True Romance is a film that is fun to watch and well made, yet resigned to the mainstream sidelines. The definition of a cult classic, being a box office failure upon its release. To people who have seen it and continue to champion it, the characters of Clarence and Alabama in this Bonny and Clyde style caper are role models for what the basis of a romantic relationship should be.
The fact that Alabama was a call girl, only doing her job, when approaching the unassuming Clarence watching a Sonny Chiba Kung Fu film, is inconsequential to Clarence. What matters to him is that they met at all. The fact Clarence in a bout of gung-ho mascalinity, kills Alabama’s former pimp, and accidentally steals a suitcase of cocaine from the mob is inconsequential to Alabama. What matters to her is the gesture, in fact she finds it romantic
Clarence and Alabama do not expect each other to be perfect, and with self awareness comes the ability to forgive the flaws of other people. We are our own devils, but no one is beyond being loved.
As the story continues to get darker, our two heroes relationship grows stronger. True Romance says one can find love in the space of hours, get married the next day and live happy ever after. The real world increasingly says one will find love, and get married later, but it will all eventually end in tears and a day in court over who gets the dog.
This dichotomy is always in the back of one’s mind while watching something like True Romance. The film’s confidence in the strength of relationships can come across as naive to the likes of me. But it turns out that that the films tone was a mistake of sorts.
Quintin Tarantino had just broken into the industry at the beginning of the nineties, True Romance was the first script he ever finished, which he proceeded to sell to the studios. The movie we got was directed by the late Tony Scott who saw the word ‘romance’ and ignored the word ‘true’ resulting in the super upbeat tone permeated by what would become the Tarantino filmic style of relatable, witty dialogue and absurd cinematic violence.
When you listen to the various interviews Q.T gave concerning True Romance, a different movie comes to light. A film that had a Pulp Fiction style Non-linear narrative and a much darker characters complete with a different ending. Instead of Both characters escaping to mexico with the cash and the wonderful man-tear inducing final monologue, it would have come to light that Alabama was only using Clarence. She would have fucked him over and left for mexico alone with the cash.
In a lot of ways the character of Clarence is a caricature version of Q.T. An introverted pop culture enthusiast working in a store selling the objects of many a nerd’s infatuation, with no close family and little money. Q.T knows that if suddenly your dream girl spills their popcorn all over you and you proceed to spend the night hanging out with her like you’ve known each other forever, then it has to be too good to be true. The young Q.T knew that she would probably leave you dying on the floor rather than pick you up and patch up your eye wound with an awesome eyepatch.
I feel some of this pessimistic attitude at times, and I think it affects a specific type of early twenties male. If Q.T had directed the film as originally intended I would have been forced to agree with the more melancholic depiction of the reality of having personal relationships with other humans. That reality being that there will always be a conflict of interest between two people, and then a betrayal of some kind, a classic mean spirited ‘to have loved and lost’ narrative.
To someone who can read the language of film, True Romance flip flops between speaking perfect Tarantino and perfect Tony Scott with long intervals where the film speaks the broken hybrid language of both. This lead Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to write off the film as Jumbled and thrown together, back in the nineties. However, this holy union is always consentual and positive, unlike “Natural born killers” with which Q.T ended up claiming his script for the film was bastardised by the director.
Tarantino saw the different ending for True Romance and conceded that it was better, for the film that had ended up being made. Tarantino had perhaps escaped his pessimistic tendencies when he found professional fulfillment, so why can’t his theoretical past self find romantic fulfillment also?
Even with my bias towards the infectious style of Tarantino, I am ultimately glad to have experienced the roller coaster ride that is the Tony Scott version. Scott was a very visual director and Q.T’s wonderful script and character dialogue is the skeleton upon which Tony Scott builds the visuals, the giant chain lamp in Dreskyl’s brothel is pure Tony Scott brand cinema, how is something that looks so silly presented so threateningly? Tony Scott can just do that.
True romance is not a light hearted film in truth, people die, sometimes good people die, all so our heroes can find their own happiness. However there is something forever charming about a film that starts in downtrodden Detroit and ends on a Mexican beach topping off an ultimately positive tale about how love at first sight for two dirt poor individuals might not end in tragedy, and instead with True Romance.
Thanks for reading.