Cupid takes aim at the heart of London for the BFI’s Love season, which is showcasing a number of classic cinematic romances. A handful of these titles are also receiving a limited run in cinemas nationwide, including True Romance (1993) – a film which inexplicably failed to find much of an audience during its initial release two decades back. The film’s writer and future auteur-in-the-making Quentin Tarantino had tried to get his screenplay off the ground for some time, even pitching it as his own potential directorial debut, but to no avail.
It was only after the growing cultural impact of Reservoir Dogs that Simpson and Bruckheimer alumni Tony Scott decided to hop on board and make True Romance his next feature, ditching Tarantino’s then signature non-linear structure. On paper the union shouldn’t have worked, yet Scott’s visual bombast somehow aligned perfectly with his writer’s singular, cineliterate prose. Viewing True Romance now, what still resonates alongside Tarantino’s signature sadism (James Gandolfini nonchalantly sucker-punching Patricia Arquette is still as comfortable a viewing as ever) is the film’s dream-like, fairytale edge which is intensified by both Scott’s hazy aesthetic and the stylised, pop culture-inflected dialogue.
Creating his script as a young and single movie-obsessed video shop employee, Tarantino’s somewhat naive and idealised interpretation of young love is what gives the film its beating heart. That Alabama (Arquette), a gorgeous, kooky hooker with a Farrah Fawcett flick could fall so hard and fast for the Elvis-worshipping comic-book nerd Clarence (Christian Slater) represents the ultimate wish-fulfilment of its author, which translates into a dazzling, full-throttle flight of fancy on screen. An enchanting score by an uncharacteristically restrained Hans Zimmer (paying vigorous homage to the music from Badlands) further alludes to that intoxicating feeling of blossoming love.
The characters’ quick union and fanciful adventures never once hit a false note, thanks largely to the extremely likeable lead performances and Tarantino’s ability in effectively coaxing the previously shy and insular Clarence out of shell and offering him the opportunity to really shine for the first time – his newly-found fearlessness gained through his union with Alabama. Before the film’s blood-soaked dénouement, Clarence’s cool handling of the lovers’ deal to offload their bag of stolen coke prompts the overawed Alabama to pass her husband a note with the film’s signature line scrawled on it (“you’re so cool”). This shift in character mirrors Tarantino’s own ascension – a film-obsessive storming in from the wilderness and effortlessly conquering Hollywood on his own terms, while building a legion of adoring fans in the process.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76