A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: QUENTIN TARANTINO’S INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS |
By Scott Macaulay
Leading up to the Oscars on March 7, we will be highlighting the nominated films that have appeared in the magazine or on the Website in the last year. Scott Macaulay interviewed Inglourious Basterds writer-director Quentin Tarantino for our Summer 2009 issue. Inglourious Basterds is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Tarantino), Best Original Screenplay (Tarantino), Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson), Best Editing (Sally Menke), Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman), Best Sound Mixing (Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Mark Ulano).
Quentin Tarantino fans have been waiting for almost a decade now for a project he’s discussed in interviews — a World War II-set, Dirty Dozen-style “men on a mission” movie. Big-name actors have been brought up, an epic-length storyline has been mentioned, and many imagined this project to be a return to the macho camaraderie of Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs, with the warehouse expanded into the world at war.
Of course this project’s journey to the screen has had as many plot twists as one of his movies. After defining two essential models of independent film production (with Reservoir Dogs, the smart, low-budget genre meditation, and with Pulp Fiction, the star-packed specialty label production capable of grossing $100 million), he went off to make arguably the best Elmore Leonard adaptation (Jackie Brown) and the underrated and overstuffed two-part genre mashup Kill Bill. And then, of course, there was Death Proof, Tarantino’s contribution to Grindhouse, a project conceived of as a quickie homage to exploitation cinema that turned into an expensive and obsessively realized attempt (at least by the Weinstein Company marketing department) to create mass-market entertainment out of source material that never really was.
Perversely then, Tarantino has finally made his epic Inglourious Basterds, but with the speed of a first-time filmmaker rushing to make Sundance. Tarantino’s reps sent out his script just after 2008’s July Fourth weekend; the Weinstein Company partnered with Universal, who took foreign, on the film; Brad Pitt signed on and Tarantino began shooting in October with postproduction accelerated to accommodate a Cannes premiere in May. And along the way, Inglourious Basterds, as you’ll read, has changed a lot. (For one thing, it has little to do with its Italian B-movie namesake other than its title.) Although the trailers might convince you otherwise, Brad Pitt’s team of Nazi-hunting “basterds” is just one story strand in the film. There’s also Hunger’s Michael Fassbender as a British agent sent undercover into Germany-occupied France. And finally, there’s what’s certainly the emotional heart of the movie, the story of Shosanna Dreyfuss (Mélanie Laurent), a French Jew who, after seeing her family killed by the Nazis, assumes a new identity as a Parisian movie theater owner. The film opens with two extended set pieces (the first of which is probably the most gripping scene Tarantino has ever filmed), but it’s not until Fredrick Zoller, a German soldier (Good Bye Lenin!’s Daniel Brühl), who has starred in a propaganda film, Nation’s Bride, based on his own military exploits, develops a crush on Shosanna that the narrative kicks into gear. He convinces the producer of the UFA film (Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Reich Minister of Propaganda) to move the premiere to Shosanna’s theater, and, suddenly, a night at the movies might just end the war. The character that floats between all these storylines is a Machiavellian inquisitor, the Nazi Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, whose frighteningly sly performance won him the Best Actor Award at Cannes).
I’m usually annoyed when critics refer to a film as a “mature work.” It seems patronizing to the directors and also dismissive of the great cinema that unruly immaturity can produce. So while I won’t use that term here — indeed, there is plenty in Inglourious Basterds that is rudely button-pushing and blithely digressive — there is a different feeling to this Tarantino film. It’s as movie-obsessed as any of his pictures, but this time the film references are less signifiers of cool and more matters of life and death. In the universe of Inglourious Basterds, the fate of the free world hangs on one’s knowledge of Leni Riefenstahl trivia, or being able to discuss the differences between Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick. And the film’s investment in the subject of cinema extends beyond mere trivia. It seems deeply aware that films produce for us our memories of history, and that a filmmaker must consider in life the types of stories he leaves for others to view after his death. It’s concerned with legacy, in other words, and it’s also, in this day of cinematic ambitions downsized to fit our tiny iPod screens, an almost quixotic paean to the necessity of the old-fashioned celluloid dream machine.
Or at least that’s what I got out of it. As you’ll hear from Tarantino here, he’s fond of following his characters, no matter what left turns they take, and leaving the summing up to others. We spoke about his writing process and his 1987 Smith Corona, German movie stars of the World War II era and the complicated thing about being “Quentin Tarantino.”
Filmmaker: You know, this film, this Dirty Dozen-style war movie, has been — at least in your fans’ imaginations — kicking around for a long time. But the “guys on a mission” story is just one part of it. In a larger sense, it deals with cinema and the relationship of movies to history. When did these other elements enter the idea? Or were they there from the beginning?
Tarantino: Well, you know, it’s one of those things — what usually gets me to sit down to write a movie is some very basic genre or subgenre idea that I think would be interesting to try my hand at, whether it’s a heist film when it comes to Reservoir Dogs, or a martial arts revenge movie when it comes to Kill Bill, or this “bunch of guys on a mission World War II movie.” And so if someone asks me at that time what I’m doing, I say, “Oh, I’m doing a Dirty Dozen kind of thing.” “I’m doing a heist film kind of thing.” But that’s just what gets me to sit down. Once I sit down and start doing it, then it becomes something other. I start writing, the characters and themes start coming, and then it just becomes what it becomes.
Filmmaker: What’s your writing process like? How mapped out is it? When you’re sitting and writing the dialogue scenes, do you know the ending of the film? Do you know the structure as you write?
Tarantino: No, not really. I don’t have an outline or anything like that. I might have a really good idea of what the next few scenes are going to be, and I know a lot of scenes along the way that I need to get to, but I never know the end. I might think I know the end, but usually it turns out I don’t know the end. [laughs] One of the things I’ve actually learned over the course of time is: It might make you feel better to think you have your scenes more or less mapped out to the end, but by the time you get to the middle the fucking story is so completely different. You have different concerns and new things have come up that make those old issues you had seem irrelevant. Maybe [an outline] can help you out for the first half of your story, but once you get going that stuff will take care of itself.
Filmmaker: How did that process work on this film? The movie’s called Inglourious Basterds and you think, okay, it’s a “guys on a mission” movie. And then, suddenly, it’s not about the Basterds. It’s about Shosanna, and it’s dealing with German cinema and British cinema as much as American war movies.
Tarantino: Well, yes, the name of the team of the Americans soldiers is the Basterds. But, you know, Inglourious Basterds can apply to almost every character in this movie. [laughs] Everybody’s a bastard and everybody’s inglorious in this movie. Good guys and bad guys, they’re okay on this hand, but on the other hand not so good. The only characters in the whole movie that there’s not this “on-the-other-hand” about are the German soldiers who are in the La Louisiane celebrating a son’s birthday. There’s no “other hand” there. They’re just soldiers celebrating at a party! [laughs] They’re the closest thing to innocence that the movie offers. Everybody else, even the heroes, are tainted a little bit by what they do and what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals. And that’s why it’s important to show that Shosanna would kill an innocent man to get [her film processed and developed]. But let me address your question a bit more. You know, I came up with the idea for this story a long, long time ago, but it was just too big. It was like a novel. I struggled with it for a long time and then finally I put it away. And so when I decided to take it out again, I thought, “Okay, maybe I could do it as a miniseries, but let me try to tame this, to make it into a movie.” So I took out the story that I had been building on way back when — took the whole story out. The only thing remaining were the first two chapters: the chapter that sets up Landa and the farmhouse, and the chapter that sets up the Basterds. Then I came up with the premiere and the Fredrick Zoller story. That’s why from chapter three on, that’s when the story starts getting told. Then chapter four, okay, now the mission starts. The Mike Myers scene is like the first scene in a ’60s war movie. That’d be Trevor Howard sending the guy on his way.
Filmmaker: One of the boldest things in the film is its leap into an alternate history of World War II. Did this idea come with this reenvisioning of the movie or was it there from the beginning?
Tarantino: I didn’t start out to do that. As a writer, as you’re going along your story path, you have these different tunnels that the characters or your scenario can take. And most screenwriters will put roadblocks in front of some of those tunnels because they can’t afford to go down them. I’ve always said, “I don’t have any roadblocks. I just go wherever the characters go.”
Filmmaker: Other writer-directors can’t explore them because of budgets or because of self-censorship?
Tarantino: Because they don’t have the budget or because, all of a sudden, that makes a [character] a bad person, even though that’s what they would probably do [in real life]. It makes them unsympathetic. Or it’s not a movie. You know, novelists can usually go down any road they want. Screenwriters usually limit themselves when it comes to their imagination. I go wherever.
Filmmaker: Is there a point when you look back after you go down all those tunnels and then pare the different storylines back or massage them into some kind of larger structure?
Tarantino: Writing Kill Bill was the only time that I just indulged every tunnel because I really wasn’t in a hurry to finish the script, at least not at the beginning anyway. I was having such fun writing it. But my thing is, if I start going down that tunnel, that’s what happened. That becomes [a character’s] history, and it makes me know him more. I mean, I’ve obviously written things that I didn’t want to [use in the film]. But mostly once I write it down that becomes the history of the character, even if it doesn’t make the movie.
Filmmaker: What’s your rewriting process, then? Because it seems like you’re saying the characters are kind of immutable once they’re imagined on the page.
Tarantino: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, you always do a little bit of rewriting. To tell you the truth, what I do is write it all by hand and then I get to the end. I have this gigantic manuscript, all handwritten, and then I type it up on a little Smith Corona word processor. But I don’t type, so I just type it with one finger. It’s a long, arduous process, but I’ve been doing it ever since Reservoir Dogs. It’s a really good method to edit your writing, because, you know, you tend to overwrite by hand — although people have accused me of overwriting anyway! [laughs] And when you type it up with one finger, you correct that real quickly. Because basically, if I’ve got to do 160 pages with one finger, if it’s not Shakespeare, it’s got to go. [The process] becomes a really good filter. And it’s funny, sometimes I’ll finish typing a scene or I’ll finish a moment and then I’ll continue writing. Like, for instance, in Reservoir Dogs, when Lawrence Tierney’s handing out the names for the characters, and then they get into an argument: “I don’t want to be Mr. White.” “I don’t want to be Mr. Pink.” “You be Mr. White instead.” That wasn’t in the handwritten script. I was just typing it up and then they got into a little argument.
Filmmaker: Is the Smith Corona like a computer that you can cut and paste with or is it more of a typewriter?
Tarantino: It’s like a typewriter that has a little floppy disk. As soon as I use it, it always pops up: “Smith Corona, copyright 1987.” [laughs] It has a memory of like 30 pages. And it doesn’t do anything. But that’s what I like about it.
Filmmaker: Does it then guide you toward a more linear approach because you’re not seduced into doing a Cuisinart-style cutting and pasting of scenes?
Tarantino: Oh, no, no, no, I don’t do any kind of cutting and pasting or anything. And it doesn’t write “INT.” or “EXT.” or anything. What it allows me to do is take my crazy handwritten pages and compose them so they look nice. But my writing [style] does kind of duplicate cutting. You can read my scripts and you’ll see the movie in your head. But it doesn’t look like that in the handwritten version. And also since it doesn’t have any memory, I actually print [the script] out after every page. I get to look at the page and [ask], do I like it? Do I want to change anything? I actually have this sense of accomplishment every time I get done with a page.
Filmmaker: In a New York Times article this spring you said that you did a six-month research period for Inglourious Basterds that almost paralyzed your writing.
Tarantino: Yeah. When I first started writing it.
Filmmaker: What role does research play in your movies?
Tarantino: Well usually not much. If I’m writing about a subject, I usually know a lot about it already, and I’ve already done a lot of the research. On a [subject] like World War II, I actually had to do a lot more. It did stop me for a little while because I wanted to teach [the audience] what I had learned. And so when I picked up the script again and started writing it years later, I had already absorbed all that stuff, so I didn’t do any research. I just wrote. When I was done, I checked to see if I was right about a couple things, and I was. Good educated guesses. But let me give you a specific example of how I use research. There’s that little [scene] where they mention that Hitler’s coming to the premiere, and you have that little flash on Hitler talking about it. I put that in to explain why Hitler would even be in Paris, because he famously never went back to Paris after [the Germans] took it. The day they took it he was in Paris, they gave him a little tour, like an hour. Saw the Eiffel Tower, saw all this stuff, got in his plane, and never [returned]. And we also know from history that after Stalingrad, Hitler didn’t do any more personal appearances. He hid from the public a lot. And he was not feeling too good after the D-Day invasion and after the Americans and the Brits started landing on French soil. So, just for myself, since I knew that historically that was the case, I had to come up with a reason that he would leave his bunker, that he would [get over] his agoraphobia and go to France for this premiere. And so I put in that scene where he says, “Look, shit’s going bad, and the fact that this young boy did what he did, this is very amazing. If I were to show up at this premiere, this could be a meaningful thing for Germany. I need to honor this hero in public.” So I gave him a reason why he would do something that he didn’t do in real life.
Filmmaker: Tell me about the Frederick Zoller film, Nation’s Pride. What was your idea for this film within a film?
Tarantino: To me, Nation’s Pride is kind of a sniper version of Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back, but the German side of it. [laughs] The heroic exploits of a war hero, played by the real guy.
Filmmaker: Did you have models for the various characters in the film? I think one interviewer said that Diane Kruger’s character, Bridget von Hammersmark, was modeled a bit on the Swedish actress Hildegard Knef.
Tarantino: No, she wasn’t based on Hildegard Knef, but Diane really likes Hildegard Knef, so she was doing Hildegard Knef a little bit, in particular the fact that Hildegard Knef speaks a little too loud. I kind of based the character, just as a jumping-off point, on a Hungarian actress named Ilona Massey who did a lot of Universal movies. She was Universal’s attempt to have a Dietrich. She was successful but she didn’t become a star. She was the girl in Revenge of the Invisible Man, the girl in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and the girl in one of the Sherlock Holmes movies. And my whole thing, was, Bridget von Hammersmark got the offers when they were all looking for Dietrichs. She got an offer to go to Hollywood — in my [mind] it was Universal that went to her — and she decided not to go. But if she had gone, that’s how her career would’ve gone. She would’ve had the career of Ilona Massey. It’s not talked about [in the film], but Bridget was like, “No, I’ll stay in Germany,” and that became part of her even bigger popularity. She was known as the Dietrich who stayed. That’s why every time [in the movie] a German realizes that she’s working for the Americans they go absolutely ballistic because it’s just so offensive to them that she would be a traitor.
Filmmaker: One thing the movie really meditates on is the power of cinema both to change our view of the world but also to literally save the world. With regards to today’s cinema, is that a wish of yours or a belief?
Tarantino: One of the things I really like about the movie is, you know, there is this aspect about the power of cinema in it. One, it works as this really wonderful metaphor, but by actually using the nitrate prints that are so flammable, it’s not even like a metaphor. It’s literal. It is actually cinema itself that’s trying to take down the Third Reich. To me, that’s just the greatest thing ever: [laughs] Make your metaphorical theme tangible and tactile!
Filmmaker: The movie also seems to ponder cinema as legacy and the moral responsibility of the filmmaker.
Tarantino: I agree with everything you’re saying, but, you know, I can’t really explain it that much. It’s not really for me to explain that. I want my material to be dense in that way, where there’s a lot of there there, where things become deeper on a second or third [viewing]. The kind of summing up you did, I don’t like to do that, because I want you to do that. I want you to make the connections. I’ve had other people [say], “Oh, the whole film is about language.” My editor’s husband said, “Almost everything in this movie happens because of another movie.” It was a very interesting observation that actually kind of works.
Filmmaker: Tell me a little bit about working with actors. You’re famous for writing parts for specific people, but I know on this film several of the key roles, including Christoph Waltz, who played the “Jew hunter,” Landa, came through traditional casting sessions.
Tarantino: Well, you know, I have a different relationship with everybody, kind of dependent on who they are or how much I have to say about their character. I’m always very conscious about [saying to the actors], “Look, it’s not just about these scenes, you’ve got a whole life going on.” Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction was worried a little bit that she really only had 20 minutes in the movie to score, and if she doesn’t score in those scenes then she’s not one of the strongest links in the chain. I was like, “No, you can’t think like that. One, you’re going to be terrific, but two, you’re not this character in Pulp Fiction, you’re the star of the Mia movie. This is simply 20 minutes inside of the Mia movie. You come in like you’re the star of the film.” [laughs] I deal with [actors by] dealing with all their back stories and all this other information. But [with some actors] we start building the characters together. In the case of Landa, his character was really there on the page, and Christoph is a lot like Landa — he’s a little erudite and very clever. He had been looking for an opportunity to really build the character from the ground up with writing that he likes, so we had a great time. I’ll give you one example: In the script, there’s a scene with LaPadite, and he takes out this calabash, this Sherlock Holmes pipe. He goes [to the pipe-smoking French farmer], “Yeah, I smoke my pipe as well.” Well in the script, that pipe was one of his trademarks. So [Christoph and I] were talking [about how] there’s a lot of rhyme and reason to every interrogation technique that Landa uses. Before he goes to the LaPadite farm, he’s going to know everything about the LaPadite [family]; he will have interviewed other people in the village. So my question to Christoph was this: “In the script it says that the calabash is your pipe, but what if it’s not? Maybe you don’t smoke a pipe. Maybe this is simply a prop for your interrogation of Perrier LaPadite. You’ve learned he smokes a pipe, so you’re going to buy this pipe just before you show up. It’s going to be this Sherlock Holmes pipe and at the right moment in the interrogation you bring it out to say, ‘I’m on to your motherfucking ass.’” [both laugh] I wasn’t [telling him he had to play it this way]. I was just presenting two different scenarios. And he was like, “Oh, no, it’s definitely a prop! I don’t smoke a pipe!”
Filmmaker: [laughs] You made this film a lot faster than your previous films. What effect did that speed have on the movie?
Tarantino: Well it wasn’t like we had a short amount of time. It was just for a big movie, we had a nice pace. And well, it made it harder. Maybe it made it a tad less fun, because it was a lot of pressure. But I was hoping all that energy would go into the film, because the more directors work, if they’re successful, they tend to make themselves more and not less comfortable. They get a group of people they like to work with, and it almost seems at a certain point they do as much as they can do not to get out of their chair. Their schedules become so big that of course they can make the schedule. Anyone can make that schedule! But there really is something [when] you can’t say “mañana.” You’ve got to do it now, you’ve got to knock this scene out. I wanted to harness the energy it takes to do that, and I was hoping that it would end up on the screen.
Filmmaker: And how do you feel after having done that?
Tarantino: Well, you know, it’s funny because it was kind of a big-canvas movie to try to do that with. [laughs] But, look, I am happy with the results. I mean, it was me putting a lot of pressure on myself, so I’m not going to complain about it. I might have given myself a little bit more wiggle room because we were trying to make Cannes and we had a very short preproduction schedule. I don’t like preproduction, [laughs] but if I’d had a longer schedule so everything could be getting to be done by the time we started, it would’ve been a little easier.
Filmmaker: How did your collaboration with Robert Richardson work on this film as opposed to your work with him previously on Kill Bill?
Tarantino: I worked with him on Kill Bill and it was a great collaboration, and when I did Grindhouse, I was my own cinematographer on that. I knew I didn’t want to do that job on this. I wanted to have this great epic look that he’s just terrific at, but he actually really liked what I did on Grindhouse. He operates his own camera, and from time to time I wanted to operate stuff on Kill Bill and he kind of frowned on that. But then after Grindhouse, he was like, “Oh, I kind of see what you’re doing there.” So we had even a better relationship on this movie. For certain shots I wanted to operate the camera, and not only did he let me, he was kind of coaching me in a real cool way.
Filmmaker: What kind of shots would you operate on?
Tarantino: From Kill Bill on — even on my CSI episode — I started a thing: I do all my own zooms. We got some really good zoom shots in this movie, and the way Bob and I did them together was just really, really cool. Sometimes I’m operating — especially the Steadi — and doing the zoom, and sometimes he’s operating but I’m still doing the zoom.
Filmmaker: Aside from the challenge of making an epic period movie on a somewhat short schedule, what were some other challenges posed by the shooting of Inglourious Basterds?
Tarantino: Well as the filmmaking was concerned there was the excitement and scariness of doing the climax, because I don’t do storyboards or any of that stuff. We just had to commit to doing it and piece it together. And it was also weird going into this big fire sequence because I don’t really like fire sequences. I mean, you know, other than Mauritz Stiller’s Greta Garbo movie, Gösta Berling, [laughs] which has a great fire sequence at the end, and maybe the burning of Atlanta, I think fire sequences are kind of boring. My whole thing was like, “Look, here’s what we’re trying to do. An audience in a movie theater is going to be watching an audience in a movie theater in a fire. [laughs] This should be as traumatic as it should be to watch a plane-crash movie on an airplane.”
Filmmaker: How do you think you’ve changed as a director over the years from the beginning, if at all?
Tarantino: That’s an interesting question, a big question. I don’t know if I’m the guy to ask, actually. I’m sure some things change for the better and some things change for the worse, but I hope I’m still the same guy. I don’t really want to be a different filmmaker than the guy who did Reservoir Dogs. That’s kind of my plan, to not let that happen. When that starts happening, that’s when I stop. I want my filmography to all be of a line. And so if you like this one, then you’ll probably like that one.
Filmmaker: It’s kind of a related question, but what are the benefits and limitations of being Quentin Tarantino? Your name is so iconographic, it summons up a kind of cinema like few other directors’ names working right now do.
Tarantino: Well you were in Cannes. [laughs] I love it the way it is. The good points outweigh the bad points. I want to have the situation that if I go to Cannes, it’s my movie that is the one that’s anticipated! You’re waiting to see my movie. You might want to see all of them, and you might want to see this guy’s movie and that guy’s movie, but when it comes to the keenest of the anticipation, it’s my movie. No one’s seen it yet, the critics from all over the world are going to see it together and there’s that 8:30 screening and 3,000 people are trying to get in — I wouldn’t have it any other way. Also, about Cannes, my movies notoriously play better or grow depth on a second or even on a third viewing. It’s killer for me if I’m rushing to meet a release date and [the critics] see a press screening the week before the movie opens and then have to crank out their reviews. If you play your film in Cannes, then the majority of the world’s critics will have seen it at least twice or maybe three times before they actually put pen to paper when the movie opens in August or September. And so they really get a chance for it to sink in. So, you know, these [reviews out of Cannes] aren’t the reviews yet. They’re news from the front [laughs]. They’re not the reviews.
Filmmaker: Is the film changing at all before it opens in the U.S.?
Tarantino: The only thing that [editor] Sally [Menke] and I hadn’t done when we went to Cannes is watch the movie with an audience. So when we got back from Cannes we watched the movie with 500 people. We don’t do cards or any of that kind of crap, we just watch the movie with an audience, listen to them. And we did a few little nips and tucks, and we added a scene back in. It’s a sequence after Mike Myers sends Hicox on the mission. Before we go to the La Louisiane, there’s a scene where you actually see Hicox with the Basterds at an abandoned building across the street from the La Louisiane. It makes you identify the two German Basterds and Hicox in their German uniforms right away, and it highlights a couple things that are going to be important later in that scene. It also kind of just says, “Okay, the mission starts three, two, one, now!” [laughs]
Filmmaker: Let me ask you about one music cue. What was behind the use of the David Bowie song, “Cat People” (Putting Out Fire), as Shosanna prepares for her mission?
Tarantino: I don’t understand why people keep asking me about that!
Filmmaker: [laughs] Well first, it’s a memorable song. But when that song came on, my brain just started to click into overdrive. I thought, “Okay, ‘Putting Out Fire’ was in the Paul Schrader remake of Cat People. And Nastassja Kinski, the star of that film, is German. But the original was directed by a French director, Jacques Tourneur in 1942. And when did Tourneur leave France and when did he return?” [Tarantino laughs] My head was spinning. A minute later the film was moving onto something else. I was like, “Okay, I’ll file that. I’ll try to get back to that later.”
Tarantino: I’ve always loved that song, and I’ve always thought Paul Schrader didn’t use it well in the movie. He just threw it in the closing credits. I was like, “Man, if I had that motherfucking song, I’d build a sequence around it!” So, I did. It wasn’t theoretical; it was practical. But what’s neat about it — and I think, also, “Across 110th Street,” [used in Jackie Brown] — is that the lyrics of the song become an interior monologue for the character. But what really makes that work, I think, is the fact that it’s once removed. I could have hired some guy to write a song that hits the story points: “[sings] Oh, Shosanna, you watched your family die! [laughs]” But it’d have been kind of corny. So if you don’t know about the Cat People song then fine, it might as well be just a song I had written for the movie. But if you do know the Cat People song, you’re like, “Wow, that actually works really good for Shosanna.” In a weird way it actually makes it even more relevant.
Filmmaker: So it’s not like there’s a web of textual references the song is summoning up?
Tarantino: Well okay, that’s the other thing [about what you asked earlier]. It doesn’t bother me, it’s not a problem. But the biggest thing about being “Quentin Tarantino,” to use my name in the third person, is because I’m a known cinephile, when reviewers review my movies, I give them complete permission to engage in their own cinephilia. When [they write about] my movies they bring up moments and influences from this or that, but their cinephilia and my cinephilia aren’t the same. They bring up all these images and themes — “It’s a little bit of Cimino here and a little bit of Sam Fuller there with a little bit of To Be or Not to Be too.” The only problem is, they attribute [to me] everything they’ve come up with. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re completely wrong. Sometimes they bring in movies I’ve never heard of before, or I’ve never seen. And that’s okay. It’s actually fun. Look, you know, that’s one of the reasons that people enjoy writing about me. They get to indulge their cinephilia but attribute it to me. Many of these reviewers will probably say that some of their funnest pieces were the pieces they wrote about my movies. But I’m not thinking, “Okay, I’ll do this a little bit like Robert Aldrich, and I’ll do this a little bit like Otto Preminger, and this shot is from Seijun Suzuki.” I don’t think like that.
Filmmaker: Are you as much of a cinephile today as you were when you started?
Tarantino: Oh, yeah. The way I look at it is, it’s like I’m going for my professorship in world cinema and the day I die is the day I graduate. Right now I’m on a Dorothy Arzner thing, reading a book about her life and her movies. I watched Dance, Girl, Dance, which I really liked. I’m making notes, and maybe I’ll write a piece about her. And maybe I’ll publish it sometime, or maybe I’ll do it just for myself. That’s kind of what I do in my life — this director, this actor, this movement, this genre, this subgenre, this style, this period of time, this country’s cinema, will just grab me for some reason all of a sudden. And then I explore it, take it in and absorb it, make notes about it so it stays. It’s just like being a student. A lifelong student.