There are few (perhaps no) directors who enjoy speaking as much as Quentin Tarantino, but usually (if not always) to our benefit. Introducing many to new voices and movements through his public platform is nothing new — just consider the favor paid to Wong Kar-wai when Chungking Express was given stateside release through the now-defunct Rolling Thunder Pictures — so what he’s doing at Cannes this year is rather different: hosting a 50th-anniversary screening of A Fistful of Dollars, the Sergio Leone classic that’s served as a massive influence on his entire oeuvre. (This is in addition to festivities celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pulp Fiction‘s Palme d’Or win.)
Holding court at a 45-minute-plus press conference in the south of France, Tarantino offered his thoughts on a multitude of cinematic items, relating to both himself and others in almost-equal measure. If you want to hear the man’s extended thoughts, this is the piece for you; if you find his commentary insufferable… perhaps one or two interesting tidbits will still emerge. It is, I think, that fine a peek inside one artist’s mind.
Starting with Birth, Continuing with Death
Speaking of both Leone’s landmark and why its presence at Cannes 2014 is so important, “It means much, much more than the 50th anniversary of the birth of the spaghetti western. To me, the 50th anniversary of a Fistful of Dollars means not just the birth of the spaghetti western — which it is, undoubtedly — but it’s the birth of genre action cinema as it’s become to be known ever since the event of Fistful of Dollars.” Formally, one of its greatest innovations is perhaps less-discussed: “Where music was present not as background, but as foreground. But even more importantly, the movie was cut to music, which had never truly been done before except in rare circumstances, like maybe Preston Sturges‘ Unfaithfully Yours. But the thing is, what we all associate with kinetic, genre, action-making cinema was pretty much born the day Fistful of Dollars was born.”
Further speaking on the film’s editing style, he said, “as far as I’m concerned, really were the first true directors to specialize in not just in having scores that led sequences and enveloped entire sequences — as opposed to what, forever, had just been known as ‘movie music,’ but true, like, opera, coming into it — was that they cut to music. And once that genie got out of that bottle, it was never put back again.” This, he says, amused him at the age of four or five, and has continued to do the same for young children when it’s screened at his house, being “something that so delivers on the entire experience,” offering elation instead of exhaustion. (Indeed, Leone’s 1966 film ends with what, for him, is “the finest moment of cinema.”) To this end, Leone — who he feels probably served as a major inspiration for the construction of music videos — is truly “a modern filmmaker.”
But, alas, it can’t all be bright. Echoing the concerns of many cinephiles, he discussed digital projection like a preacher pontificating on Revelations. “As far as I’m concerned,” he began, “digital projection and DCPs is the death of cinema as I know. It’s not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital. The fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost. Digital projection, that’s just television in public — and, apparently, the whole world is OK with television in public, but what I knew as cinema is dead.”
The hope? It’s possible, in his view, that “we’re going through a woozy, romantic period with the ease of digital. And I’m hoping, while this generation is completely hopeless, that the next generation will demand the real thing the way, after 20 years, albums are slowly coming back. I’m very hopeful that future generations will be much smarter than this generation and realize what they’ve lost.” He’s not the only one.
[See rare outtakes from A Fistful of Dollars below.]
On Maintaining His Own Archive
Relating to that point, Tarantino proves he’s not being a hypocrite. Here’s a long quote on his collection:
“I’ve never counted how many prints I’ve had since I don’t think I’ve wanted to put my obsession under than harsh a microscope. But I have a pretty terrific 35mm collection and an even bigger 16mm collection and I screen them all the time. I’m always watching movies and everything. One of the nice things about my life is because I’ve done fairly well in cinema, it’s actually afforded me to almost live an academic’s life. So my feeling is that I’m studying for my professorship in the history of world cinema and the day I die is the day I graduate. I’ll just get on a kick of study of some sorts whether it’s a director whose work I’m not familiar with, like say Dorothy Arzner or a director I decide to rediscover like George Roy Hill or it’s a genre of cinema or it’s a country of cinema. Then I just explore. I voraciously watch them and make notes on them, maybe for a future book or maybe for a future study or maybe for my own edification. I take that to its logical conclusion, to its end, and then I put those notes away and my head is now filled with new knowledge and then I wait for the next kick to hit me. Now that everything has become digital, for me to actually screen movies in my home, in my own theater, watching them 24 frames a second, is a joy I wouldn’t be able to partake in if my situation hadn’t allowed it.”
And, sometimes, it’s an alternative that’s actually the only option, because “if you’re showing a new print of Breathless, or hell, even an old print of Breathless in the cinema, whoa, whoa — that’s worth leaving the house and going out and going into a theater to watch. But to watch a digital version of it? Well, my Criterion is just fine. I don’t need to go watch television in public. So I don’t see a reason to leave the house when home theaters are so good and the presentation on the DVDs are so good. Why would you go see that at the theaters?” The reason is 35mm — and his investment in the New Beverly makes sense.
On Assessing and Revisiting His Work
“Whenever I hear directors say they don’t watch their movies or they can’t watch their movies because all they see is the flaws and it’s just too painful, I feel so sorry for those people. How can you get up in the morning? How can you do what you do if you think your stuff was so shitty? If it was too painful to watch my movies, I wouldn’t make another one. I would just give up at some point. I just feel bad for them. I feel their lives aren’t as enriched as they could be. No, I watch my movies all the time. I’m always at home, they have a whole lot of movie channels. They show the films uncut and you just kind of hit the guide on your button and you see all the different movies playing for the next three hours or so, going down a line.
And you go down it and whenever I see one of my movies is playing, I turn it on. Maybe I’ll watch it for a little bit, maybe I’m going through the scroll to see what else is on, but I always watch it. Wherever it happens to come up and sometimes I watch it for a bit and I’m done and sometimes I watch the whole thing. I hadn’t seen Kill Bill: Vol. 1 in a couple of years. I had seen Kill Bill: Vol 2., I had screened it just for myself on film in the last year. But Kill Bill: Vol. 1, I hadn’t, and I just noticed in 15 minutes it was going to be coming on on Showtime 2 or something. I’ll watch the beginning, I’ll watch it through the opening credits — the ‘Bang Bang, You Shot Me Down’ opening credits — and that’ll be it. Goddamn if I didn’t watch that whole motherfucking thing from beginning to the fucking end. I mean right to the very end, the last credits. I felt very, very gratified.”
On Director’s Cuts, and the One He Might Do
Expressing some disdain for the idea of a director’s cut, he said, “I don’t later do a director’s cut. My director’s cut is the first time. My director’s cut in America plays on 3,000 theaters, not on some ghettoized DVD as an afterthought. Lately there are a couple things I could do that I would be interested in.” Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair was brought up — and still with no mention of a possible home video release — as something different, a “going back,” which leaves one of the few remaining options: Django Unchained. A film that was whittled from 192 to 165 minutes just weeks before its premiere, it has, as the script will evidence, a potential bevy of great, unused material.
It is thus in his interset to take “about 90 minutes of material of Django that hasn’t been seen [and] cut together a four-hour version of Django Unchained, but not show it like a four-hour movie. Cut it up into hour chapters, like a four-part miniseries and show it on cable televisions just an hour at a time, like a chapter. One, two, three four.” Speaking less-angrily about the use of television (or television-like devices) to deliver his art, he sees the advantage in that “it wouldn’t be an endurance test, it would be like a miniseries and people love those.” Binge-watching Django Unchained? Seemingly, for “It’s you actually show them a four-part miniseries that they like and they are just dying to watch all four episodes in one go. So that’s how I thought it would work really good, a four-chapter story.” In the meantime, it seems to really just be an idea.
On Film Music
This one sort of speaks for itself, right? Explaining his long-held refusal to work on an original score: “I usually don’t do an original score, because basically I don’t want to hire some composer who I’ve never met before and entrust them with the soul of my movie. I don’t trust anybody that much when it comes to my movie. So if I choose the music, I’m choosing it, it’s my choice. I’m not waiting for the eleventh hour for somebody to show me the soul of my son. I’m choosing the soul of my son.” The one staple is discussed, too, him saying, “How I feel about Morricone is pretty evident is how many tracks… I haven’t stolen them, I’ve paid for every single one of them. And he has sold them to me, so there is no stealing involved. I pay for them.”
On Why His Influence Is Both Better and Less-Powerful Than You Think
Being far too kind toward fellow filmmakers and far too humble about his own influence, Tarantino said, “No, I take it absolutely as homage. Some of them I like more then I like others, but early on when I would see the movies that would seemed to be based on Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, I thought it would be too presumptuous to think they were taken completely from me. Admittedly, a lot of the films that got labeled with that label, it was less they were stealing from me then it was the atmosphere of the time. That’s why there was a lot of films that came out right after me that couldn’t have been influenced by me. It was just a movement in the air, like when the expressionistic paintings started coming out. It’s not like a bunch of artists got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s paint expressionistically.’ It was the fact that there was something in the air. I happened to be one of the first ones out of the gate, so I reaped the benefits. But, especially going back to the Sergio Leone idea, that fact that he started an entire movement, an entire genre, I always thought was a great testament to him. For awhile, for about ten years, I think I maybe influenced the crime film in a similar direction.”
Which doesn’t mean he’s completely oblivious to the way people perceive him, nor afraid of it. Embracing his image when asked about pressures of maintaining expectations, Tarantino stated, “It’s not a pressure I ever feel, because to me that should always be there. I want people to expect a lot from me. I want people waiting with great anticipation for my next movie.” Speaking, again, of his love for Brian De Palma, he shared a personal anecdote about growing up with his movies, offering up the notice that, “When Brian De Palma would come out with a new movie, for the whole first two weeks before the movie would open I would count down the days. That week before Scarface opened, that was Scarface week. Six more days until Scarface! Five more days until Scarface! And then I would have Scarface dreams where I would imagine — which was kind of easy to do because I already had seen the Howard Hawks movie so I kind of had an idea of what to see.”
Seeing all them by himself, initially, he’d “go see the first show on the first day. No one could go with me. I had to see it by myself. Then I would ruminate about the film all day long, then I would go see the midnight show that night and then I could actually have some friends with me.” This, “one of the things that keeps filmmaking alive and vital,” is what he wants — that love is a luxury. The worst, in his view, is “I’m making a movie and no one gives a damn and it opens up and no one cares. That would be horrible.”
On The Hateful Eight‘s Uncertain Future
Ah, this already-old chestnut. Talking about The Hateful Eight‘s special public reading, he said the experience, being “a lot fun,” might start a new tradition — either publicly or privately. Calling its impact on his second draft “immeasurable,” this is still a situation that currently comes down to “we’ll see.” Having settled down, with his “knife-in-the-back wound […] starting to scab,” he’s “still in the process of writing, finishing it, and then I intend to do a third draft.” At the moment, however, he’s still uncertain as to what, exactly, is going to happen. We’ll just have to wait this one out — but you already knew that.
On Today’s Most Exciting Filmmakers
Occasionally putting “the state of film under a microscope and just [reviewing] it,” Tarantino emailed a group of freinds to ask “who they felt were the 10 most exciting filmmakers working today were.” Stressing the importance of the word “exciting,” he’d begin asking questions about its true definition — and, for him, it comes down to “is that you feel like their best work is still in front of them.” In short, that what a director has next on the docket might be their best work is what maintains a certain kind of worthiness.” (This excludes an old master who can still put out fine work, but who’s probably made their greatest achievement yet.)
As it turns out, “only two filmmakers were on everybody’s list.” In an answer that will be unsurprising to many, it came down to Richard Linklater and David Fincher; Tarantino thinks Pedro Almodóvar should have certainly been one, but they were nevertheless the two who excelled above all others.