Hollywood's prince of pulp is back, and he's more obsessive than ever. Six years after the acclaimed but comparatively modest "Jackie Brown" and nearly a decade since "Pulp Fiction," writer-director Quentin Tarantino has returned to epic form with Miramax Films' "Kill Bill-Vol. 1." The film is the first
installment in a two-part blood symphony founded on the leitmotif of revenge and played out with martial arts bravado so relentlessly ambitious that Hong Kong may adopt him as one of its own. The indefatigable Tarantino sat down with The Hollywood Reporter's Dylan Callaghan to discuss "Kill Bill," the World War II epic he's planning and his favorite romantic comedies. The Hollywood Reporter: You've said that when you start penning a new movie, the first thing you often do is find an opening scene based on a song. Is that still the case? Quentin Tarantino: It's been the case pretty much from the beginning, actually.
THR: How does that work?
Tarantino: How it works exactly is that I've talked before about how I kinda dive into my record collection to find the music that has the rhythm the movie will work at. Well, that's exactly how I do it in a very general way. The specific way I do it is I write and think of the movie in chronological order — at least in terms of the movie itself. In other words, I start at the beginning and work my way through to the end. I often don't know 100% how it's going to end. I have ideas of where I'm going to go and what I want to do, but I'm working my way through it. It's kind of the way a lot of novelists write, not the way a lot of screenwriters write. The point being is that the opening-credit sequence is very important to me. The reason it's so important is that it is the only mood moment that is allowed in today's Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking.
THR: Is it then the most crucial mood moment in any film?
Tarantino: I think it is. You're setting up. You're setting up the mood and the flavor and the anticipation of what it is you're getting into. Also, great opening-credit sequences — (searching for words with hands outstretched) they're just so special. It's just like, why not do a great one? They're just so much fun. The right use of music, the right font in the opening credits — you know that's why I pick all my fonts, I design them all, I mix them up — with the right music, the way it plays and pulls you in, it's just so exciting and wonderful and moving. So when I (first begin a new script), I have to — before I can really go any further — I have to find the opening credits.
THR: Was that the case with "Kill Bill" and "Bang Bang" (Nancy Sinatra's trancelike version of the Sonny Bono song "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" over "Kill Bill's" opening sequence)?
Tarantino: That's it. In the case of "Kill Bill," that wasn't a matter of finding it — I immediately knew that's what I wanted to do. I came up with the idea of doing "Kill Bill" on the set of "Pulp Fiction" with Uma (Thurman, the film's star). "Bang Bang" set to Uma for the opening credits was in my mind on the set of "Pulp Fiction." The only difference is that back at that time I was going to use the Cher version. I love the Cher version — it's fantastic. But then over the course of the years, I got Nancy Sinatra's second album, "How Does That Grab You?" (on which "Bang Bang" is an album track). I played that, and it was even better. The Cher version is wonderful, but Nancy Sinatra's is so soulful, and she sings it like it's poetry. If all you know about Nancy Sinatra is "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," it gives you new respect for what a wonderful vocalist she was. She makes it her own.
THR: When are you going to depart from crime action, if you are you going to, and where would you want to go?
Tarantino: There's crime in "Kill Bill," but it's not a gangster movie. And even "Jackie Brown" isn't a gangster movie, per se, even though there's definitely crime in it. My World War II movie, when I do that, won't be crime.
THR: That is "Inglorious Bastards"?
Tarantino: Yeah, you know, Westerns, there are all kinds of genres I want to do. The only thing is, I don't get why genre would be this thing that you have to grow out of. Why it would be this thing to be left behind? Cinema — and I'm not talking about Hollywood cinema, I'm talking about world cinema — most of literature and most of all theater is based on genre to one degree or another, mostly to a large degree. So it's like, what is this other aesthetic that should be aspired to that leaves genre alone?
THR: So you've got "Inglorious Bastards" on deck. Where are you at with that project right now?
Tarantino: I've kind of written two more scripts during the six years when I was doing my writing and everything. Now that I'm done with "Kill Bill" and when I'm finished with "Vol. 2," I'll go over them again. They're pretty much written, but now I need to fashion it and get ready to make it. The only thing is, I might just do another little smaller movie in between so I don't just wind up hopping from epic to epic.
THR: We were talking about how you usually start with an opening-credit sequence and song in mind. Has anything struck on that for "Inglorious Bastards"?
Tarantino: Oh, yeah, for sure.
THR: You have the song?
THR: You want to share it with us?
Tarantino: I can't really 100%.
THR: How about just an idea?
Tarantino: I know how to say it: I'm going even further with the whole spaghetti Western route — even further than I did with "Kill Bill." "Inglorious Bastards" is truly spaghetti Western, just set in Nazi-occupied France. I'm going to find a place that actually resembles, in one way or another, the Spanish locales they had in spaghetti Westerns — a no man's land. With American soldiers and French peasants and the French resistance and Nazi occupiers, it was kind of a no man's land. That will really be my spaghetti Western but with World War II iconography. But the thing is, I won't be period specific about the movie. I'm not just gonna play a lot of Edith Piaf and Andrews Sisters. I can have rap, and I can do whatever I want. It's about filling in the viscera.
THR: Do you consider "Kill Bill" Quentin Tarantino's official entry into the all-time greatest fight scenes? You wanna win that title, don't you?
Tarantino: That is it exactly, completely the egomaniacal goal that I set for myself.
THR: The fights are certainly ambitious.
Tarantino: I'm a big fan of Hong Kong kung fu fights, but you know, they usually go on too long in the final fight. In they end, they've topped themselves a long time ago, and it goes on just a little too long. I'm pretty proud (in "Kill Bill") of coming up with different levels either in look or visuals or something, so hopefully you're not getting fried on this one whole thing.
THR: A few years back you said that if you're doing good art, it's got to honestly reflect what's going on in your personal life — not overtly, but it has to be in there somewhere. So on "Kill Bill," what was an underlying thing that defined it for you in a personal way? What was going on with Quentin?
Tarantino: Here's the thing: I understand that question, but I'm not going to answer it, though. Those deep layers of subtext — that's for me. It's not important that anyone know the answer to that, all right. As it is, I always feel like I'm going to be revealed to the nth degree when I do it. So if you have to ask, then fine, I'm glad you don't know.
THR: You've said that you actually get embarrassed.
Tarantino: Yeah, especially when you finish the script and you give it to them, you're afraid that the people who know you are going to see right through it — see right through you. You always should be revealing yourself, and I'm down with that in the work, but I don't want to underline it and tell you all my secrets.
THR: Is "Rio Bravo" still your all-time favorite movie?
Tarantino: It's still one of my very favorites, but right now I think my favorite movie in the world is and always kinda has been "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
THR: Would you ever consider making a romantic comedy?
Tarantino: When somebody says, "Would you ever do a romantic comedy?" I know what they mean, but no one would go see my movies to see them play straight. You want to see me fuck with them. Having said that, "True Romance" is my romantic comedy, and it was the first script I wrote. It fits every criteria of a romantic comedy. There's a lot of violence in it and everything, but I never heard of a rule saying that can't be in a romantic comedy. You know, that's a situation where that title is not meant ironically.
THR: I didn't mean to harp on romantic comedy alone, but just to be really obnoxious, do you have a favorite romantic comedy?
Tarantino: Oh yeah, "His Girl Friday," and after that, it would be Peter Bogdanovich's "They All Laughed."
Tarantino: Yeah. To me, "They All Laughed" is the most romantic movie I've ever seen.
THR: You said that you would have liked to have directed David Webb Peoples' script "Hero" (which Stephen Frears directed in 1992) as your Capra film. Do you still want to do a Capra-esque movie?
Tarantino: No, no, I've never wanted to do a Capra movie ever until I read "Hero." The more I look at it, it actually seems less like a Capra movie than a Preston Sturges movie, but I hop on one foot back and forth. I would have rewritten it a little bit. I would have made it more gritty. What I mean by that is, rather than making the Dustin Hoffman character this con man loser, I would have made him a drug dealer. I would have taken it to the nth degree of what they were doing. That's a situation where I hadn't even read the script, I just saw the movie, which I think Stephen Frears made completely with his left hand. I'm not really into putting directors down, and Stephen Frears has done work that I have really admired, but, having said that, to this day I'm still mad at him for phoning in that job because that writer and that piece deserved more. I still haven't quite gotten over the anger of watching that movie, and by the time those guys were on that ledge and they were talking, it hit me what a great script it was, and everyone seemed to know it except the director, who thought he was doing a Hollywood job. Of all the movies to do journeyman work in, you know, that was not one of them.