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I saw Quentin Tarantino speak at NYC's Town Hall. Here's what happened.
It was weirder than you might expect.
Very rarely does something pop culture adjacent qualify as “bucket list worthy” for me. I guess my big three are:
1.) Seeing Daft Punk live (I love those robot fellas).
2.) Getting a drink with Lorne Michaels (even if he sometimes/often gives a platform to morally questionable performers).
3.) Hearing Quentin Tarantino speak in person (even if he is a morally questionable human).
Well, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, bucket list dream number three came true for me when 59-year-old QT spoke at NYC’s Town Hall and I was there.
Like any good Tarantino movie though, let’s get a little non-linear and go back to the very beginning of this saga now (starting at the beginning barely counts as Tarantino-esque if I’m being honest with myself).
So, this mini, four-stop book tour exists purely to promote Tarantino’s new half-film criticism slash half-memoir “Cinema Speculation.”
The event was billed as “a Q&A with a top local critic” followed by a reading of a chapter by old Quentin himself.
I couldn’t miss this.
My life philosophy when it comes to going to things is always, “How would future Matt feel if he didn’t go?”
Usually, I can rationalize away the need to do stuff using this logic puzzle.
Not for this one.
As soon as the announcement dropped, I made plans right away.
However, being a new dad put a wrinkle into the mix. You can’t just leave wife and baby alone for a night. I mean, you could but you shouldn’t.
So, I had to get crafty.
We’d need a friend to stay by Anna’s side that Wednesday (which was a month away at this point). To solve the problem, we quickly enlisted Anna’s friend Alexis to come over Nov. 16 with the promise of a pizza dinner. It’d be less like babysitting and more like a paid hang sesh.
With that settled, I hit up my old cinema lovin’ pal Nate Borgman to see if he wanted to see the director of “Kill Bill” yammer onstage.
Dude was down.
I quickly forked over $90/ticket after fees and giddily counted down the days to see one of my all-time favorite directors speak. This was my one time out of the house and I couldn’t wait to hear him do his thing off the cuff.
In fact, I fanboy’d so hard that I prepared Q&A questions and came up with one that I thought was pretty good. It went:
“Since you’re planning on only directing ten films, what are some of the movies you ALMOST made but didn’t since they weren’t worthy of your ten?”
Yes, you’re right. I really don’t get out enough.
CHAPTER I: Nov. 16
The fateful Wednesday finally rolled around and everything went according to plan.
During the day, I watched “Reservoir Dogs” for the first time in years and was wowed by its crackerjack dialogue, impressive plot sequencing and smart use of a warehouse as a location for the film.
That being said, the casual racism and sexism really did not age well, especially considering some of these career criminals are coded as progressive in the famous opening scene where they explain the intricacies of tipping your server.
So it goes.
In the evening, Anna’s friend Alexis came over, we pizza’d, got heartburn (well, I did. Can’t speak for everyone else) and even shared tiny Trader Joe’s ice cream cones which I don’t like to give to anyone but this was a special occasion.
At 6:45, I dutifully headed to midtown to make sure I wasn’t late to the talk. 30 minutes later, I popped off the 7 train at Bryant Park and fell prey to the consumer paradise that is one of New York’s many Christmas markets. Almost broke down and bought a $10 whoopie pie. Those whoopie pies looked so damn good and I’m not even a whoopie pie guy.
After exercising the tiniest bit of restraint (I did have heartburn after all), I aimlessly wandered around fantasizing about eating at every single food station— jerk chicken, burgers, dumplings all looked great even though I’d already had a sizable dinner— and then checked my phone. 7:30. Time to walk to Town Hall.
CHAPTER II: Town Hall
When I arrived at 43rd Street, a swarm of mid-30s bros (my people!) were gathering on the side of the street outside the theater. Turns out Tarantino himself was there. I didn’t get much of a look but I imagine people were throwing “Pulp Fiction” merch in his face to sign. You know, the poster where Uma Thurman looks into the lens and it says ten cents in the corner. It’s cool. You like it. I like it.
Anyway, waving merch in someone’s face is not my scene so I went to meet Nate who was already in line for the show. His pal, Mike from Rhode Island, joined us.
We quickly advanced to the front of the line of dudes in hats/horn-rimmed glasses/hoodies, put our phones in Yondr pouches (we honestly all need these at home so we don’t aimlessly scroll all day) and entered. A staff member handed me a hardcover copy of “Cinema Speculation.” Immediately, I thumbed through the half film criticism/half memoir looking for juicy tidbits.
The three of us walked to our high up balcony seats with limited leg room and chatted. Then, we chatted some more. Mostly, I was thinking, “I’d love some more leg room.” These venues aren’t built for anyone over 5’2.
Ol’ Tarantino was taking his sweet time to head onstage. Many of the people surrounding our block of three seats had cracked open their books and started reading. It was a nice sight to behold but then, when you remember that the venue forced us to put our phones away, it checks out.
CHAPTER III: Tarantino speaks
Finally, Tarantino takes the stage with famed film critic and director Elvis Mitchell. Thunderous applause.
The two gentlemen take their seats (both have ample leg room) and I wondered, “Do they rehearse Q and A’s backstage?” Does the person who has to provide the “A’s” have any clue what the “Q’s” will be?
Just as I was finishing that thought, Mitchell asked a question about director Brian De Palma.
Oh. It was going to be one of those interviews.
Truth be told, I love Tarantino talking about movies as much as the next cinephile but that’s not quite worth $90 if I’m being honest.
Over the course of the next hour, Tarantino referenced obscure movies from his filmgoing heyday in the early ‘70s (“Joe,” “Where’s Poppa,” “The Bus Is Coming,” dozens more), how he loved rowdy crowds as a kid and self-congratulatory anecdotes about run-ins with Pauline Kael after having devoured her stuff at B Dalton as a teen.
I found myself yawning.
This was an event I’d been looking to forever. Even though I “knew” this was what the Q&A was going to be, something felt off. This wasn’t the live-wire Tarantino whose interviews always seemed special and spontaneous. At the very least, an anecdote or two about the movies he made rather than secondhand stories would do.
My yawn must have been heard because Tarantino finally told a “Jackie Brown” tale.
Essentially, when Tarantino cast Robert Forster as Max Cherry in the film, he told him he wanted to revive the character Forster played in the 1980 film “Alligator,” except now he’s 17 years older.
CHAPTER IV: The Interruption
Halfway through this delightful trivia tidbit, a man started screaming obscenities at the stage. I can’t say for certain what was going on with him.
To ease the tension, Tarantino said, “Hey fella, calm down or we’re gonna have to bounce you out” or something to that effect.
Fairly innocuous response. For a guy that talked at length about how much he loved a “live theater experience” this was a wee bit hypocritical but it seemed as if his heart was in the right place as the yeller wasn’t “adding” to the experience. In any event, the old Tarantino would have definitely engaged more and had more fun with this live moment.
A woman sitting near me in the balcony didn’t think his off-handed comment was quite as well-meaning.
She bellowed, “QUENTIN TARANTINO. That man might have a mental illness. Don’t talk to him like that.”
The crowd booed. Vibes had been harshed.
Honestly, I was on her side.
Tarantino could have been a bit more sensitive in this tense situation. Sure, she was a bit hard on him with her stern tone but maybe this man-child turned bravura director needed a talking to, to lively things up! We were getting somewhere! The night was finally electric.
“If you don’t like me, why did you come?”
She said something to the effect of “I know my Second Amendment rights” (I hope she meant the First Amendment!) and was removed soon after.
Elvis Mitchell made a corny joke.
“Now, THIS is a Town Hall.”
I guess it was a “town hall” in that the dissenting dialogue was shut down right away.
At this point, Tarantino deflected and returned to his comfy Forster story but you know that thing where you avoid the elephant in the room and it’s all people can think about? This was definitely that.
To quash the weirdness in the room, Tarantino and Mitchell actually started getting into juicy movie gossip.
Tarantino humbly bragged that he refused to do a dialogue polish on “Shaft” because “dialogue is his well water” which he further explained saying, “he doesn’t just give that away.”
Elvis prodded more and Tarantino broke the news that he had written a play and an eight-episode miniseries (maybe tied to “Justified” my friend Charlton guessed), the latter of which will go into production next year.
When asked for details, Tarantino didn’t budge saying, “I’m a bummer! Sorry!”
Maybe in the second half, Tarantino would do a full-on Q&A and we’d get some of his storytelling magic.
CHAPTER V: The reading of the book
When he returned, QT read the first chapter of his book aloud. Ironically, we’d all pretty much read this chapter at that point since we’d all had our phones taken away, thus, making this the most useless live audiobook experience I’d ever seen.
To make matters worse, Tarantino did problematic racist voices imitating people in the audience at blaxploitation films from his youth.
No joke, people got up and walked out.
I would have too but I paid $90 to sit in the second to last row. There was no way I was leaving before they kicked us out.
QT wrapped up the first chapter. There was no audience Q&A. Just the conversation and reading and that was that.
He waved and strode offstage.
CHAPTER VI: The whole ride home
The whole ride home, all I could think was “Q and A’s suck. No one really prepares, the conversation is dull and it’s awkward for the audience to have to laugh extra hard at lame jokes almost as a favor to the people onstage.”
Finally, I got off the train. It was cold.
As I climbed down the stairs at my station, I noticed a couple. They also had the orange “Cinema Speculation” book.
“Were you guys at Town Hall tonight?”
I asked if they enjoyed the show. They did. “What did you think?” the wife asked.
CHAPTER VII: The airing of the grievances
Couldn’t help myself. I aired all my grievances to strangers complaining that the show wasn’t more about Tarantino, didn’t have an audience Q&A, how I had such high expectations but they weren’t even close to being met and the night didn’t feel meaningful.
The wife looked at me.
“He was promoting his book,” she said.
Sometimes, you just have to accept things for what they are, not what you want them to be. The night was what it was.
Either way, fingers crossed that Daft Punk comes out of retirement and lives up to impossible expectations.