The Encyclopedist of the Grind House: Tarantino on Film

"All right now, if you're a person like me you really enjoy seeing child actors get traumatized, all right, I mean stuff that they're never going to forget for the rest of their lives, 'cause that's what Silent Night Deadly Night is all about." Some of the most thrillingly unorthodox film criticism in America was recently improvised at two in the morning in an Austin, Texas, movie joint that serves Schlitz by the bucket along with eight-dollar Enter the Dragon Pizza (bell peppers, sausage, and five-alarm jalapeños). The Alamo Drafthouse is where Quentin Tarantino just concluded QT VI, a nine-day festival where cineastes gather for eight-hour-long theme nights (Sexploitation, Italian Seventies Crime, Secret Agent Movies), all punctuated by ecstatic riffs from the most consistently brilliant genre director since the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Once a hopped-up monomaniac, the 42-year-old Tarantino now takes the stage with the ease of a national treasure. Wearing a Richard Pryor Live in Concert T-shirt, QT does arias on the evening's features, making unexpected connections, drawing on histories you've never heard of, conjuring inside-baseball analogies that make the audience of dweeb diehards burst into applause--like, "The Venetian Affair is basically the Hickey and Boggs of Man from U.N.C.L.E. movies!" (He's also present in the lobby at 5:00 a.m. to patiently answer your questions about Crown International pom-pom movies.)

Among the highlights of the lowbrow maestro's Felix the Cat grab bag of goodies is Shame of the Jungle, an animated French porno with American voices dubbed by the likes of Bill Murray and John Belushi. Featuring a chimp pantomiming a series of sex acts as hectic as the one in The Aristocrats, the 1979 cartoon had a sleepy late-night crowd retching with laughter.Four Desperate Men (1959), an Australian noir set in bright sunshine, pits a quartet of homespun terrorists against the small-town fuzz, and shows why Aldo Ray's bulldog mug became the inspiration for Bruce Willis's Pulp Fiction boxer. But the abovementioned Silent Night Deadly Night (1984) was the belle of the ball--a sicko shocker in which a small child is terrorized by family, religion, and commerce into becoming a killer Santa.

QT has become a nonpareil encyclopedist, a Harold Bloom of the grind house. Does he just have a sweet tooth for blue-collar schlock? Far from it; his wide-ranging tastes are enabling him to create an alternative canon to the dogmatic AFI 100, and he's inventing a new way of talking about movies, throwing down essays on cinema like a rapper free-styling rhymes. His all-night pulp fests are becoming essential viewing for any self-respecting 21st-century film lover.

 
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