Quentin Tarantino: The Inglourious Basterds Interview

Two decades after the severed ear of Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino serves up Hitler's head on a plate

Do you worry that your movies might be remembered for the triumph of technique over substance?

I don't feel that way about my work.

By the time people hit their mid-forties, their parents are growing older, and the more tragic side of life seems to come out more. Does that affect your work?

Kevin Scanlon
Kevin Scanlon


My movies are painfully personal, but I'm never trying to let you know how personal they are. It's my job to make it be personal, and also to disguise that so only I or the people who know me know how personal it is. Kill Bill is a very personal movie.

But you won't say why.

It's not anyone's business. It's my job to invest in it and hide it inside of genre. Maybe there are metaphors for things that are going on in my life, or maybe it's just straight up how it is. But it's buried in genre, so it's not a "how I grew up to write the novel" kind of piece. Whatever's going on with me at the time of writing is going to find its way into the piece. If that doesn't happen, then what the hell am I doing? So if I'm writing Inglourious Basterds and I'm in love with a girl and we break up, that's going to find its way into the piece. That pain, the way my aspirations were dashed, that's going to find its way in there. So I'm not doing a James L. Brooks—I loved how personal Spanglish was, but I thought that where Sofia Coppola got praised for being personal, he got criticized for being personal in the exact same aching way. But that doesn't interest me, at least not now, to do my little story about my little situation. The more I hide it, the more revealing I can be.

Presumably, some of the time you don't even know you're writing about yourself.

Oh, very much so. Most of it should be subconscious, if the work is coming from a special place. If I'm thinking and maneuvering that pen around, then that's me doing it. I really should let the characters take it. But the characters are different facets of me, or maybe they're not me, but they are coming from me. So when they take it, that's just me letting my subconscious rip.

At what point do you score a movie?

In three stages. I pick a lot of music as I'm writing, some of it even before I write. I have a vinyl room, like a record store, in my house—that's one of the perks of being me. I dive into my record collection, I have a turntable already set up to make tapes, and I'm trying to find the rhythm, the beat of the movie. For instance, I wanted to set Jackie Brown in a more black world than the book took place in—even if it's not a blaxploitation movie, it will have that energy or vibe. So then I go diving into '70s soul music. Usually, I'm trying to find that opening credit sequence and once I find that, then I'm like, "OK, I can do this now," 'cause that gives me enough to be excited by it. Also, if I get tired writing, or whenever I just need enthusiasm, I go into that room, play those songs, and imagine watching the movie with my friends and everyone's oohing and aahing, and that gets me going again. I might even play those on the set. Then I'm always looking for music while I'm doing the movie, and then that last thing is in the editing, I'm diving for more stuff. And Harvey [Weinstein] always wants me to put more music in. I'm like, "Harvey, the reason it works so good is that there's not wall-to-wall noise, [so] when it comes on, it's cool." [It's] the last little thing before we lock picture—because Harvey pays a lot of money for my movies so let me give him a little respect. I dive in, and if I find something [else], it's good, and if I don't, I don't. But I know that if I look hard enough, I'm going to find something.

Seventeen years ago, you gave me your top five movies. Would you like to revise it?

I can tell you now. This got picked up on from [your] piece for the next five years, those top three in particular: Taxi Driver, Blow Out, and Rio Bravo. I've changed. I know I was cagey about it before, but my favorite movie of all time is The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. That's the best movie ever made. I can't even imagine myself doing better; that's how much I love it. I would also throw His Girl Friday in there. The fifth will always be however I feel at the moment. So I'll throw in Carrie, give De Palma a shout-out.

What have you liked lately?

One of the best movies this year is Observe and Report. That's a real movie. Somebody said it's Seth Rogen's Punch-Drunk Love. Well, fuck Punch-Drunk Love—it's Taxi Driver. That's fucking Travis Bickle. I find it hard to believe there's going to be another moment as cathartic as him shooting the flasher. I was a big fan of Jane Campion's Bright Star—I think it's her best movie. I got caught up in the seriousness of the poetry, and I don't mind the chaste stuff.

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