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“I never knew until I came here to Hollywood that somebody could be really nice to you for years and really hate your guts. Happens all the time here.”
Jean Seberg

Yesterday I not only went to see Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood for a fifth time (a personal record for seeing a movie in theaters), but I also realized that I have now been blogging about that movie for a whole month now (something I’ve never done before).

And I still have a few more posts to write—and imagine I’ll see the movie at least one more time while it’s in theaters. If I fly to L.A. to see it at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema you know it’s time to call Movie Addiction Anonymous.

Today we’ll look at someone who is briefly touched on in Once Upon a Time who was born and raised in Iowa, and though she’s been dead for 40 years is currently having a revival.

Actress Jean Seberg was born in Marshalltown, Iowa which is about an unlikely place as any for someone to end up starring in the François Truffaut written and Jean-Luc Godard directed New Wave French classic Breathless (1960).

If you don’t recognize Seberg’s name and/or aren’t familiar with her movies, you’ve probably seen her short cropped pixie haircut duplicated time and  time again over the last several decades. Of course, Seberg wasn’t the first movie star to have short hair but it could be argued that she was the first modern actress to kick start the trend that reverberates to this day (in one form or another).

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Jean Seberg

 

When Amazon Studios releases Seberg starring Kristen Stewart I imagine there will be an uptick in women sporting a pixie haircut.

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Kristan Stewart as Jean Seberg

When Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) goes to Westwood to buy a book in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood she passes a movie theater that has the 1969 movie Pendulum with stars names (George Peppard and  Jean Seberg) on the marquee.

Back in 2013, I drove through Seberg’s Iowa hometown (see the post on Marshalltown) a month before a film festival held there in her name. Seberg’s real life was even more tumultuous than the fictitious Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) character in Tarantino’s movie. When she was just 18-years-old she was chosen from over 18,000 people in a talent search to star in Otto Preminger’s St. Joan.

“I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more.”
Jean Seberg

Her personal and professional life went through many ups and downs until she died from what the Paris police ruled as a probable suicide in 1979.

P.S. In this audio clip Tarantino explains Godard’s influence on him. In fact, Tarantino’s company A Band Apart was named after Godard’s film Bande à part. 

Scott W. Smith

“To me, torture would be watching sports on television.”
Quentin Tarantino

How in the world can you tie in a college football game in Florida with Quentin Tarantino’s movie Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood? It’s really not that hard because in Tarantino’s world everything is connected.

Once upon a time the rivalry between the University of Miami and the University of Florida was the Ali-Frazier battle of college football. Though they’ve been competing against each since 1938 it was the 80s and 90s when it turned into a slugfest. Since 1984 Miami or Florida have won a total of 8 national championships.

When they played this weekend it made me think of how Florida was connected to Tarantino’s world and his film Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood via some personal recollections. (BTW—I did watch the Miami—Florida game on Tv and at 3 hours it was even longer than Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. I have the ability to enjoy both.)

  1. Jackie Brown is based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch which was set in Florida. Tarantino changed the location to the more familiar Los Angeles County where he was raised.
  2. Actor/director Sylvester Stallone attended the University of Miami long before he became Rocky and a Hollywood icon. Stallone has said in interviews that he turned down roles in both Jackie Brown and Death Proof.  In Tarantino’s ever involving list of favorite films you will sometimes see the original Rocky film listed.
  3. Burt Reynolds briefly played football at Florida State in Tallahassee before also becoming a Hollywood icon. (He first studied acting at Palm Beach Junior College.) Reynolds was the biggest box office actor in the 1970s and his films were a huge influence on Tarantino growing up. The Rick Dalton character played by Leonardo DeCaprio was partly inspired by Reynolds and Tarantino cast Reynolds to played George Spahn in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.   
  4. In 1978 I went to one of the best concerts of my life at the Tangerine Bowl (now known as Camping World Stadium) in Orlando (which is where the game was played last Saturday between Miami and Florida). The final act of that ’78 concert was Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. Seger’s 1969 song Rambin’ Gamblin Man is featured on the soundtrack of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

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    I was a concert rat back in the day and kept many of my ticket stubs. I think there were around 60,000 people in attendance.

  5. At the old Orlando arena I once saw Neil Diamond in concert and his work is also featured on the Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood soundtrack. He performs Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.
  6. Back in the 90s I was editing a video project a Greg Rike Productions in Altamonte Springs and was told that Deep Purple was regularly coming into the studio at night.  Apparently they liked to winter in the Orlando area where they could play soccer and rehearse. Deep Purple has two songs on the Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood soundtrack—Hush and Kentucky Woman (which was actually written by Neil Diamond).
  7. Another time when I was editing at that same facility I met one of the band members for Flock of Seagulls. In Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction Jules (John Travolta) calls one of the people he’s going to kill “Flock of Seagulls” because of the guy’s haircut.
  8. One of my high school football coaches was Sammy Weir who played one season with the New York Jets in 1966. The quarterback of the Jets in ’66? Joe Namath.
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    Here I am (#42) standing next to Coach Weir my senior year at Lake Howell. Weir was a Little All American at Arkansas St.

    When Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) walks into the Bruin movie theater to watch the movie The Wrecking Crew the movie trailer playing is for C. C. and Company and features Joe Namath. At the 35mm showing of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood I saw in Jacksonville they actually showed the original trailer of biker film featuring Broadway Joe (as Namath was known in his heyday).

  9. In the trailer for C.C. and Company (and in the movie) are clips of musician Wayne Cochrane with his pompadour in full glory. Cochran was known as The White Knight of Soul and he is said to be the inspiration behind Elvis in his jumpsuit era. Cochran spent his last years in Miami where he was an evangelist.
  10. Jim Morrison of The Doors is mentioned in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and he was born in Melbourne, Florida, was a student a Florida State University, and cut his singing chops playing in bars in Tallahassee. Another musician on the edge of the story was Graham Parsons who was raised in Winter Haven, Florida on his way to being a part of The Byrds. The Byrds road manger Phil Kaufman knew Charles Manson while in prison at the Terminal Island Prison and encouraged Manson to pursue a music career. (That prison is not far from Torrance, California where Tarantino grew up.)  Manson eventually met Beach Boy Dennis Wilson and that leads Manson to meeting record producer Terry Melcher in hopes of getting a record contract. Melcher once lived at  10050 Cielo Drive. Some speculate that when Manson’s cult members went to Cielo Drive it was an effort to payback or scare Melcher for not following through with a record deal for Manson.
  11. When Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) pulls into the Van Nuys Drive In theater one of the movies on the marquee is Pretty Poison which stars Anthony Perkins. Perkins went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida (an Orlando suburb). Fred Rogers—better known as Mr. Rogers—also went to Rollins. At one of the viewings I went to there was a trailer for the new Mr. Rogers movie starring Tom Hanks.
  12. I’ve often joked that I had the shortest career of any football player who ever put on a University of Miami football uniform. I was a walk-on player (non-scholarship) who dressed out for exactly one JV game, and that happened to be a game against Florida. I played exactly zero downs which was the only time that ever happened in 10 years of playing organized football. I dislocated my shoulder the week after that game and had it operated on. Though I was a good high school player I was a athletic version of Rick Dalton by the time I was 20. One thing sports teaches you at every level is there is a pyramid of talent and that pyramid is always rotating. Jerry Rice was one of the top players to ever play NFL football. (A top of the pyramid wide receiver.) But at the end of his career when in was with the Denver Broncos he retired after learning that he would no longer be a starter. The head coach when I was at Miami was Howard Schnellenbeger who as an assistant at the University of Alabama in the early ‘60s is the one who recruited Joe Namath to play for the Crimson Tide.
  13. I made my first 8mm film while at the University of Miami with my arm in a sling after surgery on my shoulder. The rock star in the film program then was David Nutter who went on to win an Emmy for directing an episode of Game of Thrones. I heard (though don’t know if he’s still attached) that he was directing some episodes of TV version of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff—that is being produced by Appian Way Productions which is Leonardo F-ing DiCaprio’s company.  (Tampa Bay Times article on The Right Stuff shooting in area.) I did see photos that they had set up shop at Universal Studios Orlando which is just a couple miles from when I’m typing this post.
  14. And while Scarface has nothing to do with Once Upon a Time … Hollywood (that I know of), it was shot in Miami and directed by one of Tarantino’s favorite directors Brian DePalma. 
  15. Toward the end Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood Brad Pitt says “And awaaay we go” which is a famous tagline of Jackie Gleason who from 1966-1970 hosted The Jackie Gleason Show “live from Miami Beach.” Gleason played Burt Reynolds nemesis in Smokey and the Bandit—a movie that Tarantino says warrants repeat viewings.

P.S. Updated bonus track: After a University of Miami football game in 1981 the Beach Boys played a concert at the Orange Bowl. (And were oddly paired that night with the Commodores.) That was two years before Dennis Wilson died and so I assume he was part of that gig. The Beach Boys were formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, California and a few years later a young Quentin Tarantino attended Hawthorne Christian School for part of his elementary years. (A school he’s said he wasn’t fond of attending.)

And two more Florida connections to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is celebrity hairstylist and Sharon Tate buddy Thomas John Kummer went professionally by the name Jay Sebring, taking his last name from Sebring, Florida which is known for its international raceway. And lastly, Walt Disney gets a nice shout out in the movie when Julia Butters says Disney was a once in 50 years kind of genius. As someone who grew up in Central Florida I’ve always said Orlando basically only had indoor plumbing and air conditioning before Walt Disney’s vision of Disney World opened here in 1971. To go there that year as a ten year old was personally a transformative experience. Just riding the monorail at the start of the day was surreal to my senses. The Haunted Mansion, 2000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride were mind blowing fun.

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I still have some of my early Walt Disney World tickets.

The first Disney movie I remember seeing in theaters was The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) which stars Kurt Russell—who, of course, is in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. 

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

I’ve been playing the soundtrack to Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood non-stop while driving around the last two weeks. Love that music and the cleaver way that Holly Adams West, Mary Ramos, and Quentin Tarantino not only crafted enjoyable music together, but how they made it extra enjoyable by adding commericals to the soundtrack. (When do you ever hear that?)

The majority of songs on the sound track I was unfamiliar with (or at least the versions that were used). Here are a handful of my favorite tracks on the soundtrack. If you haven’t seen the movie, I think listening these songs will only enhance your viewing experience.

Scott W. Smith

“It’s not your job to create your vision. It’s your job to have a vision.”
Terry Gilliam

Two of the most unusual moviegoing experience of my life were the works of the same director. The first was when I was in high school and went to see Jabberwocky (not a good first date film) and the second was in my early twenties when I went to a screening on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank of Brazil. Both were the vision of writer/director Terry Gilliam.

Before Quentin Tarantino made his first film he’d seen enough movies to know there was a wide variety of ways movies could look. He particluarly studied low-budget films because he knew if he ever got his chance to make a feature that the budget would be closer Blood Simple than Heaven’s Gate.  He knew what he wanted his films to look like someday, but he didn’t know how to accomplish his vision. Just before he made Reservoir Dogs he was chosen to attend the Sundance Labs in Utah where one of the people he got to work with was the writer/director Terry Gilliam. (And this was at a time when Gilliam was coming off of directing The Fisher King.)

So Tarantino was able to ask Gilliam how he was able to get such a consistent look in his movies.

“Terry you have a direct cinematic vision in your movies. And it goes from movie to movie to movie —how do you do that? And he goes, ‘Quentin maybe because you’ve never been on a film set before maybe you don’t understand how it works so let me explain this to you a little bit. It’s not your job to create your vision. It’s your job to have a vision. And it’s your job to hire talented individuals, to hire talent artists who understand your vision. And you articulate it to them and then they take vision and they create it. . . .  Your vision is still a two-dimensional vision. They will take the different elements of your vision and make it three-dimensional. And then you’ll get back more than you gave them. And then you’ll know more about what you’re talking about. And then the vision will get filled in. You think you have to do everything and you don’t. You don’t need to know anything about sewing to have wonderful costumes in your film, you just need to express what you want to the costume designers. You don’t need a degree in engineering to have wonderful sets in your pieces. You need to be able to describe what you want. You don’t need to know how to take a bunch of different light stands to create a different effect. That’s not your job! You don’t need to know any of that. You need to have a vision, and you need to know how to express it.’”
Quentin Tarantino on meeting Terry Gilliam
UCLA talk in 2016

I hope when the DVD comes out on Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood comes out that it’s full of clips of the behind the scene team at work helping Tarantino realize his vision.

Scott W. Smith

“When I’m doing a movie, I’m not doing anything else. It’s all about the movie. I don’t have a wife. I don’t have a kid. Nothing can get in my way.”
Quentin Tarantino in 2009
GQ article Triumph of His Will

It’s offical—Once Upon a Time …. in Hollywood became the first movie I’ve ever seen in theaters more than three times. I saw it for the fourth time yesterday, and if I’d had the time I would have watched it again right way.

For me it’s just been a rare movie going experience and one that I’m not sure will come again any time soon.

And this from someone who wouldn’t consider himself a Quentin Tarantino fanboy. I went to Hateful Eight in 70mm and left disappointed. I appreciate his talent for remixing influences, but don’t enjoy his casual use of violence. I didn’t see any of his prior films in the theater more than once, many of his movies I didn’t even go to while they were in theaters, and I skipped Death Proof all together.

Which makes me wonder why Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood resonated with me so much. I think part of it was being alive in 1969 (albeit I was 8 and 9 years old then),  having spent five years in LA on the fringes of the film industry, being aware of the Charles Manson cult, and having a lifelong love of movies.

After seeing Once Upon with an almost full audience on the opening night the first comment I heard was from a 20-something girl who “What did I just watch?” My guess is she had little or no idea who Charles Manson was or what he and his cult did back in 1969.

Tarantino doesn’t spoon feed you that information with any expositional dumps. If any thing he downplays things. What he does brilliantly is play on expectations. Somewhere early in my first viewing I remember thinking “How is he going to land this plane.”

It was like Hitchcock’s bomb under the table. Screenwriting 101. As long as the audience sees the bomb under the table you can have actors at the table discuss anything and it will be riveting. Some do that for a scene or two. But here Tarantino does it for almost entire film. All but the last scene of the two hour and 40 minute film is a ticking bomb.

Tarantino and cast and crew layer the film with character studies wonderfully acted, a zillion culture reference, beautiful cinematography, and spellbinding sound tack. In a world crowded with content, it stands out as exceptional and emotional storytelling. It’s also one that rewards audiences with repeat viewings. (Well, at least the ones that don’t hate this film.)

For the dozen or so movies I’ve seen three times in theaters, I’ve found that three times is the maximum amount of viewings before I determine that the next time I see it will be on DVD or streaming. But what made this fourth viewing better that the others was I bought the movie sound track on CD (a first in the last decade or so) and listened to it repeatedly over the past week. It’s a joy all by itself. Then I also listened to Karina Longworth’s 12 part You Must Remember This podcast on “Charles Manson’s Hollywood.”

That podcast gave many wonderful insights into the times and people involved in the surrounding story. That podcast was released in 2015 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was part of Tarantino’s inspiration with wanting wrap a story around that faithful hot August night in 1969.

On this fourth viewing I really appreciated the range of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. On the first viewing of the film I really wanted to see Matt Dillion in that roll of an aging actor. An actor that is closer to Brad Pitt’s age, and one who had some great leading roles 15-20+ years ago. (And one who as the same namesake as the sheriff on Gunsmoke.) But on a $90 million budget I understand needing someone who attract a wide audience so I wanted to see Tom Cruise as the aging actor. On the third viewing I was good with DiCaprio, but still wished he was 10 years older—or at least looked a little more worn. On this viewing, I was good with DiCaprio as is.

Though this is Tarantino’s ninth film this is his first film to complete while married. Perhaps that altered his sensibilities for the better. There is something intellectual (even mystical learning toward spiritual) in this film that I did experience in his pervious films.

Perhaps after the fifth viewing in theater (which their no doubt will be) I will be able to articulate what it is about this movie that’s made be respond the way I have. But in the meantime here are a few dots that were connected and memory doors that the movie opened for me and warranted my record breaking viewing.

  1. When I was in film school in Los Angeles in the early 80s I briefly worked at Frank’s Camera in Highland Park (not far from Dodger Stadium) and I sold a camera to a fellow who worked in the film industry and I asked him if he had any advice for someone starting out. He looked at me dead serious and said “Don’t get married.” It was such unexpected advice that it hit me hard. In many ways working in film and television is like joining the circus and not exactly conducive to a normal family life. Tarantino has spoken openly about the sacrifices he made to become the great filmmaker he is. In my early 20s I met several people in L.A. who were in their 40s and 50s who had some success in Hollywood, yet were still waiting for their big break and I knew I didn’t want to be one of those people. I got married when I was 24-years-old and carved out a niche working in production and having a family life.  Tarantino says he didn’t even have a girlfriend until he was 25 (though he pointed out in a interview that he was “the king of first dates). He got married last year at age 56.
  2. When I moved to L.A. in 1981 I rented a studio apartment on Riverside Dr. in Burbank next to some horse stables connected to what is now called the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. I met my wife at that apartment complex. We once rented horses and went on a trail ride there. This week I read that’s where Tarantino’s parent met. In Once Upon a tourist from Tennessee named Connie goes on a horse back ride at Spahn Ranch. Tarantino’s mother is from Tennessee and named Connie.
  3. When Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) says “Okay Kato” to Bruce Lee it snaped a memory to me that The Green Hornet (1966-67) was a favorite TV show of mine as a kid. I couldn’t tell you what a single episode was about, but I remember wearing a Green Hornet ring. This was a very distant memory and one that I wasn’t even sure was a real memory. So last night I googled “Green Hornet ring” and sure enough that was a real thing and I even found a commercial for it.
  4.  
  5. When I saw that Tarantino married 35-year-old Daniella Pick I wondered if Tarantino wasn’t getting into position to start a family. Yesterday I read that Daniella is pregnant. Tarantino has said that he wanted to make 10 films and then retire from feature filmmaking at age 60. It’s possible that that could happen. But it’s also probable that he’ll be creating long form streaming content, writing plays and books. And like Steven Soderbergh and Michael Jordan it’s possible that he’ll un-retire down the road. I hope he doesn’t stop creating because I kinda dig this (relatively) kinder, gentler Tarantino.
  6. I grew up on Burt Reynold’s movies as did Tarantino and while I haven’t heard anyone make this connection, but I wonder if The 14 Fists of McClusky wasn’t a nod to Reynold’s character Gator McKlusky in White Lighting (1973) and Gator (1976). Reynold’s  was cast to play the George Spahn character in Once Upon but unfortunately died before his parts were shot. (But Tarantino points out he did do table reads and rehearsals so it was his last role). Back in 1969, Reynolds started in the western Sam Whiskey.  Actress Tracey Roberts has a part in that film and is who I studied acting with in the early 80s. Laura Dern also studied with Roberts, and her father Bruce Dern is the one who replaced Reynolds as George Spahn. Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 3.08.59 AM
  7. Like a lot of kids I grew up watching old westerns on TV, but I had the benefit of having a Western theme park not far from where I grew up. Six Gun Territory was a place in Ocala, Florida that had an old west town, gun fights and can-can girls. I not only visited a couple of times as a kid but shot part of my first 16mm film there. One of the times I visited my father drove my sister and I up in his Karmann Ghia. The same car that Pitt’s character drives around in Once Upon. 
  8. When Smokey and the Bandit starring Burt Reynolds hit theaters I was 16 years old and I remember well how exhilarating it was after the movie was over and getting in my car to drive away. Tarantino has said that Smokey and the Bandit is a movie that holds up well with repeated viewings. Tarantino is a writer/director who thinks of the audience from the early idea stages through post production. It’s how this movie takes me back to film school when I rode a motorcycle up and down Hollywood Blvd. at night.
  9. Even though Once Upon is a centered on a bromance, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, and Julia Butter shine in their scenes. I would have been fine with Tarantino expanding any of their roles, but it would have pushed the movie over the 3 hour mark.
  10. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is still a full sensory experience even if you weren’t alive in the 1960s, if you never visited Six Gun Territory, if your dad didn’t have a Karmann Ghia, and even if you never even visited Los Angeles —but you may not see it four+ times.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In Jailhouse Rock, he’s everything rockabilly’s about. I mean, he is rockabilly: mean, surly, nasty, rude.”
Clarence on Elvis in True Romance
Written by Quentin Tarantino

Last Friday was the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death and since I’ve been running a string of posts on Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood this seems like a fitting place to touch on Elvis in Quentin Tarantino’s world.

“All right, Scotty, next time I see you, it’ll be on Tennessee time.”
(Bruce Willis)
Pulp Fiction written by Quentin Tarantino

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Elvis died in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977 and Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1963. Tarantino has more than passing interest in the King of Rock ‘n Roll.

“When I was about eighteen-years-old, I got waaaay into rockabilly music. I was like the second coming of Elvis Presley. I dyed my hair black. I wore it in a big ole pompadour.”
Quentin Tarantino

That fascination with Elvis helped Tarantino land a bit part as an Elvis imitator when he was trying to launch an acting career.

Tarantino was obsessed with movies from a young age and got involved with Torrance Community Theater. Around 1981 he pursued studying  acting with James Best—an actor perhaps best known for his role as Sheriff Rosco on The Duke’s of Hazard. But whose credits go back to 1950 and include an impressive and eclectic list: The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Sounder. 

“Quentin walked into my class one day and said, ‘Mr. Best, I want to meet you. You worked in my favorite movie of all time.’ Really what’s that that? I asked. ‘Rolling Thunder… Quentin started quoting lines from the picture. Then, he mentioned other movies that I made and quoted dialogue from them, too. What a memory he had. It helped that he had managed a video store. He obviously liked movies of all kinds. When Quentin got onstage, he was less than adequate….I went to Quentin and told him. ‘You’re a lousy actor. You should take up writing.’”
James Best
Best In Hollywood, The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Tarantino’s actor friend, Craig Hamann, remembers things differently.

“[Tarantino] was the most talented actor in the class, and probably the least appreciated, which really used to anger me. I mean, here’s a guy with a wealth of knowledge about movies., who clearly knew more than any of the instructors. But in acting schools, in my view, the instructors become gurus, and the students do things a certain way to please the gurus, but Quentin wouldn’t do that. Within a matter of months he outgrew the school.”
Craig Hamann
Quentin Tarantino, The Man and His Movies 

Hamann and Tarantino became friends and wrote the script for the low-budget My Best Friend’s Birthday. And the experience at James Best Theater didn’t discourage Tarantino of continuing studying acting. In 1985, Tarantino began studying with actor Allen Garfield after Garfield left the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute to start the Actors’ Shelter.

“Quentin sought me out because he had seen the first two films I had done in New York with De Niro and De Palma called Greetings and Hi, Mom! And so Quentin, being enamored of those films, sought me out to study acting, writing and directing. He told me he wanted to work with the actor who had worked with Brian De Palma . . . . From the inception what I had in front of my eyes was a very beautiful, pure, raw, unharnessed talent. And also a fellow who has all of the hunger to act, write, and direct, not knowing if he would be accepted in the marketplace at any time because of his feeling that he marched to such a different drummer.”
Allen Garfield
Quentin Tarantino, The Man and His Movies , page 52

In was in Garfield’s classes that Tarantino started writing “all of these rambling, uncharted monologues” that he’s refined into his own distinctive Oscar-winning screenwriting style.

Hamann went on to work as an assistant for manager for Cathryn Jaymes and Jaymes went on to represent Tarantino for the first 10 years of his career. When she met Tarantino he was 25-years-old and had no credits and no acting reel, but she saw something in him.

“I wasn’t sure what he had but he was so charming. He was this compelling oddball.”
Cathryn Jaymes
Rebels on the Backlot by Sharon Waxman

Jaymes got Tarantino a walk-on part on The Golden Girls as an Elvis imitator.

Tarantino finished the script for True Romance in 1987 and Jaymes sent the script to over 100 producers and got nothing but rejection for over a year. One of the rejections letters read, The action is not exciting and the characters are under-developed and unbelievable. True Romance is one long hollow adventure.”

To make a long story short True Romance eventually got sold and produced, as did Tarantino’s script Natural Born Killers. And both of those paved the way for Tarantino to finally direct his script for Reservoir Dogs. 

The takeaway there is it wasn’t a smooth, conflict free path for Tarantino. There were a few people that connected with him and helped him along the way. And it was path full of persistence and resilience.

P.S. Another Elvis connection to Tarantino is his connection with Kurt Russell who has a small part Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, as well as larger roles in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Death Proof. Russell not only played Elvis in the TV movie Elvis, but he did a scene with Elvis in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963). 

P.P.S. Like me, James Best moved from L.A. to Orlando in 1987 with the hopes of taking part in Hollywood East. He opened the James Best Theater in Longwood, Florida and my wife actually played Goldilocks in a children’s play of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that was performed there in 1988. Best didn’t direct that play and I never had the opportunity to meet him. But I heard stories about his long time acting friends Burt Renyolds and Paul Newman visiting him while he lived here. He died in 2015.

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My wife as Goldilocks in the play Goldilocks and the Three Bears performed at The James Best Theater in 1988

…and to end with a song, here’s the late, great Steve Goodman with his song Elvis Imitator.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

“So you got that foundation story [in Hollywood Shuffle], but it goes into the whole set piece about Hollywood’s first ‘Black Acting School.’ Then it goes into the whole detective piece, and even the movie they’re actually shooting at the end is like a setpiece in itself. It’s really interesting how every phase of Shuffle opens up into this whole cinematic universe of its own . . . . Even The New Negroes is continuing the lineage from Hollywood Shuffle and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka to now.”
Hip hop artist and comedian Open Mike Eagle
Tracing the Influence of Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle with Open Eagle Mike by Erik Abriss
October 2018

The 1987 spoof Hollywood Shuffle might seem like an odd film to inspire a young Quentin Tarantino before he became an Oscar-winning writer and director, but when you step back it all makes sense. And Tarantino’s takeaway from Hollywood Shuffle may help you in your own writing.

The low-budget indie film Hollywood Shuffle (co-written by Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans) was a critical and commercial success and got good marketing buzz at the time by being self funded using credit cards. To use Ted Hope’s phrase that was the “Story behind the story” that helped build an audience. And back in the pre-digital days it was unheard of to make a feature using credit cards. (Though it’s still not a strategy I’d endorse, it paid off for Townsend who was already an accomplished actor.)

In episode three (“You’ll Be a Director Soon”) of the excellent three-part podcast Quentin Tarantino’s Feature Presentation Q&A with Amy Nicholson there’s this brief exchange:

AMY NICHOLSON : Was [Hollywood Shuffle] inspirational to you—that you can just make a thing?

QUENTIN TARANTINO: Yes, it was inspirational. But it wasn’t inspirational because of the movie he made. It was the inspiration involved in him making it. To me Hollywood Shuffle was inspirational for like the way he did it and also the way it could be done. What I mean by that is— to make a feature film from beginning to end on no money is something. 

Tarantino doesn’t consider his first film as is first film. Perhaps because it was never finished. (At least I don’t think it was.) But he does consider his four year effort to make My Best Friend’s Wedding as his film school. If my math is correct, Tarantino worked at Video Archives from 1985-1990 where he was a mini-celebrity for his vast film knowledge.

But he was a 9th grade drop out, only making $200 a week, and his life seemed to be going nowhere. In interviews he’s said that he got the itch to make a film two years into his job renting videos. Add two years to 1985 and you land on 1987 and the release of Hollywood Shuffle.

One takeaway from My Best Friend’s Wedding is a scene where his character talks about Elvis. That scene was recycled into his script True Romance which sold in 1990. In 1991 he went to the Sundance Labs to further develop his script Reservoir Dogs which in 1992 became his directorial debut. True Romance (1993) got made with Tony Scott directing and Christian Slater and Patrica  Arquette starring . Then Pulp Fiction was released in 1994 and he collected his first Oscar in 1995.

Would all of that happened without Tarantino seeing Hollywood Shuffle in 1987? We’ll never know, but I imagine his talent and ambition would have found other ways rise to the top. But we do know that the black acting school sequence in Hollywood Shuffle did show him a different way to chunk out a movie.

“If you’ve got the kind of movie where you can do this sequence, and you can pour all your time and effort into this sequence, and then it’s done and you can go down for a little bit and then raise the money to do the next sequence—well, that’s different. That’s like you can do a few short films and you’ve figured out a way bring your short films together and turn it into a feature. Now you’re not just hanging and trying to tell this one story, you have these little mini-movies that you can do, and actually have a sense of accomplishment when you do them, and then you can pull them together.”
Quentin Tarantino on Hollywood Shuffle
Interview with Amy Nicholson

This is a technique that Tarantino is still using over 30 years after seeing Hollywood Shuffle. My favorite sequence in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is when Brad Pitt drives Margaret Qualley back to Spahn Ranch. My second favorite is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) going to Westwood to buy a book and catch a movie.

Go back and watch the first 20 minutes of Inglourious Basterds and you’ll see a sequence that is far from the Hollywood Shuffle in style and content but one that’s totally connected. That opening is a masterpiece of filmmaking and could have been its own mini-movie. (Indie filmmakers take note, that scene is essentially two actors and one glass of milk.)

Nicholson also points out to Tarantino in her interview with him that in Hollywood Shuffle they play with many styles—sitcoms, noirs, infomercials, actions movies, a slave movie, [you can also add satire and TV review spoof] and it reminded her that in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood he also plays with many types of styles, genres, and skits.

Tarantino said he hadn’t made that connection himself. And adds that a movie associated with Shuffle that says holds up better as a film is the blaxploitation satire movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucker (1988). It’s also a film he says deals with subtext of cultural identity better than Shuffle.

So there you have it, two unlikely films that inspired and informed a young Tarantino before he had a filmmaking career and that still resonates in his work today.

P.S. My Own Personal Earthquake in 1987: 

My life changed on October 1, 1987 during the Whittier earthquake. I remember clearly where I was when it happened at 7:42 in the morning. I was in a Ford Ranger at a stop light on North Glenoaks Blvd by Burbank High School.  I was on my why to a post-production house in Hollywood. When my truck started bouncing my first thought was some high school students were jumping on the bumper of my Ford Ranger truck as a prank. When I saw the windows of a 7-11 store wobbling and people running out of the connivence store I knew it was an earthquake.

I was 26-years-old and working full time as a 16mm camera operator and editor. I had made 8mm and 16mm narrative films in film school, and also done workshops at UCLA extension, AFI, Tracey Roberts Acting Studio, Robert McKee’s story structure, and had just finished my first feature script. I felt pretty confident I’d make my first feature by the time I was 30.

Two people I’d gone to school with had already made features, David Nutter—Cease Fire (1985) and Peter George —Surf Nazi’s Must Die (1987), and a third, David Huey, was working as a camera assistant on Pee-wee’s Playhouse on his way to making martial arts feature films.

I could see a path to where I wanted to go. But quicker than you can say Rick Dalton the path was altered. To make a long story short, I was married with two young stepkids at the time and my wife (from Colorado originally) was terrified after seeing the damage, injuries, and death brought on by a modest 5.9 and like a lot of people worried about “the big one.” There were other factors—like cost of living— and we made the decision to return to my hometown of Orlando at the end of 1987. Perhaps I could take advantage of getting on the ground floor of Hollywood East as Disney and Universal Studios were building sound stages for the planned influx of work to Central Florida.

In The Natural when Glenn Close asks Robert Redford what happened to him he says, “My life didn’t turn out the way I expected.” Can you relate to that? I think most people can. And one of the joys of going to the movies is seeing characters deal with life— the good, the bad and the ugly.

Related Posts:
Once Upon a Time … in Burbank
‘Once Upon a Time …’ Jacksonville  

Scott W. Smith

 

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