Cannes 2023 Dispatch: Quentin Tarantino Presents ROLLING THUNDER in 35mm, Talks About Paul Schrader and John Ford

Contributor; Mexico City, Mexico (@EricOrtizG)
Cannes 2023 Dispatch: Quentin Tarantino Presents ROLLING THUNDER in 35mm, Talks About Paul Schrader and John Ford

Quentin Tarantino arrived at the Cannes International Film Festival to participate in the activities of the Quinzaine des Cinéastes. For those responsible for this parallel section of the festival, the presence of the Hollywood director meant historical rectification, because more than 30 years ago, they missed the opportunity to have the director's first film, Reservoir Dogs, in their selection.

So to redeem themselves, this time the Quinzaine des Cinéastes gave Tarantino full freedom to choose a film to screen at the Croisette Theater on the afternoon of Thursday, May 25. The choice was kept secret until Tarantino himself revealed that we would watch one of his old favorites on 35mm: John Flynn's Rolling Thunder, in which William Devane is a former POW who fought in Vietnam. Shortly after his return to the United States, his family is murdered as a result of a burglary at his own home. Without thinking twice, he decides to track down and kill those responsible.

Tarantino, during the 1990s, had a distribution company called Rolling Thunder, and in 2012, he listed the film on his Sight & Sound ballot as one of his 12 favorite movies of all time. In addition, in Cinema Speculation, his most recent book, this film of war veterans, tragedy and revenge is analyzed in depth. Therefore, anyone who has followed Tarantino’s career closely, as is my case, surely had come across Rolling Thunder on more than one occasion, but... probably not on 35mm, nor with an enthusiastic audience.

The latter was due to a specific request from Tarantino to the audience during his introduction: behave less like the French and more like the attendees of an American grindhouse. And so it was, we enjoyed and celebrated every violent action towards the revenge of Devane's character; plus, of course, that exciting moment that precedes the climax with the protagonist's friend and colleague, played by Tommy Lee Jones, joining the mission without any hesitation: “I'll just get my gear.”

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There was a chat with Tarantino after the screening, about Rolling Thunder and other of the films and themes explored in Cinema Speculation. For example, that Paul Schrader doesn't recognize Rolling Thunder due to all the changes they made to his script. Tarantino compared this with his own feelings towards Natural Born Killers, although he gave his blessing to those who do like what Oliver Stone did: “Johnny Cash really liked Natural Born Killers. I bumped into him once at an elevator: ‘Hey, me and June, we really love that Natural Born Killers,’ and I didn’t tell him he was wrong.”

From another point that Tarantino makes in the book about movie violence, he was asked a genuinely interesting question: Is there a movie he doesn’t like because the violence in it is unjustified? He thought about it for a bit and then referred, though not by name, to Italian cannibal movies: “It’s more a moralistic thing, they did it in European and Asian movies a lot, but I just have a thing about killing animals in movies, that’s a bridge I can’t cross. This all works because it’s make-believe, that’s why I can stand violent scenes, we're all just fucking around, we're all just children playing, it’s not real blood, people don’t get really hurt. I’ve killed rats, I don’t necessarily want to kill one in a movie, because I’m not paying to see real death.”

In Cinema Speculation, Tarantino notes that Schrader and Martin Scorsese admire John Ford so much that films like Who's That Knocking at My Door, Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder and Hardcore refer to The Searchers. During the time of Django Unchained, Tarantino stated that he hated the "racist" Ford, so his talk at the Quinzaine des Cinéastes served to express his current opinion about the filmmaker who undoubtedly changed the course of the Western:

“I was talking about canceling John Ford before people were talking about being canceled for their past work. I realized that that’s kind of an asshole thing to do, you cannot like something, you can find something troubling from a different time period, but that’s just the way it is.

"For instance, do I have a problem with Henry Fonda’s genocidal coronel at the end of Fort Apache being given absolution? Not only does John Wayne give him absolution, but the movie seems to give him absolution. OK, I cannot like that ending but it’s probably a pretty fair representation because I don’t think anybody questioned that ending, at least not white people.

"So that gives you a glimpse of where people were coming from in the 1940s, that is a realistic statement. That doesn’t need to go on the garbage pile, that needs to be examined.”

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And what does Tarantino think today in particular of The Searchers?

“For years I didn’t appreciate it, I’ve always liked John Wayne’s performance in it and, even, his racist son of a bitch character, but I didn’t like Jeffrey Hunter in it. I just didn’t get it, it was like a lot of 50s Western melodramas that I just don't like.

"I never understood the high pedestal that Milius, Spielberg, Scorsese and Schrader have always put that movie up to. It’s interesting that the biggest Fordian of them all is Peter Bogdanovich and he likes The Searchers but he doesn’t like it like those guys do.

"But then, in writing Cinema Speculation I figured I should watch The Searchers again and, lo and behold, this time I liked it. This time I got it, I see a little bit more of what Scorsese is talking about, specially when it comes to Wayne’s character. I’m still not as into it as these guys are. But I did find the community of these white characters moving. I’m still a little more on Scar’s (Henry Brandon) side, and I do not buy that Natalie Wood’s Debbie would go back with Ethan (Wayne), but nevertheless I did find it moving.”

Finally, the moderator asked Tarantino about The Movie Critic, his next feature film that will put an end to his career as a director. Although he said he was tempted to even share some of the characters' monologues, the filmmaker ultimately resisted the temptation: “You'll have to wait until you see the movie."

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CannesCannes 2023Cinema SpeculationDjango UnchainedFort ApacheHardcoreHenry BrandonJohn FlynnJohn MiliusJohnny CashMartin ScorseseNatural Born KillersOliver StonePeter BogdanovichQuentin TarantinoReservoir DogsRolling ThunderSteven SpielbergTaxi DriverThe SearchersWho's That Knocking at My DoorWilliam Devane

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