Sunday, August 23, 2009

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS—Q&A With Quentin Tarantino

Excited to be screening Inglourious Basterds in the Castro Theatre—"one of the most beautiful theaters in America"—Quentin Tarantino specified that when they set about booking the film into theaters, he demanded the film be placed in "every, cool stand-alone theater in America." Thus, he's doubly-pleased that Basterds will have a first run at the Castro. Met by a standing ovation after the screening, Tarantino was refreshingly down-to-earth and generous with his time, fielding questions from an enamored crowd. [This transcript is not for the spoiler-wary.]

Asked if there was something in the original 1978 Enzo Castarelli movie The Inglorious Bastards that drew him or whether he was merely fascinated in its title, Tarantino admitted that, yeah, it wasn’t anything about the storyline in Castarelli’s movie per se—other than the genre of a bunch of guys on a mission—but The Inglorious Bastards struck him as the best title he’d ever heard for a movie of that genre and he held onto it in the back of his mind.

One fellow admitted he had come to the screening with low expectations based upon the television marketing and was, thus, surprised at having enjoyed the film so much. He wondered if the marketing wasn’t misrepresenting the film? “How bad is the marketing doing if you’re here now?” Tarantino retorted, claiming he had no problem with the marketing and that he liked the film’s TV spots. But, understanding that the criticism was levied at the fact that the TV spots amplify the role of the Basterds without referencing Shosanna’s substantial subplot, Tarantino queried how one could get across such complexity in a TV spot? Especially with subtitles at play? Though he’s always thought of the movie as being about the Basterds, he likewise knows "the movie delivers if you see it" and that emphasizing the Basterds is just the easiest way to describe the film. "The Basterds are there, they're doing their thing, but there's so much more," Tarantino insisted, adding, "That's how I feel about genre. This is a bunch-of-guys-on-a-mission movie; but, it's more than that, even though it delivers the pleasures of that kind of movie." [Tweeting on a related subject, Peter Sciretta of /Film opined: "The Weinstein Company are really quoting Larry King as saying 'Brad Pitt is Terrific!' for Inglourious Basterds marketing? UGH! They couldn't have found a better quote, from a more reliable reviewer, for a Tarantino film? For the record, I loved Basterds, and I understand why TWC is trying to sell it on Pitt's back, but ... I dunno ... Larry King? Really?" Elsewhere, at The Auteurs Notebook, Ryland Walker Knight summizes: "This is not to say the film is the action extravaganza the savvy marketing would have you believe. But only a fool would promote the film as it really is: a gab-fest largely talked out in subtitles." A point reiterated by Frako Loden on The WELL who points out "the film is about the art of conversation really."]

Having mentioned genre, Tarantino was asked if there were any genres he would like to explore? Though he couldn't quite see himself making a sci-fi film, Tarantino ventured, he could see himself making "a full-on balls-out horror movie". Westerns are a genre he could "throw his hat in", even as he feels he has come close to already making one and—since it's been a while—he's almost ready for another crime drama.

Asked why he frequently writes roles for strong, assertive female leads in his films, Tarantino answered: "I don’t know. It's what I do. I'm a writer, y’know? Am I not supposed to do that? I honestly don't know what to say; but, it's just too long of a story where that comes from. But I can see it and it's cool and I like creating characters who are terrific." Noting his near obsession with some of his actresses, Tarantino was asked what he looks for when he's casting his female roles? He answered that—at the end of the day—he's looking for a good actress that can take the role, play it, and carry it on her shoulders. "But I am a bit of a von Sternberg-phile so—if I'm going to shoot a woman—I'm going to knock myself out, right? Especially if she's supposed to have power and I'm supposed to present her in a powerful cool way. I'll do everything I can to do that."

Asked whether Tarantino made the film in response to the current political climate with the war in Iraq, he responded in the negative. The idea came to him in 1998 after he made Jackie Brown, but he didn't finish the script until 2008. When he came up with the idea, the war hadn't even started yet. Literally, he explained, his starting off point is genre—when he throws his hat into that ring—which, in this instance, was his love for WWII movies, especially the subgenre of men-on-a-mission WWII movies. Then he starts writing the characters and the story and it becomes what it is.

Regarding the film's revisionist history, Tarantino insisted it was not something he had planned from the beginning. In fact, he thought he was going to respect history. But then he realized his characters didn't know they were part of history. Plus, ordinarily his writing style with his characters is that there's nothing they can't do. They can do anything. He doesn't play God and try to guard them. There are no doors they can't walk through. "I thought, 'Wait a minute. My characters don't know they're a part of history. They don't know there's anything they can and can't do. And for me to jump in there and act like God and steer them away from where they would go, I’ve never done that before and now's not the time to start.' " Tarantino's characters change the course of the World War. "Now, that didn't happen because my characters didn't exist,” Tarantino rationalized, "But—if they had existed—everything that happens in the film is quite possible."

At last year's Toronto Film Festival when I interviewed Daniel Brühl for Krabat, Daniel mentioned his having been cast as Fredrick Zoller in Basterds. Regarding Brühl,Tarantino offered: "When I saw Goodbye, Lenin after having written the script for Basterds, I said, 'Ah! That's my Fredrick Zoller. That's totally the guy.' I loved Goodbye, Lenin—I thought it was wonderful—but, I couldn't even imagine it without Daniel Brühl, as good as that movie is. For me, he was as perfect casting as Brad Pitt and Cristoph Waltz."

As for Mike Myers in the cameo role of General Ed Fenech, Tarantino responded, "I think of Mike Myers as our generation's Peter Sellers." Myers had let Tarantino know that he was a fan of his films, respected his work and—if something became available—would be interested in working with him. Tarantino told him, "Well, I have this part that's almost like a Trevor Howard character from a 1966 movie…" and Myers reacted immediately, "I'm in!"

Asked how difficult it was for him to find a German actor willing to play Hitler, Tarantino explained that Martin Wuttke is "the Gene Hackman of Germany"; he's a popular actor already famous for one of the most renowned portrayals of Hitler in the last 20 years; a role he performed on stage in a Bertolt Brecht play. Based on that reputation, Tarantino wanted him for his film; but, Wuttke told him flatly, "I would rather play a schnitzel than play Hitler again." But Tarantino talked him into it.

Asked if Basterds was intended to be a message to the Hollywood system that audiences want movies that are character-based narratives instead of mere CGI pyrotechnics, Tarantino responded, "That would be nice if that worked out that way—from your lips to God's ears—it would be really lovely; but, the thing about it is that there was no 'master plan' to lead audiences back to more story-based films. That's just the way I write. Part of the problem with the movies that Hollywood has been making for the last 10 years—if not longer than that; as long as I've been making movies—is that most of the movies that come out are just movie versions of situation comedies. What I mean by that is that they set up a situation in the first 15-20 minutes and the rest of the movie is living up to that situation. But in a real story, you don't know everything there is to know in the first 15-20 minutes. A real story unfolds."

Asked if he felt Basterds was going to become known as his "masterpiece", Tarantino replied, "It's not for the chicken to speak of his own soup. I would need at least three years distance to even peg it in my oeuvre."

Asked about Nation's Pride—the movie-within-the-movie—Tarantino remarked that he had familiarized himself with much of the Nazi propaganda movies so he could be on point when Goebbels was talking about filmmaking. There were some things he wrote in the script that were very specific but then Eli Roth shot a big portion of Nation's Pride. If he has any problem with it, it's that it's too good. "One of the subjects that the movie is about is filmmaking under the Third Reich, which means it's about propaganda filmmaking. So I'm making a movie about propaganda filmmaking and this is a propaganda movie in a lot of ways. I'm even rewriting history to make a point. Making a propaganda movie about propaganda movies is a reverse joy. One of the things that was interesting to me about the Shosanna character is that I came up with the idea of her before I did Kill Bill. My initial conception of Shosanna was that she was a real badass. She was known as the Joan of Arc of the Jews. She was killing Nazis. She had a list of Nazi officers she was wiping out. She was sniping from Paris rooftops. But then I put the script away because it was just too big; it wasn't a movie. Then I did Kill Bill and pretty much everything that I wanted to do with Shosanna I gave to the Bride. So when I came back to the script for Basterds, I thought, 'Well, I can't do that anymore.' But I was glad about that because it made Shosanna more real, as opposed to being this bad-assed Nazi killer. She became real. She became a survivor. She became very much like Jackie Brown. Shosanna's strength is keeping her shit together in tight, hard situations. Most of us in this room, if you were Shosanna, if you were a Jew hiding in Nazi-occupied Paris and the Gestapo told you to get your ass in the fucking car, that would be it. But she keeps it together. Like Jackie Brown, she's strong and hangs tough until she gets her revenge. One of the scenes I really like with Shosanna is the one that has David Bowie's Cat People theme and she’s just standing there on the balcony looking down at all the Nazis. She's in the theater, she's a Jew in hiding, in a room filled with the German high command, and she's not scared at all. She knows what she's got in her hand. She's looking down at them thinking, 'You motherfuckers. Just laugh it up. Laugh it up because you're going to be burning in Hell later tonight!' "

Choosing David Bowie’s Cat People theme to underscore one of Shosanna's scenes brought up the question of how Tarantino selects music for his films. "It's a big process," he answered. "When I actually sit down to write something, I go to my music selection and start finding the songs that will be the beat of the movie, the rhythm of the movie. In the case of Jackie Brown, it was '70s soul. In the case of Pulp Fiction, that would be surf music. That helps inspire me. Even as I start writing and going further on it, playing that music transports me into a movie theater. I feel like I can see it on a screen. The process goes on and on and on through shooting and editing; but it starts even before I start writing the script."

As for whether he could offer any advice regarding writing for hire, Tarantino said he could only speak from his own situation. "I'm a writer-director. My thing is starting off with the blank piece of paper. I create from scratch. I did one adaptation, Jackie Brown—and I loved Jackie Brown so don't get me wrong; it's terrific—but, never say never again, who knows what will happen?—but, I really don't have the intention of ever doing that again. That was that. I like sitting down and coming up with something from scratch. That's the way to keep it personal. That's the way—for better or for worse—to keep my voice. You see a lot of directors out there who start out as writer-directors and they make their first, second, third film and there's a voice there. But you know what? It's very hard to start from scratch every single solitary time. You're starting at the bottom of a mountain and everything you've done before doesn't mean jack-fuckin'-shit. You're still facing the blank page. And if you do that, you're not making as many movies. Then what happens is all of a sudden it's a lot easier to read what scripts are out there and find something good, and either you're inspired by that or you work with a writer, or you do a rewrite on it, or whatever. That can be good too. You get more movies made. But cut to 6-7 years later and the voice is gone."

As for letting others direct what he's written, Tarantino answered that has already happened three times before: Robert Rodriguez with From Dusk Til Dawn, Tony Scott with True Romance, and Oliver Stone with Natural Born Killers. But he's not sure if it will happen anymore because writing a script is too difficult to give up to someone else to direct. Unless he doesn't love the script. It might have been one he wrote to get out of his system.

Asked why he gave his character Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) a featured back story when he didn't do the same with his other characters, Tarantino responded that he didn't film back stories for all the characters because he didn't want the movie to run three hours. But in the case of Hugo, the audience needed to know his back story in order to understand why this German was hanging out with the Basterds. But it also builds him up in a big way. Tarantino described Hugo's character as the Charles Bronson of the group. None of the other Basterds needed that back story to describe the way they fit into the story.

Asked what makes Shosanna break down and lower her guard in the projection room when she turns the body of Fredrick over, Tarantino explained, "Because there was something about Zoller. He really liked her. Everything Zoller did that ended up fucking her up and putting her in this situation, he did with good intentions. His biggest crime was liking her. I think of that scene as a romantic scene. It’s Romeo and Juliet. Those bullets? That's them consummating their relationship. In any other time in the 20th century, they could have been in love. Except for that one time."

As a film set against a dark chapter in human history, and definitely a dark chapter of German history, and with a large number of Germans working on the film—many of them too young to have firsthand or even true memories of WWII—Tarantino was asked if any tensions erupted on the set? "Not like the way you're asking," Tarantino replied. "One of the things that happens is that people go: 'I wonder how this is going to go over in Germany? I'd like to be a fly on the wall there. Do you think they're going to handle it? Do you think they're going to like it?' With the possible exception of Jews, if there's anybody that has had killing Hitler fantasies, it's the last three generations of Germans." Germans on his film crew responded to the project in a good way. Perhaps what was most disconcerting during the shoot was the usage of swastikas on the set because Germany is the one place where it's against the law to exhibit swastikas. In Germany you get thrown in jail for that and that was something the German members of his crew had difficulty adjusting to. [According to Wikipedia, in fact, the German publicity site by Universal Pictures has been censored because of the film's illegal display of Nazi iconography. The title has the German Swastika removed and the Stahlhelm helmet has a bullet hole instead of the Nazi symbol. The download section of the German site has been revised to exclude wallpaper downloads that feature the Swastika openly.]

With regard to how much control Tarantino exerts over his actors' performances, he answered that he considers filmmaking a gigantic collaborative process. That being said, he knows the characters. For anything that an actor needs to know about his or her character, they come to him. He knows everything that happened before the movie started. He knows if they end up living through it. He knows what happens to them afterwards, and everything inbetween. "Especially when you create your own mythology," Tarantino added, "you have to know everything. Now, I don't need to tell you all everything; but, I have to know it. And you gotta know I know it. So I'm the guy. I'm the answer man. I'm the guy you talk to. I'm all for collaboration—I want actors to bring stuff to the film—but, I'm the perfect parent; I'm the one who knows.”

Tarantino was asked if—in the scene where Landa strangles Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger)—the hands choking her in that scene were actually Tarantino's? Tarantino admitted they were. "Big, full-on strangulation scenes like that … there's no way to fake that. You have to commit yourself to doing it. You have to get the veins to bulge and get red in the face and everything, so I talked to Diane about that before I even cast her. I go, 'Look, we gotta kind of go for that. It's not going to feel good, but, it's going to be okay.' In that situation, she was the only one I could trust and I was the only one I trusted to get it going. We had a complete level of trust that we were going to get what we were going to get."

Despite that Tarantino’s
IMDb profile lists a remake of Faster, Pussycat Kill Kill as a project in development, Tarantino dismissed it as a complete internet rumor. He has no intention of remaking that film.

Asked whether he would ever do another Kill Bill spinoff, Tarantino admitted that he does want to make another Kill Bill movie but has been waiting 10 years before committing to the third adventure of the Bride. First, because Uma Thurman needed a 10-year break. Also, because he loves the Bride, he acknowledges that "she's been through a lot." He wanted to give her 10 years of well-deserved peace and happiness before he made her take her sword off the shelf again.

Cross-published on
Twitch.

4 comments:

Jay, aka The Angry Little Man said...

THANK YOU for editing out the stupid comments and questions! These are the highlights of a sometimes tedious hour long Q&A! Though I LOVED the film!

Maya said...

Yer welcome. It's my yob.

Paul Martin said...

Tarantino's one of the few film-makers whose films I regularly see more than once. I just saw Inglourious Basterds for the second time and while I didn't enjoy it more, I certainly appreciate it more. He really is a master of conversation and shows how dialogue can manipulate the suspense for an audience.

Maya said...

Paul, great to hear from you; it's been a while. Thanks for stopping by. How are things down Under? I've been amazed by the number of Aussie films on the Toronto International line-up.

Your comment on Tarantino's gift for conversation tracks with Ryland Walker Knight and Frako Loden. It really is great to listen to his characters speak, eh?