We all have to start somewhere and Quentin Tarantino is no exception. Unlike popular lore, Tarantino did not come bursting through the indie film gates with Reservoir Dogs as his first film. Before you go out and see any of Tarantino’s films you should watch his first little ditty which was an unreleased feature film called “My Best Friend’s Birthday.”
“My Best Friend’s Birthday” is a black-and-white amateur film written by Craig Hamann and Quentin Tarantino. This was also the first film the Quentin Tarantino directed. It was shot while he was working at the now sadly closed down indie film shrine Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, CA.
The project started in 1984, when Hamann wrote a short 40-page script about a young man who continually tries to do something nice for his friend’s birthday, only to have his efforts fail miserably.
Tarantino and Hamann expanded the short script into a full-length feature film screenplay. Some of the dialogue and characters would eventually find a home in Tarantino’s classic screenplay True Romance.
Actor Allen Garfield (from Beverly Hills Cop fame) was teaching Quentin Tarantino acting at the time, and that is how he also became involved in the project.
The budget was an estimated $5,000, which was tiny considering they shot the indie film on 16mm over the next three years. Quentin Tarantino acting bug was in full effect so he also starred in the indie film, along with several video store and acting class pals.
Tarantino worked on the crew, which included fellow Video Archives employees Rand Vossler and future Oscar® winner and Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary, who also acted as cinematographer on the film. It’s the most overtly comedic film that Quentin Tarantino has ever made.
The original cut was about 70 minutes long but the final reel was destroyed in a lab fire that broke out during editing. The surviving 36 minutes of the film has been shown at several film festivals around the world. It has never been officially released.
When watching this short you can see early seeds ofQuentin Tarantino‘s genius for dialog and character. It’s a fun watch and a must for all aspiring filmmakers. Enjoy the rare indie film oddity “My Best Friend’s Birthday.”
The first book I ever read about screenwriting. Syd Field is the forefather of the how-to for screenwriting. He cracked the code of the three-act structure and paved the way for all other screenwriting gurus that would follow. As far as I know, he created the terms like “turning points,” and “pinch”, and much of the language that screenwriters use to describe elements and devices used in their scripts. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
Immortalized by the film Adaptation, McKee delves deeply into the components necessary for making a great script. I find his principles of “controlling idea” (which closely resembles Lagos Egri’s concept of “premise” in The Art of Dramatic Writing) and “gap between expectation and result” incredibly useful. I always turn to McKee’s teachings for guidance. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
Vogler takes the workings of Joseph Campbell about myth and archetypes and breaks it down into easy to chew, bite-size portions. What makes Campbell so special? His writings about the universal appeal of mythological tales have inspired many other storytellers to create great pieces of work with timeless resonance — does George Lucas ring a bell? (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
Seger’s book I found as a great companion piece to Syd Field’s Screenplay. What I particularly like from this book is her method of ramping up conflict by the use of “obstacles,” “compilations,” and “reversals.”
You can see echoes of all the other aforementioned writers in this book. What I like about Save The Cat is that it’s a stripped-down, fun read with a lot of helpful information. I especially appreciate Snyder’s Beat Sheet which shows with almost page number accuracy where to place those particular plot moments that help keep your story moving. Some might find it formulaic, but I think it functions very well and points to exactly the kind of scripts Hollywood has come to expect from writers. One of the best screenwriting books. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out on how to write a screenplay along comes this book to point out where you may have gotten it wrong. Despite the length of the title, it’s a quick read and VERY illuminating. As I skimmed through the examples of what not to do, I discovered what I was doing right, and most importantly what I was getting wrong. They say you learn from your mistakes, and reading this book sure helped to show how. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
This book was a required textbook back when I was at film school. Some of the formatting suggestions may be a little outdated, especially if you have Final Draft or Movie Magic screenwriting software, but there’s still a ton of knowledge to be gained about proper formatting. The quickest way to spot a novice writer is by how unprofessional their script is formatted — this book shines a light on the Hollywood standard. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
Not only do I dig this guy’s first name, but I found his book to be more current as far as the conventions of formatting. It covers a lot of ground with how to write a screenplay and everything else that goes with being a screenwriter and Filmtrepreneur, like how to register your script and how to write a query letter to literary agents. It’s a broad overview, but one of the most informative screenwriting books. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
This is actually a book for the aspiring playwright, but most if not all the principles can apply to screenwriting. Egri gives examples of poorly constructed scenes and explains why they don’t work — then compares and contrasts against scenes that do. This is one of my favorite books, and one I strongly recommend. One of the best screenwriting books out there. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)
(FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)Have you ever wondered how successful writers do it? If you’ve reached this point on my top ten, I would say, “of course you do!” There are good work regimens and not so constructive methods. This book gives us a glimpse into how the top Hollywood writers work, how they fight writer’s block, as well as deal with the daily grind of writing. I found it very insightful and definitely worthwhile.
A must-read for any screenwriter. Tarantino…nuff said! These are our Top Ten Screenwriting Books You Need to Read. We hope they help you on your journey as a screenwriter. Remember just keep writing!
David R. Flores is a writer and artist (aka Sic Monkie) based in Los Angeles. He is the creator of the comic book series Dead Future King published by Alterna Comics and Golden Apple Books. Website: www.davidrflores.com & www.deadfutureking.com
Alex Ferrari 0:04
I'd like to welcome to the show, Robert McKee. How are you doing, Robert?
Robert McKee 0:08
Very well, very well. Thank you.
Alex Ferrari 0:10
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I am have been a fan of your work for quite some time. I've read your first two books, and I'm looking forward to reading your new one, which we'll talk about later character. But I was first introduced to your work in the film adaptation like so many. So many screenwriters and filmmakers were how, by the way, how, how was that whole process? I mean, it was a very odd request, I'm sure that you got when you got that call?
Robert McKee 0:40
Well, it certainly was, my phone rang one day and producer named Ed Saxon calling from New York and, and he said I am mightily embarrassed. This is a phone call I've dreaded. We've got this crazy screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and, and he has made you a character in his screenplay, and he has freely cribbed from your book and from your lectures, and he has no permission to do either. And, but we don't know what to do. So I said, well, send me a script, you know, I'll you know, see what's going on. So they sent me a script, and I read it. And I saw immediately that he really needed my character as a central to the film, because he wants me to, he wanted my character to represent the the imperatives of Hollywood. And that you have to do certain things certain ways, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, which is on one level nonsense. Such rules, they their principles, and there's genre convention, but anyway, but so I was a typical kind of need to slander Hollywood in favor of the artist. And, and they wanted me to do the slandering. So, but I realized that without my character there to provide some source of conflict. The story didn't work at all. So I said, and so I tell you what, I made two phone calls. I called William Goldman. And I said, Good, he was, you know, a student of mine. And I said, Bill, they there's a film and they want to use me as a character in it. What do you think? And he said, Don't do it. Don't do it. He said, it's Hollywood. And he said, they're out to get you don't do it. I said, Yeah, but I'm okay. But suppose I had casting rights. And he says, Okay, okay, who do you want? I said, Well, let's say Gene Hackman, is it? Okay. Okay. It'll be Gene Hackman, with a big pink bow around his neck. If they want to get you, Bob, they're gonna get you don't do it. So then I called my son. And I said, Paul, you know, and he said, do it. I said, Why isn't because Dad, it's a Hollywood film, you're gonna be a character in the Hollywood film. And he said, it'll be great. Do it. So I talked to Ed Sachs, and I said, Kenny, three things. One, I need a redeeming scene. I said, you know, you want to slander me fine. But then you can't leave it at that. You got he got to give me a redeeming scene. Right? To I have to have the controller the casting, I won't tell you exactly who to cast. But you got to give me a list because I ended need to know their philosophy. I mean, for all I knew this was the Danny DeVito Dan Ackroyd School of casting,
Alex Ferrari 4:28
you know, fair enough.
Robert McKee 4:31
I said, and very importantly, the third act sucks. And I cannot be a character in a bad movie. So we need meetings, they're going to have to be willing to rewrite. And, and those are my three conditions. And, and they agreed to them. And, and so they sent me a casting they gave me my redeeming scene and then they they they sent a list. Have the 10 best middle aged British actors alive? You know, everybody from Christopher Plummer to Alan Bates and I, and and I looked at the list. And I said, I want Brian Cox. And they said, Who's Brian Cox? And I said, He's the best British actor you don't know. Because Brian had been a student of mine up in Glasgow, and I'd seen him on stage in the West End of London and, and what I didn't want, see all those actors. They're all wonderful. But there's always actors have this Love me Love me thing, no matter what they want to be loved. And there's always this subtext like my heart's in the right place. And I really, you know, and I don't want to be loved. I really don't want to be respected, I want to be understood. And I want to inspire people and educate, but I do not want a bunch of people following me around like a guru. Right, loving me, right? And I knew that Brian would not do that. And, and then we had meetings and about the Act Three, and eventually got to a never got to a perfect accuracy. But it got to a point where I could sign off on so and it was, so they took my son to a screening at so at Sony and I said, you know, we think ball, and he said, Dad, he said, Brian Cox nailed you. Which I thought was great. So you know, and it was, it was, but that's not the, you know, I was I put myself in a funny date. So it's not just, but yeah, it was, um, it was a difficult choice. But I think William Goldman was wrong, that, you know, there was a way to you have your cake and eat it too. And I think an adaptation is loved. Oh, and millions and millions of people. So, so it certainly didn't hurt my brand.
Alex Ferrari 7:20
It didn't hurt your brand or business, I'd imagine. It's the term irony comes to play where you would be working with Charlie Kaufman, on a script, where your character is the establishment that he's trying to get away from and to give art but yet you are working with him to put the script together and finish the third act, which is amazing. Charlie,
Robert McKee 7:42
Charlie's one of those guys. He's got, you know, a great talent. But he's a bit delusional. What he wants to achieve is the commercial art movie. He wants it both ways. He wants to be known for making art movies, but they have to make money too. And a lot of it because he knows that, you know, his career. If he loses money, it's over. And so and, and so he wants to he wants to create the commercial art movie and a salsa dance understood, you know, things, the notion of the commercial art movie, you know, the, the, the English Patient and films like that. And I you know, in the meetings with a spike and and, and, Charlie, I, you know, I pointed out to Charlie, so you can't have it both ways. It's a you, you know, you if it's a true art movies have a very limited audience period. And art filmmakers understand this. And they budget accordingly. You want 30 million
Alex Ferrari 8:59
for an art film?
Robert McKee 9:03
Was 5 million we could, but Okay, so anyway, but it was. Yeah, the irony of it is wonderful.
Alex Ferrari 9:10
So, so you've worked with so many screenwriters and filmmakers over the course of your career, what is the biggest mistakes you see screenwriters, new screenwriters to the craft make?
Robert McKee 9:24
Well, it's not mistake so much. Yeah, I guess it is a mistake. But, uh, there's two problems. One is cliches. And they think that it that they want to be, you know, like an artist, they want to be original, but at the same time, they want. They want to be sure that it works. And so they recycle the things that everybody's always done. And they've tried to recycle them with it. difference and which is absolutely necessary, I mean, that's I get it, you're not going to reinvent the wheel, you have to just spin it yet another way. And, but then they get very easy once they sell their soul. It's hard to get it back. And, you know, you can pour on your soul for a while, but you've got to get the cash to get back. And, and so that's the war on cliches is not some, you know, it's not a fault, it's just a problem everybody faces. And, but there's a greater problem. And it's the willingness to lie. In an effort to tell their story to get it out, somehow they get it together. And they will write characters and scenes, and whatever that that lack credibility that they know perfectly well, in their heart of hearts is pure corn of some kind. And it's a it's, they're bending the truth. It's not it's, there's something false to some. And, and, and to, to, to get to something that is really profoundly honest. And it doesn't matter what the genre is, from action, to comedy. to, to a you know, as an education plan, something very interior doesn't matter what the genre is, there's truth, and then there's lie. And somehow they think that because it's fiction, that gives them a license to lie. But but they don't have that license, they have a an obligation to express the truth of what it is to be a human being and in whatever genre, they're they're writing, they have a, they have a an obligation, if they're writing comedy, to really stick a knife in some sacred cow and expose the bullshit of society. I mean, they, you know, it's not enough to be amusing. comedy is a is an angry art, that savages, all those things that, that that that are false in life, and starting with politics. Right. And, and so there's they, there's a willingness to, to fit and lie and in order to please that, okay, let me take a step back. I bulldozing cliches and truthfulness are all the byproduct of the young writer, especially the young writers desire to please they want to be loved, they want people to love what they do they want to please people. And so they write what they think, is pleasing for people, whether it's all the cards in fast and furious. Right, or the sentimentality or whatever they want to please people and and which is fine, but you can't please everybody and so you're going to write for a certain mind a certain audience a certain mentality and an educational level and taste and whatnot in a certain group of people that you know, are out there, they're like you pay and and you can't please everybody. And and so, a film like for example, Nomad land is certainly not trying to please there's an audience for it, that will get it and enjoy it and and recognize this as a deep truth about our society and about human nature.
But it's, it's not going to have a mass audience. And because it will turn off more people than it will turn out. And, but it's, it's a excellent film is an honest film. So that's the I think it's fishing around here. Because when you open the door and say, you know whether
Alex Ferrari 14:53
you're wrong, there's 1000s of things
Robert McKee 14:57
to bring up, but if I can do it down, it's that it's that the willingness to please results in recycling cliches, and basically not telling the the, the, the dark truth of things. And so you have to be it's tough, you have to be disciplined not to copy other people's success, but to, to write what you honestly believe to be the
errors in the central new genre.
And, and be rigorous about that.
Alex Ferrari 15:36
Now, one of the the hallmarks of a good story is conflict. How do you create conflict in a story?
Robert McKee 15:46
Well, depends on where you start. If you start with a choice of genre, let's say you're going to write a thriller. Right? You know, the source of conflict immediately by that choice. I need some kind of psychopathic villain. Right? I need Russell Crowe, in unhinged. Why? And so that's done for you. So that the genre sort of automatically tells you, right, on the other hand, if you're telling a family story, and that will be called domestic. Until the characters are a family and it's a family with problems, wow. The conflict could come from any direction. Who's with? Is it the mother? Is it the father? Is that rebellious children? Is it Whose is it? Some some, you know, older grandfather grandmother figure that's pulling people strings, and you know, whatever, given a family what's wrong with this family? And so you have to figure out what is it and is it social, or psychological? Is it instinctive is a deliberate you have to think your way through all that. And so you, you you start with a family and you create a little you know, a cast? And then and then you ask the question or what's wrong with this family. And a million different things can be wrong in human nature inside of a family. And that requires knowledge, you have to understand people, you have to understand that you know, the mother, daughter, mother, son, Father, daughter, Father, Son relationships, and, and you need to dig into your own experience. And ask yourself, you know, what was wrong in my family? What What do I believe, to be the truth about families? And, and, and that the genre doesn't give you that answer. And so, you have the answer will come from your depth of understanding of human nature, human relationships of a certain personal kind in this case. And, or if you're writing comedy, so as mentioned, the starting place of writing a comedy is to ask yourself what is pissing me off? What in this world is pissing me off? Is that relationships? Is it men women? Always it? Is that the is that the the the the social networks? Is it is it politics? Is it the military? Is it the church? Why what what is what what do I hate? What's pissing me off? Because the root of comedy is is anger. The comic mind is an angry idealist comic comics are idealists who want the world to be perfect or at least and when they look around the world they see where sorry, sick one place it is. And, and they realize that they're complicit, they're part of it too. And so what spacing me off then it points them in a direction to an institution or behavior in society. me like I think that great comedy series. Curb Your Enthusiasm. You know, and, and, and yes, you know, what is pissing me off and he will finds really egregious fault in, in, in people's lack of propriety. Or, or logic or clarity of thought, you know, why should there be a handicapped stall in toilets? Right that no one can use except the two times a year that a handicapped person comes into this particular toilet. Okay. Right. That is
Larry David, that is an egregious absurdity and it infuriates him. And so he goes into the handicap stall, and sure shit, this is the day
a guy in a wheelchair. So, um, so that, you know, that that's, those are the various things, you know, you, you look at yourself, as a writer, and you you have to understand your vision of life, you have to understand the genres. When you make a choice, there's certain conventions. And, and a, you can bend those conventions, what breaker if you want, but not without an awareness of what the audience expects. And so somehow, it'll between picking the setting and the cast, the genre, and then looking inside of yourself, like your comic wouldn't ask you what's pissing me off? You find your way. If I if you're in conflict, and the the most importantly, you know, it has it that you know that that conflict has to be something you deeply believe in. Now, or, or you will do what we were talking about earlier, you will fall prey to cliches because you'll you'll create false conflict, false antagonist empty, a cliched antagonisms. And like that. So it's a very important question. Now.
Alex Ferrari 22:28
So as far as one thing a lot of a lot of screenwriters try to get away from is structure, saying that structure and trying to fall into side of a structure is, it's like holding me back as an artist and I need to be free and I need to run free like a wild stallion, I personally find structure to be very freeing, because it gives me a place to go. How do you approach structure?
Robert McKee 22:55
Well, in this day, people have a course accused me of imposing structural rules in my teaching, and it's nonsense. When
I am opposed to structure, it's inhibiting my creativity do not know what the hell they're talking. They just don't they use the word structure. But they wouldn't understand or know story structure, if it fell from a height under their foot, okay, they just don't know what they're talking about. structure in every scene, ideally, is a turning point of some magnitude, the character's life, they go into a situation wanting something. And something in that moment, kind of prevents them from getting it. They struggle with that. And they either get what they want, or they don't get what they want. Or they get it at a price or they don't get it but learn something. Change takes place. And it's in a simple scene is minor. And then these changes per scene build sequences in which moderate deeper change wider change happens, these sequences build x in it. And then that climax is a major turning point that has greater depth or greater breadth or both have impact on a character's life. And so minor moderate major changes are building a story progressively to an absolute irreversible change at climax. Now, why would anyone object to what I just said? Why would anyone think that you can change Do concrete scenes in which nothing changes. And do that three scenes in a row and people will not be walking up. They come there, they come to the writer, they read a novel, kind of trying to have insight into life as to what forces in life positive and negative, bring about change outwardly or inwardly in characters lives. I mean, that's why we go to the storyteller. And so and so why would you not want change? Or why would you want repetitious change? Because the same change degree of change, that happens three times in a row, you know, we're bored. So because it's not giving us what we want, it's not giving us the insight that into character that we want. And so people who say they're opposed to structure don't understand what structure is it they don't understand, it's a dynamic and a progression of minor moderate major changes. And so I have no patience with that kind of ignorance. Hear the people who say that are the very naive, ignorant, really, people who think that if they just open up their imagination, emotion, picture will flow out of it.
Alex Ferrari 26:30
Robert McKee 26:32
And, and they are childish in that way. I mean, you open up your imagination and see what flows out, then you have to go to work on it. And you have to step back from every, every time you you know, or let me put you this way. What in truth is it to write? What is writing actually, like, as an experience, you open up your imagination, and you have an idea for a character or two or three, and you write a page, things happen? Action reaction dialog, that when you write a page, that takes 20 minutes, then what do you do? You read that page? And you could take it does this work? would he say that? Would she act like that? would this happen with it? Is there a better way to do this? And is this repetitious? Is there a hole does it make sense, you constantly critique what you've written, and you go back, and you rewrite it. And then you read it, again, you critique it again. And this goes on all day long. And so you go inside to create, you go outside to critique, you create, your critique you curate, and the quality of your critique that guides your rewriting is absolutely dependent on your understanding to make judgments, when you ask the question, does this work? You have to know what works and what doesn't work. And, and so that on one level, everything you do is structure. Its structured to have a character say x and another character respond with y that structure action reaction, that the person who said x did not expect to hear why
Alex Ferrari 28:36
right exit Exactly.
Robert McKee 28:39
And that structure that beat of act reaction and human behavior, that structure. So is I said, People say this, say it out of out of emit amateur understanding of what the creativity, what the act of writing really is.
Alex Ferrari 29:07
And I, whenever I've come up against that, when I say no, every you know, every movie has some sort of structure. Most movies, especially popular movies have structure. And your definition of structure is wonderful. They always throw out Pulp Fiction, and I'm like, no Pulp Fiction is an extremely structured film. Do you agree?
Robert McKee 29:28
Yeah. I've when I was we were talking about when I was when they were doing adaptation, and I was working with Charlie Kaufman. Charlie had exactly that attitude. I said, the third act doesn't work. We have to restructure it. And in the end is his face went into a panic mode. He didn't want you know, scared the hell out. He said, I know. I know that. It needs some, you know, just it'll come to me it was a clo and whatnot. And it's as easy as I don't write with structure. He said that I don't write with structure. I said, Charlie, would you like me to lay out the three act design of being john malkovich as because it's a three act, play, want to hear them, act 123. And, and he almost ran out of the room. He didn't want to hear it. He wants to live in the delusion that it somehow flows, and there is no structure. And when in fact, subconsciously, at least being john malkovich is a three activist
Alex Ferrari 30:48
is a great, it's
Robert McKee 30:50
a model, it's a model, BJ Mack is a model three act design. But it's but to the romantic like, Charlie, he doesn't want to hear it. Because he thinks that that's going to constipate his creativity. And I have to agree with it. If he wants to write out of this notion that it's all a flow. And if he is aware that there's a, that there's a design happening, it would, it would inhibit him. So it's because he's a good writer, he's very talented. So it would be better for him to live in that delusion, and let it all pour out. And then he goes back, and his taste guides the rewriting and so forth. And, and, and so if you're talented, like Charlie and, and the idea of structure is frightening, then you should listen to those feelings. And not think about structure and just, you know, do what you do, and hope it works.
Alex Ferrari 32:10
Very, very, very rare. But yeah, but and so for everyone listening, you have to understand that someone like Jeff Hoffman is writing. And as he's writing, he's subconsciously working within the three act structure, honestly, on a subconscious level. And even the great writers is like, Oh, I never even think about outlining or plotting, is because they have such a grasp of the craft, that it's already pre wired in them. It's like me building a house, I wouldn't even think twice about how to pour a foundation, or how to how to how to lay out the walls, because I've done it a million times. I don't have to sit there and think about it, it's just done. But that is rare, and it takes sometimes years to get to that place or you're a prodigy, which happens once in a generation or twice in a generation.
Robert McKee 32:57
And and you're absolutely right. That's very, very well put and, and in fact, it goes beyond that you have been watching the stories on screen you have been reading them in novels, you've been to the theater, that form form is a better word than structure that form of action, contradictory reaction and reaction to that and a giant dynamic of action reaction building to change that is so built into you as a as a reader as an audience member from I don't know two three years old. Mother read your little you know, bunny rabbit stories, right? Your bunny rabbit goes out and something happens that not happy for the bunny rabbit and then you know of bunny rabbits mother comes along and pictures things whatever it takes, I mean that that form is ingrained in you from from the earliest. And so you do know it?
Alex Ferrari 34:08
Without question. Now you do more dialogue is something that is you've wrote an entire book dedicated to dialogue. Obviously, your first book is story. But your second book is dialogue. What are the three functions of dialogue in your opinion?
Robert McKee 34:25
Well, there's many of them and certainly one of them is is the obvious one of exposition by various means. So for examples simple in writing dialogue, a character has a certain vocabulary so for example, you you've done construction on houses, right? Some sure I And so how many different kinds of nails Do you know? From spiked to tact of,
let's say 10? Yeah. Okay. Now most people may know, to me one nail on a screw, basically, that's all they know.
Okay. So if if in there, if a character in their dialogue uses the, the carpenters terminology. And even metaphorically, you know, call something a five, many nail, right? The fact that he knows the difference between a temporary nail and pipe and whatever it is, his exposition is it tells us something about the life of this character, by the very word, the names of things that that this character uses in their vocabulary helps us understand the whole life of this character. So if somebody grew up, you know, around boats, and they use nautical terminology, right? And so that they the language inside of the dialogue, all that just the vocabulary alone gives us exposition, it tells us who is this character? What's their life been like? Etc. Okay, then, at the same time, the characters talking about things that are happening, or have happened. And when somebody says, you know, you're not going to leave me again, we are to instantly know, that's it, she's already left them once, at least before
Alex Ferrari 36:46
it says it says volumes with one word.
Robert McKee 36:49
Yeah, there's no word again. But so we have an insight into what their life has been like, in this relationship. And so that's number one is is, is exposition. And number two is action. When people speak, what they say, is an action they take in order to get what they need and want in the moment, but underneath that is what they're really doing. And it's what in the subtext, the action they take in the subtext is what's driving the scene? So when somebody says, Well, I didn't expect that. Right? What they're really doing, perhaps, depending, right, is attacking, criticizing the other person for doing something that's completely inappropriate. What they say is, well, I didn't expect you to say that I didn't expect you to do that. I didn't expect that. But what that is, is a way of attacking another person for inappropriate behavior. And so it's right. And so and so the dialogue is the text by which people carry out actions. But underneath the dialog, is the true action. And it that's based on a common sense, understanding that people do not say out loud and do out what they're really thinking and feeling. They cannot, no matter how they try, if they're when they're, when they're pouring their heart out and confessing to the worst things they've ever done. There's still another layer, where they're actually begging for forgiveness, let's say, right? So by confessing, actually, you're begging for forgiveness or whatever it is. And so dialogue is the outer vehicle for interaction. And, and the great mistaken dialogue is writing the the interaction into the dialogue. stead of having somebody confess, did they beg Please forgive me, please forgive me, forgive me, forgive me. Right. And, and if somebody is actually begging, there's got to be another level of what they're really doing underneath the baking. And, and so you have to, you know, the writer has to think to that by begging. What that dialogue is actually a mask for manipulating that person. Do what you have to do, right. And so, exposition, action. Okay. And then, you know, just beauty. Just Just wonderful dialogue, in character, and all that, but but a way of creating a surface that is that it draws us. Because, you know, we just love to see scenes where characters speak really well. in there. And even though even if we're using just gangster talk, good gangs, your dog, it's right to talk to each other and that kind of rap and that kind of unite. Right? That's, that's a form of beauty. It's wonderful, you know, it's pleasurable, right. The dialogue ultimately ought to be pleasing, and in his sense of kind of verbal spectacle. And so that's just, you know, that just three off the top of my head functions, but there's is there's much more right and I, I like I'm sure like you, we all love. Wonderful, memorable quotable dialogue.
Alex Ferrari 41:24
Yeah, very much like it's so obviously Tarantino and Sorkin and Shane Black and these kind of screenwriters, their dialogue is just, it's poetic in the way that they write something, certainly is, certainly, and the genius of them is they're able to do the first two things you said, within that poetry, as opposed to just poetry for poetry sake,
Robert McKee 41:46
which is, you know, that is that just decorative. They all happens all at once. You know, you're getting exposition, see who these characters are, whatever actions or reactions are driving the scene, and it's a pleasure to listen to.
Alex Ferrari 42:03
Now, one thing I've noticed in years and even in my own writing descriptions, in a screenplay, a lot of screenwriters, when they starting out, they feel like it's a novel. So, they will write a very detailed description about a scene or about something, where from my understanding, over the years, less is more and it becomes more of a of an exercise in Haiku is than it is in the novel writing. Can you kind of talk a little bit about the importance of of compacting your description?
Robert McKee 42:37
Well, it does need to be economical. Of course. On the other hand, it has to be vivid,
Alex Ferrari 42:44
Robert McKee 42:46
And that's, you know, where does that balance strike you that the ambition is to project a film into the readers head. So that when they read their screenplay, they see a motion picture without camera directions without you know smash CUT TO for transitions and, you know, Dolly on and you know, and you know, pull focus, whatever nonsense, you got to use the language and description to create the effect of a motion picture, then you only use ideally, you only use the master shots, it you you only the the the shots, the angles, the setups, camera setups that are absolutely necessary. And no more you do not try to direct the film. And, and instead, you project a motion picture into the readers head. And, and, and so you need to it over, often in overriding and when, in fact, was not only overwritten, but it's not vivid. It's because writers rely on adjectives and adverbs. And what they need is to know the names of things. You know, he, he, he picks up what we're talking about before a big nail. Well, you know, big is an adjective. And so, put an image in the readers head, he picks up a spike. Spike is a vivid image. A he, he walks slowly across the room, will slowly is an adverb. Right? Right. And so you name the action of verb is the name of an action. He pads across the room he ambles, he strolls he saunters. He you know, Waltz's is an active verb without an adjective, adverb, concrete nouns without adjectives. And we see things and we see actions. And it becomes vivid. It reduces the word count. And, and here's here's something a good it's a good note for writers take your screenplay. And, and search the verb is or our urge is an are throughout your descriptions and eliminate every single one of them. know things are nothing is in a screenplay. Everything in a film is alive. And action. So you know, a name the thing. So a line like a big house, there, there is a big house on a hill.
And what's a big house a mansion or a state? a villa? What's a, you know, a hill, a mountain. At add and add and turn it into a villa sits just that verb sits is more active than is a big house sits with a spectacular with this spectacular view. And so easy, a big house up high with a great view. And it's an image and it's active, it sits sprawls across, whatever. And so active verbs concrete nouns, and and make us see a movie. And every writer finds every good writer finds their own personal way to do that. And Paddy Chayefsky wrote elaborate descriptions. Harold Pentre described, nothing, nothing. He would just go interior kitchen dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, describe nothing. And because his attitude was, we all know what a kitchen looks like. And they'll probably play it in the garage anyway. But if they mess if they mess with my beats of action reaction and you know, in dialogue, then they're in trouble. Okay, so every writer has to find their own way to accomplish the task of a vividly projecting emotion picture in the imagination, as you turn pages who make them see a movie.
Alex Ferrari 48:23
Now, your new book is called character. And I wanted to ask you a couple questions in regards to character because, arguably, I always like to ask the question, do you start with plot or you start with character I always say to people, you don't like Indiana Jones, his plots aren't nearly as memorable as Indiana Jones James Bond's plots aren't as memorable as James Bond. Like I don't you throw me the plot of thunder ball. I don't remember. I remember scenes, but I do remember James Bond. And that's what draws me back to his stories. So, can you talk a little bit about the difference between roles and character?
Robert McKee 48:58
Well, a role is a generic term. And so hero is a role villain is a role victim is a role. You know, sidekick is a roll. goon is a roll. shopkeeper his role in the role is as a position in a in a cast. as defined by its relationship to other characters, and or a profession. Like waiter, asked driver. And, and they're generic, they wrote something waiting to be filled by a character. And as a character comes into a story to fulfill a certain role but it's a it's a You know, it's it's a, it's a generic to that to that genre. And so if you have a family, the roles are mother, father, children guide, they're okay, those are roles, characters are our unique human beings, we inhabit those roles. And and there's a design of a cast, such that the protagonist, and the central character at role is the most complex character role. And they are they, they're, depending on the genre, they are the most dimensional character of all. And they are ideally, they, they are the center of good, there's a, there's a positive human quality, not every way certainly, but there's, there's some quality, within the complexity of that character, with which we recognize we empathize, we recognize a shared humanity, the character is then in orbit around that character that protagonists are less dimensional, but they can be dimensional as as well, then you go all the way out to the second third circles, where you have people only playing a role. cashier, restaurant cashier, okay. Now, even when you're writing a scene where your character goes up to the cashier in a restaurant, to pay a bill, and discovers that his credit card is cancelled, right, you have a clerk standing there, at the at the take, who takes the credit card and finds that it's, it's been rejected that clerk character, he be very useful to imagine that role, very specifically, what kind of human being, you know, is she or he, it because it does the, the way in which that clerk that roll says responds to your card is canceled. Your card didn't go through the, the, the way you write the words and gesture for that character gives her a trait. And so roles have traits and, and to make, even that moment, when there's a human being behind that, that trait. And so if she's sarcastic, if she's fed up with with the job itself or with with people whose cards never work, or she's sympathetic because her cards don't work.
Alex Ferrari 53:19
Robert McKee 53:21
so, even in a in a simple role like that, you try to write it with a as a specific trait in the way in which he deals with that moment. And it creates a character for an actor. And so the actor come in there and realize, Oh, this is an antagonistic clerk or this is a sympathetic cleric, or an indifferent or bored or falling asleep, or glancing at her watch constantly, she just wants to get out of here, whatever it is, you give her a trait. And that makes her a character, she sends the GM to life and it gives the actor something to hang their performance on. And so dimensions the protagonists, the most dimensional of all dimensions are contradictions within the nature of the girl. And so you populate that with in my book on character, I look at characters everybody from from Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey has an eight dimensional character, all the way up to Tony Soprano, as a 12 dimensional character Walter White, as a 16 dimensional character. And so and so the complexity of character today given long form television, especially, is at is becoming your astronomical And then you have to give all the, that every one of these dimensions if a character is, is kind and cruel, okay? Sometimes they're crying, sometimes they're cruel. Therefore, you're going to need a cast of characters where the protagonist, when they meet character a, they treat them kindly character B, they treat with, with a slap with cruelty and, and so you need to design a cast around each other characters. So that when, whenever any two characters meet, they bring out sides of their dimensionality or traits of behavior that no one else brings out of them. And so, every single character is designed that whenever they encounter any other character, they bring out each other's qualities in ways that no other character does. And, and when you have a, you know, when you have that kind of cast, where every single character services, every other character, and no redundancies every relationship is unique. every relationship develops a different aspect or a different dimension. Then you have a fascinating group of people that creates a world that the audience can really
Alex Ferrari 56:38
Robert McKee 56:39
dive into now, you know, when characters when and carrot one characters behave toward each other in the same way, no matter who it is. That, you know, that's it's a boring and do it's false. People do not treat other people, different people the same. Everybody behaves in a uniquely subtly but uniquely different way, depending upon the relationship. And it takes a lot of concentration and imagination in the writer to realize that every relationship brings out different sides of the character's nature.
Alex Ferrari 57:21
Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. Robert, what are three screenplays every screenwriter should read? You see? I don't answer that question. Okay. For this reason, I don't want people to copy anybody. Okay, fair enough.
Robert McKee 57:46
And so if I say, you know, if I named my, you know, my favorites, like, say, trying to tell people you know, then run to study Chinatown and emulate it. And that's a mistake. The really important question to ask people is, what's your favorite genre? Because they should be writing the kind of films they love.
Alex Ferrari 58:15
It's a good point, what
Robert McKee 58:16
I love, what are my favorites may have nothing to do with their favorites. And so the first question is, you know, what do you love? What kind of movies do you go to see what kind of things do you read? What do you love? And then seek out those? And the second thing is that if I name favorites, and, and that they, you know, they're in their pieces of perfection. Okay. What does that teach the writer? They got a model of perfection. Great. Okay, that's important, you should understand you should have an ideal, what you're trying to achieve. But one of the ways to achieve it, is to study bad movies. break them down and ask yourself, why is this film so boring? Why can't I believe a word of it? Why does this fail? and break it down and study it? To answer what this What does it lack what went wrong, etc. Okay, and then rewrite it.
Alex Ferrari 59:37
Robert McKee 59:39
rewrite it. fix that broken film. Because that's what you're going to do as a writer. Your first draft is going to suck. And you're going to go in and try to fix your broken script. Try to bring it to life. Try to cut edited shape and rewrite it reinvented, you're going to read it over and over again, right? Having fixed broken films, not just one, but many, many, many take bad movies, studying them and make them make them work is practice for what you're going to have to do with your own screenplay. Because it's not going to work in the beginning, it's going to need a lot of work to work. And so having rewritten bad films to make them work is, is a real learning experience. And so I say, study good films are of your genre, so that you have a an ideal that you achieve, rewrite the bad ones to teach yourself how to fix broken work. And so, and that's a personal choice. I can't say what that should be for those people. For every one of them, loves whatever they love, which may or may not be what I love.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Now, where can people find out more about you? And where can they purchase your new book character? Amazon? It's pretty much it is pretty much it nowadays, isn't it? It's pretty much it nowadays, isn't it? Amazon.
Robert McKee 1:01:17
bookstores, I'm sure are opening up. And if you know if you love bookstores, as I do, you know, you can go to a bookstore and get it. But the most direct way that will be there in your budget for the next morning. It's incredible what they do, what Amazon does, and bash, you know that the other other Barnes and Noble stew or whatever it is, but yeah, it's very simple. You just go to amazon.com. Right? Just write the word McKee. And comes story, dialogue, character, in hardcover, in an audio and in Kindle,
Alex Ferrari 1:02:05
and everything else? And then how can people read it? And how can people learn more about you what you offer?
Robert McKee 1:02:13
Ah, the go to make peace story.com. The key story.com will take you to our website. And we have a upcoming. We've been doing webinars now for a year and a half since the plague hit us. And they've been very successful, very, very pleased with it. And in July, we're doing a series on action. Nice on the action genre. And so these, these are every Tuesday, three Tuesday's in a row. And they're two hour events, hour and a half worth of lecture and a half hour of q&a. Then on Thursday, I I give an additional two hours of q&a.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:01
Robert McKee 1:03:03
And because I realized how important it is for people to get answers to things they're working on. So So Tuesdays and Thursdays for three weeks in a row. And there's you know, four hours of material each week. So and we will we will look at the action genre in depth with lots of illustrations and examples of an adage and I love giving these acts. webinars. And it's a favorite of mine. Actually,
Alex Ferrari 1:03:38
I love a good action movie is it's hard to come by nowadays. So I appreciate it. Robert, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to to my audience and I appreciate all the work that you have done over the years and help so many screenwriters as well. So thank you so much for everything you do.
Robert McKee 1:03:54
It was a lovely chat. Great chat. Nice talking to you.
The response to the podcast was so amazing that after a few short months the show became the #1 filmmaking podcast on Apple Podcasts & Spotify, and still maintain that honor. I’m truly humbled and thankful by the response.
The show is only as good as the indie filmmakers who listen to it. Thank you all for the support. I have put together the Top 15 Indie Filmmaking Podcasts from the IFH archives. This list will be updated every few months so keep checking back.
Today on the show I bring you one of the most influential and iconic writer/directors in the history of cinema, three-time Oscar® winner Oliver Stone. Throughout his legendary career, Stone has served as writer, director, and producer on a variety of films, documentaries, and television movies. His films have been nominated for forty two Oscars® and have won twelve.
It’s been a hell of a year so far. I’ve been blessed to have had the honor of speaking to some amazing filmmakers and man today’s guest is high on that list. On the show we have writer/director Joe Carnahan. Joe directed his first-feature length film Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane. which was screened at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, and won some acclaim.
We are joined by indie film icon and Oscar® nominated writer/director Richard Linklater. Richard was one of the filmmakers who helped to launch the independent film movement that we know today with his classic 1991 indie film Slacker. As a bonus, we will not only dive into the extraordinary career of Richard Linklater but also that of collaborator and longtime friend writer/director Katie Cokinos, the filmmaker behind the film I Dream Too Much.
Today’s guest is a writer, director, producer, actor, and indie filmmaking legend, Edward Burns. Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival-winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity.
His Cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance, and launching his career is the stuff of legend. The Brothers McMullenwas sold to Fox Searchlight and went on to make over $10 million at the box office on a $27,000 budget, making it one of the most successful indie films of the decade.
I’m excited to talk to a fellow low-budget independent filmmaker today.
Granted, he does low-budget films on a completely different level than I or most people do at this point. But if we are going to talk about budget filmmaking, it is only fitting to have expert horror film and television producer, Jason Blumof Blumhouse Productions.
That is a testament to his company’s high-quality production. Blumhouse is known for pioneering a new model of studio filmmaking: producing high-quality micro-budget films and provocative television series. They have produced over 150 movies and television series with theatrical grosses amounting to over $4.8 billion.
We have been on a major roll lately on the podcast and this episode keep that going in a big way. Our guest on the show today is Oscar® Winning writer, producer, and director Edward Zwick. Edward made his big shift from his childhood passion of theater to filmmaking after working as a PA for Woody Allen in France on the set of Love and Death.
John Sayles is one of America’s best known independent filmmakers, receiving critical acclaim for films including Eight Men Out (1988), Lone Star (1996) and Men with Guns (1997). He’s also written screenplays for mainstream films such as Passion Fish (1992), Limbo (1999), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) and did a draft of Jurassic Park (1993) for Steven Spielberg.
Ever since I saw District 9 and learned of all the mythical stories behind the short film becoming a feature, I have been a massive fan of today’s guest, Neill Blomkamp. Though Neill is here today to talk about his new sci-fi horror fiction film, Demonic, we also chatted up about his other films that have been successful over the years.
So many times we hear those mythical stories of a filmmaker who makes a short film and uploads it to Youtube in hopes of a big time film producer sees to and comes down from Mount Hollywood and offers him or her a deal to turn that short into a studio feature. Today’s guest had that happen to him and then some. On the show is writer/director David F. Sandberg.
David’s story is the “lottery ticket” moment I speak about so often on the show. His journey in Hollywood is remarkable, inspiring and scary all at the same time. He created a short film called Lights Out. That short was seen by famed filmmaker and producer James Wan (Furious 7, Aquaman, The Conjuring) who offered to produce a feature film version at New Line Cinema.
I can’t be more excited about the conversation I’m about to share with you. Today on the show we have filmmaker and indie film legend Albert Hughes. Albert, along with his brother Allen began making movies at age 12, but their formal film education began their freshman year of high school when Allen took a TV production class. They soon made the short film The Drive-By and people began to take notice.
After high school Albert began taking classes at LACC Film School: two shorts established the twins’ reputation as innovative filmmakers. Albert and his brother then began directing music videos for a little known rapper named Tupac Shakur.
These videos lead to directing their breakout hit Menace II Society (1993), which made its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and grossed nearly 10 times as much as its $3 million budget.
Sitting down with one of the big names in this business this week was a really cool opportunity. I am honored to have on the show today, Oscar® winning director, producer, and screenwriter, Taylor Hackford.
Taylor’s has directed films like An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), White Nights (1985), Proof of Life (2000), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Against All Odds (1984), Parker (2013), the iconic Ray Charles biopic, Ray of 2004, and The Comedian (2016) just to name a few. He also has served as president of the Directors Guild of America and is married to the incomparable acting legend Helen Mirren.
I’m always looking for success stories in the film business to study and analyze.Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullan) Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Kevin Smith (Clerks), and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) come to mind. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the cult indie film classic The Boondock Saints but many of you might not know the crazy story of its writer and director Troy Duffy.
Well, prepare to get your mind BLOWN. I had an EXCLUSIVE discussion with Troy this week, and let’s say, he did not hold back. Nothing was off-limits – from his instant rise to fame to the brutal fate he met – getting blacklisted, all of it. He wanted to set the record straight because there is always another side to the story, and what better side to hear than that of the man who lived this brutal Hollywood adventure?
I can’t tell you how excited I am for today’s episode. I had the pleasure to speak to the legendary director Barry Sonnenfeld. We discuss his idiosyncratic upbringing in New York City, his breaking into film as a cinematographer with the Coen brothers, and his unexpected career as the director behind such huge film franchises as The Addams Family and Men in Black, and beloved work like Get Shorty, Pushing Daises, and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
We also chat about the time he shot nine porno films in nine days. That story alone is worth the price of admission.
I can’t be more excited to bring you this episode. On today’s show, we have the legendary writer/director Alex Proyas, the filmmaker behind The Crow, Dark City, The Knowing, Gods of Egypt, and I, Robot.
Alex Proyas had a huge influence on my filmmaking life. The Crow was one of those films I watch a thousand times, in the theater, when I was in film school. He began his filmmaking career working in music videos with the likes of Sting, INXS, and Fleetwood Mac before getting the opportunity to direct The Crow.
Sean Baker is a writer, director, producer and editor who has made seven independent feature films over the course of the past two decades. His most recent film was the award-winning The Florida Project (2017) which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and was released by A24 in the U.S. Among the many accolades the film received — including an Oscar nomination for Willem Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor — Sean was named Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle.
His previous film Tangerine (2015) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won an Independent Spirit and two Gotham Awards. Starlet (2012) was the winner of the Robert Altman Independent Spirit Award and his previous two features, Take Out (2004) and Prince of Broadway (2008), were both nominated for the John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award.
This week, I sat down with one of the most legendary and successful screenwriters/producers in Hollywood, Oscar® Winner Eric Roth. Over a 50+ years career, he’s well-known for writing or producing films like Forrest Gump, A Star is Born, Mank, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Munich, Ali, and the list goes on.
The legacy of the crime drama television series, The Sopranos remains a defining art of storytelling for mob TV shows. We have the genius behind this hit TV series, David Chase as our guest today.
As expected, Chase is a twenty-five-time Emmy Awards-winner, seven times Golden Globes winner, and highly acclaimed producer, writer, and director. His forty-year career in Hollywood has contributed immensely to the experience of quality TV.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of Chase, let’s do a brief of the HBO 1999 hit show, The Sopranos: Produced by HBO, Chase Films, and Brad Grey Television, the story ran for six seasons, revolving around Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster, portraying the difficulties that he faces as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization.
There are performers that impact your life without you even knowing it and today’s guest fits that bill. On the show, we have comedic genius, multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer, director, and television host, Billy Crystal. We’ve seen Billy’s versatile work across all areas in the entertainment world, stand-up, improv, Broadway, behind and in front of the camera, feature films, television, live stages like SNL, and animated movies.
It’s often said that the 1960s came to an end, not on New Year’s Eve 1969, but several months earlier, on August 9th— the night that film actress Sharon Tate and her houseguests were murdered in her home in the Hollywood Hills. The shocking event signified a collective innocence not so much lost as it was slaughtered— the progressive ideals that embodied the decade having met a grisly, untimely end at the hands of a magnetic cult leader named Charles Manson and his acolytes.
With this singular act, followed the next night by the murder of a upper middle-class couple a few miles east, the hippie mantra of “peace & love” had been twisted and perverted to the whims of a persuasive psychopath who wished to ignite a vicious race war he dubbed “Helter Skelter”. Especially for those living in Los Angeles during the time, the murders became a shared cultural flashpoint akin to the JFK assassination— the world had changed almost instantaneously, and nothing would ever be the same. The dream was dead.
Somewhere beneath the layer of collective anxiety and fear that blanketed the southland’s suburban sprawl, a six-year old Quentin Tarantino was just beginning to discover his insatiable love for cinema. Even in a neighborhood as far removed from Hollywood as Long Beach, the glamorous atmosphere of LA’s movie industry was palpable enough that Tarantino could soak it into the fabric of his very being, where it would marinate over the next fifty years while he embarked on a film career of his own. The idea to make a film about this period, however, would not arrive for quite some time: it was around the time of KILL BILL’s production when Tarantino found himself struck by the fascinating dynamic between an actor and an accompanying stunt double whose continued employment was very much tied to the actor’s success (4). When he married this to the memories of his formative years, he realized he had the seeds of an idea that he could enthusiastically commit years of his artistic energies to; an idea that he would come to call ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD.
The form this story would take, however, was initially uncertain. Tarantino initially envisioned it as a novel, but as the years stretched on, he found he couldn’t deny its potential as a screenplay, and subsequently, a motion picture (5). That he would be able to make the film at all was a foregone conclusion — this is Quentin Tarantino we’re talking about here — but he did face an immediate wrinkle in regards to his producing partner. His longtime home, The Weinstein Company, was in flames, embroiled in a massive scandal involving producer Harvey Weinstein’s long and terrible history of extreme sexual, mental, and physical abuse.
Associated for decades with awards circuit domination and a tempestuousness that had heretofore been tolerated as the cost of doing business, the Weinstein brand had become radioactive overnight, subsequently kickstarting a cultural reckoning that would topple many other famous and influential figures. Tarantino cut ties with the Weinsteins immediately, his back catalog now tarnished somewhat by his association with them. As he navigated these turbulent waters, Tarantino knew he had to be more protective of his work than usual. He was well aware of the cultural and economic value of his name, but even that couldn’t be relied upon in a rapidly changing & globalizing industry that had become addicted to compound franchises and connected cinematic universes of superheroes.
Indeed, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD is a film that simply would not be made today by any major studio specializing in theatrical releases— that is, if not for Tarantino’s name on the marquee. Tarantino “The Brand” was far more valuable than any individual work, so he knew he had to capitalize on it while he still could. The news of Tarantino’s free agency sparked a bidding war, and the outcome would depend on whoever could meet a set of demands that, frankly, no one else outside of maybe Steven Spielberg could ask for in this climate: a $95 million production budget, final cut, so-called “extraordinary creative controls”, 25% of the first-dollar gross, and his regaining of the film’s rights after a period of ten to twenty years (8). Sony would eventually emerge as the winner, subsequently setting up the project under its heritage Columbia Pictures banner.
Even then, Sony would need to co-produce with entities in the UK and China— a sign of the increasing globalization of film financing, whereby the profit potential of international markets compels other countries to share in the risk. If producing a Tarantino picture could be called a gamble (which, let’s face it, is a stretch), then Sony’s gamble paid off handsomely. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD stands as another contemporary (and profitable) classic in Columbia’s venerated library— and another sparkling jewel in the crown of a director who continues to prove that there is still more life yet in original, character-driven stories for adults.
Produced by David Heyman and Shannon McIntosh, in addition to Tarantino himself, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD was shot in Los Angeles from June to November of 2018 (6); a rather shocking feat considering studio filmmaking’s mass exodus to venues like Toronto or Atlanta in pursuit of generous tax credits to balance their runaway budgets. Furthermore, production was able to faithfully recreate the LA of 1969 with minimal CGI (7), going so far as to transform an entire section of Hollywood Boulevard — multiple city blocks — into a veritable time capsule of the era that required the cooperation of countless businesses and government entities.
Such a sprawling production scope encompasses the scale of Tarantino’s story, which primarily concerns the relationship between struggling television star Rick Dalton and his longtime stuntman, Cliff Booth, all while the go-go optimism of the 60’s curdles into something altogether more cynical and sinister. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, two of the biggest movie stars in the world as well as prior Tarantino collaborators, headline the film as Dalton and Booth, respectively; each taking home a $10 million payday for their trouble (which actually was a pay cut for DiCaprio (9)). Both men prove their value by delivering career-best, endlessly watchable performances. An amalgamation of figures like Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds, DiCaprio’s Dalton is a successful actor by any conceivable metric — a fancy car, a big house in the Hollywood hills, and his own television show — but has grown bitter and paranoid over his inability to break free of his TV cowboy typecasting and become a superstar of the big screen. Further compounding his insecurities are a slight stutter that pops up in moments of extreme anxiety and, apparently, undiagnosed bipolar disorder (10). Booth is Dalton’s best friend and creative partner, a stuntman by trade who has only grown more laidback and carefree with age.
He seems to have no insecurities at all, utterly at peace with his station in life— a middle-aged bachelor sharing a junky trailer behind a Van Nuys drive-in with his beloved pit bull. His cheery disposition, however, hides a darker side— rumors persist that he might be directly responsible for his wife’s premature death, but until it can be proven, he is determined to enjoy the benefit of the doubt. Even if he didn’t do it, events ultimately transpire that show he is quite capable of the deed. However, his display of these hidden “talents” is carried out in the name of self-defense and under the heavy influence of illicit narcotics. Although not quite a redemption arc, Tarantino nevertheless presents this climactic development as a comparative good: the snuffing out of darker forces intent on destroying something as beautiful and fragile as the dreams of a generation.
Nowhere are those dreams more embodied than in the guise of the ill-fated actress Sharon Tate, resurrected through Margot Robbie in an elegantly ethereal performance. The real-life figure of Tate has ballooned into something of a cultural myth, known far better for her grisly end than her life’s work. Robbie’s performance endeavors to take back her narrative somewhat, imbuing the character with a poignant idealism. She’s living the California Dream— married to a world-famous director in Roman Polanski (played here by literal doppelgänger, Rafael Zawierucha), her own career in the movies poised on the verge of lift-off. In the context of Tarantino’s love letter to Hollywood, his Tate is an avatar for the magic of the movies, as well as a bittersweet vision of what could have been.
Even though she lives right next door to Dalton on Cielo Drive, she operates in a totally different social strata, enjoying flashy movie premieres and partying with celebrities at the Playboy mansion while he labors through the sweaty production of western TV serials. Tarantino’s at-times meandering plot ultimately builds to the inevitable moment that these two worlds collide, but the manner in which it happens is surprisingly sweet, giving Tate the Hollywood happy ending she never got in real life. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that Tate’s inclusion would draw criticism— indeed, a key part of Tarantino’s appeal lies in his career-long flirtations with what one could call questionable taste. Never one to shy away from controversy, Tarantino was quick to reject some critics’ arguments that his rendition of Tate was inherently sexist on the basis that she has only a few lines throughout the film’s nearly three-hour runtime.
Their trivial line counting betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of character, if not a takedown made entirely in bad faith. It also diminishes Robbie’s performance, which doesn’t necessarily need words to convey the complex interiority of the character. Indeed, it’s the deliberate lack of characterization that gives Robbie’s Tate her humanity, allowing us to fill in the missing pieces with our own humanity in a bid to capture her spirit— and what we lost collectively as a culture with her passing.
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These three figureheads anchor a huge ensemble of supporting players, enough to populate a small town. As the story splits off to follow the exploits of Dalton, Booth, and Tate individually, each character essentially gets an entire movie’s worth of supporting characters to interact with. Dalton’s social circle primarily concerns his western co-stars. Tarantino mainstay Michael Madsen makes a brief appearance early in the film as Sheriff Hackett, a character on BOUNTY LAW, whereas his hippie-appropriating villainous turn on LANCER — itself predicting the same appropriation Charles Manson would use to attract followers to his murderous cause — makes memorable (if brief) use of Scott McNairy and Luke Perry, the latter of whom would receive the film’s dedication following his untimely passing from a sudden stroke in 2019.
Timothy Olyphant leverages his smarmy handsomeness as James Stacy, the hero of LANCER and a friendly rival competing for the same roles, his own career ascendancy highlighting the sharp downward slope of Dalton’s. Julia Butters outright steals the show as precocious child star Trudi Fraser, a pint-sized acolyte of the Stanislavski method and a harbinger of the sweeping sea change in acting style set to overtake the industry in the early 70’s that would leave old-school performers like Dalton in the dust. Then there’s Al Pacino, who slips so effortlessly into Tarantino’s cinematic universe it’s a wonder it took him this long to get involved in the first place. He delivers a delightful performance as Marvin Schwarz, a Hollywood producer of the oldest school. Rarely seen without his coke bottle glasses and a fat cigar in his hand, Schwarz has taken a special interest in Dalton’s career; he’s hellbent on recharging Dalton’s fading star with an unconventional plan that involves starring in Italian westerns. Pacino brings the same intensity he’s always brought to his performances, only this time the character allows him to display the soft edges of grandfatherly charisma.
Like Dalton, Booth’s journey involves a wide range of colorful characters— only with much more dangerous capabilities. His roadside flirtations with Margaret Qualley’s Pussycat, a cheery hippy girl and frequent hitchhiker, unwittingly leads him to the maggot-infested snake pit that is Charles Manson’s Spahn Ranch commune. The dusty, forgotten movie ranch has been commandeered by Manson’s family members and turned into an isolated community where their supposedly “utopian” ambitions can be put into practice.
Manson himself is something of a non-presence, played by Damon Herriman in only a brief visit to Tate’s house on Cielo Drive during broad daylight— a development only we the audience realize as a harbinger of imminent doom. Herriman, who has effectively been typecast as Manson seeing as he plays the same character in Netflix’s MINDHUNTER series, leans into Tarantino’s rendition of the real-life figure with a searing creepiness that leaks out from behind a crooked grin. Manson’s relative absence nonetheless looms large over the proceedings, given its sinister weight through the actions of acolytes like Qualley’s Pussycat, Dakota Fanning’s Squeaky Fromme, or even Lena Dunham’s Gypsy. Together, Dunham and Fanning embody the two-faced nature of Manson’s cult mentality, Dunham as the soft-spoken “earth mother” who welcomes new faces with open arms, and Fanning as the protective Squeaky who wields a bitter malice in order to maintain her fragile position.
Squeaky in particular is tasked with the important mission of keeping Spahn Ranch’s eponymous owner happy and oblivious to the cult’s complete takeover of his property. Bruce Dern, who previously appeared in Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT, plays the blind, bedridden George Spahn with an impotent irritability that shows how easily he can and has been taken advantage of. Without Spahn’s cranky complicity, there is arguably no soil for Manson’s hateful ideology to take root.
Booth’s career as a stuntman is also illuminated through the famous and not-so-famous faces he comes into contact with on set. One of the film’s more memorable sequences finds Booth getting into a scrap with none other than Bruce Lee— played by a conflicted Mike Moh as a pompous prima donna. Like Robbie’s performance, some critics and audiences would find fault with this depiction of Lee, blasting it as racist caricature. This aspect even led to the cancellation of the film’s premiere in China (11).
While Tarantino’s portrait most definitely doesn’t cast Lee in a reverential light, it does give a degree of volume or complexity to a figure otherwise reduced to a two-dimensional “cut down in his prime” narrative by Hollywood mythmaking (while alluding to the outsized ego recounted by some of his collaborators). This sequence also coincides with memorable performances by Tarantino regulars Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell, both belonging to the same stunt world as Booth— and a reflection of the success Booth himself might have attained had he not hitched his wagon so intensely to Dalton’s. As Janet Miller, Bell leverages her own outsized persona so as to give her vocal disapproval of Booth a comic edge. As her husband and stunt coordinator Randy Miller, Russell shows us the flip side to the psychopathic Stuntman Mike character he played in Tarantino’s DEATH PROOF, regarding Booth somewhat more diplomatically out of professional obligation while nevertheless sharing in his wife’s disdain. Russell’s participation gets even more mileage by serving as an omniscient narrator in select scenes.
Of the rest of ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD’s huge ensemble, Emile Hirsch, Maya Hawke and Damien Lewis stand out. Hirsch, once groomed as a leading man in his own right, seems to settle quite naturally into character work as Jay Sebring, a music industry player and Tate’s ex-fiance & now-best friend (it’s complicated). In real life, Sebring would also meet his untimely end on that fateful August night on Cielo Drive, but Hirsch’s easygoing performance as this alternate-history version of the man works similarly to Tate’s, in that he brings out and preserves the humanity that’s otherwise been reduced by his victimhood to Manson.
Damien Lewis makes a memorable, if brief, appearance as acting legend Steve McQueen, painted by Tarantino as a would-be rival for Tate’s affections who never really had a shot to begin with. Maya Hawke, daughter of acclaimed actor Ethan Hawke, plays Flowerchild, the rare Manson acolyte with a conscience. 2019 proved a breakout year for the emerging actress, who also made waves with a starring turn in Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS series, and her performance here solidifies the notion that her career is built on natural talent, not nepotism.
Though her scene is brief, she brings an unexpected levity to an otherwise dark, pivotal moment where Manson’s flunkies decide to leave their car and commit murder. Her last-minute abandonment of the group— taking their sole means of transport along with her — is emblematic of Tarantino’s pitch-black sense of humor, but it’s also based on a real-life episode that actually happened on the second night of the Manson murders.
The remaining cast is far too sizable to go into further detail, but only in Tarantino’s career is the prospect of what might have been as intriguing as the actual final product. Deleted scenes would have seen reprisals from prior Tarantino players like Tim Roth and James Remar as Sebring’s butler and a western character named Ugly Owl Hoot, respectively.
A brief appearance by James Marsden as a young Burt Reynolds in a deleted Red Apple commercial also provides a glimpse of what might have been. Speaking of Reynolds, the late actor himself would have appeared in the film as George Spahn, but as fate would have it, his final performance would be at the initial table read (12). Early development reports would also suggest a much different thrust to Tarantino’s story, detailing the negotiations of Tarantino regular Samuel L Jackson for a major role and a reconfigured plot where the Tate murders were actually carried out as they were in real life. In this version, Tarantino intended Pitt to play a detective investigating the killings, and the role of Cliff Booth would have been played by Tom Cruise (13). Pitt, however, didn’t particularly respond to this iteration of the story, leading to the story recalibration that ultimately went before cameras.
ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD easily counts among Tarantino’s most stunning work from a visual standpoint, suffused with a high degree of stylistic flourish while never imposing itself on the narrative. Tarantino’s fifth collaboration with cinematographer Robert Richardson yields its biggest return yet: an impeccably-lensed feast of composition and color, all of it bathed in the golden glow of Los Angeles sunshine.
Though the story unfolds in the present tense, Tarantino and Richardson immerse their visuals in a warm bath of nostalgia— as if the camera itself were looking back fondly on its heyday. Indeed, a special sort of energy courses through the film, evidenced most potently in frequent driving sequences that Tarantino lets run for extended periods of time. There are moments when, driving around LA on a warm sunny day, unencumbered by traffic, that you become acutely aware that your heyday is here and now. It’s the feeling of being alive and in your prime, and it’s easy to believe this feeling will stay with you forever— your youth, your virility, your association with other young and beautiful people, your “coolness”. The film’s long driving sequences show that Tarantino understands this notion— that it’s nothing less than the foundation of the Hollywood Dream; a fragile and delicate thing that can quickly curdle into a nightmare if one dreams too much.
Tarantino’s love letter to cinema asserts its passion through a dizzying mix of formats, genres, aspect ratios and techniques— nearly all of which are achieved through technical in-camera means rather than with digital emulations. He and Richardson shoot the primary storyline on Super 35mm film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. They roll a combination of Kodak 200T and 500T film through Arriflex 435 and Panavision Millennium XL2 cameras, ably replicating the premium cinematic look of the Hollywood films they pay so much homage to while taking advantage of recent developments in film stock’s low-light sensitivity.
This means a lot more of Tarantino’s vision can be captured with natural light, leading to the voluminous golden glow that envelopes the story— further complemented by the use of vintage Cooke, Angenieux, Panavision Primo and ultra-speed “golden” lenses. The filmmakers also shoot in the lower-gauge 16mm format in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio for television sequences like BOUNTY LAW or FBI, the former shot on Kodak’s Eastman Double X black-and-white stock and the latter on their Ektachrome 100D offering. These sequences adopt the stylistic vernacular of their era, limiting themselves to the techniques and tools available to crews of that time. That they feel so effortlessly authentic is a testament to Tarantino’s self-immersion in the long and varied history of the motion picture.
Though a ton of energy is expended on simulating these styles, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD sees Tarantino working at the zenith of his aesthetic. His gleeful embrace of dynamic camera work enjoys the benefits of his lavish budget, leaning into the decadent excess of its 60’s setting with a delirious mix of lens flares, whip pans, jump cuts, soaring crane moves, creeping zooms, slow-motion moments, and punchy detail inserts. The crane shots in particular distinguish this film from the rest of Tarantino’s filmography, showing off the sheer scale of his world while suggesting a kind of swooping omniscience — or fateful inevitability— as it tracks his characters through the landscape.
At the same time, the personal sophistication that comes with age evidences itself in Tarantino’s restraint; exaggerated though it may be at times, Tarantino’s aesthetic is clearly calibrated towards the demands of his story rather than the self-aggrandizing motivations of a younger artist. For instance, several scenes unfold with only one static setup; we don’t notice the extended duration because Tarantino converts kinetic momentum into conversational energy via his gift for endlessly captivating dialogue.
Production designer Barbara Ling complements the quiet elegance of Richardson’s cinematography by comprehensively replicating the story’s “summer of ‘69” setting, while avoiding the typical signifiers and visual cliches of the era. A lot has been written about the attention she and her team paid to detail, faithfully recreating their locations exactly as they were at the time. Tarantino’s name recognition — and the logistical doors it opens — gives Ling license to transform several city blocks at a time; and not just the aforementioned sequences on Hollywood Boulevard.
The production’s large-scale recreations extend to other iconic LA locales like Westwood Village, or long stretches of Wiltshire Boulevard. That said, some aspects of 60’s Hollywood have been completely lost to the ravages of time, requiring a little more craft in the way of their resurrection. Keeping in line with Tarantino’s “no CGI” mandate, detailed miniatures allow production to bring back lost-lost locales like the Van Nuys drive-in. Naturally, CGI couldn’t be totally avoided— DiCaprio had to be digitally inserted into a scene from THE GREAT ESCAPE for a gag, but even then the effect is done so as to achieve the look of something captured in-camera.
Returning editor Fred Raskin further sells the illusion in creating a temporal and narrative continuity between setups. His work is nothing less than magical, erasing the seams of the film’s making while eliciting a genuine emotional response. Indeed, one of the film’s most sublime, memorable moments can be attributed to Raskin’s unique ability to create meaning between disparate setups. A short, wordless sequence heralding the arrival of August 9th, 1969 finds several Hollywood landmarks firing up their signs and lights as dusk settles over the landscape and Mick Jagger croons over the soundtrack. Raskin strikes a perfectly-calibrated poignance that rests at the convergence between the story’s two competing tones: wistful nostalgia for a bygone era and the dread of inevitable calamity that we know is coming but can do nothing about. It is the last, gleaming moment of the 1960’s just before it all comes crashing down.
After working with Ennio Morricone on the score to THE HATEFUL EIGHT, Tarantino once again foregoes original music in favor of the eclectic jukebox approach that has been a defining characteristic of his career. The story’s period setting allows him to indulge in the tunes of his youth, constantly beaming out across the sprawl via LA’s radio station KHJ— notably not the fictional KBilly that pops up throughout the Tarantino universe in previous films, but the actual station Tarantino listened to himself back in the day. The film’s ample budget allows for high-profile needle drops from the era like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”, Deep Purple’s “Hush”, and The Rolling Stones’ “Out Of Time”, while Tarantino’s own stack of deep cuts enables him to drag out several gems from obscurity.
Of all these, José Feliciano’s laidback acoustic cover of “California Dreaming” proves an unexpected grace note, perfectly complementing Tarantino’s wistful nostalgia with its elegiac tribute to a beautiful dream that may have already passed by. In his hands, KHJ becomes something like an omniscient period narrator, constantly playing in the background across the disparate story threads and uniting his characters in a shared existence.
As Tarantino nears the end of his oft-promised ten-film filmography — indeed, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD very well may be his penultimate film — the stakes couldn’t be higher for a filmmaker with as sustained a track record for excellence. The film often feels like nothing less than the Ultimate Tarantino Film, crammed to the gills with his artistic signatures and stylistic flourishes. It’s no coincidence that the color yellow, a kind of chromatic motif throughout his work, is so dominant throughout ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD.
Countless accent details bear a bold saffron hue, from his signature title cards, to a television director’s turtleneck (sweater) or even Tate’s outfit at the Playboy Mansion party. Other surface trademarks repeatedly stamp Tarantino’s name all over the material, like his supernatural gift for creatively profane dialogue, indulgent shots of women’s bare feet, the iconography of the Western genre, and a general bloodthirstiness that manifests in gnarly explosions of violence. That said, save for the film’s climax and a short scrap between Booth and a Manson acolyte at Spahn Ranch, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is Tarantino’s least violent film by a mile.
His careelong homage to cinema and self-referential fascination with pop culture (and his own place within it) reach their zenith here, with a celebration of Hollywood as a mecca of culture, the pulsing center of the universe. The presence of certain character archetypes and fictional brands like Red Apple cigarettes connect Tarantino’s latest efforts to his previous work, further expanding the cinematic universe he’s spent his entire career building.
Tarantino being… well, Tarantino… he can’t help but pepper the film with winking references to his position as the creator of this universe, itself a sizable pop culture phenomenon. If Dalton’s cream-colored ride looks familiar, that’s because it should: it’s the hero car from RESERVOIR DOGS (3), now owned by Michael Madsen. There’s also a beat that acknowledges Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema, whereby the characters notice a premiere at the sleazy “adult theater” down the road, in effect mapping out its location relative to the infamous El Coyote restaurant where Tate had her unwitting last supper.
The film stands alone within Tarantino’s filmography, however, in its unconscious acknowledgment of a core — if little-discussed— aspect of his legacy: his commitment to the perpetuation of photochemical film. Joining fellow filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Tarantino has used his influence to ensure the continued availability of celluloid in an industry that’s been completely overtaken by digital formats. With the exception of generational cohort Paul Thomas Anderson and the battle between film and video seen in 1997’s BOOGIE NIGHTS, Tarantino stands apart in his treatment of the format as dramatic subject matter itself. One needs only look at the sequence where Tate spends an afternoon at one of her own movies to see the reverence and awe he clearly holds for the communal experience of cinema; of watching real film unspool through the projector.
Just as his characterization of Sharon Tate is meant to show us what we collectively lost as a culture with her death, so too does ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD try to convey what we stand to lose in our spurning of the theatrical experience for the comforts and convenience of streaming at home. The sharing of laughter or tears with a bunch of strangers in the dark is a sacred experience not dissimilar from churchgoing; it fosters empathy, and stitches us ever deeper into the fabric of community. The spectre of moviegoing’s complete obliteration has hung over the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic— the recent announcement of the closure of LA’s beloved Arclight theater chain is a particularly sobering blow— and while it’s still too soon to see if the media’s breathless proclamations of cinema’s total demise will pan out, Tarantino’s film is nonetheless an urgent reminder to preserve this beautiful dream before it’s gone forever.
Tarantino is no stranger to success— indeed, he’s had one of the most remarkable runs in the entire art form. The success of ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD, as assured as it may have been, nevertheless represents a new height in his career. After premiering at Cannes with a seven minute standing ovation (1) and a nomination for the prestigious Palm d’Or, the film would go on to gross $374 million in international box office receipts. Though his prior films were fairly polarizing among critics, Tarantino’s latest effort met with positive reviews across the board.
Ten Oscar nominations would follow, honoring the film’s achievements in sound editing, sound mixing, costume design, cinematography, direction and production, among others. DiCaprio and Pitt were also nominated for their performances, with Pitt ultimately taking home the gold statue for the Support Actor category. Though it may not qualify as a full-stop phenomenon like PULP FICTION or even RESERVOIR DOGS, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD nevertheless poses several opportunities for its continued presence in pop culture. Tarantino will be releasing his own novelization, and is reportedly working on an extended 4-hour cut for Netflix (14). If that wasn’t enough, he’s also developing a BOUNTY LAW television series, for which he plans to direct every episode. Where he gets the time or energy to do all of this, this author has no idea.
ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD is a bookend to INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, in that it neatly concludes a run of revisionist historical pictures that seek a kind of lopsided justice for the industrialized world’s racial inhumanities. Tarantino’s “alternate history” period, if it can be called that, and which may or may not be over depending on the as-of-yet-undetermined subject matter of his next film, employs exaggerated violence to cathartic ends. The victories may not be moral, but they are most definitely personal.
Though ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD similarly ends in a carnival of bloodshed, Tarantino’s underlying motives for said revisionism finally becomes clear. If anything, these films are about choice— things may seem destined or inevitable when viewed through the rearview of history, but nothing is pre-ordained. As ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD unfolds, the wistfulness we feel about Tarantino’s ode to Old Hollywood is tempered by a mounting dread; the knowledge that the fateful night of August 9th is drawing close. That a simple, almost thoughtless, intervention from Dalton redirects the Manson cult’s murderous attentions is nothing less than a seismic historical shift that would reframe the entire remainder of the 20th century.
The cult’s humiliating, cartoonishly-absurd demise at the hands of a party much better prepared to defend themselves than Tate is itself a kind of revenge. Where INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and DJANGO UNCHAINED saw Tarantino create revenge fantasies for the benefit of people other than himself, this alternate take on the Manson murders is his own personal revenge: revenge for killing the dream of the 1960’s, for killing the Hollywood he loved so much. In the process, however, Tarantino uncovers a much more poignant truth— one that better speaks to the unconditional love of cinema that has fueled his career. More so than Charles Manson, or the free love generation, ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD is about the magic of the movies.
Through cinema, we can create new realities that fix the broken aspects of our own; the dead can be resurrected, horrible fates can be averted, dreams can live on. Perhaps even he didn’t realize it until now, but Tarantino knows this better than anyone. It is why his figure continues to loom so large over the industry, and why he has become such a singularly successful force; his passion for the art form is infectious, sure, but it’s also restorative. As long as Tarantino’s work endures, the dream of a new golden age of cinema will always lie on the horizon— its contours ringed by the bright, promising glare of the California sun.
Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos. His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and Indiewire.
THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors.
Now, I was scanning the web the other day, and I came across a book about the making of Quentin Tarantino‘s first feature film. Quite fascinated that someone took the time to dig into the unreleased, My Best Friend’s Birthday, which I’ve spoken about a bit on my podcast and also written a couple of articles about the film. So, as per usual, I invited the author, Andy Rausch to the show to talk a bit more about his book.
Before this interview, I did not know that Andy has spent years interviewing other prominent industry names and has authored over forty non-fiction on specific works of established entertainment contributors.
Writing forty books is no small feat.
Some of Rausch’s publications include Turning Points in Film History (2004), The Films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (2010), Making Movies with Orson Welles, a Gary Graver memoir, and Fifty Filmmakers: Conversations with Directors from Roger Avary to Steven Zaillian (2008).
But today, l would like to get into the weeds on Rausch’s 2019, My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film book, whichis the story of a group of friends who set out to make their own movie in 1983, financing it with Tarantino’s minimum-wage earnings from his job at a video store. In most biographies and Tarantino histories, this unfinished $5,000 film is mentioned only in passing and is looked upon as little more than a curiosity. But with this oral history, author/editor Andrew J. Rausch details how each of the friends came together, other early film projects they worked on, and how they ended up making (or trying to make) a black-and-white screwball comedy.
Check out the show notes below for links to some of Andy’s other books, all available on Amazon.
Alex Ferrari 0:12
I'd like to welcome to the show Andy Rausch man, how you doing, Andy?
Andy Rausch 0:15
Hey, how's it going, man?
Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm good, man. I'm good. Thank you so much for your patience. On forgetting it's getting us together. It's been. It's been a minute, but we're here now. It's been a it's been a little while, but Oh, good things, you know, all good things come to, for those who waits to get this thing together. So we're on here. Now I was scanning the the the World Wide Web the other day. And I came across your book about the making of Quentin Tarantino's first, quote unquote, feature. And I was fascinated that someone took the time to dig into the unreleased film, my best friend's birthday, which I've spoken about a bit on the on the show and also written a couple articles about it. And done in just in there's there's some of it available online to people to watch and stuff. But I really love to get into the into the weeds on it. So for those who don't know, where Quintin got his start, can you kind of talk a little bit about his origins and getting into into this project?
Andy Rausch 1:25
Okay, well, one of the things that the book focuses on in some of the the even earlier projects that Clinton had worked on my best friend's birthday was the first one that he directed, but he'd helped out and on some other films, it was basically the, essentially the same crew that worked on those. And so really, it evolved. So he worked on these are no budget movies, shot in people's backyards on you know, basically on video, and and these were in the early 80s. And, like, there's one where, you know, Quinn's the bad guy, and everybody talks about it, but there's no, you know, they were like, He's great. But you know, there's no, there's no footage left of it. And, you know, that was, I believe, directed by alcohol, which is a member of that group that everybody talks about outs passed on now. But um, you know, and I think that was kind of a mix of, I'm trying to remember. It was kind of like assault on precinct 13. Meat, something else I can't even remember. But then like Quinn, and I think Craig Hammond who co wrote my best friend's birthday, were the bad guys, if I remember correctly in that movie, and they don't exist anymore.
Alex Ferrari 2:37
they don't exist anymore. And they don't, none of those footage exists anymore.
Andy Rausch 2:41
No, not as far as I know. And he worked on some other stuff here in there. So he ends up getting them Well, not really even getting the money, he ends up getting the desire to make his own movie. So he talks to his friend Craig Hammon, they come up with this idea. So they're going to make a movie, they have no money, Quentin works a minimum wage job, as everybody knows that video archives. They have no money, but they have this, this desire. So Craig writes a script at the time for my best friend's birthday, which is a very, very short script at the time. And it's a screwball comedy, which that's one of the things I find interesting here is that not only could I with this book, shark, the evolution of Quentin, as a filmmaker, as a writer, as you know, a creative, but also, it's interesting, because we as we think of him as Mr. Gun, you know, he talked about that one time, everybody thinks of me, as Mr. Gun, he does crime, or he does Western something where, you know, people are going to get shot and all that good stuff. And, but this was a screwball comedy. So then, and so Craig writes a script, when it comes in and expands it, somewhat, rewrites it, but then they go out and they shoot and they have to shoot piece by piece by piece. They're out stealing shots, because they can't afford, you know, locations that can and well, and what's funny, I'm skipping around, but on the film that they shot before that Warzone. There was a time when they were there that's detailed in the story in the book and is very funny, where they were stealing shots. And so they all have these guns, and they're, you know, supposed to be tough guys, and there's a motorcycle and the cops show up and, and aim their guns at everybody and make them lay down on the ground. And what's really funny, and this is the great part about an oral history, where it's all told in the dialogue, is it some of the people are like, you know, I Clinton's like, we weren't scared at all. And if someone else is like, we were all crying and you know, and it's just it's completely different. These different takes on in an oral history is great, because it gives you this Rashomon kind of story where you have all these different perspectives which which are different generally, even if it's something that just happen But when you you take a story that happened in the 1980s, and you tell it, you know, you're gonna get different versions of that. So anyway, they're making my best friend's birthday on Quinn's minimum wage salary. on film. on film. There's right on film. Yes, they're shooting this one on film. And so they're just shooting it little by little over time. I guess a lot of the scenes, they end up improvising or they take a nugget of what was in the script. And they, they come up with something new. So at the time, Clinton's acting teacher was Alan Garfield, who's in a lot of great films like the stunt man, and, you know, things like Beverly Hills Cop to all kinds of stuff. And so he gets Alan Garfield to do a scene. He gets Brenda Hillhouse, who is one of his acting teachers from his first acting school to come and do this scene with Alan Garfield, and Brenda and people will remember from from dusk till dawn, she's the one that they kidnap. And Richie kind of gets a little creepy with her. And you know, when George Clooney Seth comes back, there's blood everywhere. And that's what's left. Oh, yeah. Also in his er episode, and she's the mother of little bush, in the famous Christopher Walken. I had a watch in my ass thing. Yeah. And so anyway, he gets these, this is a one of the most telling representative scenes of how they had to shoot with no budget. So they needed for this scene, there's a bakery, but they they don't have a bakery. So they shoot it in video archives when nobody's around. So then it becomes a video store slash bakery. Which No, that doesn't make any sense. But it's funny, because you know, and I've worked on micro films, I've worked on some some shitty promo movies. And, you know, this is a thing you have to you know, adapt, improvise, make these things work. And not only that, but
they made Allen Garfield's character named Bill Smith, after William Smith, the great actor, who was one of when he was sitting on one of our movies, but he was one acquaintance favorite actors. So it becomes a Bill Smith video store slash bakery. And you don't they do this scene and again, kind of representative. So Alan Garfield brings his dog he's an acquaintance quote that he tells me for the book was, he's one of those guys. He's one of those bring your puppy around, you know, those guys. And, and Clinton says it very respectfully because he loved Alan Garfield, but the dog gets into the case and eats the cake. While they're they're doing the dialogue scene, then when they need the cake, the cakes eaten by the dog. And I mean, it's just a kind of a comedy of errors.
Alex Ferrari 7:51
Now, you you interviewed you, you and you actually interviewed Quinn for part of this book? Yeah.
Andy Rausch 7:56
Yeah. I had tried to interview Quentin for years. I met him in 1999 it when he used to do the film festivals in Austin, at Rick Linklaters. Yeah, thing. They were the first Alamo Drafthouse. And I was working on my first book was supposed to be about printing. And I think I kind of scared Quentin away at that time, because Jamie Bernard was writing the intro. And Quinn had a falling out with Jamie Bernard, who wrote his first biography. So I kind of think what happened was, he associated me with her, and he didn't want to be involved. He was very nice. But all of a sudden, people were calling back saying, I'm not supposed to talk to you. And so I knew kind of what was going on. I kept working on the book on and off. did more books. I mean, I've got 46 books out this year, I think and God bless you. Life otherwise, but so anyway, and I was gonna do this book on all acquaintance films, because at the time I started, there were two biographies. It was one by winsley Clark's and there was the one by Jamie Barnard but I wanted to do a kind of a companion to the film's which is funny now to think because I started that in 1997 when all there was was, you know, that he directed was Reservoir Dogs Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, then you know, it's also going into True Romance Natural Born Killers, God Natural Born Killers that and, um, and, you know, from dusk till dawn and True Romance. So anyway, I worked on this book on and off for a million years, I picked up this book called Quentin Tarantino FAQ. Well, is the same book. So I ended up just throwing that book out. And I couldn't be interviews I had done with a lot of cool people like Monte Hellman and Roger Avery. Tom savini. I went ahead and I put it out a few years ago. That was my first book on Tarantino. So that's called conversations on Quentin Tarantino. Right that came out in the night. 2015 2016 Now we kept trudging forward and and it all came together, man.
Alex Ferrari 10:08
So Alright, so you're so they're starting to shoot this thing. And for my understanding the lore is that they shot this over like a year or something like that or
Andy Rausch 10:17
more. It was several years, I don't remember specifically,
Alex Ferrari 10:21
I was a while, it was like, on the weekends, whenever I'm whenever they can, like, grab enough money to buy some film stock or some short ends to go shoot this thing.
Andy Rausch 10:29
Right? Well, then people's hair would change, it would become longer, shorter, longer, you know, you know, all of these different things. You know, the lead actress, she moved away, and then they had to have her come, she was teaching, they had to have her come back.
Alex Ferrari 10:47
So it didn't I mean, I've heard this story 1000 times from so many filmmakers that I've interviewed over the years, but hearing it the kwinter and team have started like, it's so it's so much it's so much fun. Because, you know, in so many ways, you know, quitting is arguably one of these mythical filmmakers. He's, he's one of you know, he's he's one of the most interesting filmmakers of his generation, let alone and all the film history. So he's almost at that kind of like mount Hollywood or a guard on Mount Hollywood. But to know that he started like us mortals. It's interesting, too, it's always interesting to see how they got started, because most people just think he just showed up with Reservoir Dogs and exploded and that was the end of it. But it took a while to get there. Now, when he was putting this all together, they basically were financing this through Quinn's minimum wage job at a video store.
Andy Rausch 11:40
Right. And I think some of the other people would occasionally chip in money. But it was pretty much just with his minimum wage job. And who it was to save up for a month or two to be able to rent the camera for a night, then they'd shoot for 24 hours straight in or whatever they could write, you know, when on short ends and
Alex Ferrari 11:59
right, and how did they edit this over? they edited this on flatbed?
Andy Rausch 12:03
Well, that's part of the problem. You know, so Quentin waits a long time to edit it, because they had to. Yeah, they had to hire somebody to edit. So they hire somebody to help edit at one point, but that didn't really work out. Well. Quinn ends up renting a flat bed, and finding out eventually that the movie wasn't what he thought it was. And that's kind of the we'll get there, I'm sure. But that's sort of the story of where the movie ends up being. I wanted to say two things about this book. One, I thought it was important because I wanted to show the evolution of him as a filmmaker, people think, as you said that you just somebody that's that gifted just evolves from the you know, they're they just pop out of the womb, and they're fully formed. And that's not the case, you know, with anybody I had seen. There was a lot of talk about Stanley Kubrick's first film, your desire. Yeah. Right. And, you know, in Stanley tried to suppress that coming out later on. But it's important because again, it's a documentation of his, like, it doesn't take away from the things he did later on. It only helps us to see his evolution as an artist. And so there was a time I tried to get Quentin for this book. Couldn't get him, I made my last plugin. I said, I think you probably want to suppress this, but you shouldn't. And here's why. yada, yada, yada. But I was interesting. When I interviewed him, he said, No, I don't want to suppress this, like Quentin still loves this movie. He knows it's problematic. But he loves it. And he still has most of it. The other thing I wanted to get to was, is that what this book is really about, because people think well, how can a whole book just be about this movie? And that's true. So what this book actually is, is it in three parts. The first part is sort of the biggest thing we've seen on Clinton's life. And all of those people in his sphere, leading up to my best friend's birthday, it's called I think it's been a while since I wrote it, I think it's it's something like the players come together. And what it is, it's, again, the most detailed look at video archives, all of that, Roger Avery. And you know, I interviewed all of these people for the book, including Avery whom I've interviewed several times, and, and it's a really cool book, but it shows how they all met, and then you know how they get to a place where they're going to make movies. Then the second part is them making movies. So it starts out with all of the little movies they work on, and how they get to my best friend's birthday. And then kind of just a blow by blow of as best anybody can reassemble. What that shoot was like, as told by Greg Hammond, Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avery, and all of the cast that was still alive that I could find and then The third part looks at the existing script. And it kind of with some running commentary, and it kind of shows us what that movie might have been. Now it's important to point out the script that is floating around everybody always thinks when they find it Oh, I found the script you know and but this script that's floating around is not actually the script. It's the closest back silmo assembly there is but what it actually is is when later on when Craig Hammond option the screenplay to Don Murphy, which is a whole other math that a lot of us probably know parts of this book details
Alex Ferrari 15:36
that well, what what was that? So the option this script to somebody else?
Andy Rausch 15:41
Well, what happened was Don Murphy who was quaintance enemy, who is the producer of Natural Born Killers, they had had that big falling out over Natural Born Killers. He is the guy that Quinten quote unquote, bitch slapped in a restaurant, and again ended up in a big lawsuit. So So Don Murphy,
Alex Ferrari 16:00
Murphy, bitch slap Quinn, when bitch slap, don't Murphy, that makes more sense,
Andy Rausch 16:04
I've got everybody's consensuses is that the main reason Don Murphy wanted to option this script was the piske went north. So he goes to Clinton's old writing partner who loves Clinton to this day and never wanted to screw Clinton over. But he went to him and he dangled money over his head and rock and and Craig thought this was going to be great for everybody. He thought it was gonna be great for him and Quinn, and it really didn't work out that way. Quintin blew up, and, you know, he got into a fight and, and that's documented in the book, too. But I'm in everybody's words. But at that time, what Craig did was essentially take all of the things that they improvised and wrote them into script form also. So it becomes this script that is sort of a kind of a weird bastardization of all of the forms of script that had existed and also the improvised scenes, and with Craig actually writing little things to kind of link some of the scenes together that there was no link for, because there were things that they ended up shooting that weren't in the original script. So it's kind of a, it's interesting to imagine what might have been, but we don't fully know what might have been
Alex Ferrari 17:15
so so then, but then eventually, obviously, done, Murphy did. So
Andy Rausch 17:18
Tom Murphy did get the rights to this to the script. He did. And there was a time when I knew Don a little and I'd asked him about the script. And he pretty much just admitted, I don't remember what his words are. And I don't want to get sued, because he is a TGS. Guy. But he basically admitted to the effect that that was why he optioned it, he had said that it was never going to get made. And I think it was known from the beginning, it wasn't really going to get made.
Alex Ferrari 17:46
So so then just on the in the, in the, in the in the timeline here, when my best friend's birth, my best friend's birthday is being shot, Quinn wrote True Romance and Natural Born Killers during this time.
Andy Rausch 17:59
Right. And those were originally one screenplay called the open road, which was something like a 600 page 500 page script. And what it was was you had the characters, most of those are kind of similar thematically, right, like True Romance and Natural Born Killers. We have the man and the woman some kind of criminal on the run. Okay. So in the original, the open road script. He has Clarence in Alabama, from True Romance, your story, but in the middle of they're doing these things. Also writing a screenplay, and that screenplay is Natural Born Killers. So it would go back and forth between as I'm told I've not seen that right. I have no idea if it you never really even know if these things really exist. You get bits and pieces of different people's stories, but that's what it's supposed to be so so
Alex Ferrari 18:55
then Natural Born Killers A True Romance were four together which I've never heard before. And by the way, I'm interested in seeing that movie. Look to see this eight hour miniseries. That would be so but then he broke those apart and sold those separately and he got some money for those if I'm if from what I said like it was the most money he'd probably ever seen at that point.
Andy Rausch 19:18
Right. And I would still contend True Romance is one of his. It's one of my favorites of His love, even though you know, he would have done different things than Tony Scott did. I still think it's brilliant in its way. And you know, when I said thumbs down to Natural Born Killers, it's only because I think Quinn's original script for Natural Born Killers is great. But the thing that Oliver Stone made is kind of a mess. There are people that love it love aspects of it. I think it's a huge mess. It's a big experimental student film with, you know, several million dollar budget. But
Alex Ferrari 19:51
yeah, no, exactly. I Well, I would have been very interested to see the Quinn natural born killer script, originally but what Oliver did was with Oliver But with but with that said, to romance when they released the like 10 disc, you know, Master collection of Quinn's work, they included romance as part of his filmography. That's how much love he has for that film. And he actually does a commentary track on entre romance talking about what he just loved what Tony did. And I mean, the scene between walking in and hopper. I mean, this is probably one of the best scenes in movie history. It's amazing. It's amazing. Yeah, it's it's remarkable. I mean, it was absolutely remarkable. So you're so he's making so during his selling the scripts, so he's trying to get into Hollywood, and trying to make a name for himself. And he knows where he wants to go. But he's trying he's, he's struggling. When When did he actually how old was he? When he actually finally did reservoir? Because he wasn't a young guy at I mean, young,
Andy Rausch 20:56
in his 30s. I don't remember exactly. But he was his early 30s. He and I'm, I don't even want to say I'm 48. So he's 28. And you know, and so by that time, he's in his 30s. And I mean, God bless him good for him that, you know, he made that breakthrough. You know, it's funny another thing to talk about real quick. Is that true romance went through a couple of hands too, before it got made because Samuel had died a was originally at the producer was going to make it as a low budget film. And at one time Oh, what is this thing? I can't think of his name the the director of like maniac and maniac cop. William Lustig was going to direct it. At one point, I tried to get Lustig to talk for the book, but I and I get it, he doesn't want to talk about it. I'm sure. That would have been interesting. Cuz that would have been a whole other level of low budget. And, you know, what that movie would have been?
Alex Ferrari 21:54
Yeah, it's just, it's always very, it's kind of like, Oh, it's like going back to Kubrick's and like, oh, would have been interesting to see his Holocaust film. It would have been interesting to see his Napoleon. Like, you know, you see these amazing artists, you're like, Oh, those are the paintings that never got painted. kind of thing. And now, so what so with with going back to my best friend's birthday, so it's taken him a few years to get this thing together. He's edited it together now. Where what happened to her there was a fire, that part of it was lost. What was that story about?
Andy Rausch 22:31
Okay, so the story up until this book has always been that there was a fire that lab fire that destroyed significant parts of the film. Now, as I'm proud of myself, I find out in this book that is not true. And even get Quentin to admit it. Okay, so what basically, there was some stuff destroyed, but it was so minimal that it didn't change the course of the film. What actually kind of kills the film, is it takes quite a long time. He's starting to, when he's editing it, he sees what he's a god. You know, and he talks about it at length in the book. It's not what he thought it was gonna be, he thought it was gonna be like, she's got to have it. Or one of these, you know, Richard Linklater kind of movie, this low budget, indie thing, and, and it's kind of a mess. And he's heartbroken and he's devastated. And he says that the writers of the Autobot of the biographies kind of came up with the story, that there was a lab fire but other people involved with the movie say that he told them there was a fire, kind of, I think maybe to just calm everybody down, get them off of the the truth of the matter is it went on for so long, he's starting to get some success. I don't blame him for eventually, you know, shelving it because even at its best, this movie would have never stacked up, it would have never fit on a shelf alongside, you know, True Romance, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, those movies, the script is brilliant. There are scenes of brilliance that are written by both, you know, Craig and Quentin together, each of them separate. There are some brilliant moments in that script. The dialogue is amazing. But what was being put on film wasn't. But when learned from it, he learned how to direct actors. He learned these things. And there's a line that Quentin says in the book, I'm gonna screw it up, but I will get to the eventual heart of it. Quentin says very proudly of himself, and rightfully so. He says, I'm proud of myself, and I'm proud of this movie, because you know what, everyone else who would have made this movie and seen what it was, after all these years, would have given up and I didn't go, I didn't give up. I kept going, and I let that fuel me instead of sitting around mourning the loss of this movie and, and he's right, you know, he's absolutely right.
Alex Ferrari 24:52
Yeah, I mean, because I mean, it's I look, I mean, I've been a filmmaker for 20 odd years, I completely I completely feel I completely like sometimes you look at stuff You're just like, Oh, this is it's this is not what was in my mind. I didn't get I didn't get the crew that I needed. I didn't have the skill set, my tools were not prepared. When I when I had Richard on Richard Linklater on the show, he said one of the best lines I've ever heard about filmmaking, he says, eventually, hopefully, your skill set will catch up to your ideas. And I was like, oh, and he also said, everything is going to take twice as long and twice, it's going to be twice as hard to both those are great, great, great lines. But it's absolutely true. Because when you come out as a filmmaker, you're just like, all these ideas. And yeah, we'll get a techno crane here. We'll swing the camera there. We'll do this Scorsese shot here and but you don't have the skill set, you don't have the tools and quit. And at that point in his life, he was basically a video store clerk, honing his skills, honing, what he had learned and in taken in all throughout his life,
Andy Rausch 25:57
what and one thing that's cool about this movie, is that not only did he not go to film school, none of the people involved in this movie went to film school, as they all say, this was their film school. And I want to tell you how significant this movie is, when you think of it like this dream. You know, three movie directors come out of this little shitty movie. You get Quentin, obviously, Roger Avery goes on, Craig Hammond goes on, he should have had a bigger career. But either way, he goes on he makes Boogie boy. And he writes some action movies and stuff. I mean, three people go on to become professional filmmakers out of a $5,000 movie, shot over several years in people's houses.
Alex Ferrari 26:39
It's it's no, it's it's insane. And now I have to ask now, there is an existing version of this floating around the internet. How did that think get out? And what is that?
Andy Rausch 26:49
Well, there are only a it's not the whole movie, obviously. 30 minutes. It's funny. There's two different versions one has, there's an extra scene with Quentin crag talking a kind of a heartfelt scene. And it's in some of them, and it's not in others. This was the exact version that they were showing around at one time to be there. You know, kind of like a real demo. Yeah, who's got it up. And they were they were showing it around trying to get jobs. I've heard some speculation that, you know, it might have been Russell Bosler, or not Russell, but Rand. They're brothers, Rand vossler, who ended up being the associate producer on Natural Born Killers and worked on some other stuff. But I'm really don't know. I mean, I know that. Rand has a lot of this stuff at his house. I don't know. He took pictures of the of the film reels to prove to me that it existed and send it to me.
Alex Ferrari 27:53
He has the film we
Andy Rausch 27:55
Quinten holds no no grudge against whoever did release it. I think he's kind of happy about it.
Alex Ferrari 28:01
Where are you? I mean, because look at that. At the point he is in his like way, even when it was released, he had already done Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. And Jackie, I'm like, you're growing up. You
Andy Rausch 28:10
have nothing to be embarrassed about by that point.
Alex Ferrari 28:13
Yeah. I mean, when when you make Pulp Fiction, you're pretty much you got a pass for life. As far as like other stuff that you might have done. That's not particularly great, because you are you are who you are. But so then I have to ask who owns the rights to this thing? Because people are putting it out there. I've seen it for sale. In some places, obviously bootleg versions,
Andy Rausch 28:33
it's definitely Quentin owns the rights. But I don't know, I don't think anybody's actually, you know, claimed it or anything. Quinn does say that he wants to maybe one of these days. Who knows Quintin comes up with a lot of ideas of things he wants to do and make and they often don't get made. And I get it, you know, he's got big ideas. But he talked about sometimes he thinks he'd like to have somebody edit this together, just for him to just have a version of the whole movie, edited together. And, and, oh, I'm just gonna tell you this. It's great story where he talks about I don't, he didn't say who the filmmaker was. But he says he shows this famous filmmaker early on. After Reservoir Dogs, he shows him the footage of my best friend's birthday. And the guy says what you should do and it's a foreign filmmaker. And he says what you should do is you take this, and you go out in a boat, and you wrap this film up in some kind of cement and you throw it as far as you can into the ocean. And, and I mean, it's funny, but Quintin is still proud of it. And he talks about how proud he is of certain scenes, especially the one with Alan Garfield, which was why I highlighted that one. But
Alex Ferrari 29:45
yeah, and I mean, this is a perfect candidate for Criterion Collection one day, like it's a perfect candidate for relief through criteria. Perfect as an extra on
Andy Rausch 29:55
one of those movies. I'd love to see that, you know, let me know the criteria has come out and you have All kinds of extras that'd be perfect.
Alex Ferrari 30:02
Right? And it also needs to be properly remastered, properly edited, properly mixed all of these things. So so so the full movie exists in reels at this point.
Andy Rausch 30:14
I think it's something like 98% 95% enough that you can put something together.
Alex Ferrari 30:21
But it's not. But it's never been cut together in a way. It's so basically there's a lot. So basically, the only thing that we've seen online is a demo reel that was cut together to kind of try to get gigs for quitting and the other filmmakers. And that's why that exists. But the raw footage of that film sits in Quentin's vault somewhere where he could eventually if he feels so inclined to
Andy Rausch 30:46
become interesting is a bit. I'm not sure how this works out, because I believe Quentin has footage, but then ran vossler has, I believe all of the footage, so it's really confusing as to and they don't talk anymore. They most of these people had some sort of falling out at some point. And I mean, it just it happens. But yeah,
Alex Ferrari 31:07
egos get involved.
Andy Rausch 31:08
I know, you know, and egos all of it. But you know, somebody is curious. I don't really know. You know, if there's two sets of the I don't know, that's really
Alex Ferrari 31:19
that's never talked about that when you talk to them?
Andy Rausch 31:22
Not really, you know, well, you know, it was great was, when I talked to Quentin, he was in the editing room of once upon a time in Hollywood, took a break, he calls, and we talked for an hour and a half, and it's great. And I save it for the end because I don't want to make you mad. Because, you know, I mean, I, I need this. So I get to the end. And I say so. You know, I asked him about the fire and I tell him somebody showed me a photo and stuff and and he says, you know, well, you know, and and he kind of tells me then he hadn't we we end the call. He calls me five minutes later and he goes, Okay, let me tell you and he says, you know, the biographers made up that story. I didn't, you know, and so I mean, I do love it, you know, he's concerned about, about the image stuff, but twins got to know he's well beyond that. No, it doesn't matter. He's secured his place no matter what.
Alex Ferrari 32:14
Oh, in cinema history. Yeah, there's nothing if you don't like him. He's a legend. No, yeah, you could either. You could either love them or hate them. But you can't, you cannot say that he's not a filmmaker. He cannot say that he's not an epic filmmaker, and that there's massive people who love his work around the world. He's probably the one that I mean, other than I think he probably is more recognizable in certain generations than Spielberg is now. But he's up there with Hitchcock and Spielberg and Scorsese. And
Andy Rausch 32:43
in fact, the people that don't know movies know his name, they might not know what he's done. But if you say Quentin Tarantino, they go, Ah, you know, and yeah, like Spielberg and Scorsese. They know these names.
Alex Ferrari 32:53
Yes. Like Hitchcock or Spielberg, you know, you know, even my mother who's probably seen maybe one or two of Spielberg movies knows who Spielberg is, right. You know, things like that. And it's Same thing for Tarantino. Like I've heard that name, he's, he's something he's done something that's fat. That's absolutely fascinating. It's really great to kind of just see the origin. And I'm assuming the book goes in much greater detail in this. But now how the relationship with Roger Roger Avery, how was that? That form? Because from my understanding, and I know, this is a different movie, but when he came into Pulp Fiction, Roger obviously is the CO writer of pulp fiction, but he he technically gets story credit, but not screenplay credit, I think. And, again, this is what I heard, because, you know, we're all filmmakers are like gossip queens. We're like a knitting circle. That quit and asked him Can I get the screenplay credit? You get the story credit, but if we win something, and that's why he's up there with the with the Oscar, what do you know about that? And how was and how did that relationship build up? Start? Did it start in my best friend's birthday?
Andy Rausch 33:57
Okay. Okay, so first, they worked at my best friend's bar, sorry, they worked at video archives together. I believe Roger worked at another video store previously, and one of the owners of, of video archives. I'm trying to remember exactly how that works. It seemed like somebody's father owned it or something, I don't know. But he had worked at the other one and ends up coming to this video store and, and he talks him into interviewing Quentin, or, you know, to giving Clinton the job. And they talk about the interview in there, where it's basically like, he looks at him and says, You got the job and you know, so they become friends there. So they're making these movies, all these guys hanging out at video archives. They become friends. These two are super tight. Then when they make what so much so they're so tight and their voices at one time are so much in sync. You know that Roger Avery was the one that was brought in to rewrite the end of truth. romance when Tony Scott decided he wanted to make those characters live because they are at least Clarence dies in the integrity, no script, you know, he decides to make them live. Quinn refuses to write that scene. So they bring in Roger Avery. And you know, because they, at that time are in sync, I believe Avery gets brought in to write a scene for Natural Born Killers. They got cut, it was the one with the the big twin brother. muscle man, you know, so anyway, they're working on all these things together. This is where I'm gonna get in trouble. Okay, because there's a lot of talk about what they you know, Roger didn't deserve the credit in this and that, if you see Rogers script, what was it when demonium rains, okay, see a script for pandemonium rains. It's almost word for word verbatim for the second act of natural born air of pulp fiction, which is the bush stuff, all of the pawn shop stuff gets almost verbatim the same stuff. Okay. So I mean, he absolutely deserves the CO writing credit, he deserves the story credit. I like Clinton's mom a lot. Um, you know, we were friends. She's actually the one that kind of set me up Quinn. But, you know, she was telling me, oh, Roger, you know, he doesn't deserve the credit. And, look, it's what my mom would say if I was, you know, sure. But look, I'm not saying anything bad about either of them. They're both brilliant. They're both they're fantastic filmmakers. I, they did finally make up last year. Okay, on that I did an article for Diablo League, where Roger says we just connected last week. And so they are friends again. I don't know if they'll work again. But they're friends. They were meeting up and stuff. And you know, I'm there. But again, there's no reason for either of them to be mad at each other. And there's no reason for anybody to be mad at me for telling it because the truth of the matter is, they're both brilliant. They both had a hand in it. I love the movie. I love both of their contributions, if they do, right, or at least at one time, could write seamlessly, you know, kind of in the same voice.
Alex Ferrari 37:10
Which is, which is very interesting, because what was the rules of it? It was rules of attraction, right? Yeah. Which was, which is a brilliant film. I love rules of attraction. And even though he was good, too,
Andy Rausch 37:23
yeah. Oh, yeah. Can't
Alex Ferrari 37:25
leave Oh, forgot about that one. Yeah. But But Roger Rogers dialogue is it's fantastic. Quinn's dialogue is something so specific, and it is more stylistic. It weaves itself in a way that it's so that's why you could see that in my best friend Nicole. It has a cadence to it. It's, it's, it is really a remarkable, like, even in my best friend's birthday, you can start seeing sparks of that. There are scenes of that you just going Oh, there it is. I don't know what this other stuff is. But there's the quittin that you can start seeing it coming out. in it. It is there was just nobody. It's like It's like listening to us working or Kaufman. You know, their dialogue in the way they write their movies are just so specific. Yes. Specific to them. It is an hour. Mamet. Exactly,
Andy Rausch 38:20
yeah, yeah. You started listening to the best mom to me in my, in my best friends. But there's so many of these movies to keep together here. But um, the best time there's a monologue in my best friend's birthday. That is just brilliant, where and I think it's just as good as his later stuff. We're Quentin's giving this, this long thing about how many it's absurd, and it's so funny and weird. And he's talking about it. Four years old, he got depressed, and he was thinking about suicide. And he's like, four years old. It's ridiculous. And I think he was depressed because he found out Eddie Cochran died. It's just this ridiculous thing. But he gives this long monologue about how he turned on the television. And there was a good episode of Partridge Family on and the episode of The Partridge Family made him happy and he decided not to kill himself. And it's, it's absurd, but it's just the writing is brilliant. It's already got the pop culture references from his early work. I mean, we noticed he's gotten away from that some Well, I say that but then once upon a time in Hollywood just takes us right back to that it's all pop culture but
Alex Ferrari 39:28
Well, I mean, like when you're when you're I mean, you can't do as much pop culture in Django Unchained in glorious back door historical films, but when he's in modern times, or even not even modern times, like still once upon a time in Hollywood was what the 60s right. So but you could still do pop culture within its its thing, right? I mean, yeah, it's, I mean it What can we say that hasn't been said about Quentin Tarantino and about his work. It's It's remarkable. That's why I wanted to kind of dig into the weeds about this book and about his film because there is So much misinformation out there. And there's not really a lot of people a lot of information about the film because no one has taken the time to go deep into it like you have. This is the reference for this film,
Andy Rausch 40:10
I will say I'm incredibly proud of this. And I'm not I'm not somebody who's generally proud of their work. But I always in that way I should be, but I'm, you know, but I always wanted to write about Quentin. But he didn't want to do something that had already been done 10 times. One thing was was that, you know, in all of the other books, the biographies and stuff, it's like, two paragraphs, right about that movie. That's it, maybe two paragraphs. Right. Right. Right. And so I thought it was really fun to talk about that, but also to have him have them talk about some of the other early movie stuff. And that was kind of fun, too, because I'd never heard much of anything about at all about those, you know. So that was pretty neat. You know, and I am excited to be able to contribute to it and, and I think Quentin thought it was something special. And
Alex Ferrari 41:00
yeah, Quinn likes, likes the book. He likes the book, right? Yeah. Yeah, cuz he got it. Yeah, I saw that. He gave it a nice little quote, as well.
Andy Rausch 41:09
The one thing I will say I messed up something, I made his mother Connie kind of unhappy. And it was a mix up, I took a piece of information, like a little biographical detail, because I didn't want to reach out and bother people all the time. And I assumed things in other people's books are going to be right. And, again, not enough, but I I took this little thing about his family having these interesting hobbies. And one of them was like, a carrier pigeons or something, and archery, and come to find out those were before Quentin was born. And so they got it wrong in the other book, too. But, you know,
Alex Ferrari 41:49
now, all in all, I
Andy Rausch 41:50
think it's pretty, you know, it's pretty good. And it shows us a real picture of who Quentin was. There's a lot in it about acting school, when they were at the James best acting school when they he and Craig met, and we're taking acting classes. And we have, you know, two of their acting teachers in it talking about Quinn's acting and how Quinn started writing his own scenes for them to act out. That was the beginning of, of when the writer and they said he would go to the movies. And he would take a little bitty flashlight with him and a pad and he would try to write the monologues down so they could do them. And this is how this started. He would try to write these monologues down out of these movies. So they could, you know, act them out in their scenes for acting class, but he couldn't write fast enough. So they would start as a monologue from a movie and he would just start making up shit. And it would become this really bastardized kind of cool monologue. But like when it was a Paddy Chayefsky one from Marty, but it just ends up with all kinds of wild shit. And several people say, you know, it was even better than Marty, which I mean. I mean, it's just crazy. And that's what inspires him to become a writer, which is fascinating. Now with quit, why
Alex Ferrari 43:07
did what was his fascination with being an actor? Because he, I mean, I've seen it's very well documented, he wanted to be an actor, you That was his, he thought that was his way in. And he did get that little spot and Golden Girls, which was the same person, as the person. What did did he ever talk to you a little bit about that? In your travels?
Andy Rausch 43:28
didn't really go much into it. But I mean, we did talk about the acting class. And
but you know, I think I don't know. You know, I think at the time, he thought that's what he could do. He maybe wanted to be an actor and a director. I don't think he I don't think he just knew he could be a writer. And I think the doors really opened up because of his writing. And, you know, once he found that he was on fire, and I will say this, everybody says, you know, he's a bad actor, and blah, blah, blah. And I know at times his acting can be questionable, but I don't give a fuck what anybody says. He's brilliant. And from dusk till dawn. He's perfect. And I've heard people make shitty remarks. I don't remember who it was. Somebody said, Oh, well, he's, he's, he's perfect when he plays a crazy manner. You know, if somebody's trying to diss him, I don't remember. But the thing is, he can really act. The thing is, if you look at his own movies, I and I contend that a lot of times, He's the worst thing in his own movies, his acting, but I think a lot of that comes from him taking away him trying to direct and act at the same time. Generally, when he's at he's directing other people's performances. He can look at them objectively, but you can't really look at yourself objectively that goes out the window. And I think that's why you see him get better performances and other people's things than it gives in his own. Yeah, it's not that those are always perfect, either. But
Alex Ferrari 44:48
yeah, and I think I saw I saw a video where he was pitching. It was like a small little video I think he did forgot what it was for, but he was pitching the Muppets a movie idea or something like that. And I was like, wow, that That's actually brilliant the way he, I mean, he's playing himself, but, but it was quite brilliant about it know his, I mean look at when you because I know a lot of people, you know say why did he cast himself in Pulp Fiction. I mean, arguably He's the worst actor in that group. I'm like you've got Sam Jackson, john travolta, Harvey Keitel. Tough,
Andy Rausch 45:21
tougher, most people are going to be the worst person in that room. I mean, what I would have liked to see was at one time Tony Scott and him were going to make a version of Elmore Leonard's killshot. And he was going to have he was going it was going to be him and De Niro. And if you read the novel, they're interesting characters, because De Niro is a hitman. Now, he would have been like an Indian Hitman, which would be kind of interesting. And it named rainbird. And then Tarantino would have been this guy named Richie Nix. And I really think he could have played that role. really well. The project went by the wayside, and we'll never know. But I think that would have been really cool.
Alex Ferrari 46:00
Is there anything in early includes early times that he was starting to write or just never kind of like scripts that he went that didn't get it or projects that you heard that he wanted to do and couldn't get done early, like early stuff?
Andy Rausch 46:16
There were like little westerns, and there was something about Elvis and there were, you know, things that he wrote. It was a really neat, I used to have it a long time ago, and I lost it in a flood. But there was, he had written a treatment early on before any was like, he was his version of a john woo movie. And it was like, about these guys robbing this hotel, like in Hong Kong, and then it ends up with all these, these big Mexican standoffs and stuff. And it was made a lot of stuff like that, you know, like little odds and ends. In the book, Linda Kay, who was one of the actresses in the movie, and also has these really two tiny parts in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In one of them, she's shot woman and Pulp Fiction. She's shot woman, like she's the one that gets shot. When in the middle of the street when Oh, the one that Yeah, I'm just trying to shoot Bruce Willis. Yeah. And the other one, she's shocked woman. And she's the one that I think they steal her car I can't read. He's one of the things after the robbery. And But anyway, she tells a story about when she was typing up Quinten scripts early on. And she talks about this very Hitchcockian scene, which the way she describes it is brilliant, that when they come up with any he didn't want to, he didn't know how to show this violence or make it look real. And so there is there's people arguing in the camera turns slowly, and you can hear this record playing. And I'm going to screw this up a little bit. And it just goes in this big 360. And you hear this a couple screaming at each other and fighting. And then it stops. And then you just hear the the middle of the record goes. And when it comes back around, there's just blood everywhere. And I mean, it's a lot neater the way she describes it, because you can get a visual picture of it. So I mean, I think that he always had cool ideas from the get go
Alex Ferrari 48:13
was like Reservoir Dogs when he just pans off the air cutting scene. Oh, right. Right. Yeah, he just pants off of that. And then he's like, no, that's that's the shot. Yeah, instead of actually seeing it. It's much more disturbing if we don't see it. But that's Hitchcock. That was his that was cocking a tool. It's It's It's pretty remarkable. You know, talking about quitting in his early his early works. And I you know, obviously I'm a fan. And I'm very grateful that you actually sat down and how long did it take you to write this thing,
Andy Rausch 48:42
man, I'm grateful. Man, I'd been trying to get an interview since the 90s with him, and he did some fact checking for the first book that fell apart before he found out Jamie was involved in disappeared. But you know, so it took a long time to get that. And then once we did get it, I couldn't get a specific time. Then I got to talk because he was editing he was wrapped up in this editing. So he sets a time and I wait and he doesn't call. So then the next day I go on a date and it's my first date with the woman I ended up marrying becomes my wife now. We're on our first date. I'm on. How does it work? No. The first night we go to this Italian restaurant. I've got my phone turned off because I don't think anybody I sure don't think Quentin's calling. We didn't set anything up Quintin calls like three or four times which is great for him for persistence and not giving up. And he was very nice. He's like the squinter Tino I thought we were, you know, did you want to talk and then I'm thinking it's never gonna happen now. So, still trying to set something up. We go on another date the next night. We lived in separate towns, I'm on the highway, it's nighttime. And Quintin goals and I'm in the car and I'm like, man, I, I'm so sorry. I really would like to record this and he's like, Oh, it's okay. And I'm thinking this is not going to happen, I've just fucked this up, it's just not gonna happen. And then any says I might call you later. So when I get there, me and my date are just sitting there all night just kind of waiting for Quentin to call, and then he doesn't call. And then finally it happens. And it was just like holy shit, you know, and, and it was the interview that you would want to have with Quentin. You know, cuz sometimes they can go bad. Sometimes people make him mad, and yada, yada. So you can be unhappy. He was the perfect interview. And people said, afterward when you're going to interview him again. There's no need to interview him again. I have the one perfect interview. And I found it sometimes. I mean, I've interviewed four or 500 famous people in my life. And I found that when you really enjoy somebody's work, and you have a shitty experience with them, you never look at that stuff the same way you never enjoyed the same right? Right guarantee knows work means so much to me, then I don't really want to risk any kind of bad thing. You hit you hit anything. He was very giving. I'm the biggest fan. I love his work. I don't care. I love his work. I also write nor fiction, and he's been the biggest influence him and Elmore Leonard. Brian, I love his work.
Alex Ferrari 51:15
Yeah, you hit you hit, you hit the ball, you hit you hit the home, run the first time up the bat with him, and I'm not gonna I'm not gonna take another swing. I'm good. I'm good. I'm gonna, I'm retiring from that. Right, I completely get it. Now, where can where can people find out more about you? And and the work you're doing? Where can I get the book?
Andy Rausch 51:35
The book is available of the easiest place always to get it as Amazon. You know, I have to say it's through bear manner media, which a lot of those you're not going to generally find those in the bookstores. The film book. genre has really changed in the 25 years that I've been riding. It's used to be they were everywhere, you know, and my earliest books were with Kensington and Chronicle Books, and they were everywhere. I'd go into, you know, Walmart, hey, here's my book, and it was awesome. And that doesn't really happen anymore. And so people think I'll just read on the internet, and even if it's wrong, that's all I need to know about that movie. And so, you know, I but bear manner media is great. It just they're one of the you know, these, the ones that are left are mostly smaller publishers. Amazon is always a good place, or the bear Manor media website. I don't know what the address is. We'll put it in the show notes, all books with them on everybody from Ed Wood. Quinta, Stephen King.
Alex Ferrari 52:35
Andy Rausch 52:36
I'm really proud of this book. And I hope people will go out and read it, not because of me, but just because it's a good story. You know, it's a good story. And Quinn Quinn, as usual, has a story to tell,
Alex Ferrari 52:47
as he as he always does. Now, I'm going to ask you probably the most the most difficult question you've ever had about quitting. Three of your favorite Quinn films.
Andy Rausch 52:59
Pulp Fiction is always going to be my favorite. It's the one that I saw first, and it just knocked me on my ass off, guess get going to see it over and over in the theater. I would take everyone I could get to go see it. Like you got to see this movie. And everyone around me was sick of hearing about it sick of seeing it. But anything was every time you'd see it with a different audience, the experience would be different. Because it's funny when you're with an audience, there are certain scenes where everybody laugh, and sometimes nobody laughs that same scene. So that's my number one. I got to tell you number two, I think is I didn't. I got I was really disappointed when Jackie Brown first came out because it wasn't what we expected. But man, I've come to love that movie. I think it is a masterpiece. I think it's because it's more quiet. It's more. It's just not what we expected. I think it holds up. I think it looks better with every passing year. I think the performances are fucking amazing. And they're wrong. More and more people contend that say that it might actually be his best movie. And that may be true Pope will always be my favorite But no, I mean, and then third religion. And really true romantic Jackie Brown. They're they're neck and neck.
Alex Ferrari 54:09
Yeah, that's it. And for people who are Yeah, cuz you and I are similar vintage. So people don't understand. You know, I saw Paul multiple times in the theater. I was in film school and Paul came out so can you imagine I was like down the street from my film school. I went to the theater and I remember seeing the first time and I remember falling literally falling out of my chair. laughing with some of the things he because the stuff that was being said on screen. It was it was a nuclear bomb going off in cinema. It really it really was. I mean, it was just so undeniable. I've never experienced I mean, I'd imagine it'd be I'd imagine it'd be watching Clockwork Orange in the 70s or 2001. In the 60s like that, you know, like it's undeniable what you're seeing in front of you. And it just doesn't. I don't think it's happened since Pulp Fiction, maybe people could argue that there's been other films, but
Andy Rausch 55:07
I don't remember anything in that way. I mean, all of a sudden you had all these people imitating it. And it really odd the rise of indie film really was when
Alex Ferrari 55:18
it was I mean, and I, when I was talking to Richard about that, I asked him about that. And he's like, Look, the independent film movement as we know, it started pretty much with slacker, you know, slacker and 91. And in the end, it was all about the 90s Sundance films, and that's when the market changed. And that was VHS and started making it, you know, a feasible option to make money with these things. What reservoir showed up and then mariachi and clerks and brothers, Macmillan and all those others every month, there was a new guy. It was a new filmmaker that popped up. But Pulp Fiction was the first indie that was a blockbuster. I mean, it was a blockbuster. And it was
Andy Rausch 55:59
they released it twice. Because if you remember when it got nominated for an Oscar, they brought it back out.
Alex Ferrari 56:04
Oh, and they kept kept making money and money was a 7 million. I mean, it wasn't gonna say it's more. It was like a seven or $8 million film. So it wasn't a huge budget. It was essentially an indie budget as as a Studio code because it was released by by Miramax. But it made hundreds of millions of dollars. And you're right like the the rip offs that came off of PIP fiction. There were so many of those movies everyone was trying to write like when but nobody could write. No one can no one can write like him. There's so many rip off. It launched. It mean, it was in the Zeitgeist almost immediately like it just like, I just remember before Pulp Fiction. After puppet. It's kind of like there's certain movies that changed cinema. And I felt like the matrix when the matrix came out, it just completely changed action movies forever, is like before the matrix and like, so many people rip that off. So many people try to imitate it. And pulp was that as well. And there's there's like Star Wars is like that there's certain movies that come along that just do that.
Andy Rausch 57:03
If it hadn't been printed in Pulp Fiction, I would have never written about film. I mean, I liked movies, like everybody, and I was still watching the big tentpole shitty movies and thinking they were just as good as everything else. You know, I would, I didn't start learning about them studying about film, you know, really finding a passion for a film until that movie. I walked out of that movie stunned, I went on opening night. If I'm not wrong, it was like, What September? I don't know, like ninth or something. 1994 maybe it's 20, something like that. And I walked down and I was just stunned. I couldn't believe this thing I just seen and I knew something had changed inside of me, not only on this screen, but inside of me. And I and I just I thought I want to write about film. And that was that was finding film books right after that. That was, you know, when I thought man, I want to write about film.
Alex Ferrari 58:00
And I'll leave you with a little story that I know about quitting that I heard firsthand from someone. I don't know if you know this, and I do know the director Sheldon lected. Who Lynch children back in the day. Yeah. So yeah, the Bloodsport he wrote he wrote Bloodsport and directed Lionheart and, and stuff well, he knows he knew when he was. He was about I think from from Argentina. He either introduced them to Lawrence or they, they knew someone who knows it, but he knew Quinn, somehow, like Scott Spiegel and Lauren Stein,
Andy Rausch 58:32
someone evil and Sheldon were in the same circle and
Alex Ferrari 58:34
right and that there was something there, right but but he told me a quitting story. And you might know this story, but he's the he was he was working on. Was it Lionheart? I don't know if it was a Lionheart or Rambo, but he was working on a pre production in an office. And right next to him, he walked in the room and quit and was there and quit and goes, Oh, my God, it Sheldon liked it. And he's like, holy cow. It Sheldon and then he suspended Of course, quitting because he has that encyclopedic knowledge of film, started nailing all his old films and stuff like that. And apparently quitting was he was a telemarketer on selling. He was up selling video stores around the country to buy more copies of certain films that were coming out that week. Like a you need five copies instead of three of, of, you know, sell to the killer bimbos. I mean, seriously, you do need and that was the end, I was like, wow, quitting was with cold calling, you know, video stores trying to upsell videos.
Andy Rausch 59:35
I gotta tell you for now and forever. Probably one of the greatest experiences of my life talking film was at that Film Festival and in 99, I had a few minutes to just talk to Quentin about. We talked about gangster movies. There was a movie called he had a movie on there called the debt collector, and or the death collector. That's it the death collector and it was an early movie with Joe Kashi and Frank Vincent before they had done Scorsese movies, and we got to talk for a few minutes. And he was just really nice and let his guard down and day you're talking about movies. It's amazing. And, and also I asked him about I just seen the apple, which is that famous movie that canon put out. There was supposed to be so bad and and he was it was awful. But I asked him about it. And Quinn said, Oh, yeah, that was one of the only movies I've ever walked out of. So it was something that associating Quentin walked out and Wow,
Alex Ferrari 1:00:33
he was everything. He watches everything.
Andy Rausch 1:00:37
Right. And for the record, if you ever talked to Guillermo del Toro, he's just like, Quinn. I mean, it's infectious. They both no evidence cyclopedic knowledge. No, I'd love to see those two guys talk about them. I think that would be amazing. I wouldn't even have to talk. I just sit back and watch that like a movie.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:52
No. When I was talking to Richard, it was the same thing. Richard has an encyclopedic knowledge of films. He was throwing out stuff that I'd either heard of in film school, or I'd just never heard of, and some film, I was like, What is going on? I thought I was a cinephile to a certain extent. But there are a whole other level and I'm like, Oh, I think Richard is probably up and up in the same levels as as Quintin is, but I didn't I I've met midway again, a couple times. But I've never had the chance to really sit down and talk to him. But I've heard that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of film as well. It's insane. But man, thank you so much for being on the show. Andy, I appreciate it, brother. Thank you for writing the book. And and being the historian that we needed for this film. So at least now there's a record a true record of what I
Andy Rausch 1:01:40
just said, you know, I'm editing a third book on when,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
okay, what's, what's going on.
Andy Rausch 1:01:44
It's called Pope cinema. And it's going to be a collection of essays by different writers on different aspects of Quentin's films. And I'm doing that with Kieran Fisher, who's a really talented writer from Australia.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:01
Nice, very cool. Well, we'll keep an eye out for that man. But thank you, Andy, again, so much. I appreciate you and in all 46 plus books that you've written about cinema so thank you.
A wise man once described Film as the newest form of art of the 20th century which can also be defined as a series of images projected on a screen. And the succession of images creates ideas which, in turn, generate emotions.
Pastiche, which is a term used in the literary and film world, can be termed as TV’s gift to contemporary philosophy and film. It can be defined as an artistic work in a style that copies that of another artist, work, or period. Pastiche in the context of Film is described as a cinematic device that honors the cinematography of another filmmaker through the imitation of specific scenes or iconic moments in the movie. Sometimes, it could be a reboot of the entire movie or just some scenes.
Another term used to define Pastiche is MISE EN SCENE (Placing on Stage). ‘Mise En Scene’ describes the composition, prop placement and overall visual theme adopted during the filming process. It’s important not to confuse this term for Parody; which is intended for its comedic value.
The shows, Stranger Things and Mr. Robot have one thing in common (apart from employing actors that have been nominated for Golden Globes), which is the use of Pastiche during its production.
Stranger Things is a typical case of Pastiche of almost every iconic sci-fi film in the 80s. An excellent example of this is seen at the end of the first episode when the boys discover El in the woods. This scene imitates the one in E.T where Elliot finds E.T in the cornfield.
“Good artists copy, Great artists steal.”
The Duffer Brothers who wrote Stranger Things admitted to recreating most of the iconic scenes in the series as a tribute to their favorite movies growing up; most of which were from the 80s. They managed to capture the supernatural and terrifying worlds created by big names like Wes Craven and Ridley Scott; while also managing to slap adult viewers in the face with nostalgia.
Similarly, Mr. Robot is a Pastiche for several iconic action films like; David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club,’ and the Matrix. The series protagonist has an imaginary friend (his late father) and provides voice-over narrative throughout the series, which is similar to Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club. Also, the storyline of Mr. Robot revolves around a Hacktivist group called F society, which is not so different from Project Mayhem in Fight Club. The only glaring difference between the two was that while Mr. Robot wrecked Virtual Havoc on the world, Project Mayhem acted out physical acts of destruction.
There was also a scene where Elliot had a conversation with his dead father (imaginary friend), which was gotten from The Matrix, word for word.
Being able to emulate key elements from great works of art is what makes Pastiche a gift to film and contemporary philosophy. Imitating elements of specific films not only honors the cinematography of the original work, but it also provides new context and further explores the themes present in the originals. Evoking nostalgia in film buffs and super fans is also a bonus. To quote the words of another wise man;
Film Meet Art: How Famous Paintings Inspire Great Filmmakers
A remarkable video essayist Vugar Efendi, has created a stunning series of video essay call “Film Meets Art”. In these videos, Vugar explores film shots and the famous painting that inspired them. Filmmakers should find inspiration from all art forms, not just by watching films.
The art world has an endless supply of inspiration for today’s generation of filmmakers. Check out this very cool series of videos below.
I do believe that film being the newest art of the 20th century, is a series of images projected on a screen. And this succession of images create ideas which in their turn, create emotion. Just as much as in literature.
Words put together creates and Stranger Things and Mr. Robot both have one thing in common. That is one thing in addition to featuring actors who are nominated for Golden Globes, they both employed a cinematic device called pastiche. pastiche in the context of film is a cinematic device that honors and other filmmakers cinematography through an imitation or reboot of specific iconic moments or the meson sin, which is a term used to describe composition, prop placement, and overall visual theme. It’s important not to confuse this with parody, which marks an artist’s work for comedic value.
To start, let’s look at Stranger Things. Stranger Things is a pastiche of basically every iconic at sci fi film. A great example of pastiche early on in the series is the end of the first episode when the boys discover l in the woods. This is normal, identical recreation of this unity t where Elliot stumbles upon et in a cornfield. This is just one of many references to popular 80s movies. The duffer brothers, who wrote Stranger Things openly admitted to recreating iconic scenes in Stranger Things as a tribute to their favorite movies growing up.
They managed to capture the supernatural and terrifying worlds created by big names like Wes Craven, and Ridley Scott, and also the essence of 80s children’s adventure films with classic groups of misfits getting into trouble recreating elements of Richard Donner’s Goonies and Rob Reiner stand by me, these few examples don’t even cover half of the unmistakable references. Overall, the duffer brothers did an incredible job of slapping adult viewers in the face with nostalgia.
Mr. Robot in many ways is a pastiche of various iconic action films. You can see within the first few episodes a striking thematic pastiche of David Fincher is fightclub. Throughout the series, Elliott provides voiceover narrative classes I can manage all easier than the others, for now anyway. And during certain seasons, he even talks to an imaginary person, which is identical to Edward Norton’s character and fightclub comment from the road if there’s any snags, he needs to look that must have had his grand a latte enema. Also, Mr. Robot storyline revolves around a hacktivist group called f society, which is not too far from Project Mayhem and Fight Club.
The only real difference is that Mr. Robot wreaked virtual havoc on the world. While project may have acted out physical acts of destruction, there’s also a scene where Elliot and his imaginary dead father carry out a conversation that’s word for word from the matrix, which creator Sam Esmail openly and somewhat proudly admitted to, let me tell you why.
You’re here because you said something wrong with the world. Something you can’t explain. But no, it controls you and everyone you care about. Do you want to know what it is? Money.
So what does all of this have to do with contemporary philosophy? Well, everything. Many recognized philosophers working within the tradition of continental philosophy, advocate film and its contribution to philosophy.
So let’s look at Mr. Robot and its pasties your Fight Club. Mr. Robot is as much about hacking as Fight Club is about fighting and terrorism. What I mean by that is they’re more about what makes a person who they are than what they do.
I’m only a vigilante hacker by night by day just a regular cyber security engineer. The creators of Fight Club did an incredible job at exaggerating the existential crisis that many people experience in corporate America. A man builds his life around a perpetual cycle of working and spending and is constantly craving anything that makes him feel something eventually makes the decision to try and change the corporate system that left him feeling so empty. The creators of Mr. Robot re explored that theme through their lead character Eliot providing a more modern context. What is it about society that disappoints you so much?
I don’t know.
And this is exactly why pastiche is a gift to film and contemporary philosophy. imitating elements of specific films not only honors the cinematography and genius of the original, but it provides new context and further explorations of themes present in the originals. It also evokes an incredible amount of nostalgia for film buffs and super fans.
In many ways, creators of cinematic television like Sam as Mel and the duffer brothers have demonstrated a groundbreaking approach to TV and even film. Whether there truly is a chance for new film and cinematography to emerge that is unique to everything else before it. They tease the question why not just stick to what you love?
The success of 2009’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS sent director Quentin Tarantino off on another career-high. It was the realization of an idea that had been a long time coming, with Tarantino purportedly first conceiving the idea around 1994, after the production of PULP FICTION. In 2012, he realized yet another idea he had been developing for a long time. For years, Tarantino had talked about his take on the spaghetti western, a genre that had profoundly influenced him. However, he wanted to use the genre to explore America’s uneasy relationship with slavery using a revenge story set in his native Tennessee—a concept he dubbed a “southern”.
The final result, 2012’s DJANGO UNCHAINED was a massive commercial and critical hit, eclipsing that even of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (at least financially). True to the director’s form, its release also ignited a firestorm of controversy over it subject matter and the heavy use of the racially-loaded “N” word. It continued a prestigious phase in his career (one which he currently still enjoys), netting him his second Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, as well as actor Christoph Waltz’s second consecutive Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Few directors remain relevant within a twenty-year period of their careers, and the fact that Tarantino keeps scoring hit after massively-influential hit is a testament to the man’s innate talent and unique vision.
Set in 1858 in America’s deep South (the antebellum years before the Civil War), DJANGO UNCHAINED concerns itself with the plight of its namesake—a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who’s wife was ripped away from him after a failed escape attempt and sent to another plantation, never to return. He is sent to auction himself, but on the way, he is rescued by an eccentric bounty hunter masquerading as a dentist: Dr. King Schultz (Waltz). Schultz needs Django to identify a number of targets he’s pursuing, but soon enough Django proves to be a formidable partner and a skilled bounty hunter in his own right. The pair find Django’s wife—the demure Broomhilda Von Schaft (Kerry Washington)—has taken up residence as a house slave to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), one of Mississippi’s wealthiest and most-feared slave traders. They infiltrate Candie’s plantation compound under the guise of wealthy dealers of gladiator slaves—also known as mandingos—and set about trying to secure Broomhilda’s freedom through duplicitous means. Unbeknownst to them, Calvin’s confidante—an elderly slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson)– senses their treachery and works to root them out before they con his beloved master.
This being a Tarantino film and all, the performances are expectedly top-rate. The part of Django was initially written for Will Smith, but he turned it down because he rather foolishly thought Django wasn’t the lead. Instead, the part went to Jamie Foxx, who is an exponentially better choice. His self-serious, grim demeanor gives the comedic moments an ironic flair, making it all the more hilarious. Foxx always surprises me when he really applies himself to his performances. He seems to have this narcissistic, over-confident persona in public that he continually subverts with the kind of roles he plays in films like RAY (2004) or COLLATERAL (2004). In DJANGO, he is convincing as the humorless badass archetype, but he also shows a considerable ability to poke fun at himself (see the Lord Fauntleroy costume he wears early in the film, which got a huge laugh in the theatre).
Christoph Waltz’s two Oscars have both stemmed from his collaborations with Tarantino, and while I admit I was (pleasantly) surprised to see him take home the gold statue again this year, he certainly earned his keep as Dr. King Schultz. Waltz steals nearly every scene as Schultz, a radically different character from the Col. Hans Landa role he made famous in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. He’s still a German, but Schultz sports a full beard and a dandy’s approach to monotone clothing. He’s every bit as eccentric as Landa, prattling on in a verbose manner as he scuttles about the frontier in a rickety wagon with an oversized tooth swinging around on top. However, his jovial nature belies his deadly ferocity as a bounty hunter and marksman. Many thought it would be for hard Waltz to top his performance in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and while I don’t know if this one necessarily supersedes the former, it definitely rivals it.
Tarantino had been trying to work with Leonardo DiCaprio for a while—he had been the first choice to play Landa before Waltz was cast. In a rare villainous turn, DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie as a dandy playboy. A wealthy Southern charmer, DiCaprio hides his villainy behind a warm smile and a hospitable nature. Make no mistake, though—he is a ruthless, volatile man who must not be crossed. DiCaprio commits himself entirely to Tarantino’s demented vision, unabashedly digging into his character’s inbred, racist leanings and nefarious desires. The extent of his commitment can be witnessed in a scene where he smashes a skull in front of his dinner guests, bleeding out all over his hand. During the take used in the film, he cut his hand badly upon smashing the skull, yet continued to stay in character despite his own, very real, blood leaking all over the place.
Tarantino’s supporting cast is rounded out by a cadre of new and familiar faces alike. As Broomhilda, Kerry Washington brings a much-needed sense of femininity to Tarantino’s machismo revenge tale. She appears to Django throughout the film as an ethereal vision amongst the cotton fields, and we feel that we’ve come to know her just as well as the other characters when we finally confront her flesh-and-blood form. Frequent Tarantino performer Samuel L. Jackson is fabulous as Candie’s key confidante, Stephen. Acting under heavy prosthetics and makeup, he assumes an elderly, feeble affectation that enhances the comedic value of his impotent rage and suspicion. After not being prominently featured in a Tarantino film since 1997’s JACKIE BROWN, Jackson’s presence is a welcome one that helps to reinforce Tarantino’s signature charms. Seasoned character actor James Remar plays two roles, one as Ace Speck—a gruff slave poacher—and Candie’s silent associate, the bowler-derby’d Butch Pooch. MIAMI VICE star Don Johnson plays Big Daddy, a rival Colonel Sanders-Esque plantation owner and progenitor of the Klu Klux Klan.
There are also a few notable cameos peppered throughout the film. Jonah Hill is funny and memorable as Big Daddy’s son and a fellow proto-Klansman. DEATH PROOF’s (2007) star Zoe Bell plays a deadly, masked tracker that silently lurks in the fringes of her scenes. She initially had a much larger subplot, but for whatever reason, it was cut and her screen-time became significantly reduced. Michael Parks, who was so memorable as Texas Sheriff Earl McGraw in KILL BILL: VOLUME 1(2003) and DEATH PROOF, plays a sunbaked poacher here. Tarantino himself also pops up in the same scene as an Aussie-accented poacher. The accent isn’t terribly convincing, and he’s carrying a few extra pounds., but I don’t say that as a necessarily bad thing; it’s just a far cry from his well-acted and talkative cameos in PULP FICTION and RESERVOIR DOGS(1992). Even powerful Hollywood directors are subject to the ravages of old age.
I remember when I first saw a trailer to DJANGO UNCHAINED, my immediate reaction was that one could be forgiven for mistaking it for a Terrence Malick film. By this, I mean that DJANGO UNCHAINED is easily Tarantino’s most beautiful film to date. Working again with cinematographer Robert Richardson, he captures the expansive vistas of the West and the sun-dappled willow trees of the South in stunning 35mm filmic beauty. Utilizing the anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Tarantino opts for a richly-realized cinematic look, complete with deep contrast and natural earth tones and bold, saturated primary colors. A sepia tint casts a nostalgic glow over the Mississippi sequences during the day, and at night is replaced by handsome amber candlelight that romanticizes the otherwise horrific Candieland plantation.
Flashback sequences are even more stylized, employing a low-contrast bleach-bypass technique to suggest faded, heat-baked film. The camerawork adapts to the scale of the story, favoring sweeping crane shots reminiscent of old spaghetti westerns as well as frenetic rack zooms typical of the grindhouse genre. Tarantino’s signature compositions of characters in profile are considerably less present here than in his previous work.
DJANGO UNCHAINED finds Tarantino working with a host of new collaborators, replacing several of his key craftspeople for reasons unknown to this devastatingly handsome author. For the first time in Tarantino’s career (not counting DEATH PROOF), Lawrence Bender isn’t a producer. This responsibility instead goes to Pilar Savone and Stacey Sher (in addition to regular executive producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein). Tarantino’s usual production designer David Wasco sits out this round as well, with J. Michael Reva filling in to recreate an authentic sense of the antebellum period. Tragically, Reva passed away midway through the shoot, but he leaves behind a strong legacy and a singular vision for Tarantino’s revisionist take on history. And finally, due to Tarantino’s editor Sally Menke passing away in 2010, DJANGO UNCHAINED finds him working with a new editor for the first time since his career began. It remains to be seen whether this new collaborator, Fred Raskin, will become Tarantino’s new Menke, but he more than makes up for the lack of Sally by crafting an explosive, exhilarating edit that proficiently captures Tarantino’s storytelling dynamics in a way that feels continuous with his earlier films.
The soundtrack is classic Tarantino, featuring obscure needle-drops that give the film a unique, offbeat, and vintage vibe. For the first time, Tarantino also uses original songs commissioned for the film (but not an original score). As a result, contemporary artists like John Legend and Rick Ross share album space with Johnny Cash, Wagnerian opera, and the spaghetti western sounds of Ennio Morricone. It’s an incredibly eclectic mix that favors Morricone’s sound more than any others due to the genre it deals in. Oddly enough, Morricone has since stated that he would not desire to work with Tarantino again due to his “incoherent” approach to film music. I would imagine that Tarantino would be greatly dismayed and disappointed to hear one of his heroes and primary influences publicly disparage him in so personal a manner.
Despite its pitch-dark reckoning with America’s original sin of slavery, DJANGO UNCHAINED is absolutely hysterical. One of the best scenes in the film is an extended sequence lampooning the Klu Klux Klan and the absurdity of their disguises.
Like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS before it, the violence is gleeful to an almost-cartoonish degree. The film is absurdly gory, with veritable geysers of blood vomiting from bullet wounds; the climax even utilizes an expressionistic sound design that likens bullets striking flesh to bombs dropped on loose soil. Despite being grotesque, the violence is almost cathartic in a way. Like the riddling of Hitler’s face with hot lead in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS before it, the messy obliteration of white slave-owners serves as a safe fantasy for a group of people who were so horribly wronged and dehumanized by their oppressors. It may not be the most tasteful tack to take with such delicate subject matter, but Tarantino exhibits no reservations about being an agent for bloodthirsty indulgence.
With the success of DJANGO UNCHAINED, Tarantino doubled down on the notion that he is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. The notion of a white man taking revenge on slavery on behalf of the black man is understandably offensive to some (Spike Lee is still furious about it). However, racial relations have always been an integral part of Tarantino’s work, and the only ones who really seem to be offended are the advocates of so-called political correctness (and knee-jerk reactionaries like Spike Lee). Yes, it’s true that the N-word flies around carelessly throughout Tarantino’s work, but he has always leveled with us about why, citing his responsibility to write his characters true to personality—regardless of their own politics. White, black, or Asian, he treats all as equals but has the courage to openly acknowledge that there are social customs, language, and habits exclusive to their respective races. These characters feel inherently authentic, as opposed to a “politically-correct” character who is whitewashed of any racial identity whatsoever.
With each new entry, Tarantino manages to satisfy his acolytes with the continuity of creative/profane dialogue, explosive violence, punchy insert shots, or vintage touches (such as the use of old studio logos at the start of his films). However, he has also become a master of subversion, surprising even those who think they’ve got him all figured out. One never truly knows what they’re in for when they go to see Tarantino’s films, but it can be guaranteed that it’ll be a wild ride.
Unlike his contemporaries, the middle-aged Tarantino isn’t content to rest on his laurels. He’s still actively prepping his next magnum opus, excitedly dropping tidbits to the hungry press that he loves to engage. We don’t know what it is yet (as of this writing) but rest assured it will be every bit as challenging and entertaining as what came before it. DJANGO UNCHAINED marks Tarantino’s eight films, and if his recent comments about stopping at ten films are to be believed, then the world only has two more Tarantino creations to look forward to. But what an incredible set of films those ten will be. Not since Stanley Kubrick has a filmmaker’s oeuvre been so small yet so consistently excellent.
From indie maverick to incendiary provocateur, to seasoned craftsman of international prestige, Tarantino has carved out quite the legacy for himself. Not many people can claim two screenwriting Oscars in one lifetime. He’s reinvigorated the careers of many “washed-up” performers. His characters and dialogue have captured an entire generation’s imagination and woven themselves into the fabric of American pop culture. He could retire tomorrow and still remain one of the most profoundly influential voices of the medium. Quite a remarkable set of accomplishments for a former video-store clerk with no connections, a VCR full of classic films, and a head full of dreams.
Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos. His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and Indiewire.
THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors.
Director Quentin Tarantino’s seventh feature film, 2009’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, is a very personal film for me, in that various facets of its existence coincided with my own at the time. I had moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2008, and my first job was as an intern floater at Lionsgate Entertainment. During this period, I was assigned to cover reception for weeks at a time, where I developed a strong rapport with the co-receptionist, who has gone on to a successful writing career and has also become a very dear friend and writing partner. He was always getting his grubby little mitts on high-profile scripts that were typically shielded from public consumption, and one day he slipped me the leaked script for Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (I’ll never forget the title as it looked on the cover page, scrawled haphazardly by Tarantino’s own hand).
It was the first time that I got to see this angle of Tarantino’s work—the script itself. The man had always been hailed as a visionary screenwriter, beginning from his early days when he famously sold the scripts to TRUE ROMANCE and NATURAL BORN KILLERS to Tony Scott and Oliver Stone, respectively. His talent for dialogue had always been well-known, but this was the first time I got to see it on the page with my own eyes. It was like having intimate, unrestricted access to Tarantino’s brainwaves, undiluted by the restrictions of production or budget.
My personal connection to INGLORIOUS BASTERDS continued in the wake of the film’s release the next summer. A few days before, I was killing time browsing the sea of DVDs in Hollywood’s Amoeba Records, oblivious to the surging crowd that was buzzing in the hangar-like space below me. Then that familiar, manic voice boomed over the PA system. Tarantino took the stage of the store’s little performance space and began whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his infectious enthusiasm. I couldn’t believe it—Tarantino had such a formative effect on my filmmaking development and here I was looking at the man himself, in the flesh. He was just like how he is in interviews, all antsy and motor-mouthin’, even a little sweaty. I’ve seen very few great directors in person (the others being Gus Van Sant and Ridley Scott), so this was an electrifying moment for me. Like being nailed by a bolt of lightning.
There’s a third connection that I didn’t even realize I had until today. The film’s centerpiece sequence, the massacre of Hitler and his top lieutenants, takes place in a French theatre that Tarantino and his production designer, David Wasco, modeled after the Vista in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood. The Vista is my favorite theatre in all of LA, which is saying something for a city that boasts veritable film cathedrals like the Arclite and the Cinerama Dome. The Vista is a small, Art Deco one-screen theatre on an unassuming block in Silverlake, but its marquee signage and the auditorium’s hokey Egyptian design theme are anything but. It’s an endlessly charming cultural landmark that I love seeing movies in any chance I get. The $6 matinee price doesn’t hurt either.
Tarantino had been gestating the concept for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS for nearly a decade prior to its release, scratching out and scuttling numerous drafts in the pursuit of perfection. He came to see the film as his magnum opus, and he felt that every word had to be perfect. After the disappointment of 2007’s DEATH PROOF, Tarantino felt that it was an appropriate time to seriously tackle his long-in-development WW2 film and return to cinemas with his guns blazing.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was initially conceived as a men-on-a-mission film, similar to THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) or its own namesake, Enzo Castellari’s THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (1978). Tarantino mainstay Michael Madsen was supposed to star as a character named Babe Buchinsky, and Adam Sandler was intended to play a role that made it into the finished film: Sgt. Donny Donowitz, a role eventually filled by Tarantino’s filmmaking colleague Eli Roth. As it did with his KILL BILL saga before it, Tarantino’s script inevitably got away from him. It sprawled in scope and size, and before he knew it, Tarantino’s small band of Nazi scalpers found themselves as supporting characters in a larger ensemble piece about the conspiracy to kill Hitler.
Tarantino’s finished film follows two separate threads that eventually combine. The first is the story of the Basterds, headed by a tough SOB named Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who charges his men with a personal debt to him—one that can only be repaid in 100 Nazi scalps. Meanwhile, a young Jewish girl named Shoshanna hides in plain sight under an assumed name and occupation as a French theatre owner after escaping the massacre of her family at the hands of the ruthless Jew Hunter, Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). When events conspire to hold the premiere of a prestigious Nazi propaganda film at her theatre, she hatches a plot to burn the theatre down with the Nazis inside. The Basterds learn of this premiere separately, hatching their own plot when they learn from their German film star-turned-double agent Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) that Hitler and his top officers will be in attendance. What follows will change the course of history as we know it.
For a film about World War 2, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is infamously short on action, choosing instead to create a handful of setpieces featuring the actors sitting around a table and talking. Naturally, the performances have to be compelling, and Tarantino coaxes career-best performances out of every single one of his cast members. Even though he gets top billing on the poster, Pitt is simply one cog in Tarantino’s complex machine of a plot. The widely recognizable film star crafts perhaps his most outlandish persona yet as the Tennessee-bred Lt. Aldo Raine, better known by his enemies as The Apache. Pitt plays the character as a charmingly vengeful force of nature—a tough, gruff proto-American with a mysterious neck scar that’s never explained but alludes to the magnitude of his resilience and grit. He’s a perfect avatar to convey Tarantino’s cartoonish take on history.
I initially found Tarantino’s casting of the remaining Basterds to be surprising, given the earlier rumblings about Madsen and Sandler. In retrospect, the casting is inspired and fits the tone very well. Eli Roth had left a bad taste in my mouth after seeing his film HOSTEL(2005), but he won me back over after performing as the Bear Jew, Sgt. Donny Donowitz. He assumes a boarish demeanor and a heavy Masshole accent as he bashes in Nazi brains with a bat bearing the names of Jewish friends and family back home. He’s not the best actor in the world, but he has an unexpected degree of talent in this arena that serves the film very well.
THE OFFICE’s BJ Novack gets his first high-profile film role here as Pvt. Smithsen, as does DEATH PROOF co-star Omar Doom as Pvt. Omar Ulmer. Finally there’s Til Schweiger as the stoic Nazi hunter Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz. In addition to getting his own grindhouse-esque backstory sequence, Schweiger gets some of the film’s best lines, like “say goodbye to your Nazi balls”.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS also features some fierce females, in the form of Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent. Kruger uses her natural glamor to striking degree as the elegant German film star, Diane Von Hammersmark. In such a testosterone-laden film, she’s a breath of fresh air—but make no mistake, she’s just as tough as any Basterd, if not more so. She plays a crucial role as the Basterds’ inside woman, and her participation helps pave the way for Hitler’s downfall and the end of World War 2 (at least in Tarantino’s timeline).
Equally as determined is European revelation Melanie Laurent, who is heartbreaking as the vulnerable Shoshanna. After suffering the horror of having her family massacred by Nazis, she channels her trauma into a strength that helps bring down the entire Nazi regime. It’s a career-making performance, and I hope to see her utilized in more American films down the line. Shoshanna is a perfect example of Tarantino’s nuanced understanding of the fairer sex and his penchant for empowering them.
Less fierce is Julie Dreyfus, who serves in a similar capacity to her Sofie Fatale role in KILL BILL VOLUME 1 (2003). Here, she plays Francesa Mondino, Joseph Goebbels’ French interpreter and sexual plaything. It’s really more of a small cameo, but her reprisal of the glamorous assistant/interpreter/confidante archetype points to running themes and in-jokes across Tarantino’s entire body of work.
Irish actor Michael Fassbender finds in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS his mainstream breakout role as British film critic and serviceman, Lt. Archie Hicox. He only appears in one chapter, but, Christ….what an appearance. Fassbender effortlessly assumes the droll, aristocratic nature of his character. He has a subtle confidence that somehow makes him even more badass than his Basterd colleagues. There’s a moment in a tense Mexican standoff at a basement bar crawling with Nazis, whereby Fassbender has a pistol pointed directly at him under the table. Sensing his impending demise, he calmly takes a shot of whiskey and drops his cover as a fellow Nazi officer by stating: “since it appears I’ll be rapping at death’s door very shortly, I hope you don’t mind that I go out speaking the King’s.” Ugh, so badass. So fucking classy. In this single sequence, Fassbender assured his stardom in addition to capturing the lusty hearts of women (and men) the world over.
Suprisingly, Mike Myers makes a cameo appearance as Hicox’s commanding officer, General Fanny. Prior to seeing the film for the first time, I was aware that Myers was in the film. However, I strained to find him until I suddenly realized that the balding British general giving Fassbender his orders was in fact, Austin Powers himself. Myers serves up a positively chameleon-esque performance that makes great use of his comedic talents to subtle, engaging effect.
And then there’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERD’s big revelation. The man that anybody who saw the film could not stop raving about. The man whose performance was so striking that it launched him from European obscurity to American Oscar-winner overnight. Yes, I’m talking about Christoph Waltz, the seasoned character actor who until recently was completely unknown to our shores. As the chief antagonist Col. Hans Landa, Waltz is positively electrifying. He’s at once both charming and cold-blooded, concealing a very deadly ferocity with a dandy, effete demeanor. He goes against every single villain expectation in the book, even going so far as to defect to the Allied side when he realizes the Nazis can’t win. Waltz is endlessly entertaining in the role, and it’s baffling to think that Tarantino once wanted Leonardo DiCaprio in the role. Literally no one else could have played this part as well as Waltz has. His performance single-handedly elevates this film from a great film to cinematic history.
Tarantino once again utilizes the talents of cinematographer Robert Richardson to render the somber French locales in vivid, bright color. They style the film as a modern-day spaghetti western, albeit set in World War 2. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio allows for dramatic, expansive compositions, and the high-key lighting scheme allows for a deep contrast that gives the film a palpable weight. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS boasts an autumnal look, with desaturated greens and wet, drab stone-greys that allow for the bright red of blood and Nazi flags to really pop. Camera-wise, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is Tarantino’s most low-key work yet. He chooses to keep the camera locked-off for a vast majority of the film, employing the strategic use of dolly and crane shots only when it serves a strong purpose. As Tarantino’s first period piece, production designer David Wasco faithfully creates authentic costumes and sets for the cast members to inhabit.
Tarantino initially wanted legendary composer Ennio Morricone to score the film, owing mainly to the fact thatINGLOURIOUS BASTERDS took so much inspiration from spaghetti westerns. Unfortunately, Morricone was unable to commit, and Tarantino subsequently used selects from the maestro’s existing score work for his own purposes. He also includes a few cues that he previously utilized in his KILL BILL saga, which ties his self-contained universe closer together.
Tarantino has to be the first director in memory to use scores for existing movies as source tracks, almost as if they were pop music or rock and roll. To Tarantino, film music is rock and roll—there’s no difference. What it was initially created for or when it was created bears no difference to the story, only that it should strike to the core of whatever emotional truth Tarantino is trying to convey at any given moment. This is best exemplified in the use of an anachronistic David Bowie track during an introductory montage to the cinema-house massacre. In perpetuating this practice, Tarantino has given a huge gift to cinema; he has unshackled music from the context of its time and allowed for unparalleled levels of commentary and thematic expression.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is an unconventional war film, in that it doesn’t concern itself with battle but with the thematic conceit of language. Right down to the misspelled title, Tarantino makes no bones about language as the driving force of the film. The majority of the film is in a language other than English, with several characters switching between languages as easily as you would slip out of a t-shirt and into a new one. Christoph Waltz flits from German, to Italian, to English and French without so much as a second thought, making his Hans Landa character a truly formidable foe in a world where language means the difference between life or death. Tarantino also plays the cultural linguistic divide for laughs, such as a truly hysterical moment where Brad Pitt’s American character must butcher the elegant musicality of Italian through his thick Southern drawl. And who can forget Waltz’s absolutely ridiculous delivery of “That’s a bingo!”?
Indeed, the film itself is structured like that perennial celebration of language: the novel. Tarantino’s use of book-like chapter designations has never been more appropriate and justified than it is here, whereby he eschews typical three-act film structure and bases his story around a handful of distinct, elongated set-pieces he deems as “chapters”. And just like a novel, Tarantino isn’t afraid to dwell on the minutiae of a single moment. The longest scenes in the film—the opening in the French farmhouse and the basement tavern rendezvous with Hammersmark—go on for almost half an hour each, dragging out the suspense to an almost unbearable degree until it is released in an explosion of blood and violence. For most directors, this approach would be highly ill-advised, but Tarantino’s preternatural talent for engaging dialogue keeps his audience dangling on every well-chosen word.
Tarantino’s signature structural trademarks are all present and accounted for—the yellow title font, the creative profanity, abrupt music drops, a victim’s POV shot looking up at his aggressors, elaborate tracking shots, the Mexican standoff, etc. However, here they mark a profound change in maturity; that is to say, there’s a refined, worldly sophistication to his techniques where they were once vulgar, coarse, and undisciplined.
It’s fitting that Tarantino’s story uses a movie theatre as an important element, so much so that it plays a hand in ending World War 2. The film references in his previous films have all built up to this, wherein a movie premiere becomes a watershed moment in world history and turns a generation of Americans into film buffs (albeit, only within Tarantino’s self-contained universe). He uses Shoshanna’s theatre as the climax’s venue, showing it off in an elaborately elegant tracking shot similar to how he presented the geography of KILL BILL VOLUME 1’s House of Blue Leaves set. Whereas the latter sequence tends to come off as showboat-y, here Tarantino exercises a degree of restraint that builds tension and anticipation by expertly setting up the dominos for an explosive finale.
Despite being consistently hailed as an auteur, Tarantino has always relied on the talents of an elite pool of collaborators. The aforementioned Richardson and Wasco have played an integral role in bringing Tarantino’s vision to the screen, as have regular producing partners Lawrence Bender and the Weinstein brothers. Past Tarantino performers like Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson appear in voice cameos as an OSS Commander and an omniscient narrator explaining nitrate film’s flammability, respectively. Tarantino also finds another use for Eli Roth’s talents by commissioning him to direct NATION’S PRIDE, the film-within-a-film whose premiere the Nazis are celebrating.
Throughout his career, Tarantino has shown considerable respect towards his collaborators. There are stories from the set of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS about how he’d hold screenings for his crew featuring the movies by their co-stars and fellow craftsmen. Not many directors show such reverence towards the people they work with; it’s no wonder that Tarantino is so highly regarded amongst actors and below-the-line talent alike.
Of course, I must mention Tarantino’s biggest collaborator, the superbly-talented Sally Menke. Out of all the people who could lay claim to helping Tarantino become the director he is today, Menke’s contributions put her head and shoulders above every single one. She is the shaper of Tarantino’s vision, finding the music in his dynamic compositions and harnessing the raw energy of his direction into a coherent experience. The flawlessly-edited INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS marks the high point, the culmination of their work together. Unfortunately, it also marks the last time they will ever work together. Sadly, Menke passed away in 2010 as she was hiking in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, and with her death Tarantino lost his co-author and his platonic partner. It remains to be seen how this will play out in Tarantino’s work going forward, but the success of 2012’s DJANGO UNCHAINED is promising.
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was an unprecedented success for Tarantino, besting even 1994’s PULP FICTION. Until it was unseated by DJANGO UNCHAINED, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was Tarantino’s highest-grossing film and still remains as his best-reviewed. True to form, the film was met with considerable controversy upon its release. Some were uncertain whether the concept of Jews aggressively pursuing revenge on the Nazis was in poor taste or not, or if it was respectful to survivors of the Holocaust. Still others were frustrated by Tarantino’s blatant historical revisionism, which takes the apocryphal tack of gunning down Hitler in a gleeful hail of bullets during the theatre inferno sequence (as opposed to shooting himself in a bunker like he did in real life). Personally, it’s an act of wish-fulfillment that’s firmly on-tone with the story that precedes it. By taking such a cartoonish attitude towards his aesthetic, Tarantino grants himself the license to alter history as he sees fit, making for a much more cathartic ending to World War 2 than we actually got.
As far as Tarantino’s career development goes, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS marks the beginning of a new phase for the controversial auteur. If DEATH PROOF saw the end of his Tex-Mex/grindhouse phase, then this film begins something much more prestigious. Indeed, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is the closest that Tarantino has ever come to Oscar respectability in the Academy’s eyes (PULP FICTION’s screenwriting win notwithstanding). The reverence bestowed upon his follow-up, DJANGO UNCHAINED, only reinforces the notion that he is in a prestige phase. Perhaps it’s only appropriate, given that Tarantino is now firmly in middle-age and has gone on record to state that he would be happy only having ten features to his name (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is the seventh). Faced with the possibility of his career winding down, it’s only natural that Tarantino would be concerned with his legacy.
The film’s final moment has Pitt carving a swastika into the forehead of a screaming Waltz. Admiring his handiwork, he muses: “you know what, I think this just might be my masterpiece”. All cheekiness aside, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS might very well be just that: Tarantino’s masterpiece.
Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos. His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and Indiewire.
THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors.
Only a handful of directors knows how just to catch the attention of people like Quentin Tarantino. No doubt, he is good at doing things right. Considered as an exploitation film that stroked the sensibilities of genre nerds, the theatrical release of the double-feature throwback experiment is seen to both confuse and alienate the general moviegoing public at the same time.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse was released on April 6, 2007. The directors made an intentional affectation that got many unsuspecting patrons unhappy. The saw the nicks and scratches in the film as damaging. As a result, the confidence of the filmmaking duo began to wane when disappointments from general disinterest and the resulting box office came filing in.
While some may consider the gritty, 70s-style exploitation flick to be one of Tarantino’s purest movies, there is a good number of viewers who are still wondering where his contribution was. When credits of “Planet Terror” – Rodriguez’s lead film – starts to roll, these were the people who pulled on their coats and obliviously left the theater all because they felt deceived.
Up to this very moment, the film –Death Proof – still carries along a raging debate with lots of disapprovals from the viewing public. Even as a major part of the filmmaker’s broader legacy which was meant to serve as a standalone entertainment, the film generally appears to be a far more contentious piece.
While some may find it hard to gauge the lasting effect of the movie, a good number of fans – both the obsessive and casual ones – consider the 2007 American exploitation film as the worst effort of the director by a wide margin.
Under the collective title “Grindhouse,” the film – Death Proof – was theatrically released as part of a double feature with Planet Terror which was directed by Robert Rodriguez. Basically, it was aimed at recreating the experience of viewing the double features of exploitation film in a grindhouse theater. Though released as part of a double feature in the US, the film got a separate release outside the shores of its home country.
Quentin Tarantino both wrote and directed the film which stars Zoe Bell, Mary Elizabeth, Tracie Thoms, Sydney Poitier, Rose McGowan, Jordan Ladd, Vanessa Ferlito, Rosario Dawson, and Kurt Russell. In the film, Zoe Bell played herself as stuntwoman while Kurt Russell starred as the stuntman. The film pays homage to the muscle car, exploitation, and slasher films of the 1970s. During the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, Death proof was seen to be in the main competition for the Palme d’Or.
Death Proof: Behind the Scenes
Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the way stunt cars were “death-proof” by stuntmen so their drivers could be able to survive horrific collisions and high-speed crashes. It was this fascination that led to the production of the creation of a slasher film that features an upset stuntman with a “death-proof” car which he uses to stalk and kill sexy women.
Apart from women-in-prison films, Tarantino was looking to do a more rigid film. That was when he came up with the idea of using the structure of a slasher film to create something strict that people will love. According to Robert Rodriguez who helped title the movie, the film was simple and straightforward.
In Tarantino’s earlier film – Kill Bill– he had featured stuntwoman Zoe Bell as a stunt double for Uma Thurman and was stunned by her performance. Initially, he thought her role to be a cameo one but it later turned out to be her first on-screen acting. Zoe Bell on her part never understood the enormousness of her role until her name was featured on the film posters opposite other characters like Rose McGowan, Rosario Dawson, and Kurt Russell.
Based on the stuntwoman herself, Bell was selected to play the character, Zoe. In order to make the film look more like the typical 1970 movies shown in grindhouse theaters, the filmmakers sought to employ various unconventional techniques to reflect the style. One way they could do this was to intentionally damage the film. Throughout the feature, the film looked it was in bad shape. This is evident in the hilarious switch in title when the title ‘Quentin Tarantino’s Thunderbolt’ was abruptly replaced by a title card with an inexpertly emblazoned inscription – ‘Death Proof’ – across the screen.
The leading female role was written by Tarantino himself. Basically, he sought to create a kind of a loving homage cinematic sub-culture that many find difficult to comprehend. Viewers who are not used to the “grindhouse” cinema phenomena found it difficult to understand how the film was set out. Both in its look and feel, the film went out of its way to imitate the style of exploitation cinema that was popular in the late 60’s and 70’s.
It would appear that a vast majority of mainstream audiences didn’t find the film at all amusing. This alone led to the major criticisms leveled at it. In the first place, the film is not meant to be taken very seriously. Rather, it was purposed to be a pastiche or a parody of the class of movies a greater percentage of viewers wouldn’t want to see. But in terms of content, theme, and plot, it tends to be highly controversial and little in the way of conventional film logic.
The original idea was to pastiche two films and relay them at drive-in movie theaters as a double feature. As they move from state to state, theater owners will just have to take up the role of the filmmakers to re-cut and re-edit both films. This is the explanation for the appearance of a severely depreciating film stock, the switch between black and white and color, the sloppy editing and the purposeful mistakes in continuity.
Death Proof: The Critics
In a bid to appeal to the obsessive-type movie aficionado who are capable of appreciating the joke and getting the references, the filmmakers try to create a focused adoption of shoddy film-making which is in no wise sloppy as some may see it. To this end, it becomes quite difficult to see what people may be criticizing. A greater number of people would be reluctant to consider sevral semi-unclear movies that influenced the film as they will not actually expect it to keep them enthralled and entertained.
While the rest of Tarantino’s works have received wide praise, Proof’s merits have suffered derisive sarcasm. During a roundtable interview with a Hollywood reporter in 2012, Tarantino was quick to state that he felt the film stains his credit thereby regarding as the lowest point of quality that can be accepted from him.
However, come to look at it, the film seems to contain certain features that can rarely be found in any of his works. Tarantino’s film is such a personal work that’s got his fetishes, self-indulgence, influences, and interests at work. No doubt, everything here including the heavy flaws contributes immensely to the body of work displayed in the film.
Obviously, the movie is the palpable result of the most exciting auteur in cinema. It can be said to be a film writ in his largest, loudest letters. While some critics may see Death Proof as a remake of some cheapie slasher exploitation flicks, others can freely say it is the ecstatic fantasy daydream of the maker after night binging on girl gang.
Apart from Tarantino, there would only be a few people that admire the exploitation in the film. As a matter of fact, most of the features in Death Proof were no classics. Referencing to “vanishing point” is just unheard of. An average moviegoer must have never come across such things as “SwitchBlade Sisters.” No doubt, the movie is unbearably talky.
As part of the pastiche, Tarantino and his crew deliberately insert continuous dialogue that makes it sound chit-chatty with endless gabbing. Those who accustomed with this will find it difficult to understand that the action was deliberate. This was basically done to conserve the budgetary production of the film and at the same time, reference the downside to genuine seventies Grindhouse flick.
Death Proof: The Raves
Outside the meaningless girl talk and the ponderous lulls that can even be forborne, there are still some interesting features in the movie that cannot be overlooked. As a matter of fact, it is hard to deny that the vehicle stunts exhibited in the film are impressive. No doubt, Sally Menke did a beautiful job there! One absolute shocker that cannot be by-passed is the spectacular crash. This remarkable moment alone requires both a ‘pause and replay’ action.
The Jackie Chan factor was fully observed here when Zoe Bell heightened the tension with a sense of actual danger while performing her own stunts. Along with an admirably old-school precision, the climactic cat-and-mouse car chase proved very pristine. As an actress and stuntwoman, Zoe Bell never found the role of playing herself any challenging. Thanks to a sympathetic advantage, she found so easy to showcase her bubbly personality.
Also, the remaining casting is ideal. At first ominous and then pathetic, the renascent Kurt Russell showcases his fatherly charm and charisma into something extra ordinary. He deftly navigates through his role with tonal hairpin turns that are only typical with him. Even Mickey Rourke would have found this role to be quite challenging to handle. No doubt, the twisted ex-stuntman Mike did a great job getting off on chasing pretty women off the road.
Tarantino seeks to upgrade the Mike to the status of a near-immortal by making him literally untouchable especially when he’s in that death-proof car of his. In fact, Stuntman Mike was so elevated that he could not be killed by anyone except in the hands of another stuntman. But in this scenario, there was a stuntwoman.
In a bid to evoke the typical nature of the film’s location – Austin, Death Proof features a soundtrack packed with southern-flavored obscurities which are also part of the director’s favorite. Long before joining the industry, Tarantino has been working as a musical ‘curator.’ So, he knows just how to bring his least-gimmicky and most consistently listenable tune selections into the mix. Just so you know, the director wrote all the song titles used in the movie. As a huge part of all of his films, Quentin Tarantino was able to get his personal 45 collections into the jukebox in the Texas Chili Parlor.
Tarantino is famous for monkeying with his movies’ timeline. But unlike his other movies, Death Proof is the only film that runs in chronological order. Here, he had no choice but to skip the trickery features such as the flashbacks so as to perfectly get aligned with the down-low style of Death Proof. Littered with his personal touches, Tarantino does well to recycle “Death Proof” from thriller materials and stock horror.
Death Proof: Final Thoughts
Towards the end of the film, an amusing but unanticipated change-up occurred when the girls gained superiority over the nefarious Stuntman Mike. This alone is capable of bringing a soothing relief on the face of every aficionado praying for an imminent escape for the girls. No doubt, the girls in tight t-shirts, the other characters, the music, and the colorful iconography added to constructive nature of the movie. All these made it look like a joyous, darkly comic romp.
Apart from attempting to turn its audience on to a whole new world of cult Japanese cinema, Death Proof fully demonstrates to its audience the great use of movement, color, texture, and tone employed by the filmmaker. Nevertheless, the film is meant as a piece of entertainment. The final scene of the movie was shot near the Neverland Ranch, at the entrance to Midland School just on Figueroa Mountain Road.
The 4thfilm by Quentin Tarantino (as it reads in the film’s advertising copy), KILL BILL: VOLUME 1, was released during an odd time in my cinematic development. The year was 2003, and I had just entered my senior year of high school.
By that time, I was of age to see R-rated films in theatres without any kind of hassle or sneaky spy shit—but my friends were not. And that is how on a cold winter night in Portland, my younger brother and best friend were stuck in another auditorium watching a stale biopic on the religious reformer Martin Luther, while I was alone in another auditorium gleefully taking in the literal bloodbath that was KILL BILL: VOLUME 1.
I had heard of Tarantino prior to this, by virtue of being a casual participant in cinematic pop culture. However, KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 was the first Tarantino film I ever saw, and I was riveted for its duration. After leaving the theatre, I immediately (okay, maybe it was a week or two later) went out and bought PULP FICTION (1994) and RESERVOIR DOGS(1992) on DVD so I could check out his other work—the first time I had ever done so as for a given director. I hadn’t yet gone to film school, so I had yet to learn about Andrew Sarris’ auteur theory, but I intuitively understood the sentiment because of Tarantino.
Tarantino’s grand return to cinema after 1997’s JACKIE BROWN, KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 was almost ten years in the making. What began as excited chattering and brainstorming between Tarantino and actress Uma Thurman during the production of PULP FICTIONslowly grew over the years to become a gargantuan celebration of cinema’s various forms and a legitimate pop cultural phenomenon unto itself. KILL BILL: VOLUME 2 (2004) was released only six months later, but Tarantino had initially conceived the idea as one epic revenge tale spanning vast swaths of time and space. Rather indulgently, Tarantino added new scenes to the script as he shot—a testament to the unfettered, unadulterated giddiness with which he approached the project—only to find himself in the editing room with a film that ran a (bladder-annihilating) four hours. His producing partners—Lawrence Bender, Bob Weinstein, and Harvey Weinstein—successfully argued for the film to get released in two parts. Hence, VOLUME 1.
The KILL BILL saga tells the blood-soaked tale of The Bride (Thurman), who lost her baby and four years of her life when she was attacked and left for dead on her wedding day by her old boss and lover, Bill (David Carradine) and his gang of elite killers, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. When she comes out of her coma, she immediately sets to work planning the execution of each and every person involved. KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 sets up the Bride’s quest, travelling as far as Japan as she pursues the first two ex-Viper Squad names on her Death List: Pasadena homemaker Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and Yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). Along the way, she coaxes the legendary Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) into constructing a new samurai sword for her, and encounters a masked Yakuza gang called the Crazy 88’s.
Tarantino’s cast is first-rate, turning in performances that are at once both over-the-top and sincere. This is Thurman’s show, through and through, and she soaks up every ounce of energy in the scene, channeling it into an aggressive performance. With revenge tales, it’s easy for the protagonist to become so focused in their vendetta that they become one-note and cease being multi-dimensional. Fortunately, Thurman imbues The Bride character with unfathomable complexity and grit. She courageously stares down every challenge and continually summons up vast wells of strength to overcome them. It’s one of Thurman’s most high-profile performances, and easily one of her best.
I’ll elaborate more on Carradine’s portrayal of Bill in my analysis of VOLUME 2, as he is only heard, and never seen during the entirety of VOLUME 1. However, his seasoned growl of a voice does the heavy lifting for us, telling us everything we need to know about the chief target of The Bride’s obsessive quest. Instead, the chief antagonist of VOLUME 1 is O-Ren Ishii, played by Lucy Liu in the role she was born to play. O-Ren is a highly-skilled assassin and can match the Bride in sword combat blow for blow, so it was crucial that whoever plays the role can convey the appropriate amount of fierceness and conviction. Liu pulls this off effortlessly, channeling her years of experience in other action films into a surprisingly subversive performance. Of all the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, she is given the most amount of backstory, which paints her as the dark mirror image of the Bride and the strongest possible antagonist for her to face in the first installment.
Tarantino’s supporting cast is stuffed with scene-stealing turns, their interactions against the relatively blank canvas of The Bride’s personality serving to highlight their unique character traits. Vivica A. Fox plays the most against type as the fierce, sassy Vernita Green, who—in a brilliant manipulation on Tarantino’s part—finds herself fighting for her life against the Bride while simultaneously trying to hide the violence from her young daughter.
Julie Dreyfus is the most conventionally-feminine presence in the film, as O-ren’s half-French, half-Japanese lawyer, and protégé, Sofie Fatale. Chiaki Kuriyama plays Gogo Yubari, O-Ren’s teenage bodyguard with a mean psychotic streak and the appearance of a giggling Japanese schoolgirl. Sonny Chiba is a welcome comedic presence as Hattori Hanzo, a wizened sage and retired swordmaker who is called out of retirement when he learns the intended target of The Bride’s vendetta.
And finally, veteran character actor Michael Parks plays Earl McGraw, a Texas cop and gruff, tobacco-spitting’ sonabitch. This is Parks’ first collaboration with Tarantino, and he would continue working with Tarantino in bit roles throughout the mid-2000s. He’d even go on to reprise his role as the fan-favorite McGraw character in both sections of the joint-Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez directorial effort GRINDHOUSE (2007).
KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 is arguably one of the most dynamic and strikingly visual films ever made. The utmost care and passion went into the composition of every shot, and Tarantino’s love for the art form and its seminal works comes through in every frame. He enlists the services of cinematographer Robert Richardson for the first time, who gorgeously captures Tarantino’s wild vision and arresting 2.35:1 composition on Super 35mm film. Gone are the burnished Technicolor hues of Tarantino past; this film is slick, with brightly saturated colors and high-key, expressionistic lighting. Each scene references some form of cinema that Tarantino loves, whether it’s a kung-fu flick, a spaghetti western, a Blaxploitation film, or even a Brian DePalma shlock thriller. The umbrella term for Tarantino’s visual presentation here would be “grindhouse”, but he pulls inspiration from every corner of the film universe, mashing it together into a Frankenstein-ish form that’s astonishingly coherent.
Tarantino has always been a referential filmmaker, appropriating bits and pieces from his influences into a style that’s both his own and an homage to the works that came before it. KILL BILL VOLUME 1 is arguably the most nakedly referential film in Tarantino’s canon, adapting the look and style of each scene to the subgenre of film it is paying homage to. For instance, the use of split-screen and that unsettling “whistle” song during the sequence where the eye-patched assassin Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah disguised as a nurse) sneaks into a comatose Bride’s room to inject poison into her veins is a direct reference to both Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980). Both directors are commonly cited as huge influences on Tarantino, and he (along with the help of unsung hero, the late editor Sally Menke) manages to wordlessly reference both of them while creating something entirely his own. The KILL BILL saga is littered with mish-and-mash sequences like these.
For me personally, the most jarringly original thing about the film is Tarantino’s inclusion of an animated sequence midway through the film. Another reference to the director’s pulp inspirations, the sequence is rendered in the style of Japanese anime, depicting O-ren Ishii’s traumatic witnessing of the murder of her parents, and her eventual revenge on the man responsible (which makes her a kindred spirit with The Bride). Her skill with murder leads her to becoming one of the best female assassins in the field, and her rise is chronicled in stylish animated fashion. When I first saw the film and this scene began unspooling, my jaw dropped. I specifically remember thinking to myself, “wait, we can do that?!”—I was literally shocked that someone would have the audacity to even include such a bracingly different animated style into a live-action film, much less pull it off with the effortless grace that Tarantino does here.
This inspired blend continues into the film’s centerpiece: The Bride’s showdown with the Crazy 88’s at the House of Blue Leaves. Japanese samurai and Yakuza crime films are the chief stylistic influence on VOLUME 1, reaching an apex in this brutal, bloody showdown. The extended sequence is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of work that Tarantino has ever done, containing little bits and pieces of his best techniques to delirious, expressionistic effect. There are four key bits to this scene that illustrate Tarantino’s impeccably thought-through approach to the film.
The first is the beginning, with O-Ren and her Crazy 88 entourage entering the House of Blue Leaves. Tarantino frames the action head-on in wide shot, with the actors walking towards the camera and breaking the fourth wall by looking directly into it. Tarantino then punches in to closer shots, revealing the performers to be walking in slow-motion. All the while, he uses a Hotei Tomaya song, “Battle Without Honor or Humanity”, which has since become the de facto KILL BILL theme song. Granted, this scene has been endlessly parodied nearly shot for shot (TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE did it best in 2004) in the years since we first laid eyes on it. However, Tarantino of all people knows that imitation is the best form of flattery, and the fact that this specific pairing of motion, composition and song choice has entered into our collective cinematic consciousness as the visual shorthand for “badasses on a mission” speaks to Tarantino’s intuitive connection to archetypal scenarios.
Shortly after The Bride arrives at the club, Tarantino takes us on an expansive, bird’s eye-view tour of the House of Blue Leaves. Over the course of a single shot, we zoom across the rafters looking down at the action, descend to eye-level and follow the Bride through the hallway into the bathroom, and pull back out again for a wide shot of the scene. Whereas Tarantino usually opts for subtle tracking techniques that hide how complicated they actually are, here he is an unabashed showman. It’s almost a brazen “look what I can do” kind of statement, an elegant dance between camera and director to the accompaniment of Japanese surf rock, courtesy of real-life rock band The 5,6,78’s. (Their iconic “Woo-Hoo” song would be driven into the ground by a particularly aggressive and annoying series of Vonage commercials a few years later). This kind of show-boaty tracking shot draws its inspiration from a cadre of influences like Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, and Tarantino contemporary Paul Thomas Anderson.
The actual fight itself is somewhat of a tour de force for Tarantino, who up to this point had never actually filmed anything as openly “action film-y” as this before. It helps that his location was a specially built set in China’s venerable Shaw Studios, where many of Tarantino’s favorite kung-fu films had been shot in the past (he even references the studio by including a vintage “Filmed In Shaw Scope” card at the beginning of the film). This sequence alone has the highest body count within Tarantino’s entire canon, and is one of the most viscerally violent scenes ever put to film. It’s so violent, in fact, that Tarantino switches from color to black and white for a large portion of it to tone down the sight of the literal ocean of blood he sheds. Despite its cartoonish brutality, Tarantino helms the sequence with such an artful eye that it becomes more expressionistic than violent. This is further evidenced when the sequence switches back to color, and The Bride and her adversaries are silhouetted against a bright blue grid (one of my favorite images in film, ever).
The final beat of the House of Blue Leaves setpiece is the final showdown between The Bride and O-Ren, which takes place in a gorgeously tranquil, moonlit & snow-covered garden. The transition from blood-soaked nightclub to the peaceful, quiet and beautiful scene lying just outside is breathtaking. Tarantino is able to harness the full beauty of this sequence, crafting some of the most aesthetically gorgeous compositions of his career. The final battle between the two expert samurai swords-women is paired with the unexpected choice of a flamenco salsa music track. It works surprisingly well, and is a perfect illustration of the grindhouse/arthouse, East-West dichotomy Tarantino incorporated into his story and themes. Everything that Tarantino is trying to aesthetically express with his KILL BILL saga is effortlessly distilled down to its essence in this single scene.
David Wasco returns as Production Designer for the film, this time collaborating with Yohei Taneda in creating a series of vibrant set-pieces. The House of Blue Leaves is an incredible set, as is the whimsical miniature model of Tokyo that The Bride watches roll by as her plane descends. The model itself doesn’t look photo-realistic, but its sublime, old-school charm gels the highly expressionistic vision Tarantino has cultivated.
Tarantino has always been known for his eclectic, tastemaking soundtracks. KILL BILL VOLUME 1 ups the bar considerably, drawing in a veritable potpourri of influences from every corner of the music world. The aforementioned “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” is undeniably the highest-profile piece, achieving a level of instant recognition and fame on par with Tarantino’s use of “Miserlou” in PULP FICTION. VOLUME 1’s disparate musical styles bear no resemblance to each other on their face, but Tarantino combines them in a way that creates a unique character for the film. Nancy Sinatra, Charlie Parker, Ennio Morricone, and Zamfir the flutist all contribute to a mish-mash musical palette, weaving into one another in a rich tapestry. In a first for Tarantino, original score elements have been commissioned by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. His work doesn’t particularly stand out against Tarantino’s needle drops, but it adds another layer of chop-socky/funky sound to an already-impressive landscape.
I mentioned earlier how KILL BILL VOLUME 1 was the first Tarantino film I ever saw, and for the uninitiated, it’s the clearest example of his directorial style. Every one of his signature flourishes is in here and amplified to an almost cartoonish degree. Creative dialogue and profanity is blended in with oddly formal language, which Tarantino cites as a callback to the formalist dialogue in the old samurai films that influenced his script. Events are presented in non-chronological order, separated by inter-titles that divide the story up into book-like “chapters”. The use of the color yellow in his on-screen text is abundant (although he seems to switch between colors and fonts at will, and with reckless abandon). There’s a plethora of pop culture references, even at the beginning when Tarantino flashes the “revenge is a dish best served cold” quote from STAR TREK. Non-diagetic music stops abruptly on a hard cut. Lots of close-ups of feet feed Tarantino’s personal fetish. Lots of compositions featuring characters in profile during build-ups to showdowns. A general grindhouse vibe helped by the inclusion of rack zooms and vintage sound effects. The black suit/white shirt combo reserved for Tarantino’s professional criminals is represented in the wardrobe of the Crazy 88’s. Even the infamous Tarantino trunk POV shot is included here, manifested in the form of the Bride delivering a cryptic threat to Bill through Sofie Fatale, who lies bound and injured in the trunk. If one ever needs a crash course on what separates Tarantino from any other director, they only need look at KILL BILL: VOLUME 1.
Tarantino often cites Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) as a huge influence on his style. The spaghetti western homages are liberally sprinkled through the KILL BILL saga, but one thing in particular stands out to me. The Sergio Leone DOLLARS TRILOGY famously featured Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name. The Bride has a similar unidentified persona, albeit she experiences a much wider range of emotions than her Leone counterpart. She does happen to have a real name, but whenever the characters speak it, Tarantino physically bleeps it out. It took me a few instances to catch on when I first saw the film, but it’s an amusing little conceit that pays off well in VOLUME 2, in addition to being a nice callback to one of Tarantino’s chief influences.
In a previous post, I mentioned how Tarantino’s characters inhabit a self-contained universe of the director’s own design. Some fans have taken his filmography as a whole and placed them along one timeline in an alternate reality branching off from ours sometime around the end of WW2. I’m paraphrasing a loose collection of separate articles written by other people, but the general idea is that the events portrayed in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)—the murder of Adolf Hitler in a movie theatre—began a different reality in which movies play a much larger part in society, and society as a whole has become more attuned to pop culture and exaggerated in violence, profanity and sex. The KILL BILL films don’t fit into the timeline itself, but are rather a manifestation of what kind of movie that this exaggerated society would produce—in other words, a movie whose violent aspects would be cranked up to 11 for an audience already desensitized to violence as an everyday fact of life. When Vincent and Vic Vega go to the theatre together, they’d be seeing a movie much like KILL BILL.
KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 also begins what I like to refer to as the “Tex-Mex” phase of Tarantino’s career. It is with the KILL BILL films that he began working in earnest with good friend and fellow filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who’s own distinctly Mexican/Texan aesthetic undoubtedly influenced Tarantino. During this period, from roughly 2003-2008, Tarantino’s work takes on a distinctly southwestern vibe removed from the SoCal Valley locales that defined his earlier work. A great bulk of KILL BILL VOLUMES 1 & 2 takes place in Texas, Mexico, and California. His next project with Rodriguez, 2007’sGRINDHOUSE, again takes place in Texas and utilizes a lot of the same imagery. During this time, Rodriguez and Tarantino were partners in crime, mimicking and riffing off each other in their own separate works until their directorial styles achieved a symbiosis in which it was hard to tell the two apart.
Tarantino’s distinct style played such a significant role in defining 1990’s pop culture that some rightly wondered after the release of 1997’s JACKIE BROWN whether Tarantino was fated to be a relic of that decade. He stayed off the screen long enough that it became a very serious question. The world of cinema had already changed so much since the turn of the new millennium; would Tarantino still have a place at the table when he came back? Fortunately, the extended hiatus proved refreshing for Tarantino, and he returned to the cinema world with the same fury and intensity that had propelled PULP FICTION a decade earlier. But don’t call it a comeback—the success of KILL BILL VOLUME 1 proved that Tarantino could adapt with the times while still doing what he does best: crafting a killer film.
Kill Bill Volume 2
Director Quentin Tarantino returned to cinemas with a vengeance with his 2003 hit, KILL BILL: VOLUME 1. A scant six months later, he capitalized on the film’s shocking cliffhanger ending by releasing the finale to his blood-soaked saga, KILL BILL VOLUME 2. Originally conceived as one epic film, an initial 4-hour running time prompted Tarantino to split the film in two—an inspired decision, considering that the second half of KILL BILL is radically different in tone and style than the first.
Audiences with expectations of another high-octane blood bath were shocked to find themselves watching a different kind of film entirely—a slower, more somber movie that put a priority on dialogue over action. The Bride must have killed upwards of forty people in VOLUME 1, but her body count in VOLUME 2 can be tallied on one hand. Audiences were understandably disappointed by what they deemed a lackluster conclusion to a brilliant set-up, but they fail to see a richer, more personal film that eloquently carries the Bride’s bloody quest to a satisfying, emotionally resonant close.
Shifting the action from exotic Japan, Tarantino brings us back to the western deserts of California and Mexico as The Bride closes in on the last few names remaining on her Death List: burnt-out strip club bouncer Budd (Michael Madsen), treacherous and one-eyed assassin Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and the big man himself (David Carradine). Along the way, we find out more about the circumstances of Bill’s original attack on our hero’s wedding party that began this whole story. Most importantly, we learn that The Bride’s unborn baby, thought lost in the wake of the wedding rehearsal massacre, is alive and well— a fact that complicates The Bride’s desire to kill Bill, given that he’s the father.
Uma Thurman continues her scorched-earth performance as the Bride, with VOLUME 2requiring her to convey startlingly real vulnerability while still retaining almost-biblical levels of courage. Her evolution from cold-blooded killer to fierce lioness protecting her cub is the film’s heart and soul, creating a surprising dramatic resonance amidst all the bloodshed. And along the way, we find out her real name—Beatrix Kiddo. I’d say you can’t make that shit up, but Tarantino clearly did.
The late David Carradine is a revelation as the film’s eponymous target. Heard only in voice in VOLUME 1, Tarantino chooses to reveal his weathered visage in spectacularly anticlimactic fashion. Carradine plays the sadistic boss as a warmly paternal poet. It’s easy to see why The Bride once loved him; Bill is intelligent, cultured, and– despite his criminality– very fair. His actions in massacring The Bride’s entire bridal party, while undeniably cruel, come from a place of honor that supersedes his relationships. It’s the mark of a man with integrity and conviction—the kind of man you wouldn’t expect to be the chief antagonist.
Carradine, who featured in a variety of kung-fu films that Tarantino cites as huge influences, had largely fallen out of the public eye when he was cast as Bill. Much like John Travolta or Robert Forster before him, he became blessed by the Tarantino Effect, whereby aging character actors experience a career resurgence after working for the director. Unlike the others, this resurgence manifested itself in a general awareness and newfound respect to his long career, but didn’t really result in getting more high-profile work. It’s very possible that he might have, but sadly Carradine passed away in 2009 before he could really capitalize on it. His performance as Bill is probably the best career capstone and farewell anybody could ask for.
Michael Madsen– in his second performance for Tarantino after RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)–was barely alluded to in VOLUME 1, but VOLUME 2 allows us to experience his Budd character in all his burnt-out, redneck glory. Essentially a recluse living out of a trailer in the desert, Budd has forsaken the assassin lifestyle and brings in a meager salary as an underappreciated strip club bouncer. Madsen breathes palpable life into his performance, his withdrawn eyes channeling a fundamental regret and weariness. He relishes the opportunity to ham it up in a gross mullet and a beer belly, but he still hasn’t lost his dangerous, sadistic edge. Despite looking nothing like Carradine, Madsen makes us really believe that he is Bill’s brother.
Daryl Hannah continues her devious, eye-patched performance as Bill’s current beau and arguably the deadliest member of the Viper Assassination Squad, Elle Driver. She gets a fantastic, no-holds-barred fight sequence with The Bride in Budd’s cramped trailer, and she plays up her insidiousness to the requisite cartoonish degree. Hannah doesn’t seem to do much acting these days, but it’s easy to see why Tarantino wanted her in the film. Despite her playing someone far from her type, she embraces every challenge and really puts all of herself into the role.
Michael Parks also returns, albeit as a completely different character than the Texan cowboy cop he played in VOLUME 1. This time around, he’s completely unrecognizable as Esteban, an elderly Mexican pimp and father figure to Bill. I remember being absolutely shocked when I learned that it was Parks buried underneath some incredible makeup. He’s easily characterized as the Texas lawman archetype, but he has a startling range that further lends credence to my personal theory that character actors are the most legitimately talented kind of actors.
This is further illustrated by Tarantino’s recurring guest stars, who continue popping up in small roles and cameos in his films, regardless of how big of a name they are. Sid Haig, who appeared as a judge in JACKIE BROWN (1997) turns in another small cameo here as the bespectacled bartender of Budd’s nudie bar. Tarantino mainstay Samuel L. Jackson appears as Rufus, the blind piano player caught in the unfortunate crossfire of Bill’s wrath during the Bride’s wedding rehearsal. We don’t even see Jackson’s face in the film, so it says something about Tarantino in regards to the respect afforded to him by his actors that they’ll show up for what essentially amounts to a walk-on voice role despite being internationally-known stars.
Stylistically speaking, KILL BILL VOLUME 2 turned a lot of people off when it was released. After gleefully taking in the frenzied bloodbath of VOLUME 1, they were shocked to find that Tarantino had chosen to make the concluding entry so drastically different. Since both films were shot at the same time, VOLUME 2 retains many of the main visual conceits as VOLUME 1: Super 35mm film negative source, dramatic 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, a brightly-hued color scheme and book-like chapter designations to divide up big sequences. However, if VOLUME 1 represented the East with its Japanese stylings, than VOLUME 2 is full-on Sergio Leone West, placing the bulk of its action in dusty California, Texas, and Mexico.
Despite its drastic departure from VOLUME 1’s presentation, the structure of VOLUME 2reveals it to be very much of the same mind. The non-chronological order of sequences is retained, as are the stylized compositions that have come to characterize not only the series itself, but Tarantino’s aesthetic as a whole. Take, for instance, the sequence where The Bride trains with ancient martial arts master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). One shot in particular shows The Bride and Pai Men practicing their kicks, silhouetted against an expressionistic red background. This mirrors, as well as contrasts, a similar shot in VOLUME 1, where the silhouettes of The Bride and her Crazy 88 adversaries are set up against a similarly-expressionistic blue background. This illustrates how each film is really half of a whole, with one thematic through-line running across both of them.
The music also takes a decidedly different tack than VOLUME 1, opting for a spaghetti western sound to reflect Tarantino’s arid and dusty images. Interestingly enough, the film isn’t as loaded with pre-recorded needle drops as its predecessor—which means that for the first time, Tarantino is making substantial use of original score, provided by fellow filmmaker and friend Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez does a great job emulating Morricone’s sound, enough so that the difference between score and Tarantino’s well-placed Morricone source tracks is hard to discern. VOLUME 2’s ties to its predecessor are further solidified by the inclusion of a few Blaxploitation/funk tracks, but for the most part VOLUME 2 is very much its own beast.
Tarantino’s characters continue to be an exceedingly verbose lot, with filthy mouths to match their creative wits, a tendency for those of the female persuasion to not wear shoes, and an-almost meta awareness of pop/film culture. This is most easily seen in Bill’s climactic monologue where he espouses the theory that Superman’s alter ego of Clark Kent is really his critique on what he perceives to be a weak, ineffectual race of life forms.
Another moment is the film’s beginning, which seems to achieve multiple layers of meta in its presentation. In the sequence, Thurman is driving to kill Bill, and she’s talking directly to the camera. That’s one layer of meta, the 4th wall-breaking that Tarantino loves to do. Her dialogue is basically re-capping the events of VOLUME 1, but said in such a way as if she just came from the movie herself—she even references critic quotes from the trailer. Now that’s two layers of meta. Finally, no effort is made to conceal the old-school rear projector technique that throws up a moving background behind her as she speaks. At this point, I’ve lost track of how many layers of meta we’re dealing with here. The important thing is that it works.
There’s a lot of other stylistic conceits I could list here, like characters being shown in profile, long dialogue sequences building up to violent outbursts, professional criminals clad in variations on the black suit/white shirt aesthetic, long tracking shots, etc. Tarantino’s style is one of the most well-known in all of cinema—so much so that I feel like I’m insulting your intelligence by even writing it here. His style has been more or less established since day one, and each film builds on it according to the demands of the story.
Many are divided over which volume of KILL BILL is actually better. Personally, I find them so different that it’s hard to compare them. If I had to choose a favorite, however, it would be VOLUME 2. In my eyes, it is the stronger film because the substance, and not the style, is driving the plot forward. It’s one of the most subversive films Tarantino has ever made. A VOLUME 3 has been rumored for years, tentatively featuring the exploits of Vernita Green’s daughter as she seeks out the Bride for her own vengeance, but given how Tarantino regularly speculates but never follows through on sequels to his films (nothing ever did come of that Vega Brothers film, I highly doubt a VOLUME 3 would ever come to fruition.
I would be remiss to mention the cut that combines both films into a semblance of Tarantino’s original vision, titled KILL BILL: THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIR. Currently unavailable on home video, this rare print premiered at Cannes and has been shown in arthouse theatres across the country (most notably at Los Angeles’ New Beverly Cinema, which Tarantino just so happens to own). I’ve been curious to see this four-hour cut, which reportedly contains a longer animation sequence and restores the color to the Massacre at House of Blue Leaves sequence. It seems to me like THE WHOLE BLOODY AFFAIRwould be the superior version of either film, but who knows if I’ll ever get to make that conclusion.
KILL BILL VOLUME 2 finds Tarantino at the apex of his “Tex-Mex” phase, with his closest collaborator (outside of editor Sally Menke, of course) being Robert Rodriguez. The film is Tarantino’s own personal zeitgeist, where his tendency for homage and imitation reaches its zenith. The KILL BILL saga is the biggest thing he’s ever done, and he pulled it off with obscene style. Literally no other person could dream up what Tarantino did here, and the result is a piece of pop culture that helped to define the Aughts, just like PULP FICTION did for the ’90s.
Author Cameron Beyl is the creator of The Directors Series and an award-winning filmmaker of narrative features, shorts, and music videos. His work has screened at numerous film festivals and museums, in addition to being featured on tastemaking online media platforms like Vice Creators Project, Slate, Popular Mechanics, and Indiewire.
THE DIRECTORS SERIES is an educational collection of video and text essays by filmmaker Cameron Beyl exploring the works of contemporary and classic film directors.