Considering the rate at which Quentin Tarantino intravenously injects films from every country on earth, every year imaginable, and of every quality level endurable, it’s a wonder he ever gets around to making films of his own. He’s been on this mission since his teen years, and since the young Tarantino would watch basically anything and everything, zooming in on his memories of a single year’s releases gives a great insight into the film landscape as it truly was.
Retrospectives have a way of scrubbing away the unmemorable, the unsuccessful and especially the unfortunate, but by hearing the director run through every film he saw in theatres in 1979 for the Five Things with Lynn Hirschberg podcast, we can get a clearer look at what worked and what didn’t, what stood the test of time and why.
Following the thought-provoking HBO mini-series Chernobyl, chart the beginnings of the nuclear power disaster-genre as we know it today with The China Syndrome, as its ensemble cast discovers safety coverups not unlike the failings of government we see probed in adult dramas today.
Discover curios like Butch & Sundance: The Early Years and More American Graffiti, proving that even in 1979 no property was sacred enough to avoid being milked for sequels. Why was it that these follow-ups did not balloon into franchises?
Further along Quentin gets into the independent circuit and true signposts of the time like Richard Pryor Live in Concert, a stand-up show released in theaters to great success. These days specialty releases of stage shows are confined to concert events, while standup is relegated to streaming. Why is it people would rather enjoy a comedian’s work from the comfort of home than laugh out loud in a crowded theatre?
There are masters making missteps, as in Old Boyfriends by the great Paul Schrader or Jonathan Demme’s early career Hitchcockian thriller Last Embrace, featuring a dramatic set-piece at Niagara Falls to uplift what is surprisingly dry considering Demme’s later output.
Of course Tarantino made time to catch Hair, the musical smash that could only have happened at the exact time that it did, with the director even going so far as to suggest he now thinks it’s a travesty and “lame”. Quentin focuses in on casting choices diminishing the lead’s presence, admitting that he loved it at the time, though here lies an example of the sort of 10-year nostalgia cycle that can age rapidly.
Find out which low-rent basketball movies that have little to no following still get regular cable play to this day, why The Lady in Red has the best screenplay ever written for an exploitation movie, and the reason Spielberg’s heavily derided 1941 went down well for Quentin, before he explains how the context of Sylvester Stallone’s career helps make Rocky II his favorite film of 1979, and even an improvement on the first Rocky film.
It’s all capped off with an extended discussion of The Deer Hunter, and its relationship to The Hateful Eight and Tarantino’s career as a whole. The video above gives a new resonance to that oft-cited Tarantino-truism: “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them; ‘No, I went to films’.”