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MY BEST FRIEND'S BIRTHDAY (1986).

The trailers for KILL BILL proudly proclaim that it's Quentin Tarantino's fourth film. Technically, that's correct, because nobody would consider his first, uncompleted 16mm project (made when he was still clerking at Video Archives) to be a finished work. This black-and-white screwball comedy was written by Tarantino and acting-class comrade Craig Hamann, photographed by Roger Avery, and funded by his video store pals. But after numerous technical problems, Quentin scrapped the project and moved onto bigger and better things. After all these years, 37 minutes of this legendary film have finally surfaced. At first glance, it's just a bunch of jumbled scenes, as crude as any Richard Kern flick, with comedy that rivals MEATBALLS PART II. But when it was over, I was hooked. I wanted to see more of these eccentric characters, as they dealt with love, loss, potential violence, and their unending obsession with the movies. Most of the footage is from early portions of the film, beginning with a shockingly-young Quentin (sporting Stray Cats hand-me-downs) as motor-mouthed radio-d.j. Clarence Pool, who recalls how -- at the tender age of 3 -- he was saved from suicide by The Partridge Family. But when Clarence snorts a Baggie full of coke during a commercial break, he has an on-air meltdown. In another subplot, Mickey (Craig Hamann, who directed the 1997 Mark Dacascos thriller BOOGIE BOY) discovers his ex-girlfriend in his apartment and is thrilled -- until he learns that she's just there to collect her shit and has a new Yuppie boyfriend. Meanwhile, it's poor rejected Mickey's birthday and Clarence, his best friend, needs a suitable present. How about hiring a novice call-girl named Misty (Crystal Shaw, who went onto write and star in the 1998 short film HAVE A PERIWINKLE DAY)? These scenes might be raw and disconnected, but they also display the same snappy dialogue and oddball characters that energize Tarantino's current work. In fact, this often seems like the Rosetta Stone of his future career. All of the influences and answers are here, crammed together into one big hodgepodge. There are obscure film-references galore, Aldo Ray jokes, discussions about the genius of DePalma, Clarence's foot fetish confession, and Quentin gives himself a romantic scene with Misty, whose career choice was inspired by Nancy Allen's whore in DRESSED TO KILL! Allen Garfield (who was Tarantino's acting teacher at his Beverly Hills' Acting Shelter) turns up as a bakery owner, when Clarence buys a cake for Mickey and argues about Elvis Presley's limited acting abilities. Plus, a background one-sheet collection includes cool, cult-movie faves like THE FURY, CHATO'S LAND, BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY, SQUIRM, and (of course) a Sonny Chiba flick. He even squeezes in a lame martial arts showdown between Mickey and Misty's black pimp, Clifford, and includes background tunes like "Ballroom Blitz" (long before Quentin could actually afford to buy the rights).

© 2003 by Steven Puchalski.