It’s hard to get a word in edgeways when chatting to Quentin Tarantino. That man can talk, especially when it’s on his favourite topic: cinema. Within moments of our meeting in Claridges in London, he is waxing lyrical about his two favourite movies of the past year.
“I loved Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, and that Seth Rogen movie Observe and Report,” he says, settling into his chair in the suite. “Everyone was saying, ‘This is Seth Rogen’s Punch Drunk Love’. I was like, ‘Punch Drunk Love my ass! This is Seth Rogen’s Taxi Driver’!”
As he speaks, the publicist is miming behind his back, indicating that I have just 15 minutes in total for the interview. It seems a tad rude, but the only option is to cut across Tarantino whenever he seems to be wandering off the beaten track. Because, even though he’s now older (aged 46, can you believe?) and looking a bit pudgier than before, he still has the same extraordinary energy and enthusiasm as the young man who giddily accepted the Palme d’Or for Pulp Fiction back at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
Now, after a shaky few years, Tarantino is back on blistering form with his latest flick, Inglourious Basterds, which opens here next week.
Basterds is not an easy movie to describe. It’s a violent, often uproariously funny World War II revenge action-thriller-cum-fantastical-alternative-history-lesson that is also, true to form, an homage to the power and influence of movies and movie makers. The film’s deliberately misspelt title is itself a quirky wink to Enzo Castellari’s 1978 Italian war movie Inglorious Bastards (and wouldn’t you know it: Castellari has a cameo in Tarantino’s movie).
A mustachioed Brad Pitt (playing the leader of a troop of Jewish-American Nazi-hunting vigilantes known as ‘The Basterds’) heads an extraordinary cast that includes German-born, Killarney-raised Michael Fassbender, Hostel director Eli Roth, Teutonic totty Diane Kruger, and, best of all, Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who is at once charming and chilling as the ‘Jew Hunter’ Nazi colonel Hans Landa.
Basterds has been on Tarantino’s mind for some time: the idea first came to him in the late 90s, but it never seemed to fully come together. Last July, he finally finished the script, and then decided he wanted to rush Basterds into production and get it made in less than eight months so it could premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival (where Waltz won the Best Actor prize).
Tarantino made the deadline, but it meant rewriting his own rulebook about how he approaches film-making. “It wasn’t the quickest I ever shot a movie: Reservoir Dogs was five weeks and Pulp Fiction was 10 weeks,” he explains. "But as far as the canvas and the scale were concerned, this was the most intense.
“Because the story had been in my head for such a long time, the normal instinct would be to be precious about it, to really take my time and stretch it out. But I knew I didn’t want to go that route with it. I’d spent time on the script and it was ready. I wanted that energy to get it done quickly, and I wanted that energy to find its way on to the screen.”
It’s also, at times, a very gory movie, which is sure to resurrect the old Tarantino screen violence debate that has dogged his work from the get-go. His response? Let them say what they will. “I just don’t have to engage with that any more,” he states, firmly but politely. "I’ve been around for 17 years now. I don’t need to defend myself. I’ve said whatever I’m going to say.
“You know, I never really set out to shock. Some things I’ve done might be shocking, but they’ve been dictated by the movie or the characters. At the same time, I’m a lot less shockable than other people, so I had no idea that people would respond, say, to the Mr Blond ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs until they did. I didn’t think that was anything!”
Basterds is an important movie for Tarantino, for it seems to have put his career back on track after Death Proof, his critically and commercially panned half of the 2007 Grindhouse flop. After a decade of near-uninterrupted praise and hits, starting with his early 90s features through to Jackie Brown and the Kill Bill double whammy, not to mention some sterling acting and directing on TV shows including Alias, ER and CSI, Tarantino had his first taste of failure.
The memory of that experience is clearly still with him. Did he feel a lot of pressure to deliver the goods this time round? He thinks about his answer for a long time. "It’s not so much I feel pressure about it. But if Grindhouse had been a big hit, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here with a finished movie that’s this much of a big deal quite this soon.
"I probably would have taken a bit more time and enjoyed life a little bit. That was my first real failure so there was this element of jumping back up on the horse right away and righting the wrong.
“There will always be critics or movie goers who just don’t get me. I’m making movies for myself. I’m not trying to second-guess a faceless mass out there. I’m making movies I want to see, and I’m just betting that there are other people like me out there.”
There have been other film-makers out there who are “like” Tarantino: he has inspired an entire subgenre of film-making that has been labelled ‘Tarantino-esque’. So, has that development been flattering or irritating?
“No, it’s very flattering,” he says with a smile. “One of my favourite directors is Sergio Leone, and he created a new kind of western that then spawned a genre of over 300 movies. Some are good, some bad, and some are great. My type of crime movie did inspire a new type of crime movie – okay, not as many as Leone – but it’s a big honour, and there are some I like and some I don’t like.”
Tarantino has been called “the ultimate film cannibal”: the guy who obsessively watched and discussed movies all day while working in Video Archives in California, who now flits from one genre and style to another, constantly referencing and copying from his favourite movies and movie-makers. So what does he have planned next?
“I have a few ideas but I have no real clue until this movie is put behind me,” he replies. “One of the big rules in cinema apparently is to always have your next movie set up before your new movie comes out. I don’t believe in that at all. If that’s the way professional movie-makers go, then I’m proud to be a rank amateur.”
With that, the publicist is back up, signalling that our allotted time is up. As he poses for a picture, and signs my copy of the Pulp Fiction screenplay (addressing it to ‘Delecn’), I ask him about a rumour that he had visited the Galway Film Fleadh last month on the QT with his new pal Michael Fassbender.
“No man, just a rumour,” he replies. "I’ve actually driven around Ireland a few times, and tried to deal with roundabouts and trying to stay on the right side of the road. A few people recognised me, but a lot of the places I ended up going were older pubs, so the old guys couldn’t give a fuck.
[B]"I’ll tell you a funny story. Around 1995, I was staying with some friends in Connemara and they told me to visit Doolin, in Co Clare. So my girlfriend at the time and I were driving into Doolin and we passed all these people screaming and roaring on the side of the road.
“It turned out it was the day of the hurling championship, and Doolin hadn’t won it in 80 years. So we got into the town and the place was apoplectic. They were going nuts. We pub-crawled for the night. It was great.”[/B]
Inglorious Basterds is in previews from this weekend