Beaming like a first-time director who just found out that his movie was a hit, Quentin Tarantino sat for an interview before the screening of a 35 mm print of Pulp Fiction from his private collection on July 8 at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
The screening was the hottest ticked at the 33rd Jerusalem Film Festival, which runs until July 17. The Tarantino event sold out within minutes of being announced, and I have to admit that for the first time ever, several people asked to buy my ticket – which was not for sale.
“Shabbat Shalom... thanks for coming out on Shabbat,” Tarantino greeted the standing-room only crowd, then answered Boyd van Hoeij of the Hollywood Reporter’s questions with great enthusiasm and animation.
“I’m making movies for myself first and foremost,” he said. “If I like them, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters...
I have to live with them for the rest of my life,” he said, prompting one of many bursts of applause from the audience. But the director said he does not entirely disregard his audience: “I know what it’s like to sit in the dark and be turned on and be excited and invigorated.”
Tarantino, who is not here to promote a new film, seemed elated to be in Israel, and attended the opening ceremony of the film festival on July 7 with Israeli singer Daniela Pik, the daughter of Zvika Pik and one half of the singing-sister duo Sharona and Daniela.
Tarantino reportedly met Pik in 2009 when he was in Israel promoting Inglourious Basterds, and has been seen out and about with her in Los Angeles and Paris.
Tarantino exploded onto the indie film scene in the Nineties with his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. That violent story of a heist gone wrong, which unexpectedly included obscene discussions of pop culture that were as original and offbeat as they were funny, and featured uncool top 40 hits on the soundtrack, was followed by the even darker and crazier Pulp Fiction in 1994.
Tarantino won an Oscar for the Pulp Fiction screenplay (and won a second Oscar for the Django Unchained script) and the movie also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The New York Film Festival screening in 1994 was particularly memorable, Tarantino said, because during the adrenaline-injection scene, “Someone started screaming, ‘Stop the movie, a man is dying!’ A diabetic guy had such a visceral reaction it threw him into a seizure... but they gave him some orange juice outside and it was all f**king fine.”
Given the dark nature of his work and his extraordinary success, you might expect him to be arrogant or standoffish, but he was anything but throughout his visit. At the reception before the festival opening, he chatted with everyone who came up to him, shaking hands with aspiring teen filmmakers, calling them “buddy” and listening to them talk about their movie projects.
At the Friday night event, he was asked how he comes up with his ideas, and his answer was that he doesn’t quite know himself. “I work from the subconscious, that’s where I’m coming from all the time.” He recalled when he was at Sundance Institute, a workshop for aspiring filmmakers, when a teacher asked if he had done his “subtext work” on Reservoir Dogs. Deciding to give it a try, Tarantino analyzed a scene between Mr. White and Mr. Orange and “it triggered something. All of a sudden, I realized I had written a father-son story.”
Although he learned something from the experience, he decided, “I don’t want to do that again... Those [psychological] roots are there, they are underground, thick and strong and they go a long way. But I don’t have to know about them. I’m the tree.”
He said he enjoys working with large casts. “I have told one person’s story a couple of times,” in the Kill Bill movies and Django Unchained, “but usually it’s easier to divide up the narrative” among several characters. “I put things there that don’t go together, but my aesthetic holds it together.”
He likes to switch between “high drama and high comedy in a heartbeat.”
A screenwriter before he was a director, of such movies as True Romance he recalled, “When I was a kid thinking about being a writer, I would watch TV shows, like Star Trek and Starsky and Hutch and would think about writing a script... I didn’t know all the rules and regulations [of screenwriting]... When you’re a kid, you just want to make the best Star Trek episode ever.”
Talking about his attraction to genre films, both as a viewer and a filmmaker, “I’m drawn to genre... and I want to deliver the pleasures of the genre, but I want to do it my way.”
While he said he often writes roles with a particular actor in mind – “When an actor comes to mind who could be good, it’s hard not to write for them” – he discussed how he made a international star out of an Austrian television actor named Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino decided that this story of American Jewish soldiers hunting Nazis should be made in three languages, English, German and French. He needed an actor to play Col. Landa who was not just fluent in these languages, but who could act in all three. Shooting the entire movie in English would have been “so 1963.”
But he couldn’t find anyone – “I had to have a linguistic genius” – and he was “preparing to pull the plug on the whole thing.” But when he met Waltz, he knew he had found the genius he needed.
“He’s not shown doing it, but he’s probably one of the only Nazis in cinema history who could speak Yiddish, perfectly,” he said, adding that Waltz’s son is a rabbi who lives in Israel (the actor also has a daughter who married here in an ultra-Orthodox wedding).
Tarantino, being Tarantino, got a huge laugh when he said he was so happy to discover Waltz, he wanted to reward him with a sexual favor, because at that moment, “[Waltz] deserved it.”
Waltz went on to win an Oscar for Inglourious Basterds and another for Django Unchained.
Tarantino danced around the question of whether he would really stop making movies after he had made 10, as he has claimed, which would leave him with just two to go. He said might make a “geriatric movie” when he was 75.
Speaking of the importance of seeing movies on film rather than digital projection, he said, “Film is why you leave the house... digital projection is just TV in public.”
When, at the end of the interview, the audience gave him a standing ovation, he told us to sit down and said he had a few questions himself. He asked how many people had seen Pulp Fiction before, then asked how many had seen it when it came out, how many were not born when it came out, and so on. One woman said she had been present at the New York Film Festival screening of Pulp Fiction where the man needed a doctor.
Waving goodbye just before the retro opening credits for Pulp Fiction rolled, Tarantino said, “Thank you for making me feel so at home in your lovely country.