Saturday, September 12, 2009

Quentin Tarantino’s Favorite “Hangout Movie”

Back in 2003 I was sitting in a dentist’s or a doctor’s waiting room and I was attracted to a copy of The New Yorker by its cover illustration showing a film shoot of a woman in a sports car driving in front of a backdrop of the Hollywood sign even though the real Hollywood sign stood on a brown ridge above the brightly painted backdrop. Ah, what clever commentary about the illusion of cinema!

Opening the magazine I was pleased to see that it was an entire issue devoted to the American film industry, and I immediately latched onto an article about Quentin Tarantino called The Movie Lover, by Larissa MacFarquhar.

At that time, I was not much of a Tarantino fan. In fact, it’s taken Inglourious Basterds to do so. But what I liked about the article was that it gave me an appreciation for Tarantino the filmmaker even though I wasn’t crazy about his films. I immediately identified with Tarantino’s cinematic obsession. When I read, Tarantino as a child was preoccupied with movies, and he was always writing, it reminded me of me! Similarly, like Tarantino, I had always been an avid viewer of films of any genre, and just like Tarantino, I loved obscure B-movies not many people had seen.

Shortly after reading the whole article (the magazine went with me when I left the dentist’s or doctor’s office), I saw Kill Bill: Vol. 1, and even though I wasn’t wild about the film, I could still be enthusiastic about Tarantino the filmmaker because the article helped me understand where he was coming from with his use of tropes adapted from other genres and his allusions to countless other films.

Anyway, the point of this post comes from this passage from the article: One of the many genres that Tarantino has made up is “hangout movies” – movies whose plot and camerawork you may admire but whose primary attraction is the characters. A hangout movie is one that you watch over and over again, just to spend time with them. Rio Bravo, one of Tarantino’s three favorite movies of all time (the two others are Taxi Driver and Blow Out) is a hangout movie.

Indeed, Rio Bravo is very much a hangout movie. Howard Hawks allows Wayne, Martin, Nelson, Brennan, and Dickinson extensive scenes in which they sit around and chat, rib each other, and bicker, thus giving the viewer time to get to know them. In my opinion, Rio Bravo spends a little too much time with character chitchat, to the detriment of the film’s tension, so it’s not one of my favorite Westerns, but if I have to hang out with characters, it’s a big plus for me if John Wayne is playing one of those characters. Thus, it’s not surprising when I say that my favorite hangout movie, according to Quentin’s definition, is John Wayne’s The Alamo - alluded to in Inglourious Basterds, coincidentally enough.

The Alamo (1960) is a film that I watch over and over again even though, admittedly, it is a flawed, cumbersome film that takes too long to get to the action. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching John Wayne as Davy Crockett in every scene. This movie was Wayne’s passion, a project that soaked up his life’s savings, and you can clearly see him living his dream as he moves through his scenes, exchanging friendly banter with Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie and striking up an unlikely alliance with Laurence Harvey as the more polished William Barrett Travis. Wayne is especially talented at remaining silent and allowing the other characters to take center stage and say their say. Watch him as he sits there unobtrusively, hardly moving; watch him closely – he’s really listening, reacting to the other characters with his eyes.

Especially in the lengthy San Antonio cantina sequence that encompasses a single night and takes up the majority of the film’s first half, it is also clear that Wayne, as director, emulated Howard Hawks’s talent for allowing his characters time to move around and interact within the world of the film. Wayne also banked on his experiences with John Ford to interject comic relief although Wayne’s comic relief is often more delightful, as it eschews Fordian silliness that goes too far. The lengthy cantina sequence, as well as numerous quiet or comic scenes during the siege, affords perhaps too much time for us to get to know the characters, but it pays off at the end. The impressive final battle is suspenseful because we’ve had lots of time to care about these characters, and we don’t want them to die.

Now that Tarantino and I have shared our favorite hangout movies, it’s your turn. What’s your favorite hangout flick?


Craig said...

Richard Linklater and Cameron Crowe often make great hangout movies. Dazed & Confused; Newton Boys; Before Sunrise/Sunset; Singles; Almost Famous. Those spring immediately to mind. I'm also partial to Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty, with its gallery of charming lowlifes and high-riders striving to make it in the "movie bid-ness."

Rio Bravo is also QT's litmus-test date movie: "On the first date, I show her Rio Bravo, and she'd better like it!" At least it's not Taxi Driver, which I still find amusing that he considers that a "hangout movie."

Richard Bellamy said...

Thanks, Craig. Linklater and Crowe's character-driven films are good picks. Funny about QT's test for his dates. But I don't think he considers Taxi Driver a hangout movie. It's just one of his three favorite films.

Craig said...

Oh! Sorry, I misunderstood. That's a relief.

The Film Doctor said...

My favorite hangout movie is probably The Big Lebowski, but Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Thin Man also comes to mind. I'm always ready to have a drink with Nick and Nora Charles.

Jason Bellamy said...

Good topic. It's impossible for me to think of "hangout" movies without thinking of guys hanging out, so I think of Diner and Beautiful Girls, for example. Shocker here, but The Great Escape would apply. A somewhat unusual pick here would be Sunset Boulevard, but I like watching the whole three-way dynamic between Norma, Joe and Max. Those are a few off the top of my head. I'm sure I'll kick myself in as few as 5 minutes for missing something obvious.

Richard Bellamy said...

FilmDr - Thanks for your input. I know fans of TBL love the characters and it's all about "hanging out" with favorite characters. I would also identify with the road trip in TMT; I like that genre.

Jason - The Great Escape is another film I watch repeatedly because I love the many characters, major and minor. I'm sure that's what QT is thinking about as the definition of a hangout movie. That the characters in Rio Bravo do a lot of hanging out together is beside the point. QT just loves those characters and wants to spend time with them. We revisit to hangout movies when we want to be cheered up by viewing characters we love.

In films in which characters also spend a lot of time hanging out together we as viewers are given more time to get to know and appreciate those characters. But, definitely, Sunset Boulevard is a hangout movie if you love the dynamic between the characters you mention. They are certainly compelling characters. Having seen Inglourious Basterds three times, I'm predicting it's going to be a new hangout movie on my list. I love the characters.

Scott Nye said...

DAZED AND CONFUSED is probably my favorite hangout movie, the reasons for which are fairly obvious, but the more I thought about it, the more I really love Casablanca as a hangout movie.

Sure, there's the backdrop of the war and fighting for one's country even when that country is almost gone, but I'm always surprised how much of that movie takes place in Rick's, watching people just hang out. One of the few movies in which every single character is so compelling; you could spend a whole movie watching Sascha give Rick's former lover a ride home.

Richard Bellamy said...

Thanks for visiting my site, Scott. Good picks. We can all identify with high school movies. I love to spend time with Ferris Bueller, myself - his adventure is such great wish fulfillment. As for Casablanca - the characters are so classic that they're just the kind of characters to cozy up to. Who doesn't want to spend time with Ingrid Bergman?