Quentin Tarantino loves movies. He has a reputation as one of those guys who has been infatuated with them since he was a little kid. Back in the mid ’80s—when he was still in his early twenties—he worked in a video store in Manhattan Beach, where he and a coworker would watch scores of movies, holding impromptu discussions with customers over which ones were best to rent. Having penned a few noteworthy flicks of his own since then, Tarantino drew upon his vast cinematic knowledge to share one of his favorite films at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival. On Sunday afternoon, joined by the film’s director and star — 93-year-old Kirk Douglas — Tarantino presented Posse (1975) at the Lobero Theatre. By following a U.S. marshal with senatorial aspirations, the film explores the dark side of a political candidacy, and the not always clear motives of someone operating outside the bounds of legality.
Although Douglas — who had roles in many Westerns — played in more than a few of the typical good guy/bad guy Westerns throughout his career, Posse was anything but predictable within the genre. Released not long after former President Richard Nixon resigned from office at the height of the Watergate scandal, Posse is filled with a corresponding lack of reverence for political figures, as well as shape-shifting antagonist/protagonist roles.
“There’s no genre in cinema that reflects the decade they came out in more than Westerns,” said Tarantino in his characteristic torrent of quickly spoken words during a conversation with Douglas after the screening. Referring to it as a cynical, myth-shattering Western, he noted that Posse was one of a number of films debunking the hero character established in Westerns of earlier decades. “As far as I’m concerned, this is truly the Watergate Western.”
Indeed. One of the most prominent lines in the script is spoken by a typesetter at a small Texas town’s newspaper as he watches a political rally with his editor: “Politicians are all full of shit.” Displays of the character’s opinion do not stop there, but are a recurring theme throughout the movie.
Douglas, who said he was more interested in asking Tarantino about his recently released World War II thriller, Inglourious Basterds, nevertheless shared a few memories about the making of Posse, one of only a couple of films he directed. “That was a long time ago,” he said to Tarantino. “I’ve made over 90 movies, so when you said you wanted to show Posse, I said, ‘Posse?!’”
Douglas recalled that being an actor had always been challenging, but that making the jump to director had been one of those exponential leaps in responsibility that he hadn’t necessarily anticipated. “Directors are into everything. It’s much easier to be an actor and just fight with the director,” he said with a grin, adding that he loved, more than anything, to play the bad guy roles. One of the facets of the film most distinct in his memory had been adapting a special role for James Stacy, an actor who had lost an arm, a leg, and his girlfriend when his motorcycle was struck by a drunk driver in 1973. Stacy made his re-entry into acting by playing military veteran and newspaper editor Harold Hellman in Posse.
Sunday’s event gave audience members a chance to witness a heart-warming conversation between two cinematic legends, as well as see a film that, despite its age, remains a timeless and humorous indictment of political candidates’ true motivations. Douglas said that although many see movies as pure entertainment, they can have a deeper meaning. “The movies we make — Inglourious Basterds and all of the others — will have an impact all over the world.”