Q: How do you answer critics who think that your generation, with Tim Burton, the Coen brothers, or even an older person like David Lynch is just making borrowed, post-modern, self-reflexive art with no connection to reality, just a kind of formalist game?
Quentin Tarantino: I’m never bothered that people say I don’t make films “from life” and that I have “nothing to say.” I don’t try to say anything but to create characters and to tell stories out of which meaning can appear. What’s more, I think I make films about life since I make films about me, about what interests me.
The only artistic training I had was as an actor. An actor has a very different aesthetic conception from a director or a writer. He uses what works. Without betraying the truth of my style, my rhythm or voice, when I saw something I liked in Marlon Brando or Michael Caine, I’d use it in my own acting. Actors work like this: they steal from others and make it part of themselves.
I don’t consider myself just as a director, but as a movie man who has the whole treasure of the movies to choose from and can take whatever gems I like, twist them around, give them new form, bring things together that have never been matched up before. But that should never become referential to the point of stopping the movement of the film. My first concern is to tell a story that will be dramatically captivating. What counts is that the story works and that viewers will be caught up in my film. Then movie buffs can find additional pleasure in getting whatever allusions there are.
But I never try for an exact copy or a precise quote or a specific reference. Carbon copies give me headaches. I like mixing things up: for example that golden watch story begins in the spirit of Body and Soul and then unexpectedly ends up in the climate of Deliverance. What I most enjoy are space-time distortions, jumps from one world to another. You don’t need to know the two films to appreciate the story of the watch, but if you know them it’s even more surprising and fun.
Sometimes I have an idea for a film which I carry around in my head for five or six years, without writing the scenario, since the right moment hasn’t hit. But when I sit down to write, everything that’s going on in my personal life finds a place in the film. When I’ve finished a scenario, I’m always astonished by what it reveals about me. It’s as if I were disclosing a bunch of personal secrets, even though people don’t notice, and I don’t really care if they notice or not!
Again, if an actor is driving to the theater or to a film set and hits a dog, like Irene Jacob did in Red, well, it’s going to affect the acting, no matter how well the scene has been prepared. What happened is going to show up on stage or on the screen. Anyone able to keep strictly to what had been planned isn’t really creative. At least that’s how I think about my work. Whatever happens to me, even if it’s completely unrelated to the subject I’m doing, will find its way into the scenes I’m shooting, because I want my characters’ hearts to really beat.
If you really knew me, you would be surprised by how much my films talk about me.