There’s been word from here and there over the years about how Quentin Tarantino’s been writing movie reviews on a regular basis that he refuses to publish—probably, I figure, because he doesn’t wanna be in the sticky situation of having written something negative about a contemporary, a colleague, which is also the reason why Peter Bogdanovich hasn’t published his own storied compendium of reviews.
But now, in 2020, Tarantino is suddenly publishing a slew of movie reviews for The New Beverly, a movie theater he owns and programs in Los Angeles, and when somebody posted a link to the reviews on reddit there was talk of slow-loading pages, this New Bev website being a small enterprise, after all, and probably unaccustomed to such a turnout of readers—a readership, I’m guessing, that comprised more than just cinephiles, or Tarantino completists, but probably a good man people who are just big into reading and who heard that, despite the weirdnesses of spelling and syntax and grammar, Tarantino’s a pretty terrific writer; terrific in the way that he perfectly captures the amphetaminic haste and geeky passion of his own talking voice. The prose is technically weird,but it’s fun reading, it flows, and it’s giving me occasion to marinate on two different things.
First thing: I’ve been writhing over the past few days with a conviction that I’m not very good at writing—and while I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never stop writing, and never stop sharing it, I’m also opening my eyes to the fact that, if it’s as bad as I think, it might be the sorta thing I should never ever talk about with anybody, ever, because they’re either going to (1) give me a compliment that I don’t believe, and that I end up resenting because I’ll end up inflating it into some kind of covert insult, or else (2) they’ll come at me with the truth, and tell me about how much my work sucks—which, much as I might agree, I really don’t want to hear it.
And make a monster movie, but a modern monster movie. A movie where the monster isn’t a vampire, or a radioactive freak in a stupid suit, or a witch, or the ghost of Karloff’s long dead wife, but a young good looking, crew cut sporting, Baby Ruth eating, baby boomer who grew up in a house recognizable to most (white) viewers as their own, who watched Joey Bishop on TV with his family, and listened to 93 KHJ on the car radio of his mustang convertible.Quentin Tarantino on Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Corman’s Targets.
But what Tarantino’s essays have got me thinking is that my technical shortcomings might be forgivable, in the eyes of some people, if the work is achieving a real voice. I’m not convinced that this blog does achieve a good voice—but when you read Quentin Tarantino’s reviews it’s so easy to see what a critic could skewer them for. But you can look at its myriad fautls, appreciate that the prose has ample room for improvement, but still enjoy the voice.
So that gave me hope: technical writing is fine, but voice is the most salient thing.
And the second thing that it got me thining about is something I actually just touched on this morning, with my piece about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, a stylish movie that I’m not so crazy about but which rang such a bell with filmmaker/critic Francois Truffaut (probably Hitchcock’s most ardent defender from the French new Wave) that he went and wrote a piece of criticism about it. Truffaut’s essay about The Wrong Man is clearheaded and well-written—but it also has the urgency of something written in a heat of passion. You can feel Truffaut’s rapturous geeky love for Hitchcock throbbing in the prose—and thank God he had it! His fanaticism for Hitchcock’s films is what would later drive Truffaut to spend three days interviewing the old maestro several years later, in a conversation that would be transcribed into one of the most instructive and influential books ever written about cinema.
Look at Truffaut’s body of work, however, and you see the hand of a deep artist whose films have a grapple-with-the-soul quality that makes you imagine this guy is the most brooding, contained, mannered kind of artist.
But no, he’s a fucking geek, just like Tarantino and, I’m relived to say, just like me.
Hitchcock has never been more himself than in this film, which nevertheless runs the risk of disappointing lovers of suspense and of English humor. There is very little suspense in it and almost no humor, English or otherwise. The Wrong Man is Hitchcock’s most stripped-down film since Lifeboat; it is the roast without the gravy, the news event served up raw and, as [director Robert] Bresson would say, “without adornment.”Francois Truffaut, on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man
I have a hard time believing that my super-seriousness about the arts, particularly books and movies, is anything more than juvenilia. Probably because, up until college, I was constantly ignoring my studies and focusing instead on stories, of one sort or another, and being reprimanded by parents and teachers alike for it. The usual spirit of the reprimand was that books and movies aren’t the real world, you have to do well in school cuz otherwise you won’t go to college and won’t get a job, this is what matters, etc…
Like even with Steve Donoghue, my favorite YouTuber, a prolific and unabashedly enthusiastic book critic whose professional accomplishments are directly attributable to the serious attention and respect he accords these pieces of work. I still feel a vague apprehension about surrendering myself, with that mutually unabashed fanaticism, to his videos (which I watch every day). I feel almost more comfortable with his reviews, where the wording is more measured and precise, and there are no zealous digressions during which a fan—subject to the same glares of indifference and annoyance that my own exaltations about books and movies seemed always to be met—might be mocked.
But the uncensored fanaticism of serious adults feels like a gentle hand that reaches up form the page or out from the screen to sooth on my head some feathers I hadn’t even known were ruffled