, zoals Bullitt met Steve McQueen (Steven Spielberg werkt momenteel aan een nieuwe interpretatie van deze klassieker). Bullitt herinnert men zich vooral vanwege de auto-achtervolging. Het plot kan niemand je meer vertellen (dat klopt). McQueen was de grootste ster van die tijd naast Newman en Beatty. Hij doet bijna niets in de film, schrijft Tarantino, maar toch is hij geweldig om naar te kijken. Hij acteert minimalistisch. Plus, hij is cool als agent Frank Bullitt omdat hij nooit zijn ‘cool’ verliest in tegenstelling tot andere helden. Als zijn onredelijke baas hem op zijn nek zit, reageert hij helemaal niet. ‘He doesn’t engage’.

De volgende film die hij in detail bespreekt is Dirty Harry, de klassieker die van Eastwood de grootste actiester maakte en van Don Siegel de beste actie-regisseur naast Peckinpah. De invloed van Dirty Harry kan niet onderschat worden. Samen met The French Connection luidde de film de transitie in van westerns naar politiefilms. Het is ook de eerste echte seriemoordenaar-film. Harry neemt het op tegen Scorpio, een fictieve versie van San Francisco’s echte Zodiac killer. The Silence of the Lambs en Se7en zijn de kinderen van Dirty Harry.

De samenleving was aan het veranderen in de jaren 70’, schrijft de auteur. De politie neemt het op voor de boeven, zo was soms de perceptie. Met Dirty Harry kregen de angstigen een held met een .44 kaliber Magnum aan hun zijde. Een held die een groep Black Panther-achtige overvallers uitschakelt terwijl hij een hotdog eet. En een held die het recht in eigen hand neemt als een zaak daarom vraagt. Curieus genoeg heeft het (volgens QT zwakke) vervolg Magnum Force de tegenovergestelde boodschap. Hierin neemt Harry het juist op tegen een groep moordenaars die criminelen zonder proces executeren.

Geweld speelt een grote rol in Tarantino’s films en dit is ook iets dat hij opikte in de glorieuze jaren 70’. Bijvoorbeeld bij de fantastische Double Bill Deliverance en The Wild Bunch. De eerste bevat een schokkende homoseksuele verkrachting. The Wild Bunch eindigt in één van de bruutste grafische geweldsexplosies uit de filmgeschiedenis. Ik bedenk me nu dat de man in Deliverance verkracht wordt door een echte hillbilly. Zou dat inspiratie hebben gevormd voor de verkrachting van Marcellus Wallace door hillbilly Zed in Pulp Fiction? Hoe het ook zij: wat Quentin schrijft over die scène klopt; in plaats van dat je wegkijkt van zoiets gruwelijks kun je je ogen er niet vanaf houden. Kennelijk heeft geweld iets fascinerends voor mensen en is film een ideaal medium om dit kanaliseren.

In de jaren 80’ veranderde dit in veel films. Hollywood ging self-censorship toepassen. De enige niet niet-compromitterende regisseurs uit deze jaren waren Lynch, Verhoeven, Cronenberg, Ferrera, Gilliam en De Palma (soms). Niet toevallig allemaal behorend tot mijn favoriete filmmakers aller tijden. Tarantino klaagt over het gebrek aan immorele, onsympathieke karakters in films uit die tijd. Personages als Parker uit Richard Stark’s boekenserie, waarvan de eerste verfilming The Outfit ook een eigen hoofdstuk krijgt in ‘Cinema Speculation’. Tarantino heeft zelf overwogen om een ‘Parker’ verfilming te doen in de jaren 90’ met Robert De Niro (als Parker), Harvey Keitel en Pam Grier in de hoofdrollen. Hij heeft spijt dat hij dit niet heeft gedaan en ik ook! Nu is Payback de enige Parker-verfilming uit dit decennium en hoewel het een prima film is was die van Tarantino ongetwijfeld beter geworden.

Wat is het speculatieve aspect van het boek uit de titel? Tarantino schrijft over de mogelijkheid dat Brian de Palma en niet Scorsese de film Taxi Driver zou hebben gemaakt. Blijkbaar was dat bijna gebeurd, maar vond De Palma de kans op een negatief financieel resultaat te groot (vreemde angst voor een regisseur, maar De Palma kende de noodzaak van een gat in de markt vinden en films te blijven maken). Als hij het gedaan had, was het ongetwijfeld meer een politieke thriller geworden. Bovendien had waarschijnlijk Jeff Bridges in plaats van De Niro Travis Bickle gespeeld and was de pooier waarschijnlijk zwart geweest zoals in het script en dus door een andere acteur gespeeld. Stel je voor, Taxi Driver zonder Harvey Keitel!

Is het boek een aanrader? Absoluut. Dat Tarantino kan schrijven is bekend. Daarnaast heeft de man ongelofelijk veel kennis en inzichten in het Hollywood van die tijd. Een must-read voor cinema fans dus. Wel een waarschuwing; je ‘to watch list’ wordt wel een heel stuk langer door het lezen van dit boek. De film waar ik me het meeste op verheug na het lezen van ‘Cinema Speculation’? Dat is Rolling Thunder over een getraumatiseerde Vietnam veteraan (nog zo’n echt jaren 70’ thema) die op jacht gaat naar een bende die hem in zijn huis hebben gemarteld en zijn vrouw en zoontje hebben vermoord. De lofzang die Tarantino over deze door Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) geschreven film afsteekt maakt hem onweerstaanbaar. Het is er slechts één van vele.

15 Differences Between The Godfather Novel and Movie

Today it was 50 years ago that The Godfather, one of the greatest films ever made, was released in the Netherlands. It was based on the excellent novel by Mario Puzo. As often happens with a screen adaptation, a lot of stuff was either left out or changed. Below are the fifteen most important differences between Puzo’s bestselling novel and the classic movie by Francis Ford Coppola.

1. Sonny’s Cockyness
The following passage from the novel explains more about why Sonny was always the cock of the walk: Sonny Corleone was tall for a first-generation American of Italian parentage, almost six feet, and his crop of bushy, curly hair made him look even taller. He was built as powerfully as a bull, and it was common knowledge that he was so generously endowed by nature that his martyred wife feared the marriage bed as unbelievers once feared the rack. It was whispered that when as a youth he had visited houses of ill fame, even the most hardened and fearless putain, after an awed inspection of his massive organ, demended double price.

2. Another Request For the Don
All the wedding guests that ask requests of Don Corleone at his daughter’s wedding are in both the novel and the movie except one. Understandably, it was cut out because it is the least interesting. A guy needs 500 dollars to open a pizzeria. What is interesting though is his name: Anthony Coppola. The novel was released in 1969 and author Mario Puzo did not yet know that it would be adapted into a movie by a guy named Coppola. Funny he chose that name.

3. Woltz is a Real Pervert
Placing the severed racehorse head in movie producer Jack Woltz’s bed was brutal. In the film the guy is portrayed as an asshole, but not as a big enough fucker to deserve this kind of punishment. In the novel however, Hagen finds out he ‘did a number’ on a twelve year old girl during his visit to Woltz’s ranch. Later, it is explained that the 60-year old movie mogul can indeed only get it up with very young girls. So apart from the notion that hurting animals is always wrong, Woltz definitely had something bad like this coming.

4. Bonasera Gets His Vengeance
After a long conversation with the undertaker Bonasera, we see the Don give out the order to punish the two men who have hurt his daughter, but we don’t witness the actual event in the film. In the novel we learn that Paulie Gatto was in charge of this operation (the guy who gets killed after which the famous line “leave the gun, take the cannoli” – which btw is not in the novel – is uttered). He uses two professional fighters who kick the two abusers to a pulp when they leave a bar. Like ordered by Don Corleone, they survive. But their faces are unrecognizable. Bonasera is very happy indeed, until his phone rings some time later.

5. Fontane Makes a Career Switch
The singer Johnny Fontane plays a larger role in the book than in the film. We learn that the Don’s service to Fontane has paid off. He played in Woltz’s picture which earned him an Academy Award. And that is not all. Tom Hagen visits him after the picture is wrapped up and tells him that Don Corleone will bankroll him in becoming a movie producer. Soon after the Don is shot, but Fontane still gets the money to produce one movie at the time. He ends up as successful as Woltz.

6. More On Luca Brasi
In the movie, it is obvious that Luca Brasi is a dangerous killer who works exclusively for the Corleone Family. But there is nothing about his background really. In the novel, he plays a larger role. Partly because there is more story about the Don’s rise to power, which wasn’t used in The Godfather: Part II (see also 7). About Luca we learn that he is absolutely terrifying and has done some horrible deeds. Some he did in service of the Don, like butchering two hitmen Al Capone had sent to New York as a favor to Don Maranzano who was at war with the Corleone Family. But some he did for himself, like incinerating his own baby in an oven and murder his girlfriend with whom he had the child. No wonder everybody in the movie seems to be afraid of this brute.

7. The First Mob War and Sonny’s Involvement
When the Corleone Family goes to the mattresses in The Godfather, we get the faint impression that this was not the first war they were in. It is not. In the novel, Don Vito fights a bloody war in the early 1930’s with another New York boss: Don Maranzano. It was in this war that Sonny Corleone made his reputation as a brutal general. As a boy, Sonny had witnessed his father kill Don Fanucci and he confronted his father with this (that’s right, this is not in The Godfather: Part II). After that, he became involved in the family business and it turned out that he had a talent for violence and cruelty. He may have missed the strategic subtleness the Don searched for in his successor, but he surely was effective. The war against Maranzano was resolved by killing the Don while he was eating in a restaurant (similar to the real-life assassination of Don Masseria of New York).

8. Kay and Mama Corleone
After Michael had left her after killing Sollozzo and McCluskey, Kay Adams visits the Corleone estate but gets very little information from Tom Hagen. The jerk almost didn’t invite her in! Mama Corleone is not happy with this treatment and she asks inside Kay for lunch. Despite Tom’s objections, she tells Kay gently that “Mikey not gonna write you. He hide two-three years. Maybe more. You go home to your family and find a nice young fellow and get married.” After Kay leaves, she is trying to get used to the fact that the young man she had loved was a cold-blooded murderer. And that she had been told by the most unimpeachable source: his mother.

9. Michael’s Scapegoat
In the movie, it is never explained how exactly Don Corleone managed to get Michael home from Sicily. The police are after him after all, which we know in the novel because they come to Kay’s house to question her. The don did it by finding a scapegoat for the Sollozzo-McCluskey murders. This guy was part of a small Sicilian mob family, who acted as intermediaries when the bosses needed to plan safe negotiations. The man had committed a brutal murder and had been sentenced to death. Don Vito made him falsely confess to killing McCluskey and Sollozzo and he had the waiter from the restaurant provide false witness testimony. Problem solved.

10. Lucy Gets an Operation
On Connie’s wedding in The Godfather I, Sonny cheats on his wife with Lucy Mancini. In part III, she apparently had a son from Sonny called Vincent. There is nothing about her getting pregnant in the book, but there is quite a lot of stuff about their love affair, and there is a chapter on her after Sonny’s death. It is in this chapter that we learn that she has quite a big box. Apparently which is why she matched so well with Sonny (see point 1). Not sure if this is Puzo’s finest writing, but I’m just giving you the facts here. After Sonny’s death, the Corleone Family gives Lucy a job in Vegas and a nice monthly income. She meets a doctor, who she has an affair with. He fixes her ‘down there’ and later also fixes Johnny Fontane’s voice box. Great guy.

11. More On Al Neri
Michael Corleone’s enforcer Al Neri was apparently a cop before he came into Michael’s service. A brutal cop who would put the fear of God into many delinquents. One day, he kills a vile pimp who had cut up a young girl and her mother. He gets a heavy sentence, and this is when the Corleones step in. They use their political influence to set him free, and immediately offer him a job. Now Michael got his own Luca Brasi, a powerful weapon in the battles he is about to get engaged in.

12. Fabrizio Gets What’s Coming To Him
Michael’s big revenge differs quite a bit in the movie. In the novel, it doesn’t take place during the baptism. Coppola combined the happenings to make it more dramatic and Michael more diabolical. Great move. Also, Moe Greene gets killed earlier in the story. More importantly, in the novel Michael only whacks two of the four dons of the opposing families: Barzini and Tattaglia. Also, Fabrizio, the bodyguard who killed Michael’s wife in Sicily, is shot to death in a bar. “Michael Corleone sends his regards”. A scene was filmed for The Godfather: Part II, in which Fabrizio is killed by a car bomb, but it was cut from the movie.

13. Tessio Off the Hook?
After Tessio is to be killed for his betrayal, he asks Tom Hagen if he can get him off the hook. “Can’t do it, Sally”, Hagen answers. In the book, Tom had actually checked with Michael if Tessio could be saved. “Any way to get Tessio off the hook?” Michael’s answer: “No way”. At least he tried, which makes Tom a bit less cold than in the movie, although in the world of the mob, it’s not really possible to give traitors passes. The don’s position would be threatened very soon.

14. Hagen Reconciling With Kay
The Godfather famously ends with Michael’s door being closed on Kay; the moment she realizes of course that it was all true: Michael had killed Carlo and the heads of the five families. The perfect ending. In the novel, there is a scene after that realization in which Tom Hagen visits Kay and actually explains to her why Michael killed Carlo. And he makes it sound very reasonable. After that, Kay decides to give it another shot with Michael. How does she deal with Michael’s sins?

15. Kay Burning a Candle
The novel ends with Kay going to church to burn a candle for Michael Corleone’s soul. Like she had seen Mama Corleone do for her husband. So history repeats itself and Kay, despite being a real Americana, becomes a Sicilian wife for Michael. So, he made the right choice hooking up with her again after his exile on Sicily.

Read also: The Don’s Dilemma Reconsidered

Bullets Over Hollywood

Bullets Over Hollywood (2005, USA)

Director: Elaina Archer
Written by: John McCarty (book), Elaina Archer, Tom Marksbury
Features: Paul Sorvino (narrator), Leonard Maltin, Michael Madsen, Edward McDonald, ao.

Running Time: 70 mins.

This Hugh Hefner produced documentary shows the fascination of moviegoers with the mob. ‘Once in the racket, always in the racket’, Al Capone said who became the archetype of the gangster and role-model for some legendary movie characters like Caesar ‘Rico’ Bandello (Little Caesar) and Tony Camonte/Montana (Scarface) This also applies to Hollywood when it comes to making gangster films. Every time you think the realms of the genre have been fully explored, some new masterpiece comes along. After the time that Cagney, Robinson and Bogart dominated the screen, a new generation of filmmakers emerged in the seventies with Coppola, Scorsese and De Palma. Then at the brink of the new millennium, the Hollywood gangster legend continued on the small screen with The Sopranos.

Bullets Over Hollywood opens with the very first gangster film: The Musketeers Of Pig Alley, made in 1912. It then goes on to chronologically move through gangster film history right up until The Sopranos. The documentary combines film fragments, interviews and real gangster footage while Paul Sorvino (GoodFellas) provides the narrative. It is an interesting viewing for enthusiasts of the genre, but misses real insight in the works that it covers. Some interesting facts are revealed such as the story that Howard Hawks was forced by Hollywood to add ‘the shame of the nation’ to his gangsterfilm Scarface, because they didn’t want to glorify gangsters. Also interesting is some behind-the-scene footage of gangster classics, but these fragments are unfortunately a little brief. Altogether this is worth a look. If only to hear Leonard Maltin rave about The Godfather and to re-experience some of the finest sequences in the history of this fascinating American phenomenon.

Rating:


The Musketeers Of Pig Alley (1912, D.W. Griffith)

The Book of Boba Fett – a Postmodern Mashup

This week, the final episode aired of The Book of Boba Fett, an action bonanza featuring the biggest laser gun battle Star Wars has ever seen. It’s directed by Robert Rodriquez, who shows he is still a true action cannoneer.

The series initially got a luke(skywalker)warm reception, but during the second half the reviews improved. Not coincidentally, this was after the Mandalorian showed up and took central stage for an entire episode. And this reveals the show’s weakness, namely the title character. Who ever said Boba Fett, who barely had any lines in the original movies, was an interesting enough character to give his own television show? The Mandalorian on the other hand is great; he’s mysterious, a badass, can crack a joke once in a whole and follows a strict code of honor. Therefore his show is widely considered as the most successful Star Wars production under Disney since the acquisition from Lucasfilm in 2012.

The Mandalorian – like TBoBB developed by actor-director Jon Favreau – was loosely based on the classic Japanese manga Lone Wolf and Cub, about an assassin traveling through feudal Japan with his infant boy. The boy in The Mandalorian was Baby Yoda, an instant audience favorite. The Book of Boba Fett is based on another classic: The Godfather. Boba Fett, after surviving being swallowed by the Sarlacc and taken prisoner by the Tusken Raiders, moves to Tatooine to take over the crime syndicate previously ruled by Jabba the Hutt. Unfortunately, Boba is closer to Fredo than Vito, Michael or Sonny Corleone. He is just not particularly intelligent or cunning and it’s hard at times to figure out what’s even driving him at all. And frankly, Temuera Morrison is not the most versatile actor in the world. Why would he be suitable for a lead role?

So far the bad news, because TBoBB certainly has its merits. The supporting characters are excellent for one thing. The first one is called Fennec Shand (portrayed by Ming-Na Wen), a female assassin who partners up with Boba. She’s an interesting character and has good chemistry with Boba/Temuera. Second, the already mentioned Mandalorian shows up and the same applies for Baby Yoda (Grogu) and Luke Skywalker (the post Return of the Jedi-version). Finally, Cad Bane arrives in style in episode 6 and I can truthfully say that this one of those genuinely terrific bad guys Star Wars is known for. So thumbs up for that.

Another reason to watch: the amazing set pieces. This is pure Star Wars cinema quality. It’s incredible what they can do nowadays in cinema let alone television. It looks and smells and feels 100% like Star Wars. What might also persuade movie lovers is the tons of references, both visually and verbally, to classic cult movies. To Star Wars itself obviously (Wookies really do pull arms out of sockets), spaghetti westerns, Robert Rodriquez-references, The Godfather (‘it is the smart move’, ‘my offer is this: nothing’), The Untouchables, Lone Wolf and Cub, and probably many more I missed or forgot. You really get the feeling that you’re watching a show made by people who didn’t have an original concept to go on, but do love movies and had a huge budget to spend, so they threw in all this stuff from the classics.

Therefore, though obviously not as great as The Mandalorian, it still provides plenty of bang for your spacebucks.