In a narrative twist straight out of Pulp Fiction and a switch worthy of Jackie Brown, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award Tribute was shuffled from Friday to Wednesday and its recipient from Leonardo DiCaprio (possibly still shooting Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street) to Quentin Tarantino, foregoing the red carpet for an evening of superlatives, expletives, insight and genuine emotion.
Mia: “Ooohhh, this doesn't sound like the usual mindless, boring, getting-to-know-you chit-chat. This sounds like you actually have somethin' to say.”
The LA Times’ John Horn, who proved to be an astute and engaging host (keep him on the Rolodex) introduced the bullet-ridden prologue montage edited to the staccato strains of Dick Dale’s Misirlou, before bringing Tarantino onstage for a discussion primarily “about the pen” as the filmmaker would later point out, focused more on the journey of the scribe than the lenser, “When I’m writing, the director isn’t really there.”
Approaching the material more as a novelist, by creating chapters and characters, “and getting them to take over half-way through,” when crafting a screenplay, Tarantino confessed to possessing multiple personalities; The Actor guides character backstory development, The Director is placed on the shelf, and The Screenwriter toils away without thinking cinematically or being bound by page numbers. And to clarify, the term “penning a screenplay” is literal when discussing Tarantino’s work, as he’s strictly analog, putting ink to paper, “I can’t write poetry on a computer.” Once completed, The Director takes over and, “It’s mine to fuck up.”
It’s this same literary sensibility that informs much of his recent work, especially the longer takes and conversational set-pieces like the plantation dining room sequences in Django Unchained as well as the opening and basement standoff from Inglorious Basterds, “Here’s a bunch of mofos you just met in a 40 minute scene in a basement speaking in a foreign language. It wasn’t my intention to go that long, but it holds up.” This discernible flow in style was pointed out by Horn who suggested a possible post-Basterds/Django trilogy, to which Tarantino replied, coyly, “Possibly…”
Whether prescient or planned, the clips shown throughout the evening tilted predominately to the dialogue-laden, reinforcing the realm of the writer nicely and showcasing a different side of the director, often renowned for his celebrations of cinema Guignol and stylistic slo-mo carnage.
After scenes from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were screened, Horn probed some heavy sub-textural analysis, prompting Tarantino to relate his early experiences at the Sundance Institute, gleaning the insight which made him realize the deeper father/son betrayal machinations underlying Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange and Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White.
Often during these tributes, reviewing clips can seem like an exercise in slow torture and painful reminiscence for some honorees. After the sequence of Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, Tarantino was clearly having a good time, “I’m loving looking at these movies!” adding, “A lot of people tell me, ‘I’m making these movies for me.’ Well then, you’d better love your shit.” He then confessed to watching his own movies whenever he happened across them on cable, having just viewed the last 40 minutes of Reservoir Dogs on before arriving at the tribute.
“Sam Jackson is the exception.”
Horn continued on the writing track, asking if the Tarantino ever wrote with certain actors in mind. He responded that in keeping with the novelist’s approach, he never had specific voices for his characters, but after a few films, one kept creeping into and dominating the dialogue… Samuel L. Jackson. “When I was writing scenes for Bill (Kill Bill), I was writing for Sam.” Horn also inquired as to the status of the script on set: Bible or template? “Actors aren’t there to riff, they’re there to say my dialogue. If their riffing is clever, I’ll take credit for it. Sam Jackson is the exception. Sam sings in my key.” Tarantino commented further on Jackson’s ability to elevate material and their mutual affinity, as when the director once asked the actor why he gave so much of himself to the role, Jackson replied, “I do this for you because I give a shit.”
Two of the more prevalent motifs in Tarantino’s work were explored as well; music and genre. Again, both were framed in the relation to the writing process. With eclectic and effective scores employing a spectrum from Joe Tex to Jim Croce, Tarantino described how he uses music to inspire finality as he mentally constructs scenes played out to music cues during a script’s creation. He utilizes genre in the same way, having to work within established boundaries and keeping his writing disciplined, “If I didn’t do genre, my movies would be five hours long.” Adding that with genre he doesn’t always follow the framework, “but you still have to deliver the goods.”
Vincent: ”I’m gonna take a piss.“
Mia: “That was a little bit more information than I needed to know, Vincent, but go right ahead.“
Before the last two clips were presented and possibly the first time in festival history, the recipient exclaimed, ”I really have to take a piss! Can someone show me where the bathroom is?“ Upon his return, to no one’s surprise, but to every wordsmith’s dismay, Tarantino revealed not only that he never suffers from writer‘s block, but also how he revels in the pure process of writing, without regard for page count or results and that the true reward is in the journey. At that point, Horn turned to him and said, ”Quentin, you’re the shit.“
A clearly pumped and exuberant Roger Durling then appeared side stage to present the American Riviera trophy, thanking Tarantino for making the world respectable for film geeks everywhere and in a rare exhibiton of ”Durling Unchained,“ lauded the director for changing the landscape of American cinema, for his bold choices, for being one of the few directors next to Hitchcock that has created his own brand and possessing an attitude that, “doesn’t give a ffff...“ “Say it! Say it!“ yelled Tarantino from his seat. Underscoring the reason why the Arlington was packed at the last-minute on a Wednesday night, Durling concluded, ”He doesn’t make genre movies... he makes Tarantino movies!“