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Big Shots, Little Shots and Golden Boys : Tarantino Times Three : QUENTIN TARANTINO: The Man and His Movies, By Jami Bernard (HarperCollins: $12.50; 272 pp.) : QUENTIN TARANTINO: The Cinema of Cool, By Jeff Dawson (Applause Books: $14.95; 224 pp.) : QUENTIN TARANTINO: Shooting From the Hip, By Wensley Clarkson (The Overlook Press: $15.95; 314 pp.)

February 25, 1996|Patrick Goldstein

Armed with these three quickie biographies, it is now possible to learn everything you could ever want to know about ballyhooed auteur Quentin Tarantino, including such tidbits as the first time Tarantino ever saw snow (at the 1992 Sundance Film Fest) to the revelation that his first production job in Hollywood was as an assistant on a Dolph Lundgren workout video.

Every era gets the culture hero it deserves, so it seems fitting that the retro '90s have Tarantino, a high school dropout and frustrated actor whose films offer the ultimate in video geek aesthetic: clever pastiches of scenes cribbed from Jean-Luc Godard and John Woo, narrative devices from Stanley Kubrick and kung fu movies, mysterious briefcases from "Kiss Me Deadly," wardrobe from Mickey Rourke in "The Pope of Greenwich Village," set design from race car movies like Elvis' "Speedway" and knowing irony from the music of 1970s one-hit wonders like Stealers Wheel and the George Baker Selection.

For the most part, these bios are patchwork jobs as well, cobbled together from interviews with Tarantino, his family and video store chums. Easily the best is Jami Bernard's "The Man and His Movies." It's evenhanded, observant, gracefully written and adorned with the most disarming anecdotes: As a video store clerk, Tarantino was so clueless about both spelling and French pronunciation that when customers asked for "Au Revoir les Enfants," he invented his own coinage, dubbing the Louis Malle film "The reservoir dogs movie."

The other books are less successful. Jeff Dawson's "The Cinema of Cool" is soggy with arcane trivia, while Wensley Clarkson's "Shooting From the Hip" overdoses on fanzine prose, for example: After "Reservoir Dogs" took Cannes by storm, "Quentin couldn't quite believe his eyes. Every pair of female eyes locked on to him and his party. There were admiring glances from some and unashamed looks of sheer lust from other bolder, brassier women with their all-over tans and gold Rolex watches."

All three biographies agree: For Tarantino, the world is a giant sound stage filled with pop-culture references. Bernard reports that in first grade, Quentin got in trouble by telling his teacher that his mother wasn't a nurse, but Modesty Blaise, the title character of a popular 1965 novel by Peter O'Donnell. For Tarantinophiles, the name should have a familiar ring--it's the book John Travolta is reading in the bathroom when Bruce Willis shoots him in "Pulp Fiction."

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