Finally Quentin Tarantino has emerged with Inglourious Basterds - a WWII script a decade in the making
Quentin Tarantino simply does not get Twitter. ‘It’s a mystery to me,’ the 46-year-old director admits, sipping a glass of rosé in the window of Michael’s Restaurant in New York. Suddenly, he’s pretending to thumb out a text. ‘“I’m doing this now!”’ he says. ‘“Wow, that was awesome.”’ He rolls his eyes and goes on, ripping celebrity tweeters without naming names. (It’s not quite Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs whining about tipping the waitress, but it’s close.)
The idea of this famously verbose man keeping it to 140 characters is, indeed, ridiculous. And the whirlwind chat we’re having – loosely based around Tarantino’s latest film, the WWII thriller Inglourious Basterds – is what really sets him apart, as a knotty, old-school conversationalist. In the space of seconds, Tarantino is remembering Pauline Kael (‘My favourite writer, period’), vouching for newsprint over pixels and all but promising to have my job one day.
‘It’s actually fun for me to be analytical,’ Tarantino offers, adding that he may yet end up a reviewer. ‘And when I write, I still have my “Sergio Leone-itis’’, whereby no character can show up without having his 20-minute introduction.’ Sergio Leone is an Italian maker of epic spaghetti Westerns whom Tarantino still places at the top of his pantheon. Indeed, the core of Inglourious Basterds, a war movie in decor and subject, but one laced with lengthy battles of wit and words that build to deliriously tense highs, is much like Leone’s expertly edited showdowns. The new movie is being marketed as a Brad Pitt ‘men-on-a-mission’ action film, but it’s actually dominated by chatter, flirtation, geeky tangents about German cinema and a boisterous barroom card game.
Bring this false advertising to Tarantino’s attention and he’ll smile. ‘That’s kind of my way,’ he explains. ‘Whatever sets me on a course to write a movie is usually pretty thin: a heist movie, a martial-arts movie, whatever. But then the idea is to go beyond that, to bust down the walls of genre. It’s only now that I could tell you that there’s more to Basterds than I thought. This movie is about language, duplicity.’ I suggest to him that it’s also about Brian De Palma’s horror film about eponymous teenager Carrie, especially the fiery climax, and Tarantino agrees vigorously. ‘With Nazis as opposed to mean high-schoolers – sure!’
There’s also a silver-tongued devil who steals the show. Christoph Waltz’s playful portrayal of a weasel-like Nazi commander (a prime Tarantino creation) won him the Best Actor award at Cannes. ‘Quentin’s level of energy is the equivalent of a power station, a humming, high-voltage transformer,’ says the 52-year-old Austrian. ‘As a performer, you can tap into this energy, into this never-ceasing stream of inspiration. You might not always be 100 per cent in accordance, but it makes no difference because he invites you to leave your opinions behind.’ Waltz, a wry presence by phone, still can’t believe his good luck at landing such a plum part (‘A dream – yes. Come true? We’ll see.’).
The birth of the Inglourious Basterds script was a difficult one, hatched all the way back in 1998 and shelved temporarily in the early 2000s for what was supposed to be a quick palate cleanser, the Kill Bill movies. Tarantino still chafes at the rumour that he suffered from writer’s block. ‘It was the exact opposite, OK?’ he says. ‘I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t shut my brain off. I kept coming up with new characters and new twists in the story. This might have been a 12-hour mini-series.’ He was able to tame his WWII tale years later, though the director admits to being ‘slightly precious’ about following up 1994’s Pulp Fiction.
‘I want to make a masterpiece every single time,’ he says. This is the enthusiastic video-store assistant of yore; Tarantino knows he sits at the big table and appears fine with that, at least publicly. Still, writing is never easy. And there was that time, 1997’s Jackie Brown, when Tarantino produced stirring results with another author’s work. ‘That was then, and that was that,’ Tarantino says flatly. ‘I don’t have to prove that I can do it; I’ve already done it.’ He mocks the idea of Jackie Brown being his most mature film. ‘I was a young man making a movie about growing older [laughs]. I’m not interested in doing another writer’s work. For me it really is about facing the blank page.’ He could go on, but he milks a rare silence.
Inglourious Basterds is scheduled to screen in UAE cinemas from September 24.
Inglourious Basterds’ lack of Battle scenes ‘I never had any intention of doing a battle scene or including a single tank. That s*** bores me. Cannons and climbing rocks and dynamite, that bores me. I’m much more interested in the humanity, the suspense.’ Suspense ‘In this movie I wanted to engage with suspense, but on my terms. For example, the French tavern scene is long, but I think that’s what’s suspenseful about it. I wanted to make the scene as long as I could, but still stretch the rubber band of suspense. If I go too far and the rubber band has snapped, then I’ve ruined it. But the longer that suspense can be stretched, the better.’ History ‘History was written by whoever was around to write it. Winston Churchill was asked if he thought history would be kind to him and he said, “I know it will be; I intend to write it.” That point is made throughout the movie. There’s a character who does something phenomenal to bring down the Third Reich. But everyone who knows what that character did dies. He’s lost to history. And he stands for all the people in real life that did tremendous feats but there was no historian around to jot them down.’