That Time I Met Quentin Tarantino

So the other night, I met Quentin Tarantino.

It was brief, yes, but it still happened. It was one of those surreal moments where you suddenly black out from overwhelming happiness; the instance that is happening before you seems so unlikely and implausible that your brain just shuts off and you have to basically repaint this picture in your memory so that you can remind yourself that it actually happened. There’s another phrase for that kind of scenario, and that is ‘star struck.’

It has been buzzed about in the press that the New Beverly Cinema, a renowned revival house in the LA area owned by Quentin Tarantino, had taken the later summer months off after Tarantino decided to become the theater’s programmer. Though he was already funding the theater so that it could still operate, the curating duties were in the hands of Michael Torgan, son of previous owner, Sherman Torgan. But a rift formed when Torgan decided to install a DCP unit in the theater thus removing the 35mm film projector which had become a staple of the theater’s novelty. This outraged Tarantino, and the filmmaker seized this opportunity to suddenly halt the DCP installation and cancel it altogether; instead, the two-time Oscar winning filmmaker and noted film archivist/historian/geek idol reinstalled the 35mm projector and brought in a 16mm as well ensuring that only features on film will ever be projected on the New Beverly screen.

Novelty: 1…Technology: 0

This entire ordeal brought about Tarantino’s desire to take over programming duties at his theater. In a world where digital is taking over in both filmmaking and in film projection, Tarantino’s effort to continue the New Beverly’s singularity is stunted only by the fact that film prints are not the norm anymore. However, Tarantino has the solution. As a social celebrity and as a film preserver, the man knows more than a couple of nooks and crannies to search in to find film prints, including his own treasure trove of classics which includes his own features, Sergio Leone westerns, a ton of Steve McQueen classics, etc.

Facing this issue head on, deciding the curate the cinema’s lineup himself seemed like the logical next step. Thus, the programming from now until the end of 2014 will be overseen by Tarantino himself, just before he heads out to Colorado to begin production on The Hateful Eight (which, of course, is being shot on glorious 70mm film).

By visiting the revamped New Beverly home website, cinephiles can check out the lineup for the rest of October – the November and December lineups will follow once Tarantino has decided what he wants to show. But October is stacked.

The theater opened with a Paul Mazursky double bill of Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice and Blume in Love and was followed by a week-long double bill of Pulp Fiction and The Professional. A two-day Robin Williams tribute lead into this past weekend (The Best of Times//Moscow on the Hudson); Morocco and His Girl Friday followed. This week will see the first Bruce Lee Tuesday, showing The Big Boss and it’s sequel (the following Tuesday with have both Fist of Fury films and the Tuesday after that will present Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow). Screen icon Steve McQueen will be recognized with prints of Le Mans, The Getaway, Junior Bonner, An Enemy of the People, and Papillon (apparently an extended version previously owned by McQueen himself). Lightning Swords of Death and Shogun Assassin will play back-to-back, as will Rage and The Savage is Loose, both starring and directed by George C. Scott, and William Witney gets his due with both Stranger at my Door and a Masters of the Universe road show print (extended edition with 4-track mag tap sound!). James Garner’s documentary, The Racing Scene, will screen behind McQueen’s Le Mans, and Inglorious Basterds influencer, The Dirty Dozen, will play a week before Halloween, prefaced by a queue of trailers that Tarantino will contribute directly form his own collection.

Two bonuses round out the month: Every Friday, at midnight, Reservoir Dogs will screen, and Halloween will see an all night horror marathon showcasing the work of Tarantino’s good friend, Eli Roth, hosted by Roth himself.

An impressive lineup to say the least, and at $8 a ticket (single and double features are priced the same), it’s hard to pass up these one-of-a-kind screenings. As a result, I found myself almost pressured to go see the Pulp Fiction//The Professional screening, especially since it was taking up more calendar space than any other billings (both films are celebrating their 20th Anniversaries this year). So, this past Tuesday night, I headed to the New Beverly Cinema.

Firstly, the cinema is really wonderful in and of itself. As a structure, it’s been kept in really great condition; old-fashioned without feeling artificial. This theater is a cinematic landmark and it looks that way on the inside. The ticket window faces the outdoors, and the lobby is very, very tiny – it houses two bathrooms and the concession stand (a large popcorn is only $4!). The theater is intimate without being too small; it’s the kind of movie theater that used to be the only kind, before stadium seating took over. The screen is draped by curtains, and reveals its true size only once the feature presentation begins.

Ten minutes before the double feature was supposed to begin, I was sitting by myself just taking in the experience when suddenly the patron in front of me whipped his head around toward me. I thought he was looking at me, but it took me a moment to realize that he was actually looking past me. I followed his gaze and that’s when I saw him.

Four rows back, without looking for a single ounce of fanfare, sat Quentin fucking Tarantino. His entire row, outside of two seats, was totally reserved. Ironically enough, he and his buddy (Tarantino went to the movies with a buddy!) weren’t sitting in the reserved seats; those seats were actually reserved for New Beverly staff members, some of which are good friends of Tarantino’s. I was totally taken aback; I couldn’t believe that he was actually there, in his own theater, ready to watch a double feature with the rest of us mega-fans. Sure, one of the films was his own movie, but the man does not show up to every screening at the New Beverly, nor did he show up to every night of the Pulp Fiction//The Professional double bill. This was just the night that he chose to appear.

A greeter welcomes us – a sold out house – to the New Beverly for the event screening and then introduces Quentin Tarantino, who then receives all of the fanfare that he deserves. He greets the crowd in his enthusiastic way, and then quickly removes the spotlight from himself. He proceeds to introduce his buddy: Luc Besson.

Yes…Luc Besson, the director of The Professional…he was Tarantino’s ‘buddy.’ If you’re thinking ‘Holy fucking shit,’ I was thinking the exact same thing.

Phones were snapping away, Instagram and Snapchat were in full force in those opening moments, but the two filmmakers weren’t posing, they were here to celebrate as fellow moviegoers, and as fans of each other’s works. Tarantino asked how many people had seen both films before and a geyser of hands shot into the air. Then he asked how many people were seeing both films on 35mm for the first time. 95% of those hands remained in the air. Then he asked, who has never seen either Pulp Fiction or The Professional before?

I believe five people raised their hands, to which Tarantino said, “What the fuck have you been doing for the past 20 years? Watching Howard’s End?” Everybody in that theater was in love.

The proceedings got moving and the show got on the road. Pre-Pulp Fiction, there was a roll of trailers, all on film and all original trailers for some of the films coming to the New Beverly in the coming weeks. Then a The Three Stooges short played, it was entitled “Brideless Groom.” Toward the climax of the sketch, it was revealed that this particular Stooges short is the exact same one that Eric Stolz’s character in Pulp Fiction is watching when John Travolta’s Vincent Vega comes racing to his house with an overdosing Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman).

Then Pulp Fiction began.

My God in Heaven…the film looked phenomenal. I own Pulp Fiction on both Special Edition DVD and on two-disc Blu-ray and neither of those copies could hold a candle to the speckled, sun-lit print. The gritty aesthetic, the vibrant colors, the LA setting, everything looked like it was surely intended when the film was lensed two decades ago. From the minute the image flashed on the screen and the banter between Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer got the film underway, everyone in that theater realized that they were seeing something very special. We were seeing literal moving pictures, rapidly rotating frames, a phenomenon that transpires very rarely these days. It was subtly emotional, and engrossing all the same, getting to watch a transformative picture like that on the big screen and on film.

And god dammit if that movie isn’t a full blown masterpiece. Watching Pulp Fiction with a room full of people who love the movie – seeing it in a theater four rows in front of Quentin Tarantino, who won an Oscar for the film’s screenplay and more or less revolutionized screenwriting and film structure for the future thereafter – is what I can only imagine going to a midnight event screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show must be like. After every iconic moment – Royale with Cheese, Ezekial 25:17, the Jack Rabbit Slims dance contest, Christopher Walken’s gold watch monologue, when Bruce Willis eyes the samurai sword, Ving Rhames’ sermon of death in the pawn shop basement, “Zed’s dead, baby,” Quentin Tarantino’s appearance as Jimmy, Winston Wolf’s intro and exit, Ezekial 25:17 Part 2 – were all met with thunderous applause. And every joke landed like it was the first time anybody had every heard it. It really goes to show how paramount watching a film on a big screen in a dark theater surrounded by a crowd of strangers is to the viewing experience of that film. This was without question the best time I had ever seen Pulp Fiction, and it was undoubtedly the best it ever looked. Rotating frames that will live in my memory forever.

Following a brief intermission, Tarantino and Besson returned to the front of the auditorium. Tarantino thanked the audience for their enthusiasm during the screening, “You guys really made that a lot of fun.” Then the two directors swapped stories about getting to see each other’s films for the first time. Besson saw Pulp Fiction in Paris and remembers being utterly floored by its greatness. Tarantino said that when he was heading into pre-production on Reservoir Dogs, everybody that he was close with told him that he must watch Besson’s La Femme Nikita claiming that it was “The Quentin movie that nobody had made yet.” Tarantino’s friends were referring to the kind of film that mashed together different genre facets and characteristics, a pop art blend that had yet to exist and would rear its head once Tarantino actually got behind a camera. “I can’t watch the ultimate Quentin movie when I’m about to make the first actual Quentin movie!” It wasn’t until after spending a year on the festival circuit with Reservoir Dogs that he finally sat down with the Nikita laserdisc and watched it in his living room. “From the first frame, I fucking loved it.”

Tarantino then brought up the time when he first met Besson, an instance that Tarantino was sure Besson would not remember. It was at a special screening of Reservoir Dogs in Los Angeles, and Tarantino said he got instantly nervous when he found out Besson was in attendance. After the screening, Tarantino went up to Besson and asked him what he thought to which Besson simply replied with a shrug. A slightly positive shrug, as Tarantino interpreted it. Turns out, Besson did remember the screening and he remembered the shrug. Hilariously, Besson’s English was still in a highly fragmented stage in 1992 and he had close to no idea what was happening throughout Reservoir Dogs. “All of sudden everybody was just shooting each other, I was so confused.” That got a laugh from everybody, especially Tarantino. “But the style of a great filmmaker was there.”

Besson closed out intermission with a story about discovering Natalie Portman, who famously made her big screen debut in The Professional. Portman wasn’t even in the top 5 when casting was coming to a close. By chance, Besson spotted her picture amidst an assortment of headshots and called her back in for another audition. He was blown away by the young actress’ talent. Besson then recalled a cute story from production when he tried to direct the eleven-year-old Portman in a scene that required her to be seductive. The only problem was, Portman, being eleven, had no idea what seductive meant. Besson tried to act it out for her, but this turned out to be no help. Having seen what kind of seductive moves Besson’s got, I can only say it looks like something that Santa Claus might do for Mrs. Claus to get her ‘in the mood.’ It was laughably unseductive. It took assistance from the makeup girl for Portman to finally understand what Besson was looking for. “Key direction from the hot makeup chick,” quipped Tarantino.

And then The Professional began.

I’ve seen this movie many times, I actually own a Director’s Cut DVD version and I watched it in a screenwriting class sophomore year of college. Ironically, I’ve always found the film’s screenplay to be the weakest part; it’s formulaic in structure and the dialogue is comprised of cheesy action movie dialogue. However, the performances are really great, particularly Gary Oldman as the villain, and Besson’s European influence is visible throughout. But, again, I’ve never liked the film as much as I did when I saw the 35mm print of it on the screen of the New Beverly. It had so much character: it was kind of choppy at points, and slightly scratched, some skipping frames. This accentuated the in-the-moment nature of film projection, in addition to the rich colors and the crispness of the image overall, these slight imperfections and degradations over time made the viewing experience so much more immediate, and more unique.

For $8 I got to see two films, one of them an all time great and a personal favorite, on the big screen on 35mm, the best either has ever looked, in my opinion. But the striking moment, meeting Tarantino, made the entire experience invaluable.

During the intermission, when I decided that I was going to be slightly irresponsible and stay for The Professional despite the fact that it wasn’t going to end until 1am and I had work the next day, I went to go grab some popcorn. On my way back in, I saw that people were casually talking to Tarantino. Mind you, there is a sign on the door of the New Beverly that reads, “Please note that Quentin will not be signing autographs or posing for photos when in attendance at the New Beverly Cinema,” but knowing that Tarantino is a massive film buff and has a personality that extends for miles, I realized that it wasn’t surprising at all that he was chatting it up with everybody around him. So I approached him.

He looked up at me and tossed a peace sign toward me with two fingers in the air, and I held out my hand and he shook it. And all I said, quite simply, was, “Thank you for this, man. This is really so, so cool.” And in enthusiastic reply, “Of course man, anytime. Keep coming when you can, I’m sure I’ll see you again.” And that was it.

That was all it needed to be. A girl behind me, one of the five who had never seen Pulp Fiction before, went up to him and said that it was her first time ever seeing it. Now that is really, really cool, to follow up your first ever Pulp Fiction screening with compliments expressed directly to Tarantino himself. However, my experience was something more sentimental that didn’t require I talk at length with QT. He was there to enjoy himself, and the brief interaction we had was more than enough for me.

I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time in the sixth grade, after I had seen both parts of Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs. I’ve been a fan of Tarantino forever and there aren’t enough good things that can be said about Tarantino’s films, especially Pulp Fiction. In the seventh grade, my cousin told me that if I ever had the opportunity to see Pulp Fiction on the big screen, I take it. She said it would change my entire perception of the movie, regardless of how much I already loved it. She got to see it on 35mm on a big screen, and thankfully, now I’ve seen it the same way. And everything she said about it was 100% true. It’s a defining piece of film, and I got to see all 221,760 frames of that film play out on the New Beverly Cinema screen.

Quentin Tarantino told me to keep coming to the New Beverly Cinema. I think I will.

By Mike Murphy

 

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