Girls, guns and Quentin Tarantino at the Belcourt’s Lovers on the Lam series
One of the best things about having an art house like the Belcourt Theatre here in Nashville is that local movie mavens are constantly treated to curated series spotlighting specific stars, genres and themes. The recent, excellent, 1973 series profiled a particularly great year in cinema, focusing on the films of the New Hollywood movement — the greatest era in all of movies. And the Belcourt’s ongoing Music City Monday programming puts cinema’s best melodies and harmonies on the big screen — and in the big speakers! — where they belong.
This summer, the Belcourt treats film buffs to Lovers on the Lam — a selection of crime flicks that live up to Jean-Luc Godard’s maxim that, “all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” Godard was a huge early influence on the young Quentin Tarantino, and this series includes the two of the best movies the Knoxville Kid never directed.
During my second year in Nashville, back in the early 1990s, my roommate and I moved into one half of a duplex in the Berry Hill neighborhood. The other half was occupied by a pair of sisters, and the one who shared my interests worked for a music artist management agency. She knew I was into films, and one day she let me borrow a copy of Quentin Tarantino’s original screenplay for Oliver Stone’s psycho-satire masterpiece, Natural Born Killers — literally an unbound manuscript in a box. Stone’s 1994 film differs significantly — especially in tone — from Tarantino’s version. Tarantino went to war with the director and film, and demanded that his name be removed from its credits. Stone made a searing and schizo satire about the dehumanizing nature of celebrity culture. Natural Born Killers is emblematic of Stone’s go-for-broke cinema and it’s one of the director’s best. When the screenplay was finally published in 2000, QT fans could finally howl at Tarantino’s version, which reads as a disturbingly funny dark comedy more than a surreal social commentary. This one is a don’t-miss for the Rodney Dangerfield cameo alone.
Tarantino hated what Oliver Stone did to Natural Born Killers, but he loved what Tony Scott did with his screenplay for True Romance. Clarence (Christian Slater doing his best Tarantino imitation) and Alabama (Rosanna Arquette as his counterpart) come into possession of a suitcase full of cocaine in Detroit. They drive to Los Angeles where they hope to sell it to a Hollywood big shot.
Scott’s 1993 film straightens-out Tarantino’s originally fractured timeline and also manages to save Clarence’s life — Tarantino kills Clarence in the iconic hotel shootout in the original screenplay. Despite the changes, Tarantino embraced Scott’s romantic take on the film and it’s hard to even think about this movie without the transcendent joy of its closing scene. True Romance is a great guy-gal-guns flick, but it’s the performances of its off-the-charts ensemble cast that make this one a timeless classic. Slater and Arquette are irresistible. Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, and James Gandolfini make for a terrific trio of baddies, and I’m still quoting Brad Pitt from this movie.
Lovers on the Lam kicked off on Saturday, Aug. 12, with Arthur Penn’s bloody valentine classic, Bonnie and Clyde. Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal 1935 thriller, The 39 Steps is up next on Saturday and Sunday, August 19-20. The stylized and surreal Senegalese robbing and romance road trip film, Touki Bouki screens on Tuesday, August 22, and Sunday, Aug. 27. Natural Born Killers plays on Monday, Aug. 28, and True Romance screens on Friday, Sept. 1, and Monday, Sept. 4. Go to www.belcourt.org for the full schedule, times and tickets.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist and performing singer/songwriter based in East Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.