August 20, 2017 § Leave a comment
Quentin Tarantino is charming, just like you thought he would be. This charm is in part due to his lack of pretension, his infectious enthusiasm and an innate goofiness that sets anyone – fans, casts, journalists – instantly at ease. Tarantino is charming because he is happy, a man totally comfortable with himself and totally at home in the world.
At 52, he is both America’s premiere auteur and yet still somehow the giddy, childlike video store clerk, the boy with the encyclopedic knowledge of cinema whom, through sheer force of will – got to live out his dream of making movies. And after all these years, that original awe and initial passion – remains, Quentin still the acolyte, offering sacred adoration at the altar of the silver screen.
Today, amid the chaos of a Beverly Hills press junket Tarantino is holding kinetic, excitable court. He talks feverishly about his newest film, The Hateful Eight, with the same exuberance he once displayed for his first stunning, unexpected feature debut. With 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino did nothing less than reignite genre filmmaking, inspiring a generation to get behind the camera or into a theater seat – or better yet, both.
Now, he’s reshaped the Western into a studied, suspenseful, densely layered take on race in America. Set not long after the Civil War, the film takes eight characters with disparate politics and agendas – white and black, Confederate, Union and renegade – and forces them to put aside assumption and prejudice in an attempt to vanquish a greater evil. With a first draft leaked, (much to Tarantino’s dismay), in early 2014, and a staged reading performed soon after, The Hateful Eight’s political undercurrent has taken on more gravity in the long months since it’s initial inception.
There have been the growing tensions between black and white, in Ferguson and beyond, and Tarantino himself, misquoted, vilified, and suddenly at the center of the conversation, angry conservatives vowing to picket the film’s premiere. But any press, even bad press, as they say – is good. And the recent furor has only succeeded in making his eighth film highly anticipated, hotly debated, and ablaze with even more than the usual “Tarantino” buzz.
The fact is the film is subtle (for Quentin), brooding, mature. Filmed on the very rare, complicated to project, 70mm Ultra stock and weighing in at a hefty 3 hours plus, The Hateful Eight is a movie that demands to be watched with careful and quiet attention.
Tarantino is asking us, amid the flurry of the digital age, to go out and experience an old school road show, a movie with an intermission, (an overture even!), a movie that demands a few boxes of popcorn and a wide, expansive screen. He is asking us to ease into the world he’s created, to push ourselves a little, to open up and shut up and to acclimate – to tone, to subtexts, to details.
Tarantino is asking us to go to the movies, with him, in a way we haven’t been asked in quite awhile. And it’s hard not to find that charming.
I spoke to Quentin about The Hateful Eight, the dream of cinema and quitting while he’s ahead.
Q: When watching The Hateful Eight, like any of your films, the viewer really gets the sense that you absolutely love what you do. You can feel that viscerally as an audience. Is there a part of the filmmaking process that you love the most? Or are you at your happiest from the initial idea through to the final stages of edit?
A: Well let me first say that’s a really flattering and kind observation. I am glad that feeling comes through. In this regards, I guess I’m very lucky. Especially since I’m a writer/director. I really do love the writing and the making of the movie and the editing of the movie. I love each of those processes equally, in particularly when I am in the act of actually doing them.
Q: There’s no point where you’re thinking, “I wish this part was over!”?
A: I literally get sick of each part, right at the end. Right around the time where I have just about had enough and feel it is time to wrap it up, whether it’s wrapping up the writing or the shooting or the editing, when I’m feeling like, ‘Okay, I’m done with this now!’ I move on to the next thing, which is invigorating. It’s ideal. And like I said I am lucky. I truly love what I do. When I’m in the middle of writing a film – that is me at my happiest. When I’m in the middle of making a film – that is me at my happiest. And when I’m in the middle of editing a film – that is me at my happiest.
Q: Given how much you love what you do, don’t you think you’re going to have a hard time sticking with your claim that you are only going to do ten films then retire? You’re billing Hateful Eight as your eighth film – are you still holding to that idea of only making ten films?
A: That is the idea. It usually takes me about three years to make a movie anyway, so you’re talking about almost a decade left.
Q: What about television, does that count?
A: I might do a TV thing in between and that wouldn’t be part of the ten.
Q: So other than TV, we really only have two more Tarantino projects to look forward to?
Q: Well, when I said that before, I don’t think I fully took into account what that would mean. What I meant, was – that I just don’t want to be a guy that’s doing this forever. There should be an end. And there should be a taking a responsibility for that end. And I’ve gotten more solid on that idea. And in being more solid about it, it’s made me more reflective on it. I think a lot of directors, most directors, if not all directors, think they have more time than they actually do. By tome I mean either mortality, changes in of fortune in the business, changes in the fortune in the industry itself. You just never know what will happen. And so I think every director walks around, thinking, even when they have only one more movie to go, that they have six more movies to go.
Q: Do you feel by putting a limit on your creative output it makes the ideas that remain., the ones have not yet been manifested more precious, more important?
A: Absolutely. Maybe story-wise I have four and half stories right now as far as my ‘brain incubator’ is concerned. To say that I am only going to do two of them – I think that sharpens the arrow. I think that makes them much more vital than thinking that, ‘well, there is always going to be time. I’ll get around to all of them’. Instead, it becomes my artistic last will and testament in some ways. What is it I want to say? Do I want to go deeper in what I’ve said before or do I want to say something I’ve never said before? Is it about this literary track I’ve taken with the last few films or should I go back to more visceral films? I think that those are all really profound questions that would be wonderful to explore at the twilight of your career.
Q: So you have to hone those ideas down and only execute the most important ones.
A: Exactly. And if you think about these limitations than the reasons for making the film becomes sharper. There is not a movie being made to pay for your alimony or for your second house. You don’t make a movie just because ‘blah blah blah’ wants to work with you and it would be nice to work with ‘blah blah blah’.
Q: I would also imagine it helps you from becoming cynical, or bitter, to set those limitations for yourself as a filmmaker.
A: I guess the whole part and parcel of where I’m coming from when saying something like ‘I’m going to only make ten films’, is an attempt to be a vital artist from beginning to end, as opposed to an artist that goes through stages. Or an artist that now maybe has a kind of lifestyle developed and what they do artistically is now part of that lifestyle. Not that there is anything wrong with any of that per se. However I do like the idea of only ten films. And if I can pull it off – and pulling it off is the trick here – I do like the idea of there being an umbilical cord from the first movie to the last movie – where you can look at them as a whole and see ‘this is what I have to say’ and the statement that those films make together, is unbroken. Keeps it on the integrity tip.
Q: Speaking of integrity, and the idea of integrity in cinema – let’s talk a bit about you shooting this newest film in the rare format of 70mm Ultra and the fact that there is a musical overture to introduce the film and an intermission, etc. It is very much a film meant to be experienced in a theater, in a slow, old school road show kind of way.
A: Yes, I’m doing a big giant cinematic thing with this that can wow you into submission. And yes, I’ll call that forward – that is what we meant to do. I don’t like watching movies on a laptop. But at the same time I watch movies all the time on the TV and I think about all the great movies I have only seen on television and I love. There are a whole lot of great movies I’ve only seen on TV. The fact is, I should be able to take a pan and scan version so this movie, put it on video tape and makes 4 generation of copies and you should be able to watch it and enjoy it and get caught up in it and like it – as it’s own story. I wanted a road show experience, but you can’t that precious about it, or ultimately your movie doesn’t work. The story should stand on it’s own. The story is what is most important.
Q: In The Hateful Eight, the story is key. It is almost a theater piece, a play rather than an action film.
A: One of the things I learned with this film is violence being a tone, that carries through the entire story, that hangs over the characters’ heads, like their own sword of Damocles. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but you know it’s going to happen. And you are just waiting for it to happen. The trick was extending that for the entire movie. If the movie works, then it should be suspenseful. There is a long, long build up, as I put my chess pieces in place. I am playing chess and I have got to put them all in the right spot before I start killing them off and I am asking you for some patience. But hopefully the suspense that I’m giving you is making it all worth it.
Q: With the story within this specific film, you’re dealing with some very current themes. Let’s talk about dealing with issue of race in America, particularly in this time period, just after the Civil War. What made you decide you wanted to explore this topic, when you sat down to write the script, years ago?
A: One of the things that has been interesting about this film is, as distressed as I was about that first draft of the Hateful Eight getting out there a while back – one good thing about that happening, is that I am record for having written this material long before the recent events in the news which completely conspired to make this film as relevant as it now is. Now if you talk to someone in a black neighborhood in America they’ll tell you this conversation has been relevant for the last 20 years. But as far the purchase it’s had in the mainstream press as something that ‘must be dealt with’ – that really has happened since we’ve been making the movie.
Q: And what initially made you want to embed those issues, of race in America, inside a Western?
A: If you go through the history of Westerns, the Western genre has been pretty precise as far as dealing, in this glancing blow way, with the decades in which they were made. Westerns were probably most popular in the 1950s and they definitely represented an Eisenhower view of America. Not only that, but they definitely represented American exceptionalism, ‘we won the West, we forged the railroads, we won World War 2’ , that is where that was coming from in those films. And the Westerns of the counter-culture era, from the late 1960s moving into the 1970s, both Vietnam and Watergate hang over all the Westerns that came out during that era. I am big fan of those Westerns. They were cynical to their very core. All that is to say, you can’t help deal with some degree, with America and the American Zeitgeist of a specific moment, when you’re making a Western. More, importantly ten or twenty years from now – hopefully you’ll be able to look at The Hateful Eight and get a good picture of the concerns of America at this given time.
Q: Do you feel it’s the most political film you’ve done?
A: Yes. But when I first started writing this, I did not know it would be my most political film. I didn’t approach it from a political polemic. But because of the theatrical nature of the story – when you take a bunch of characters and trap them in a room – the only way you can express your thoughts is through diving in to the depths of their expression and consequently your expression through them. Because of that you can bring a lot of the ocean floor to the surface, because your characters have little else to do – but to go deep. And it started to become my most political film. And even when I finished the script, I didn’t know how much, until society started kind of catching up with it. I’ve dealt with race, in terms of black and white, in a lot of my movies, every other movie, to some degree or another. But I actually do think that dealing with black and white in America and the racial conflicts I think that is something I have to add to the Western genre that has not been dealt with – at least not in a meaningful way. I do think that’s something I have to add.
Q: You’ve done two Westerns now and explored quite a few other genres – if you only have two movies left to do in your career, what other types of films do you want to explore?
A: You’re right. For the most part, in my career so far, I tend to move on from one genre to the next. I taught myself how to make a martial arts movie and then I never made one again. I taught myself how to do car chases and I never did one again. In the case of Django I taught myself how to do a Western and deal with the horses and the wranglers and then I realized, much to my surprise I realized I wasn’t done, so I did The Hateful Eight. I don’t know what genre is next, to be honest. There is not a genre left where I have that same burning desire, that I had to do a WW 2 movie, or the burning desire I had to do a Western or the burning desire to a martial arts movie. I think maybe the one genre that is left might be a Thirties gangster movie, that kind of Dillinger kind of thing, that time period. I’m definitely interested in doing something contemporary, where I can have a character that gets in a car, turns on the radio and I can have a cool driving montage. And if I had all the time in the world, I would love to make a really, really scary horror film, like The Exorcist. But I don’t really know if me taking my sense of humor and putting it in the backseat just to hit a tone of dread from beginning to end, is the best use of my talents or my time.
Q: You’re right. Through all your films, there is always what is now a trademark “Tarantino” violence, and there is always humor. Humor is key in all your films and that humor is really part of that joy that we all sense in your work.
A: And I don’t know if I could let go of that humor and be able to do an Exorcist and keep that tone of dread, all the way through the film. Although a case could be made that The Hateful Eight is the closest I’ve ever come to a horror film. And more than any other Western, the film that influenced this movie the most is John Carpenter’s The Thing, way beyond working with Ennio Morricone and Kurt Russell. The Thing also hugely influenced by Reservoir Dogs of course. And in it’s own way, The Hateful Eight is also influenced by Reservoir Dogs. So you could say everything is already starting to come full circle, and that umbilical cord is there , linking my eight film back to my first.
Originally published in TIME OUT: London in June of 2016