Film & TV

Quentin Tarantino Serves Hitler’s Head on a Plate with Inglourious Basterds

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Frustrating though that can be, hanging with Tarantino remains a terrific time out. At 46, he’s a little paunchier and less hairy than he was when we last met, but that rubber face and bad-boy grin, that machine-gun giggle, remain as unmistakable and as infuriatingly beguiling as his exuberant immodesty. Trying to cram a chat with Tarantino into a coherent story is a fool’s errand. So here’s our conversation, almost word for word and pretty much as it happened.

New Times: On behalf of Jewish people, I want to thank you for dispatching Hitler before his time in Inglourious Basterds.

Tarantino: You’re welcome.

Before I saw it, I thought, Uh-oh. What’s he going to do to the Jews? I don’t know if you were aware of it, but you touched on an incredibly sensitive issue for Jews, which is the fantasy of the tough Jew, when, in fact, there was little Jewish resistance to the Holocaust.

Over the years, when I was coming up with the idea of the American Jews taking vengeance, I would mention it to male Jewish friends of mine, and they were like, “That’s the movie I want to see. Fuck that other story, I wanna see this story.” Even I get revved up, and I’m not Jewish. When I bought the title of Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards, which has a good story line, I thought I might take something from his story line, but it just never worked out.

You’ve been writing it for years?

Yes and no. I was going to follow the original story about American troops escaping while being convoyed to court martial and execution. I started working on this after Jackie Brown. It was going to be my first original script after Pulp Fiction, so I was a little precious with it. I started writing and couldn’t stop; it was turning into a novel or a miniseries. Ideas kept coming to me, and it was becoming more about the page than about this movie I might eventually make. That also happened with Kill Bill, which is why it ended up being two movies. The whole idea of a DVD boxed set is pretty amazing. No writer-director has yet taken advantage of that format, a wonderful one to be a true auteur with.

You mean the way it’s divided into chapters?

Exactly — a novel-length piece that would be written and directed completely by me. Anyway, I put it aside, and did Kill Bill. It came time to go back to it, and I was really considering this miniseries idea and even worked it out as 12 chapters. That was a very interesting exercise. Then I went to dinner with Luc Besson and his producing partner. I’m telling them about this miniseries idea, and the producer was right on board. But Luc was like, “I’m sorry, you’re one of the few directors who actually makes me want to go to the movies. And the idea that I might have to wait five years to go into a theater and see one of your movies is depressing to me.” And once I heard that, I couldn’t un-hear it. I realized that the original story was just too big. Then there was the idea of dealing with a Third Reich cinema, with Goebbels as a studio head making a film called Nation’s Pride, and I got really excited about that.

Did you do historical research?

A little bit, but I knew a lot of that anyway. I wrote the script in about six months. My original conception of Shosanna was of a real badass, a Joan of Arc of the Jews, killing Nazis, sniping them off roofs, pulling Molotov cocktails. Then I thought, no, that’s too much like the Bride. So I made her more realistic, more of a survivor, and then a situation happens that she can take advantage of. Then comes my favorite sequence, a Romeo and Juliet shootout at a movie premiere.

That’s a pretty forceful argument for the power of cinema.

For people of my generation and younger, I didn’t want to trap the film in that period bubble, like all the TV movies about the Holocaust, or the war movies, or the Ken Follett miniseries with David Soul [The Key to Rebecca]. I was very influenced by Hollywood propaganda movies made during World War II. Most were made by directors living in Hollywood because the Nazis had taken over their countries, like Jean Renoir with This Land Is Mine, or Fritz Lang with Man Hunt, Jules Dassin with Reunion in France, and [Anatole Litvak’s] Confessions of a Nazi Spy — movies like that. Almost all these movies, by the way, starred George Sanders. I wasn’t taking anything from them stylistically, but what struck me about those movies was that they were made during the war, when the Nazis were still a threat, and these filmmakers probably had had personal experiences with the Nazis, or were worried to death about their families in Europe. Yet these movies are entertaining, they’re funny, there’s humor in them. They’re not solemn, like Defiance. They’re allowed to be thrilling adventures.

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Ella Taylor
Contact: Ella Taylor