Hackford Grills Tarantino on 'Django Unchained': Style, Score, Script Adds, KKK Scene; "it was my 'fuck you' to D.W. Griffith"

Interviews
by Anne Thompson
December 27, 2012 6:19 AM
2 Comments
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Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Django Unchained'

TH: This film is meticulous and it has these wonderful bits of style throughout. The nuances of the silhouette are all through this film. Right at the end you see Jamie and Kerry kissing in silhouette.

QT: That's one of those happy accidents. We set up the shadow for when the door first opens and Django's figure hits the wall, it was on Kerry, and when she ran out of the shot their silhouettes fit perfectly on the kiss. We thought it through except for the last part.

TH: Nuances of casting and multiple cameos. Who plays the sheriff?

QT: Don Stroud, "Coogan's Bluff."

TH: He walks in and looks so mean, he's clearly a killer.

QT: I did really like the idea, these are the faces I think of when it comes to westerns, like Bruce Dern, he's the only name actor to kill John Wayne in a movie. Russ Tamblyn was in there, he starred in his own spaghetti western. Those familiar faces give you authenticity, let you enjoy the atmosphere. Michael Parks. The idea with the marshall was to set up these two guys, and they're getting ready to go on this big adventure, you're all prepared for it. Schultz seems like an eccentric but reasonable guy, and then he shoots the sheriff! There's no way out of that, he's a fucking lunatic, he just shot the sheriff, Django is with a suicidal killer.

TH: You have defined a bravura style and taken it and made it epic. Particularly spaghetti westerns, these films are scored well. You have Morricone.

QT: I've been using spaghetti western music in the last five movies, so it's about time I put them in quasi-spaghetti westerns. Two of my heroes when it comes to Italian movie composition are Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov. The Django theme is throughout the movie, not just this one song. We got an original song ["The Braying Mule"] from Morricone, I was so proud of it I put it in the opening credits. As opposed to second-hand Morricone, I actually have original Morricone this time.

TH: The Django theme?

QT: If you like spaghetti westerns, one of the reasons you like them is because the music so awesome. And the fact you don't just have cool operatic music, you also have really groovy catchy songs, that show up, some will be mock Frankie Laine style, trying to be like the Americans and kind of failing at it but that's what's charming about it, like the "Django" theme. Or "His Name is King" is a very poppy 60s style  number. I love that they tell these little stories inside of that.

TH: When they, in the flashback, flee across the field, is that a quote from 'Burn'?

QT: We were playing around with lanterns, how you're running around at night on horses and had to have some way to see, the brothers at the beginning had those things hooked up. We didn't want to do an action scene, not super melodramatic, we just wanted a couple of snapshots that could work inside a crosscutting situation. Just the idea of that open field with nothing but lanterns coming at them, you can't make out the horses yet, we thought that it would be sad and exhilarating and poetic all at the same time.

TH: It was. In a single shot. Where did that Django Blue Boy outfit come from?

QT: I wrote that scene in the script, and Jamie said Django should choose that outfit. "I want that fly shit." That should be Django's choice. "Sounds like a good idea."

TH: Then you turn that around and the slave girl says "you're free and you have to wear that?" You write and direct. How much writing do you do on the set?

QT: Normally it's just a situation of massaging. You write a scene in your bedroom six months earlier, then getting ready to do it on the day, you realize things have changed. On an epic movie like this, yeah, you have the script, you've done the first half, you know what you have, what you need, what you don't need to spend time on anymore, so it's adjusting and massaging like that. I try not to come up with too many pseudofabulous ideas in rehearsal, that we all think are great, and I end up shooting, but they never make the movie. I love all those fun times exploring it but it never makes the movie. Every once in a while they do.

In this case, a couple of actors brought up things that were interesting. I felt I owed it to them to explore it on paper and see what came out of it, shoot it, if works it works, if it doesn't, it doesn't. Leonardo DiCaprio came up with the idea that he wanted Calvin Candie to be a student of phrenology, a pseudoscience they had back at that time, that gave the white class a scientific proof and reason to be as racist as they were. He gave me some phrenology books, this shit writes itself, it was so fucking crazy, what they're saying, they keep making animal analogies, but I did that in "Basterds."

TH: Leo is an unapologetic racist, he's smart, he's thought it through.

QT: I had thought of the character as an older guy, 65 or 60. Leo wanted to talk to me about it. I looked at it, excited about the idea, looking at something in a way that I haven't before, even if I reject it, I like walking that road, it's interesting to test your material that way. A good role is a good role, any types of people can play it. The idea of him playing the role, the pretext we're selling is this southern aristocratic society, what they consider is European aristocracy. They took what they liked and what they didn't like they threw out, and they made it up.They lived a life of barons and burgermeisters. Candy has 65 miles of land, not uncommon in an industrial plantation with an army of slaves. They were your subjects, and you had a whole army of poor white workers who were paid slave wages to keep the slaves in line. You were a king, what you say goes. Calvin Candie would be the perpetual boy emperor, his daddy's daddy was a cotton man, he's sick of it, the farm goes on for so long it takes care of itself, he's the bored and petulant emperor, he comes up with hobbies to keep himself interested, like Mandingos.

TH: You see the blood going across the cotton, the cash crop of the south. You see the horse galloping, you think he missed the shot, "I'm not good enough," the body falls off, the camera pans up to blood on a white horse. This is called directing. And the KKK scene.

QT: In the script they had the whole bag scene before the charge. I had a trepidation about doing the bag scene. I thought it was one of the funniest scenes in the script, but it played so funny on the page that I was positive I'd fuck it up, it was too funny. I did it, felt ok about it, was scared about editing it. "Lets do the charge first, get our feet wet." So we did the charge, so fun to shoot, it was my "fuck you" to D.W. Griifith. So I did that, and they're actually scary, if I show that they're fucking idiots right at the beginning, I'm going to kick the whole sequence in the shins, right now. So I thought I'd get away by going back in time, and you'd figure it out. I wasn't sure if it worked, we had a research screening, and we showed it. "Are we going to keep it in?" And everyone laughed more than they did throughout the film, and it's everyone's favorite scene. I guess we're going to keep it in.

TH: Was it because you had Christoph cast that you dealt with the Brunhilde and Siegfried myth?

QT: The first half of the script was done, with Don Johnson and Bennett Manor. Christoph knew I was writing the script, he'd come into town, read what we had so far, then we'd go out to dinner. They were having this big wonderful production of The Ring in LA, he wanted to take me to it, I wasn't able to go the first one. Before we went to the second opera, he took me out to dinner and told me the story of the first opera. I'd seen the Fritz Lang "Die Niebelungen." I was fairly familiar with the legend, but there was nothing like Christoph telling you the story of Siegfried and Brunhilde, he was born to do that, he was terrific, there's no way the opera will be as good. While I was watching the second opera, I realized the stories were parallel. She's already named Broomhilda, a coincidence. As I was watching the story I'm realizing how similar it was actually, when I was breaking it down to the story told in the movie. The daughter of Wotan is the daughter of all the gods, that's Bruce Dern, the mountain is Candyland, Candie is the dragon, the circle of hellfire is around her and Django is Siegfreid. It would be wonderful to see Christoph telling the story. I like bringing a fairytale aspect to the story anyway.

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2 Comments

  • cadavra | December 27, 2012 6:27 PMReply

    Tarantino needs to stop judging Griffith (and certainly Ford) on the basis of one film. Anyone who's familiar with the majority of DWG's work--from early Biographs like "A Corner in Wheat" to such later features as "Intolerance," "Broken Blossoms" and "Orphans of the Storm"--knows that he was one of cinema's great humanists, and condemning him on the basis of one misbegotten picture is utterly bone-headed. And don't even get me started on Ford. Two words: "Cheyenne Autumn."

  • Brian | December 27, 2012 3:51 PMReply

    It's Frankie Laine, not Lane. ("Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," "Blazing Saddles")

    Also, "Hackford Grills Tarantino" is kind of misleading. He's not exactly "grilling" him, is he? The questions are quite friendly and sympathetic to the movie.

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