Quentin Tarantino talks Inglourious Basterds - RT Interview

The maverick director talks exclusively to RT.

RT Interview: Quentin Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds

With his sixth film, Quentin Tarantino has fashioned the ultimate in pulp fiction, a Second World War epic set in Nazi-occupied France that sees two parallel assassination plots vying to kill off the Big Four: Adolf Hitler, Martin Borman, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler. Far from a weighty WWII drama, Inglourious Basterds is full of outstanding, dry-comedic turns - notably from Brad Pitt as the Tennessee-born Lieutenant Aldo Raine - and an effervescent black humour.

But while it dares square up to history, in ways that will surprise and possibly shock, Tarantino's latest is not irreverent and empty: it is a revenge drama in the most extreme sense possible, with a smart and unsettling climactic showdown that forces us to confront the very idea of movie violence as entertainment.

Debuting in Cannes in May 2009, where it screened in a slightly different form, Inglourious Basterds is yet another experiment in style and genre from a master of pastiche - in the true, artistic sense of the word - but this time with a ferocious intelligence we perhaps haven't seen before. Sitting down exclusively with Rotten Tomatoes, the director discusses his wartime adventure, over ten years in the making...

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When did you finally write the script for Inglourious Basterds?

Quentin Tarantino: I literally started in January of last year, and I wrote January through to July. The first two chapters in the movie are made up of older material. I did a little rewrite on them, but it's older material. Everything from chapter three to the end I wrote in that big go.

Were you aware of any pressure while writing it? Of all the projects you've talked about, this one has been the kind of Holy Grail...

QT: Not really, because I felt the same way about it too! If I couldn't make it as good as thought it should be then I would have just not done it. But I knew I had to write it, I knew I had to finish, even if it I ended up not doing it, just to get it out of my system. Just to move it out to the side so I could find the next thing. I had to climb that mountain before I could see where any other mountain was. Because I had thought about maybe not doing it. And in a weird way it was kinda liberating. Just letting go of the idea of doing it kinda steered me back to it.

Is there a reason all your films have two-word titles?

QT: [laughs] I've never thought about that before, but I guess that's right. I guess it just always worked out that way. To me, the title is always very organic: it's not just about, "Oh, that would look good on the poster." If for some reason I couldn't have used the title Inglourious Basterds, I probably would have called the movie Once Upon A Time in Nazi-Occupied France.

How would you describe it? In some ways it's very reminiscent of the earlier scripts, like True Romance and Natural Born Killers...

QT: To me, it's a lot like Pulp Fiction, it's a lot like True Romance and it's a lot like Reservoir Dogs. The La Louisiane scene is like a reduced Reservoir Dogs, but with Nazis and in German. It's a 23-minute scene, and instead of that warehouse they're in a little basement bar. But to me, there's this aspect that's like Pulp Fiction, where you have all these different stories that are going in one direction. In this, it's more so. The stories are even more diverse, but it actually is telling one big story, as opposed to being a big mosaic. But it also kind reminds me of True Romance a lot, because there's always a new character that comes in and takes the movie -- someone who just takes the movie and runs with it. Every 20 minutes it's like, "What the fuck movie is this?"

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Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna in Inglourious Basterds
A lot of people might be expecting a Dirty Dozen-style, men-on-a-mission film, but Inglourious Basterds isn't that film, is it?

QT: Well, y'know, it was the Dirty Dozen idea that set me down to start writing in the first place. But that's how it always is with me: the thing that sets me down to start writing is usually not what I end up doing. Because, as much as I love genre, and I try to deliver the goods, I go off from it. I go do my own thing. When I sat down to write Reservoir Dogs, I sat down to write a heist film. Well, I did. [laughs] But you didn't see the heist!

You take a lot of liberties with history with this movie. Was that your original intention?

QT: That's not where it started. That's definitely not where it started. I had no idea that was going to happen. When you start writing, you have your characters on a metaphorical paved road, and as they go down it, all these other roads become available that they can go down. And a lot of writers have roadblocks in front of those roads: they won't allow their characters to go down those roads. For whatever reason - usually movie conventions. Well, I've never put any roadblocks on any of these paths. My characters can go wherever they would naturally go, and I'll follow them.

So what happened when you followed them?

QT: Well, on this movie there's one real big roadblock, and that's history itself. And I expected to honour that roadblock. But then at some point, deep, deep, deep into writing it, it hit me. I thought, Wait a minute: my characters don't know they're part of history. They're in the immediate, they're in the here, they're in the now, this is happening. Any minute, they're dead. And you know what? What happens in this movie didn't happen in real life because my characters didn't exist. But if they had, this could have happened in real life. And from that point on, it simply had to be plausible, and I had to be able to pull it off.

Continue on as Tarantino expands on his theory that his characters might have changed the course of the war had they actually existed, discusses breaking with war-movie cliches and working with Brad Pitt.

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