Quentin Tarantino took time from editing "Django Unchained" Friday night to pay tribute to mentor Tony Scott at a double feature screening of "True Romance" and "Domino" arranged by Backstory's Jeff Goldsmith at the LA Film School in Hollywood. "Domino" writer Richard Kelly joined the Q & A between the two 35 mm unspoolings --"True Romance" came from Tarantino's own collection. (For the full podcast, check on Wednesday for Jeff Goldsmith on iTunes.)
"I loved his shit," said Tarantino, who admitted to crying all the way through "Man on Fire" when he screened it last week along with "True Romance" and "Days of Thunder." "He's like Douglas Sirk, he never got respect, was too commercial, people put him down. Now they teach classes about him." Scott's relationship on four films with Denzel Washington ("Crimson Tide") was "one of the best actor-director combinations of our time," said Tarantino.
Tarantino disagrees with reviews of "True Romance" that said Scott "glossed up my script, made it too pretty, too vivid. That's what makes it work so well, and the casting and performances he got."
It was one of the only Scott movies made without supervision from such heavyweight producers as Jerry Bruckheimer, Ray Stark or Joel Silver--who clearly inspired the movie's coke-loving Hollywood producer (well-played by Saul Rubinek). French producer Samuel Hadida ("Se7en") produced both "True Romance" and "Domino." "Tony got to do the movie without asking for permission," said Tarantino.
"True Romance" holds up. It's a rare example of a Tarantino script interpreted by another director. Tarantino was candid about what was him and what was Scott. It's a typically autobiographical first produced screenplay, he said--the characters are versions of himself, from the Detroit comic book clerk (Christian Slater) who loves Sonny Chiba and Elvis Presley to the young LA actor (Michael Rappaport) trying out for bit TV roles. Presumably there were aspects of Brad Pitt's pothead as well. He's hilarious. And so are Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini and Gary Oldman's fictitious villains. And Alabama (Patricia Arquette) is not based on any actual relationship; Tarantino hadn't had one yet. She's a fantasy.
He wrote her well enough for Scott to fall in love with her. In fact because Scott loved the romantic leads so much, he refused to follow his writer's fractured fairy tale and kill off his leading man. Instead, Scott rejiggered the jumps in time into a straightforward narrative, and let his couple live happily ever after.
Tarantino's version of "True Romance" would have been romantic, he said, but "mine would have been more cynical. I wanted to make you fall in love with Clarence and blow his fucking head off, I wanted to do that to you. Tony didn't want to do that. Clarence was me, I could blow my own head off, a punk rock move."
Tarantino did not make the script changes; Roger Avary did. Tarantino thinks there's an alternate avant-garde cut of the film somewhere, when Scott tried it his way. He does an affectionate imitation of the late director, who told him: "Let's just fall in love with them and stay there...I'm not doing it to be a commercial fuck. I'm doing it because I love these fucking kids, they fucking deserve it. I can't fucking kill them."
Tarantino loves Scott's visual flourishes, his push to make each scene as stimulating as possible. He did not write the lovers on the roof under a huge billboard. That's because Scott didn't want to rely on three scenes taking place on couches. Nor did Tarantino set a chaotic fight between Slater and a dreadlocked Oldman in a bizarre whorehouse bar with a long hanging lamp and nine fish tanks.
"He creates tactile worlds you can disappear into," said Kelly, who finally cracked "Domino" after Scott had been developing it for 12 years. Both movies were hard to fund. "Domino" went from Fox 2000 to New Line Cinema. The $40-50-milliion film was based on the true story of Brit actor Laurence Harvey's bounty hunter daughter, who Scott had befriended. She hated the fakery in LA and loved hanging in the barrio. Scott had admired Kelly's "Donnie Darko" and the script for "Southland Tales." Kelly created a "metaphysical fever dream," he said, "a crazy batshit script," and learned from Scott the importance of research, interviews, transcripts. "He gets in there and finds out what real people do."