Oh hell yeah, this is lookin' good.
This will be a spoiler free report – which is a difficult thing to write because, well frankly my 4 days on set were spent observing the end of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.
Now I know… a lot of you have read the script for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS which found its way across the internet in excessively quick fashion, but I will let you know that the final chapter of that script has changed excessively. The broad strokes are there, but it has become notably more violent & heroic.
For most of you, you haven’t read the script. The trailer came out today and you’ve learned that Brad Pitt is heading up a team of Jews intent on collecting 100 Nazi Scalps each after being dropped behind enemy lines in plain clothes. You’ve seen images of a bloody girl running, of a Nazi with a swastika carved into his forehead and of Eli Roth as the Bear Jew swinging a Baseball Bat into a Nazi skull. This is, without a doubt, a perfect teaser. You don’t know who the girl is. You’ve no clue what Hitler is screaming “Nein” about so red faced.
The trailer seems to promise an orgiastic display of Nazi death and carnage at the hands of a group of Bowery Boy Jews seemingly right from the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. That is certainly part of this tale. There’s also quite a bit more. You’ve probably also learned enough to know that this is… in no way… a remake of Enzo Castellari’s INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, contrary to what a seeming mountain of experts have claimed. Other than being set in World War II, there really isn’t anything else in common. But enough of that – let’s move on to the glorious stages of Babelsberg…
In my time on the set – I feel I can say with confidence, that I witnessed the brutal deaths of over a 100 Nazis. It was glorious.
I also must say that of all the sets I’ve visited in my time, this was the single most focused and clock-work precision driven sets I’ve seen. When I spent that great deal of time on the set of KILL BILL, that set was more relaxed. More cordial. Here, you can tell that Quentin is very no-nonsense. He, like his characters, is a Man on a Mission.
You see in 12 weeks, this film… whose set I am on, will be premiering at Cannes. At least that is the intention. This sounds highly unlikely, as I am on a set that is very much shooting the conclusion of this epic tale, but you should also know that this film has been shooting pretty directly in order. Specifically so it could be finished quickly and in order. The word I heard is the start of this film is pretty much completed. Quentin’s editor, Sally Menke has been working non-stop with Quentin to hone this beast to a finished flick.
Also – you may remember when I reviewed the script for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, I said that I felt this could very well be Quentin Tarantino’s very best film. Coming away from this set – I would have no qualms in saying that I feel I’m fucking Nostradamus.
I was very nervous after casting began on BASTERDS… There are a whole lot of unknown factors in this movie. Namely the cast.
I had always envisioned INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS to be a hardass collection of square jawed muscled manly men looking damn good as they killed Nazis. Instead, Quentin went another direction. Oh sure, he has Brad Pitt… pretty much the personification of well cut man meat, but beyond that… the next most handsome fella in the cast is some horror film director named Eli Roth. The rest of the basterds are smaller men. As Eli told me, Quentin cast the basterds to be kind of nerdy Jew boys. But what happened was this. Quentin has made these nerdy Jew boys into hardened killing machines. Let’s face it. World War 2 was not fought by men in the gym, but by guys that were auto mechanics, cowboys, actors, police men, fire men, gardeners, writers… people that read newspapers, went to movies and got drunk at the local bar. What World War 2 did to the common man was elevate them. I mean… look at Audie Murphy. He was 5’5”, impoverished and became the most decorated combat soldier of World War 2. Quentin is making a war film for regular men that became extraordinary.
Also – where does this film come down in terms of history? Well, Quentin explained it to me like this. In his mind, this is history – had his characters been there. Had Frederick Zoller existed as a Nazi Sgt York. Had Shosanna Dreyus had a theater in Paris. Had Lt. Aldo Raine had a company of men like Sgt Donnie Donowitz & PFC Omar Ulmer. Had the Nazis had Col. Hans Landa sniffing out Jews in France. Had the stunning Bridget von Hammersmark made films for Germany. And had General Ed Fenech had the intel to give Winston Churchill. Had these things happened, who is to say what changes the courses of history taken? Certainly not you or me. But I will say that at the end of this movie, considering the ramifications of the change to the historic time line that Quentin saw when he saw this version of History. It could very well have been a better world for it. Who is to say.
Now what did I see on set?
A shit load of Nazis dying. Seriously. If you thought Nazis died in DIRTY DOZEN… brother, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The set I was on was the theater, inside the large stage of the Babelsberg Film Studio in old East Germany – just southwest of Berlin. I’d like to say it was the GENESEE THEATER – I’m not sure if my memory has that detail quite right though. The theater is run by a young French lady named Shosanna with the aid of a young black Frenchman named Marcel. The theater is a beautiful construct of the Sound Era of Theater Construction, meaning it was built after the advent of sound at the beginning of the 1930’s. It is stunningly Deco.
As I first walked onto the stage, the first thing I noticed were the giant scarlet banners containing a white circle with a stark SWASTIKA in the center. These banners were easily 30 ft high. (Later off stage I saw an ironing board with a banner being ironed out. Amongst the oddest imageries I’ve seen) The theater was pretty large, with seating for 350. The stage was smoky. Why? Well – this is long before the era of non-smoking movie theaters – and the attendees dressed in a variety of Nazi dress attire and classic 40s attire were smoking and puffing away.
To walk into such a situation… well, it is disconcerting. First off, they all spoke German. Their hair was exquisitely period and the make up was quite convincing. Now… I have been in many strange and concerning locations in my life. Swimming in a waterfall lagoon whilst crocodiles sunned themselves upon the beach in a Jungle populated with jaguars in the Yucatan. Seymour, Tx. But I have never in my life seen giant swastika adorned banners – nor human beings in Nazi Uniforms… in person. Not only were there just your run of the mill Nazis in the brown shirts. I mean those guys are scary, but there were the Black Suited SS officers with the scary ass skull thing on their hats. And… well, let’s just say it was an overpowering array of the height of Nazi Germany imagery. In between takes they would be laughing and enjoying themselves whilst wearing costumes that I just realized… outside of film, I’d never seen.
Seriously, think about it. Nobody comes to your Halloween party in a Nazi Uniform. Nobody has Nazi themed parties. These bad guys were so bad that man… they don’t even make Adolph Hitler Halloween masks. Shit, they make Satan, George Bush and Osama Bin Laden, but no Hitler. At least not at any costume shops I frequent. But here on this stage – a world of Nazi paraphernalia was present. Now in the film, this Nazi adorned theater is not 20 minutes outside of Berlin, but in Paris. And upon the screen of this theater was a propaganda film about the Nazi Heroics of Frederick Zoller. This black & white film, you see a glimpse of in the trailer – the footage of the man shooting from a tower. This film is called PRIDE OF A NATION, and other than a pair of shots which Quentin shot, was left to Eli Roth to helm… and I have to say… It is evil brilliance.
I’ve seen PRIDE OF A NATION. I sat in the back of the audience as they watched this piece of Nazi Propaganda. The audience screaming out cheers and some distinctly German phrases as they beheld this film… conceived to be a masterpiece of German Propaganda by none other than Joseph Goebbels. And I was at the premiere. The film was projected upon the screen, the beam of light visible through the smoke. It features Zoller in a tower killing and shooting an insane amount of Americans. It is powerful Nazi propaganda… Zoller is the uber Sgt York.
Watching Nazi Propaganda films as relics of history is one thing. Watching Nazi Propaganda with a room full of Nazis enthusiastically cheering in German phrases that I can’t even begin to understand… FRIGHTENING. The knowledge that this piece of powerful Nazi Propaganda – well – that it was actually directed by the Jewish American Director… ELI ROTH, well. That kind of makes the film hilarious. Eli is kind of half kidding, when he says he’s afraid that it might bring back the Nazi Party. That – and he feels his grandparents were rolling in their graves. But when you see his actions in the movie as Sgt. Donnie Donowitz… I feel fairly certain he will be redeemed in his spinning grandparents eyes.
Also while I was on set, I saw a whole group of characters in costume coming and going, as publicity was doing EPK interviews and had various actors doing that. One was Christoph Waltz, who plays Col. Hans Landa aka The Jew Hunter. He is an immensely satisfyingly evil/complicated character in the film that… well, he sniffs out Jews that are being hid folks in Nazi-occupied France. Now, in no way is his character dressed or made up to look like the character that I’m about to bring up. But there was just something in Christoph’s manner as we chatted over lunch one day that reminded me of this particular character in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Remember the Child Catcher, played by Robert Helpmann? That creepy, spooky, scary bastard of a character? The one that gave you nightmares if you were the right age and saw that awesomely wicked fun flick? Well, as I was talking to Christoph about his character – which he was dressed as – in that bluish grey wool… he gave a wickedly disarming, charming & sinister smile… and I swear that he led with his nose as he spoke to me. He’s an award winning German actor, and this will be his debut for most audiences outside of Germany. His character is going to be working in English, German and French… the three languages of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, which I’m told will be evenly split throughout the film. I have to say, I’ve a feeling that Christoph has a chance to steal the film and I’m damn curious to see what he does with Hans.
I also got to see Melanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus performing a bit. Nothing big, just walking down a hallway and up some stairs to the projection room, but she is stunning. I also got to see some of her filmed work… it was quite a bit more revealing. For those of you who have read the script, it is her final work of the film. When I read that scene in the script… it didn’t quite work for me. I wasn’t sure how it would play out. I saw it, 4 times. OH MY GOD. Brutal, vicious and completely raw. Completely raw. It was in the enunciation. Each word was a thrown dagger. Each phrase more powerful than the 1200 rounds of ammunition that I saw rat-a-tat-tat out of those Maschinenpistole 40s. Again, this is another performer that you’ll be being introduced to from this film.
I also got a look at Omar Doom aka PFC Omar Ulmer. And damn if he wasn’t looking like a young Al Pacino circa the years of GODFATHER 2 to SCARFACE. There’s no way in hell I’m gonna say he was doing that level of acting and performance. My understanding is that his part isn’t all that big. But he sure does kill Nazis good. I saw images of him scalping Nazis, machine gunning Nazis and a dynamic flying leap kinda kill.
Then there was Jacky Ido, who was playing Marcel… the Black Projectionist of the theater. Not a huge role, but a very pivotal role. He’s very soft spoken and sympathetic in the scenes I saw. He also has a distinct air of cool about him.
Then there’s Eli Roth. The most acting that I saw him do was today, in that trailer. The stuff I saw him do live was killing. And I have to say, he does it very well.
So what do I think of what I saw? Well, I can say that the end is going to be pretty damn spectacular. I got to see John (GOD) Dykstra do something that I never thought I’d see him do. A live – large scale Visual Effects shot that took up the entire stage at Babelsberg. Watching a man at Dykstra’s skill level doing an old school style visual effects shot… well… what can I say. It was a dream come true. The amazing part of it is from my vantage point, the second run through was easily the creepiest and eeriest live visual image that I’ve ever seen. There’s no way on film it’ll feel the same way. There was just something about seeing it live and occupying space with the shot that just was chilling and otherworldly. And yet… It was so geeky cool, so essentially simple – that on film stock, I bet it looks breathtaking. As the 12 or so of us watched that second run through, there were audible… WHOAs coming from each of us… I think Dykstra even let one out. The funny thing is, I bet folks end up thinking it is a computer shot.
But that’s something that Quentin isn’t doing on this film. He isn’t relying on the computer. He’s doing it in camera. And when you have Robert Richardson behind the camera… it’ll look great. I also spoke with Production Designer, David Wasco – who showed me all the poster work they did. Since the movie theater plays a key role in the film, and there are created actors for created films, as well as real period films that are screened in that theater… They had a lot of work creating authentic posters to display. And then there are all the Nazi Propaganda posters plastered about French buildings and walls. He showed me images of a ton of locations they used, including the actual locations that Hitler used during the war. Speaking of… they actually used some of Hitler’s own personal items in the making of the film. The watch you see in the film… it’s actually Hitler’s. NOW – can you imagine playing Hitler and actually wearing Hitler’s watch? FUCKING CREEPY MAN!
I also got to talk to Emanuel Millar, who was in charge of the hair work in this film. And man… was this guy busy on the days I was there. Not only did he have the key performers’ hair to do up, but he had 300 extras needing their hair to be period perfect. Jesus does this guy know how to make a Nazi or Nazi Sympathizer look the part.
However, of all the crew personnel that I spoke to about the film, it was Mark Ulano, who I felt was the most illuminating. Mark won an Oscar for his work on TITANIC, but has done great sound on everything from CUJO to BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO to DESPERADO to the KILL BILLs to last summer’s IRON MAN. Mark told me that Quentin really believes in capturing the sound of the on-set performance. That was underlined to me, on the very next take after I spoke with Mark, when Quentin rolled PRIDE OF A NATION – having Richard shoot it on the screen, but played it with the sound filling the theater in glorious booming MONO. I’ll be interested when I see the final film if it has that same booming resonance that I heard on set that day. It sounded so… right. Mark and I talked at length about the difference that I noticed in Quentin on this set… as opposed to the sets of KILL BILL and GRINDHOUSE.
First off, for the first time in QT’s career – he really went through a casting process instead of writing parts for specific actors to play. Instead, he was looking for faces and performing types. It was eerie walking on to the set and seeing actors with no histories for me, just seeing them as Shosanna, Marcel, Donnie, Omar, Hans, Hugo, etc. These people just looked exactly as one would imagine having read the script. The only one with a pre-existing personality that I knew was Eli as Donnie, but even though off camera he was that geeky horror geek singing the original ballad at the end of the original MY BLOODY VALENTINE and being exasperated by Scorekeepers interviewing of the composers and never mentioning the genius of that Ballad… or why they didn’t rerecord it for the remake… THEN 10 seconds later, that glee and fun was gone he punch/blew the brains out of this one Nazi – splattering Nazi Brain Blood all over me and my script… even though I was a good 15 to 20 feet away.
Anyway – Mark spoke strongly of how different that casting process has resulted in what he feels are extraordinary performances. But more than that, to him it is the tone in which he’s directing the film. That the movie is emotional, visceral and indeed… funny as well. It isn’t slapstick, but there’s something just fun about this film he feels. I get what he’s talking about. Not from what I saw, but from other films like this that Quentin is pulling upon. Films like THE DIRTY DOZEN or WHERE EAGLES DARE or even Enzo’s INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. Those are films that attempt to make you care for the characters, cringe at the brutality and laugh at their audacity.
By no means do I think I can say with any conviction that this is a masterpiece, only that I hope when all of the elements come to bear… that we’re watching one. It has the elements, for those that have read the script, most of the folks I’ve spoken to feel it has great potential. At this point the big question marks I have deal with the music that gets cued to a Quentin period film… and how all of this comes together and if he has the time before Cannes to polish this film the way it deserves to be polished. We don’t have long to wait. That’s only about 11 weeks away now. I might ought to book a flight now. No way do I want to wait till August 21st. No way.