"But where I'm coming from is, social critics don't mean anything to
me. It is my job to ignore them, because their critiques are about right
now: 2015. Those critics will come and go, but the movie will be the
movie. My revenge is I'm going to win their kids and grandkids over.
They're going to be stuck, an old man at Thanksgiving, having their
grand-daughter talk about how she's taking a Tarantino class in college,
and it's the most stimulating class that she's taking. They're going to
fry an egg on their bald pate while their grandkids exalt my virtues."
Director, Quentin Tarantino*
"Tarantino has an ego," ("in a shower of gore?") is a wonderfully promising start to a poem. It's also an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Unless Tarantino is indulging in barely detectable Gervaisian irony, then I have to conclude that his self-esteem has its own knuckledusters and six-pack abs. I guess a raging, healthy ego is a powerful shield against Hollywood's naysayers whose acidic attacks can wear away a normal person's confidence like alien blood descending through Nostromo's pressurised decks. Q.T. knows his stuff, no question. Read the new interview in this month's Sight and Sound - he's beyond encyclopedic in his film knowledge. He has yet to take a knock strong enough to put so much as a tiny dent in that outspoken and fiercely confident public persona. He shrugged off what may have been taken as physical threats from some low-wattage policemen who thought his recent support for people not dying tarred every cop with the same brush. I think he is so genuinely sure of himself, that there's no one out there that can do him much harm. Directors have to have a super-ego, though not necessarily to the extent of suggesting their own work is destined to be pored over by future film students (while people like me get cooked on) because of its endless layers of possible interpretation. Yeah, right. I can think of quite a few modern directors' work with significantly more meat on their film sprockets' bones than Q.T.'s.
Given that, I was a little alarmed to learn that after a study in 2013, it was discovered that Q.T.s work is the most studied in film academia in the U.K. over and above such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock (remember him?), Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. I don't know whether to weep, burst into tears or cry buckets. But that self-belief has to be in place. These movie directors, these relatively few individuals are directing the telling of multi-million dollar stories. If they don't believe that they are worthy of that job (and show business is a business after all), what the hell are they doing? My relationship with Tarantino's oeuvre is complicated. I adored Reservoir Dogs, liked Pulp Fiction and from Jacky Brown to Death Proof, I cooled off (a telling irony given how cool it became to champion Q.T.'s work). So maybe it's not that complicated a relationship. With patron über-producer Harvey Weinstein providing the greenback muscle, America's most notorious mainstream director, revered by a significant global art house critical contingent, has engineered the release of his films to be at the level of a cultural event. Uh, OK… I mean "The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino" is on the actual poster and the front credits. Even Fellini didn't do that and he didn't do things by halves. Can I get at least a smile from cineastes for that one?
Looking back but not too far, there are so many things to enjoy in his WWII violent comedy romp Inglourious Basterds, not least an introduction to the effortless charisma of Christoph Waltz. The two close ups of the German's Walther under the table in the bar still bother me. Why, oh why were those shots not flopped (in terms of the line of action, it's pointing at his own groin in the movie, not Fassbender's)? Of course a minute later, it's revealed that the English spy has a gun under the table too but this time it's pointing correctly in the same direction as the German's! Despite its pleasures, the movie still felt like a simplified comic strip. Basterds was a movie conceived from other war movies (or in The Hateful Eight's case, other TV shows too). I know this is a critical cliché of Q.T.'s efforts but perhaps it's a cliché for a reason. It's not as if the man hides his inspirations. There are filibuster practitioners out there less vocal than Q.T. reveling in his movie soaked past and present. That he loves westerns is clear but he also quotes TV westerns like Bonanza, The High Chaparral and their ilk for the birth of The Hateful Eight. Django Unchained relied upon the presentation of easy retribution in a period that threw up straw figures to shoot because they had beliefs that we have long ago shrugged off as shockingly unacceptable. If you are a racist even in the 1800s when it was business as usual, normal even, you deserve to be shot multiple times with gouts of risible gore flying heavenward and the audience gets a little rush. This is the present holding the past to ransom and not caring if it gets the money. "The bad guy with bad beliefs dies horribly. That's good. Ooooh, dopamine engaged, happy wave coming through!" I longed for the simplicity of Q.T.'s moral standpoint to be somewhat muddied by the messiness of real characters. Interest would surely follow. The man can write hugely entertaining dialogue (his work in that regard is not greatly on show in The Hateful Eight) but I always get the sense that these characters exist only in the Tarantinoverse. None has the whiff of reality about them but maybe that's OK. It's cinema. It's just refreshing, as Sight and Sound observed, to have a 'big' movie unstuffed with CG adornment and relatively subdued when it comes to action. The Hateful Eight is essentially a play, a gun-play if you will.
The Hateful Eight's title gives no one character the benefit of any doubt. It's a few years after the American Civil War so race and ethnic psychology still cast a vile pall over every one's speech and actions. The racially offensive 'N' word is still bandied about by everyone. This distasteful historical accuracy is presumably now easily acceptable for a modern audience. I'm way behind in the great ''N' word use in movies' discussion but Tarantino and Spike Lee have had a famous public debate about this with Tarantino ending up saying that it was racist to suggest the word 'belonged' to one ethnicity. Needless to say, in the movie set in the late 1800s, casual racism and sexism is a given. The violence meted out to the only woman in the cast and while she's chained up too seems rather excessive but hey, what does that word even mean in a Quentin Tarantino film? We're in Colorado and a powerful blizzard is on its way. Major Warren (Jackson) has dispatched a few wanted men and now needs a lift to the outpost, 'Minnie's Haberdashery', a few miles up the trail before the blizzard sends him wherever he sent his corpses. The stagecoach is already carrying passengers, another bounty hunter/hangman whose professionalism extends to seeing his captured outlaws hang for their crimes. A grizzled Kurt Russell plays 'The Hangman', John Ruth with the spirit of John Wayne at his shoulder. Enveloped in an enormous fur coat, he's cuffed to Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a murderess with rotten and stained teeth just so we know how guilty she is. The only female of the eight, Jason-Leigh practically steals the film from her more testosterone-swamped co-stars. She out-nasties them all with a powerfully repellant performance of a thoroughly despicable character. I absolutely adored her.
After picking up another passenger, Sheriff Mannix (Walter Goggins) anxious to preside over the nearest town beyond the outpost, Red Rock, the stagecoach arrives at its lonely, weather beaten destination and paranoia starts to build. Greeted by 'the Mexican' (Demián Bichir), Warren is immediately suspicious, as he knows the owners of the place. They are absent and more to the point, unusually absent. Inside sits an affected Englishman, Mobray, whose cut glass accent lends him an air of civility the others not only lack but consciously dismiss. This is a return to Q.T.'s universe for the wonderful Tim Roth since his holding up of a diner in Pulp Fiction. Yes, I know that's not technically accurate, but let's not mention Four Rooms as I'm sure that's the right thing to do for all concerned. Bruce Dern stays glued to his armchair as a Confederate General while the perennially shifty Michael Masden, playing Joe Gage the cow-puncher, smokes quietly in the corner. That makes up the eight in question. And now we are very definitely in Reservoir Dogs territory, a theatrical mano a mano and to be frank, this is a great place to be. Who is really whom? What do they want? What secrets are being withheld and could violence ensue? Duh. To say more about the plot would be robbing you of its considerable pleasures. It may be overly leisurely getting everything into place in the first hour and thirty odd minutes but it's well worth the wait. Let's just say that an hour of snow white is well worth the two hours of muted browns and liquid scarlet somehow unreal in its syrupy consistency.
The Hateful Eight is less of a 'whodunit' and more of a 'who's going to do it?' You can practically feel the vibrations of the itchy trigger fingers from all those with waistline access to a gun and soon, those who will have access. Oh, and unlucky characters, Django style, tend to blossom into a red goo explosion whenever they are dispatched. With the bloody special effects expertise of Greg Nicotero (he of The Walking Dead fame), the gore is never off putting. As a 2016 audience, you may even regard the violence as somewhat fit for purpose as opposed to shocking. As with every Q.T. movie, I recognised a lot of the music cues and was surprised because I knew that Ennio Morricone had written Q.T.'s first really bespoke score. I was recognizing the recorded and released but unused cues for John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing (another definite influence). Apparently they were brought into play as Morricone ran out of time writing the original score. Morricone's famous scores are scattered throughout Q.T.'s movies and for reasons beyond me, Q.T. has the reputation of being something of a celebrated giant in the usage of pre-recorded music placement. There's no doubt of the effectiveness of some of the songs he features in his films but I wasn't surprised to hear that Morricone himself had criticised Q.T. for placing music '…without coherence' in the dog attack sequence in Django Unchained. The cue starts as DiCaprio and Fox chat after the attack. It's hugely memorable for me because it's a very well known piece by Jerry Goldsmith from his superb Under Fire score. It's been my feeling that Q.T. sees music as a scene-by-scene requirement giving up on the pleasures and satisfaction that a bespoke themed score can deliver. But hey… Morricone was quite open to work with Q.T. His score doesn't stand out like many of his others but it works perfectly well.
There are aspects of the movie from my own point of view that don't work as well as Q.T. might have intended. The movie is divided into chapters – a regular Q.T. feature – as a framing device for a few flashbacks. There is a very curious transition after Samuel L. Jackson's stand out monologue involving the freezing son of Dern's Confederate General. Q.T. felt it necessary to employ a voice over to set up what he seemed to have done visually without much of a problem. The fact that it's Q.T.'s own voice does pull you out of the movie for a moment. It feels almost slap dash, as if a preview audience member said on a reaction form "I didn't get 'a' and 'b'". Q.T. then goes on to satisfy this one individual with a voice over that explains 'a' and 'b' in the most 'on the nose' way possible. I just think the Chapter heading was cut into the wrong place. It may be that the mid-movie voice over for just four or five lines was always in the screenplay from the very start but that strikes me as just too odd. There's no voice over in the rest of the movie except for that brief moment… The leaked first draft script has no voice over or chapter division at that point in the narrative (and I was surprised to see that Q.T. can't spell 'coffee'!) But what does that matter?
Q.T. shot The Hateful Eight on 65mm film stock aiming at an exclusive anamorphic 70mm cinema presentation at selected theatres in the U.S. on what he called the 'Roadshow' presentation. If you were lucky enough to see real film projected at the wider aspect ratio of 2.76:1 with, I dare say, some tell tale dust spots and hairs, then I am envious. There were a few minutes more in the running time plus a ten-minute intermission. Ah, remember intermissions? I'm not sure if a wide distribution over here will involve any film at all. There have been no reports of any cinema setting up any older film projectors here in the UK except for the Odeon Leicester Square. I imagine the visual punch is significantly harder delivered via celluloid. While I applaud any filmmaker keeping actual film alive, I wondered, apart from the very leisurely shots of the snowy exteriors at the start of the film, what justified needing the extra definition? Interstellar I can understand, Samuel L. Jackson blowing someone's head off with a pair of Colt '45s, not so much. That said, there is great deal of entertainment to be had watching Samuel L. Jackson blowing someone's head off with a pair of Colt '45s and just what that says about me, I'm not entirely sure. Yes, it's a narrow view that contends that the larger film format should feature more visually spectacular narratives that can take advantage of such a presentation and I must say I have that narrow view much to my honest irritation but then I've not seen the 70mm Roadshow presentation and I know enough about the format to really want to.
If Q.T.'s overall output has its hits and misses for me personally, I'd place The Hateful Eight on the hits' side. Whatever else it is, it's pure, over-the-top entertainment. I'm just not sure how much subtext my film student grandchildren are going to mine from its rather simplistic narrative and cipher stock characters but I'm sure after we've all gone the way of the dodo, Quentin Tarantino will be suitably exalted by many while I'll have been just another dish on the heap that needs washing.