Quentin Tarantino is a man who likes to play by his own rules. Ever since the maverick filmmaker announced his arrival to the world with the slapdash, ultra-violent crime-comedy Reservoir Dogs in the early part of the 90s, Tarantino has steadily risen to the stature of one of cinema’s contemporary masters. Perhaps the most imitable of all the movie directors plying their trade in Hollywood today, Tarantino’s influence reaches far and wide, from mainstream fares to indie thrillers, from shoestring productions to mumblecore wackiness. There is hardly any aspect of present-day movie production that has been left untouched by “Quentinism,” a sort of blanket term coined by his fans to describe Tarantino’s trademark methods, attitudes, and aesthetic preferences.
Now, almost three decades and some seven movies later, Quentin is a phenomenon. Even if he were to hang up his boots immediately, Tarantino would still have left behind a legacy that will be cherished by cinephiles and movie critics for ages to come. But the hunger for telling stories is still as strong in Quentin, and though he has himself confessed that he would like to retire after his tenth movie, we — desperately, pleadingly — hope that’s not the case.
Speaking to Vulture five months before the release of his next movie, The Hateful Eight, Tarantino opened up on his latest project, the issues of institutionalized racism in America, competition with his peers, and retirement.
On being asked if he was happy with the first rough cut of his next movie (which is currently undergoing post-production), Tarantino was unashamedly himself, admitting his only concern at the moment was to rush through to the completion of The Hateful Eight’s first cut, before trimming and crafting the movie for its eventual release.
“I’m not committing suicide yet. It is what it is. We’re rushing and trying to get to the end. Then you go through it and try to make it even better. But first, you just get to the end.
“Every movie I’ve ever done, there has always been some date we were trying to meet, whether it was with Reservoir Dogs, trying to meet the Sundance date, or Pulp Fiction, meeting the Cannes date. But we always pull it off. And this way you don’t have that situation where you finish the movie and then the people who paid to make it get to sit around and pick it to death.”
On why he was so persistent with the idea of making westerns (considering his last movie, Django Unchained, was also a western) in the 21st century, Tarantino said that he believed that no film genre comes close to reflecting the values and the problems of a given time better than a western.
“One thing that’s always been true is that there’s no real film genre that better reflects the values and the problems of a given decade than the Westerns made during that specific decade. The Westerns of the ’50s reflected Eisenhower America better than any other films of the day. The Westerns of the ’30s reflected the ’30s ideal. And actually, the Westerns of the ’40s did, too, because there was a whole strain of almost noirish Westerns that, all of a sudden, had dark themes. The ’70s Westerns were pretty much anti-myth Westerns — Watergate Westerns. Everything was about the anti-heroes, everything had a hippie mentality or a nihilistic mentality. Movies came out about Jesse James and the Minnesota raid, where Jesse James is a homicidal maniac. In Dirty Little Billy, Billy the Kid is portrayed as a cute little punk killer. Wyatt Earp is shown for who he is in the movie Doc, by Frank Perry. In the ’70s, it was about ripping the scabs off and showing who these people really were.”
When The Hateful Eight was compared to Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Tarantino was quick to shrug off any comparisons, arguing that his movie dealt with race head-on, unlike earlier westerns, which were simply set against a Civil War backdrop.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly doesn’t get into the racial conflicts of the Civil War; it’s just a thing that’s happening. My movie is about the country being torn apart by it, and the racial aftermath, six, seven, eight, ten years later.”
Tarantino went on to add that he was really pleased that people had finally started questioning institutionalized racism, something which has often been pushed aside both by white supremacists and the so-called benefactors of the minorities, especially in the United States.
“Finally, the issue of white supremacy is being talked about and dealt with. And it’s what the movie’s about. It just happens to be timely right now. We’re not trying to make it timely. It is timely. I love the fact that people are talking and dealing with the institutional racism that has existed in this country and been ignored. I feel like it’s another ’60s moment, where the people themselves had to expose how ugly they were before things could change. I’m hopeful that that’s happening now.”
On whether in all his time being at the forefront of Hollywood’s rebellious backlot, had Tarantino perhaps secretly wished for an Oscar for direction?
“No. I would have liked to have won Best Director for Inglourious Basterds, but I’ve got time. And I’m very, very happy with my writing Oscars. I will brag about this: I’m one of five people who have won two Original Screenplay Oscars. The other four are Woody Allen, Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Paddy Chayefsky. I actually didn’t know that until somebody wrote it on a website. I went, ‘Holy s**t!’ Those are the greatest writers in the history of Hollywood. Now, Woody Allen has us all beat. He’s won three, so if I win three, I’ll tie with Woody.”
But Tarantino was quick to point out that he was not worried about competition any longer. When he had started out, like any young filmmaker, there was a sense of doom hanging over every project — in the sense of having to stave off competition from other quarters — but Tarantino confessed to being much more comfortable in his shoes these days.
“This might come across as egotistical, but I don’t really feel in competition with anybody anymore. I’m in competition with myself. David O. Russell can have the biggest hit of the year, and that doesn’t take anything away from me. I couldn’t have been happier that Rick Linklater was at the Oscars this year.
“The last time that I felt competitive was when I was doing Kill Bill and my competition was The Matrix Reloaded. That was the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. I saw Matrix Reloaded at the Chinese Theatre the day it opened, and I walked out of the cinema singing that Jay Z song: “S-dot-Carter / Y’all must try harder / Competition is nada.” I was like, Bring it the f**k on. I was worried about that? Ho-ly s**t.”
When asked if he would have ever wanted to do a superhero or a big-franchise studio film himself, Quentin admitted that he always knew that he would work only on his own material.
“I think it’s less about the success of something like Men in Black or Speed, or the success of Pulp Fiction, and more about how to present yourself to the industry. Right away, I presented myself as not a director for hire. I’m not going to sit at home and read these scripts you send me. I’m going to write my own. I’m not available for rewrites.”
On being asked he had been following any TV lately, Quentin admitted to tuning in every now and then (Tarantino is known for being a TV fiend!), but said he hated True Detective, an HBO show that has got both Hollywood and the critics raving in the recent past.
“I tried to watch the first episode of season one [of True Detective], and I didn’t get into it at all. I thought it was really boring. And season two looks awful. Just the trailer — all these handsome actors trying to not be handsome and walking around looking like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. It’s so serious, and they’re so tortured, trying to look miserable with their mustaches and grungy clothes.”
Finally, talking about his plans for retirement, Tarantino reiterated his desire to retire after his tenth movie (The Hateful Eight is his eighth), and said he would like to go out with a bang.
“It would be wonderful to make my tenth movie my best movie — go out with a big bang, or with a small chamber piece after a big bang. I think about that every once in a while, but it’s not a real consideration. I just make one thing at a time. There are a few movies I’d like to do, but once I’m done with Hateful Eight and I’ve had a little time to myself, anything I think I’m going to do now, I know it’s what I won’t do later. I’ve got to leave myself open for the right story that talks to me.”
Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight hits theaters on Christmas Day later this year.
[Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images]