The Total Film Interview - Quentin Tarantino

With Grindhouse gutted, Quentin Tarantino’s had a strange 2007. Now, as Death Proof revs up to charge autumn, Total Film meets the man who, 15 years after Reservoir Dogs, remains the headline act...

QUENTINTARANTINOTALKSREALLYREALLYREALLYREALLY fuckingquickly. It’s near 200-words a minute fast (we’ve done the maths) and often borders on gibberish. Take an impromptu rendezvous Total Film had with the director at this year’s Cannes festival. It was the day after Death Proof’s premiere and party, journalist and slackly-attired legend passin’ time in the Hotel Majestic bar…

“Total Film! I love Total Film!” he near-shrieks, breaking the quiet of surrounding lunchers and shaking the tan from our hand. Settling down, surely he’d be so stoked by the cheers a notoriously difficult Cannes crowd gave his film – the 200mph slasher movie starring eight leggy women and Kurt Russell – that he’d want to talk about that? Er, no. Rather 3D gay porn, ejaculation and giant penises are on his mind; a conversation he’s reminded of when he calls from his LA home, late one Monday night four months later. “Oh yeah, we were goofing around about that!” he laughs, his bellow echoing down the trans-Atlantic phone line. “Right now it’s still in my mind, I think it was more about me musing at what I would do if I could do a 3D porn film! It hasn’t been green-lit yet. I still, er, have a few things to work out on it!”

Yep, QT is unique. Scrub that, he’s a unique, bona fide obsessive foul-mouthed genius, blessed with a mind all his own – his synapses snap to their own trippy beat. The most talked about filmmaker of his generation (and 12th in our Greatest Directors Ever countdown last month), he’s the movie geek who spent his youth in the fleapits and his freetime nowadays shuffling DVDs; on a lifetime mission to turn a new generation onto his passion.

He is incredibly friendly (“I’m coming over in September – maybe see you there!”), gifted with sincerity that puts other directors in the doghouse. This is the man who made Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown yet he approaches interviews with more respect, more enthusiasm, less weariness than some Johnny Rentaberk who’s just so proud of his latest rip-off romcom. It’s because Tarantino cares, he loves nothing better than talking about (his and others’) movies to his fans.

Which is why the knockbacks hurt – 2007 having seen the 44-year-old fail for the first time with Grindhouse, his double bill passion project with Robert Rodriguez having been crushed at the US box office and split in two for international release. Redemption and vindication though were found in Cannes, with critics and punters alike lapping up his most madcap – nay, mental – film yet. Come 21 September, the UK can finally judge the work for themselves. Death Proof is coming hard’n’fast. Time to take stock on the most turbulent year in Tarantino’s life…

It’s been a tough few months. You must have been delighted by the reaction Death Proof got in Cannes.
It was fantastic. I looked around and everyone had big smiles on their faces and people were pounding the handrails. Wow! To actually turn the Palais into a Grindhouse was a rare, rare achievement!

People love it when Kurt Russell gets stuck into the action. Have you been drawn into fights with girls like he is?
God, no. I’ve never been beaten up by anyone! I went to a black school and some of those girls, man, y’know! They were so tall with big shoulders. But I never got my ass kicked by a woman that I didn’t pay to do it!

Fifteen years on from Reservoir Dogs, do you still get the same buzz from people responding to your films?
Oh yeah. I mean it’s nice to make money, but ultimately the payoff is that the film is well remembered and people love it and 10 years from now they’re still watching it, and in 20 years it’s still in their collection. But the instant gratification is watching it with the audience and seeing if it works.

In Death Proof, it all goes off after 40 quiet minutes. Do you enjoy changing a film’s pace in the flick of a second?
Yes I do. To tell you the truth, I’ve never really seen it exactly the way I do in Death Proof, because before the crash it could be a Richard Linklater movie. It takes place in Austin, they’re all hanging around – it could be Dazed And Confused and it could have stayed Dazed And Confused and it would have been OK. But just turning on a dime is one of the things I’m drawn to. I think it’s because I have so many different movies and moods in my head and I’m trying to get them all out. I’ll never live long enough to make all the movies I want. I’m just making as many of them as I can.

Where do you get dialogue from? The  Reservoir Dogs gangsters talk differently from the Death Proof girls…
That’s like asking Paul Simon or Bob Dylan where their music comes from. It does seem like there is some bigger force out there. I don’t want to call it God, but I don’t not want to call it God. Not to be facetious, but that’s what a writer does. Writers that can only write about themselves aren’t very talented. Part of a writer’s job is to investigate humanity, whether it’s writing gangsters or girls or an old man or black, white or Asian people, it doesn’t matter.

Blank page, pen in hand. What happens next?
I get the characters talking to each other and I write it all down and clean it up a little. So I’m writing something now and what I wanted to happen is this soldier is talking to a girl and eventually he charms her enough so she has a cup of coffee with him. That’s how Quentin the writer would have liked it to end, but when I wrote it all he didn’t do it. The soldier didn’t charm her enough, he charmed her enough for her not to say, “Get the fuck outta here!”, but not enough to go get a cup of coffee with her. So OK, I can’t do this in one scene. He’s gonna have to come back a couple of times before she’ll let him. I’m the girl and the guy and I’m trying to get her to go with me and he hasn’t accomplished it yet, but the scene is fantastic – it just didn’t end where the writer wanted it to, but the writer was bullshit. That was way too fucking soon and the characters told me that.

We’re talking about a scene from Inglorious Bastards, right?
Yes, that’s what I’m writing right now. Every time I end up saying I’m doing something, it ends up not being the thing I do and I actually want this to be the thing I do, so I’m not going to say it’s the thing I’m doing!

Watch this space then. Whether it’s your next film or not, who do you make your movies for?
The true answer is I make them for me. I think it’s the only way to really do it. I know I have a bunch of fans out there excited by my stuff and they’re in the back of my mind and often I’m thinking, “Oh man, they’re really gonna get off on this!” But I make the movies for me. Yet do I want black people to like my movies? Yes. Do I want white people to like my movies? Yes. Do I want Asians to like it? Yeah. Do I want you guys in the UK to like it who have supported me forever? Yes. But the only way I can do that is to make it for me and just assume that you’re all like me!

You put heart and soul into your work. When you shoot something, do you want it to be the best thing ever made?
I hope it is. That’s where I’m working from. It’s been very exciting doing these different action set pieces like the big kung-fu fight in Kill Bill or the car chases in Death Proof. It’s me throwing my hat into the ring of what I would consider some of the great action sequences in cinema. And what’s nerve-racking is if I’m doing it I want it to be one of the best fights ever and the best car chases ever and if it’s not then I know I’m not as good as I think I am, I guess I hit my head on the ceiling of my talent. When I say that, though, it’s like I want to be judged in terms of other films, but it’s also my version of it and my version is always going to be different.

So how different would your version of  Casino Royale  have been? You argue that the film was only made after  you suggested it be the next film in the Bond series…
Well I never saw it because I was mad at those guys! I wasn’t mad because they didn’t give me the movie to do, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have wanted to do it the way they wanted me to do it and they were never going to give me final cut… But you know they should have talked to me about it, for the simple reason they said publicly Casino Royale was unfilmable, but the minute I said I would do Casino Royale all of a sudden it’s on the websites that that’s the film people want to see. So they should have just said, “Thank you.”

But it’s still a good film…
I’ve heard, but at the same time when I heard they changed the Baccarat game to a Poker game I’ll never see it. Baccarat? That’s the James Bond game motherfucker! And you’re gonna turn it into fucking celebrity Poker! Kiss my ass!

This summer, sadly, the US public avoided Grindhouse, many complaining it was too long. But  Pirates Of The Caribbean and Spider-Man were both long films…
Yeah it was different, though. I think there’s a difference between going to a franchise and seeing a brand new movie, especially one people were having a hard time getting their head around. Me and Robert were shocked, but so was most of the industry. We thought we were going to give people something they hadn’t seen in a long time and we thought people would love that. They’re getting this whole event of going to a ghetto theatre or a Grindhouse theatre or drive-in from the ’70s. We thought the Fangoria crowd would be chomping at the bit to have this experience that had long since gone. Well, they weren’t. We did pretty good on the Friday, but basically our audience was one day long!

But the people who did see the double bill – including Total Film – loved it.
Yeah, all of our audience showed up that Friday and I actually went to see it on the day it opened and it was jam-packed. I can tell you it was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had since my movies opened theatrically. To see it that Friday when it opened with the real true believers… But that was it. I hate to say it, but I think when it comes down to it, I’m always going to get my fans. Kill Bill got outside of that and made new fans for me and Pulp Fiction got out of my fan base, but the thing is people want dinner and a movie and if you fuck with their dinner they ain’t gonna go. They either want to go eat dinner before the movie or after the movie. When you give them three hours they think, “Hmmm, let’s just go see this comedy instead.”

So did you and Robert misjudge the audience?
Perhaps. Nowadays I wouldn’t feel comfortable making a three-hour movie unless I thought it really had a chance at the Oscars. That’s when they do well. They open them up around December to qualify for the awards and if they get the reviews then they stay in the theatres forever and ever and ever. And then if it gets nominated first for the Golden Globe then it’s not just around for three weeks or four weeks. People hear, “Oh that’s a good one, I gotta see that!” and then they’re planning to see your movie.

Are audiences afraid when directors – Darren Aronofsky, Richard Kelly – try new things, rock the status quo?
In the case of those directors, I admire them for going their own way. Especially The Fountain – it sounds like he made exactly the kind of movie he wanted to see and people would either love it or hate it, which is usually a pretty good sign if you ask me. If you’re an artist you’re looking for that call, you’re looking for that siren and when you get that you don’t question, you’re just happy that it’s screaming. And the only thing you might compromise on is if your story is offbeat and is definitely not going to win the opening weekend box office, then you just do it for a lower budget. I want everyone in my movies to be successful and whoever came up with the money to make my movie, I want them to make it back. If I come up with something offbeat and weird then I’d still do it, it’s just gotta be done in a way that makes sense. Truthfully, if I came up with the idea for Reservoir Dogs now, that would be a terrific movie tomorrow, but I would be wrong to try to do it for $30 million. You’d just have five weeks and that becomes part of its energy.

Do you see the irony that Grindhouse in its full version – which is based on your love of ‘70s exploitation cinema – is going to find its eventual home on DVD?
Yeah, and I think that was the same with Jackie Brown, which found its home on DVD, too. I guess there’s irony because we were trying to create audience experience, but the thing is I’ve been tickled pink at all the things I’ve heard coming out of England, people writing in magazines or on the internet saying, “Please, Quentin, don’t judge us by the stupid Americans! We promise in England we’ll go see it!” The way I see it, if Death Proof comes out by itself and then the double bill appears on DVD, it’s kind of like the best of both worlds.

Edgar Wright and Eli Roth both did Grindhouse trailers. Do you consider yourself as an adopter of filmmakers?
I don’t consider myself as adopting them, they’re contemporaries. I really love their love of cinema. I think Shaun Of The Dead is one of the best scripts written in five years, it’s kind of a masterpiece. I also love Bong Joon-ho, the guy who did The Host. To me he’s like the Korean Spielberg. I’ve seen people try to duplicate what they think is Spielberg’s thing, alright, but it’s actually the inner workings of his sense of humour, how he entertains an audience no matter what the subject matter is – that’s the inner workings of Spielberg and Joon-ho has that, even in a downer, true-life story like Memories Of Murder.

Looking back at your films, what stands out for you?
You know, they’re all my children. I love them all, but at the end of the day I’m always going to have a soft spot for Reservoir Dogs. That was my first, the one that changed my life. That was my first paint on a canvas. It allowed me to express myself and I had a lot of frustration!

A lot of pent-up frustration…
Yeah, that was the wind-up clock, the one where all the springs came bursting out!

You don’t seem the kind of guy who makes 10-year plans...
Yeah, that actually is fair, that actually is pretty fair. I usually have some kind of a guideline as far as where I want to go and a couple of shadow projects I’d like to get around to. But my door is always open to, well, what do I fall in love with next?

And that could be anything…
Yes. Exactly

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