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."
Kelly admitted that "Domino" was a quasi-homage to "True Romance." "I see this as a double feature at the New Beverly," said Tarantino to cheers from the LA Film School students.
Tarantino still sees the "bloody scars" of Scott's fight with the MPAA over an R-rating ("see the unrated DVD"). Scott made compromises, including not having Alabama (Arquette) kill Chris Penn at the end. He was fighting to save the one "sacrosanct" scene when Dennis Hopper taunts Sicilian gangster Walken with repeated uses of the n-word. It's a violent interrogation that echoes Michael Madsen's in "Reservoir Dogs." After lighting the scene so that Walken would go first, after the actor begged to let him go after Hopper to make the scene better, Scott took the time to relight the set for him. "That's an actor's director," said Tarantino.
Goldsmith learned from the director's cut DVD commentary that Scott slapped Arquette twice in order to get her to cry. He called it "The Persuader" the first time he shocked her with it; she actually later requested "The Persuader" for another scene. "Tony is such a nice guy that he could get away with that," suggested Tarantino. "It was not out of frustration or aggressive anger…There was a sweet man behind that slap."
How did Scott get his hands on "True Romance"? Tarantino was oing a rewrite on the Rutger Hauer flick "Past Midnight" at Cinetel Films and was invited to visit the set of "The Last Boy Scout." It was his first big studio location visit, complete with six cameras and six monitors. Scott later invited him to a party, and then asked to read his scripts. He immediately wanted to do "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) but Tarantino was prepping to direct that one himself. So Scott took "True Romance," released in 1993.
After "Grindhouse" opened Tarantino was in the dumps, experiencing his first big flop. He called Scott. "I was feeling pretty bad," he recalled. "I felt like the planet earth had broken up with me." Scott talked him down, told him he'd get over it, to remember he'd go on to do another movie that would fare better, and he'd appreciate it more. He told him to remember how lucky he was, to be able to make movies the way he wanted to make them: "Maybe people don't show up. But you're able to do the work you want to do."
"It made me feel a whole lot better," said Tarantino.