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Rediscovering Tarantino’s Long Lost First Film

For such an accomplished and influential director, Quentin Tarantino’s filmography is relatively short. But you know the deal, it ain’t all about size, but rather the motion in the ocean quality.

So with QT clearly choosing quality over quantity–and 2019’s “Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood” representing his 9th feature, we have some reckoning to do. That’s because Tarantino has repeatedly said that he’ll retire after his 10th film and many are curious as to what the influential director will tackle for his last hurrah.

But theories of his last film won’t be what we’ll be talking about today. Instead, we’ll be going back to his very first film. And before I put any false expectations into your head, no, it isn’t “Reservoir Dogs.”

Although his directorial feature film debut “Reservoir Dogs” is arguably the most influential and important milestone for independent filmmaking, what many people don’t know is that the film wasn’t actually Tarantino’s first. That title goes to the long-lost 1987 screwball comedy “My Best Friend’s Birthday.”

Directed, written, produced, edited, and starring the famed director himself, the film is the epitome of independent movies and tells the story of a young man who tries to do something nice for his friend’s birthday only to have his efforts continuously backfired.

The project took its roots in 1984 while Tarantino was working at the Video Archives, a video rental store in Manhattan Beach, California. His co-writer, Craig Hamann, wrote a short 30-40 page script and when Tarantino and Hamann teamed up, they eventually expanded the script to 80 pages. Shot on black and white 16mm, the original film was about 70 minutes long, but only a 36 minute fragment of the film can be seen on YouTube. It is said that a film fire lab destroyed the film until a portion of it was discovered, restored, and surfaced online. 

This film might not measure up to his later works that threw him into the limelight, but there are undoubtedly fragments and pieces of his writing style and directing strengths that defined the filmography of Quentin Tarantino that we all know today. If we look back at the film, the most obvious indicator is that the plot is very similar to “True Romance,” a romantic crime film written by Tarantino. Also seen within the film is his directorial use of long shots of copious dialogue, comparable to the opening diner scene that we see in “Reservoir Dogs.” The film also features witty and attention grabbing dialogue that defines why his writing and many of his films are so successful.

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