|Photo by Andrew Cooper|
Ten years ago, I was scheduled to interview Quentin Tarantino in Cannes, a couple of days before the premiere of Pulp Fiction. I arrived at his hotel at noon and called him, only to be greeted with a bleary hello. He invited me to his room, which was a shambles. He’d clearly had a wild night. An hour later, he was ready to talk — and he couldn’t have been friendlier or more garrulous. As we walked through the city, we would be stopped every few yards by beautiful young French women who would almost elbow me aside to get to Tarantino, asking for his autograph with a coquettery that suggested the possibility of a quid pro quo. He smiled and signed his name, innocently unaware that, just one week later, his film would win the festival and he would leave France vastly more famous than he already was at that moment.
Cut to April 13, 2004. Tarantino’s scheduled to call me at
8 a.m. 8:15. 8:30. 8:45. Shortly after 9, I get a call from his publicist, who’s driven over to his house to wake him. “I’m giving him coffee. He’ll call in five minutes.” At 9:30 he calls and apologizes profusely, saying that the night before he’d been at a party for the Kill Bill: Vol. 1 DVD at the Playboy Mansion. We start to talk and — plus ça change — he couldn’t be friendlier or more garrulous as we ponder the master plan behind Kill Bill, the mysteries of Mel Gibson and, of course, the pleasure of moviegoing.
L.A. WEEKLY: If somebody else had made Kill Bill: Vol. 2, where and when would you want to see it?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: One, I would be seeing it on opening day, right? It just so happens that it’s going to be showing at the Dome, and any movie showing at the Dome — that’s where I’d be to see it. I’ve loved the Dome since I was a little kid. It was funny, we had the premiere there, and the editor, Sally Menke, she comes up to me and says, “There’s a problem, the curved screen. The light’s going to be wrong on the two sides.” And I just said, “That’s the Dome.” I love that curved screen.
You’re really lucky when there’s something you’re excited to see. That’s why you’ve got see it on the first day. Back when people stood in line, I used to stand in line. If it was, like, a [Brian] De Palma movie I would see the first show the first day and the midnight show that night. I haven’t seen Vol. 2 that much with an actual audience. I’m looking forward to seeing it with a bunch of people on that Saturday night when they could have gone anywhere but they’re there. I look forward to their reaction to that buried-alive scene.
Is there any movie around you wish you’d made?
If I had done the opening 10 minutes and opening credits of the Dawn of the Dead remake, I’d be very proud. And believe me, I was against remaking George Romero — that was sacrilege. I don’t think I would have the mania to make The Passion of the Christ, but I’d be proud of the results. Those are the only things playing around right now that are terrific.
So you saw The Passion of the Christ?
I loved it. I’ll tell you why. I think it actually is one of the most brilliant visual storytelling movies I’ve seen since the talkies — as far as telling a story via pictures. So much so that when I was watching this movie, I turned to a friend and said, “This is such a Herculean leap of Mel Gibson’s talent. I think divine intervention might be part of it.” I cannot believe that Mel Gibson directed it. Not personally Mel Gibson — I mean, Braveheart was great. I mean, I can’t believe any actor made that movie. This is like the most visual movie by an actor since Charles Laughton made The Night of the Hunter. No, this is 15 times more visual than that. It has the power of a silent movie. And I was amazed by the fact that it was able to mix all these different tones. At first, this is going to be the most realistic version of the Jesus story — you have to decipher the Latin and Aramaic. Then it throws that away at a certain point and gives you this grandiose religious image. Goddamn, that’s good direction! It is pretty violent, I must say. At a certain point, it was like a Takashi Miike film. It got so fucked up it was funny. At one point, my friend and I, we just started laughing. I was into the seriousness of the story, of course, but in the crucifixion scene, when they turned the cross over, you had to laugh.
Speaking of visual storytelling, in your early movies your directing was classical. In Kill Bill, there’s a lot more flash.
There definitely was a gigantic kicking up of my cinematic style. There was an aspect of Kill Bill where I thought, “I want to see how good I really am. I think I’m good. But let’s see.” And I wasn’t throwing my hat in the ring just to be okay — I don’t want to be mediocre. I wanted to be as good as the people I loved. And I wanted to know if I could be.
Some people said they weren’t into this story as much as the earlier movies. They said, “I liked him when he twisted B movies for his own design,” not when he’s doing this exploitation movie. But there’s method to the madness of Vol. 1. I’m delivering the movie in an action-movie way. I’m giving you a revenge movie, no apologies. This is a revenge movie. It’s an action movie. Then the second movie becomes more thoughtful. People keep saying there’s “heart” in Vol. 2. But to me, the heart is in Vol. 1 already.
The thing about exploitation directors is that they work fast — they don’t take years in between things. Are you actually going to do your World War II movie next?
Yeah, but I also have a couple of ideas for a quick, small film. I keep saying to myself, “I just climbed Mt. Everest. Do I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro next?” That’s part of the attraction of doing a smaller film. You get yourself a five-week shooting schedule and you just do it. With big movies, if you’ve got the money and the time, you do that. With Kill Bill to get the action I was trying to get — that takes time. But at the same time, Reservoir Dogs wouldn’t have been any better if I’d have had five or six more weeks. You just do whatever’s part of the adrenaline of that particular movie.
You directed an episode of ER. What TV show would you like to direct? Would you like an HBO franchise?
I wanted to direct an X-Files — they even wrote an episode for me — but the DGA wouldn’t let me. Now, there’s lots of shows I’d direct. I would direct an Alias, a 24. I’ve actually thought about doing an HBO series. Actually, by the time I finish with this World War II film, it could be a miniseries. [Laughs.] You know why? On Kill Bill, I’m getting these good reviews. And by splitting it in two, I could keep all my grace notes. Normally, you have to cut those things out. You put them in the script but you have to cut them out. But now, I’m getting encouraged for keeping them in. I’m getting validation. All the scenes I would’ve dropped are what people say make it special.
Here’s the story. I will be releasing eventually the Japanese version, which is showing in Japan and Hong Kong. Volumes 1 and 2 together. And when I do that, it will be like a ’60s movie. Four hours. And you know, frankly, I wouldn’t have had the balls, the first time out, to come out with a four-hour movie. So to make it one movie, it would have to be three hours. And I would have had to cut everything that people say they like or that makes it good. Like the scene when Budd [Michael Madsen, his name a nod to director Budd Boetticher] goes to the bar and they tell him to take off his cowboy hat. And Pai Mei [a kung fu flashback set in China] would have been shrunk by two-thirds. It would be a wholly different movie.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 leaves a lot of loose ends — like what happens to Sofie Fatale?
All the untied loose ends do tie up — I know what happens. In the case of Sofie Fatale, I can imagine audiences expecting that she’ll come back in Vol. 2. But there’s no reason. She was in O-ren’s story, and O-ren’s dead. Time to move down the list. I didn’t shoot any back story. I spent a year and a half writing the script, and I went down many different roads. I’d think, “This would be cool,” but I knew I couldn’t put it in. It was already huge. But I thought it all through. Sofie Fatale has a big deal to do in the whole Kill Bill mythology. Not now, but in 15 years I could follow Vernita’s daughter, Nikki. [Vernita is the assassin played by Vivica Fox in Vol. 1.] She’d be going on 20 and out to find the Bride for killing her mother. And Sofie would be behind it. She’s been left all of Bill’s money. She finds Nikki and raises her and feeds her all this stuff about the Bride. But I wouldn’t do that movie yet. I truly love the Bride and don’t want to come up with a bunch of contrived bullshit for her to do. I like the fact that for the next 15 years she puts her sword on the shelf.
Hearing you talk about all this, I can’t help thinking — and couldn’t help writing — about the way that the closing credits of the movie just keep going and going. Like you don’t want to end this story.
It just seemed to me like I was on this massive trek to get it finished, my own trail of tears to get it done. Now I’ll have my life back. This gigantic movie will be over with. It was just about getting done. Now that it’s done, I’m kind of melancholy. Not sad, but melancholy. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years. And now it’s done.
Back in the ’80s, people kept telling Spielberg that he ought to get “serious” — and he did. Do you see that happening to you?
If I could ever do something as cool as Schindler’s List, I’d be very proud. I’ve thought I could do a serious movie about John Brown. But that’s something I’d have to do much later. It’ll be serious but it’ll still be fun — I could make it into a cool Western. In fact, I’m thinking that it’s going to be the last movie I do. And I think I should play John Brown. I look like the guy, and I can get into his way of thinking. But to do it, I’ll have to wait until I’m like 60 – it’ll have to be my Unforgiven. Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I could do John Brown. Hopefully, by the time I get around to doing it, it won’t be an old man’s movie.