When Quentin Tarantino's unproduced screenplay for The Hateful Eight was leaked online earlier this year, the Oscar-winning Pulp Fiction writer and director was so upset that he said he'd ditch the film altogether, vowing to publish the script as a book instead. But then he had a change of heart: If the script - a post-Civil War Western about serving justice - had already been read by everyone on the Internet, then why not serve justice on the script and stage it with the actors who were intended to be in it?
Dubbed a "once in a lifetime event" by event organizer Film Independent, last night's staged reading of The Hateful Eight sold out the 1,600-seat Theatre at the Ace Hotel, despite the fact that tickets started at $100 and the cast remained a secret until the day before the event, when only Samuel L. Jackson's role was announced via Twitter.
Dressed in a black-and-red embroidered cowboy shirt and a black cowboy hat, Tarantino took the stage in full Western regalia to introduce his decidedly costume-less cast, which in addition to Jackson included Tim Roth and Michael Madsen of Reservoir Dogs; Kurt Russell of Death Proof; Denis Menochet of Inglorious Basterds; James Parks of Kill Bill I and II; Zoe Bell, who worked as a stunt double in Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards; and Bruce Dern, Amber Tamblyn, James Remar, Dana Gourrier and Walton Goggins of Tarantino's most recent film, Django Unchained.
"This is the first draft and that's what we'll be reading," said Tarantino, announcing that he'll be working on a second and a third draft of the leaked script, so that if and when the movie finally does get made, "chapter five here will not be the chapter five" that appears on screen. Instead, he'll restructure the ending of the script, which, in true Tarantino fashion, is broken down into five chapters: Last Stage to Red Rock, Son of a Gun, Minnie's, The Four Passengers and Black Night, White Hell.
Tarantino read the stage directions, which often included elaborate backstories that would never have been seen on film, but served more like creative notes to himself as the director or to the actors and the set decorators. His description of Minnie's Haberdashery, where most of the story takes place, includes a gratuitously long rant about the reasons why this place isn't a haberdashery at all, but could be considered a bar (it serves Mezcal), a restaurant (it serves stew) and a trading post (it trades goods). But above all, Minnie's Haberdashery in Wyoming is a good place to hold up during a blizzard, which is exactly what happens when bounty hunter John Ruth (Russell) decides to divert his stage coach and grab a cup of coffee with his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Tamblyn), his driver (Goggins) and his unexpected traveling companion, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson).
In some ways, the minimal setting inside Minnie's Haberdashery lends itself to a stage play. But Tarantino's numerous references to close-up and POV shots and descriptions of the wicked sounds of the wind rattling on the "whore of a door" are a constant reminder of what we're actually missing by not watching the story unfold in "big super Cinemascope 70mm filmed gloriousness," as the stage directions ironically repeat again and again to comedic effect.
We could only imagine how the rapid action shots and Winchester rifle-induced gore would dazzle us on glorious 70mm film, cut to reveal subtle subplots, sleights of hand and tight-framed facial expressions like the one described as "Chris flashes an alligator grin." Aside from a row of chairs and a nearly-invisible chain that tied Tamblyn's character to Russell's, the only prop present on stage was a blue coffee pot that Tarantino seemed to find pleasure in dramatically thrusting into the air any time it was mentioned in the stage directions - which is to say, more than a handful of times.
If The Hateful Eight were a movie, we'd observe the blue coffee pot on the potbelly stove in excruciating close-up, hitting us over the head with the fact that this coffee pot was bad news. It was the equivalent of the Big Kahuna burger that Jules Winnfield (Jackson) bites into while tormenting the man he's about to kill in Pulp Fiction or the apple strudel that Shoshana (Melanie Laurent) was forced to eat with the Nazi that killed her family in Inglorious Basterds. The dining scene in The Hateful Eight proved just as poignant and suspenseful: the contents of that coffee pot changed the entire course of action and shifted the power within the eight "hateful" main characters. As in so many Tarantino films, the victim becomes the victimizer.
When his script was leaked online, a victimized Tarantino did what any of his archetypal characters would do: He sought revenge. This reading of The Hateful Eight, staged as minimally as possible, was his own form of revenge against those who participated in exposing his project before it ever came to fruition. It was his way of grabbing the stage coach reins and proving not just that he was still running the show, but that the show must go on.
Of course, running the show meant that he occasionally also halted the show to add in his two cents, like alerting us to dialogue that referenced his previous films. For instance, "She's a pepper, ain't she?" was a nod to Django Unchained. When Madsen muttered the line "don't shoot me" with little inflection, Tarantino ordered him to read it again, "or I'll shoot you," he joked. The harassment worked: Madsen delivered it a second time with an immediate sense of dread.
And even though we couldn't see the actors' faces in close-up shots, Tarantino still critiqued their expressions. When one stage direction called for Madsen to "make a face like he's cumming in his pants," Tarantino questioned it. "That's how you cum in your pants?" he asked, then added, "I'll show you how it's done sometime."
Early on in the action, when the script first used the n-word - which Tarantino uses often in his scripts - he interjected: "For all you in the audience who are keeping count, the first 'nigger' was said on page seven." In fact, there are about 322 more to go, he warned us.
We were in it for the long haul: twist endings, sudden deaths, long-winded exposition, crass and vulgar dialogue, pools of imaginary blood and massive piles of mimed puke. And even the audience wasn't exempt from Tarantino's bossy directions. When we got too raucous, he demanded we quiet down. After all, this is what we had come to watch in one of L.A.'s most historic theaters: Tarantino at his finest, political correctness be damned.
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