TARANTINO’S ‘THE HATEFUL EIGHT’ – THE STAGED READING
By Andrew Ferrell
(Note: I don’t think I’ve ever run an article by another writer before, but Andrew Ferrell, a friend of the Round-up, attended the event last night, and generously wrote this report.)
Quentin Tarantino’s would-be next feature, The Hateful Eight, made its no-screen debut Saturday night at the Ace Hotel (formerly the United Artists Theater) in downtown Los Angeles as part of LACMA’s popular series of live readings of feature screenplays. The staged reading of what writer/director Tarantino himself described as a first draft, which was very publicly put on ice a few months ago following an internet leak, brought in a full house of QT fans at $100 - $200 a seat (the outrageous prices being part of a fundraiser for LACMA and Film Independent’s year-long programming).
Tarantino directing - photo from Thompson on Hollywood
As soon as the reading was announced in early April, the big draw, apart from the first legal opportunity for a select few to sample Tarantino’s latest western, became the mystery of who would be cast to participate in this one-time-only, never to be streamed or recorded performance. And what a cast it was, labeled the “Tarantino Superstars” by their perpetually excited ringleader, filled with a dozen famous faces and welcome character actors (plus the filmmaker himself, reading directions), each of whom having already worked with
Tarantino at least once before: Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Denis Menochet, James Parks, James Remar, Zoe Bell and Dana Gourrier. The applause for the cast reveal alone would have been enough to cover most performances for an entire evening, but the reading itself kept the audience alternately cackling, cheering, applauding, and occasionally gasping throughout the whopping three and a half-hour runtime, which did include a very brief intermission.
The plot in a nutshell can be described as sort of a Western take on Reservoir Dogs, with the movie’s familiar single-setting, traitor-in-our midst set up being transported to post-Civil War Wyoming. This time, the criminals holed up in a warehouse after a botched heist are substituted for bounty hunters and various unsavory characters waiting out a terrible blizzard inside a cramped stagecoach stop. The setting becomes even more claustrophobic as the characters’ previous connections and ulterior motives are revealed, all the while exacerbated further by the lingering wounds of the Civil War and its outcome. In the event that everyone else does get a chance to experience The Hateful Eight for themselves in one way or another, to say anything more would be to give away the many twists and shifting alliances. This being a Quentin Tarantino script, however, it spoils nothing to say that this boils over into copious amounts of profanity and bloodshed before the storm is over.
Tarantino, dressed in VERY colorful modern cowboy getup and constantly clutching an old iron coffee pot (an important prop, as it would turn out), made some opening remarks reminding the audience of the script’s rough draft status and that the cast had about three days to rehearse. “We’re okay. We’re pretty good,” he half-joked. The performance and its staging remained pretty loose throughout the night, with most of the cast casually dressed and clutching their scripts, sitting in chairs roughly positioned to correspond with the imagined blocking of the scenes. During the more exciting moments and fights, the actors would get out of their chairs and move around a little. Once a few characters died, the very game thespians playing them fell
dramatically out of their chairs and remained on the floor for the duration of the show.
The only hiccups came with the occasional flubbed line (totally understandable, under the circumstances) and the occasional call from the jittery but authoritative Tarantino to re-do a certain bit. Thereading provided a rare glimpse of what it must be like on his sets, with the director occasionally breaking the fourth wall to joke with his old friends in the cast or chastise them for going off script and attempting to “co-write” (his words). If there was ever any doubt that he considers himself God on the set, this performance proved that every single syllable in a Tarantino script is there for a reason, and when giving direction the man knows exactly what he wants. Still, one of the most human and amusing moments of the night came when Tarantino leapt into the middle of a scene and excitedly whispered a new idea in Samuel L. Jackson’s ear. “He’s directing!” the actor quipped to the audience, which was met with wild applause.
Even without much to look at on stage, the words on the page provided a clear visual of how this would play as a movie. Tarantino’s uniquely conversational approach to descriptive writing, as well as his wildly enthusiastic and energetic delivery, painted a mental picture of every shot he had planned, from the opening images of a six-horse coach outracing the snow to the description of the room where most of the story takes place to the comically brutal violence that comes later. The words “in glorious 70-millimeter Super Scope” became the running joke of the evening. As for the expected historical and pop culture references, they flew by so quickly that they were hard to keep up with, though it’s safe to say that no character name is an accident. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, the former Union soldier Marquis Warren, seems to nakedly reference Rawhide and Gunsmoke writer Charles Marquis Warren (thanks to Henry for pointing that one out!), for instance.
As with all past Tarantino projects, casting is everything, and if this exact cast were transposed into the feature film version with a bit more rehearsal, hardly a critic or movie fan would be likely to complain. Not only did the evening provide a fun reunion for Tarantino alum from throughout his career, but they all seemed to legitimately have great fun with their characters and with each other, even while saying and doing some pretty terrible things. Kurt Russell affected his best John Wayne as the bounty hunter John Ruth while Jackson delivered one particularly filthy monologue with devilish glee as the aforementioned Warren. It was a treat to see Tim Roth and Michael Madsen playing off each other again, albeit as very different characters. Recent Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern, playing a former Confederate general, had few words to say, but gave them such quiet gravity and solemnity that one can see why the director apparently tailor-made the role just for him. Among the younger cast members, Amber Tamblyn really held her own as Daisy Domergue, the prisoner around whom most of the intrigue centers, and Walton Goggins provided a great deal of comic relief as Chris Mannix, another former Confederate and self-proclaimed Sheriff-elect. The entire cast proved that their charisma was not restricted to on-camera performing, as is sadly sometimes the case.
As for the lingering questions hovering over this project, Tarantino declared that he is already at work on later drafts, which would seem to pretty clearly indicate that this project is not dead, in spite of his earlier statements and the ongoing lawsuit with Gawker over linking to the stolen, unfinished script. The presence of Harvey and Bob Weinstein at the performance also suggest that, if this wasn’t the master plan all along, somewhere along the way this reading of a “dead” project became an unprecedentedly public workshop on the way to resuming pre-production.
The other question one might have after seeing the script acted out in its entirety is whether or not the produced film would make for a worthy addition to the Western genre or to the vaunted Tarantino canon. While it’s obviously hard to say and all still very hypothetical, the initial impression is that it’s about as much of a Western as Django Unchained. The setting is a bit more traditional than the previous film’s mostly Southern locales, and The Hateful Eight’s details regarding the hardships of frontier travel are more specific and pronounced than the more mythic qualities of Django. Still, this story lacks the sweep, scope and sensitive subject matter that made its predecessor such an “event”.
At least for the time being, it wouldn’t be unfair to call this minor Tarantino, something more in line with Reservoir Dogs or Death Proof, both stripped-down genre exercises elevated by the voice of their author. And even if it’s smaller, it’s by no means tighter, since the performance started at eight o’clock and let out a little before midnight. This dry run of The Hateful Eight consistently entertains, but its characters still require further definition. The broad strokes are there, but one can feel jokes still waiting to be found, and the emotional core is a little elusive. Tarantino continues to play with the juicier topics of the time period, such as race, gender and post-war attitudes, but it feels like he hasn’t quite yet found what it is he wants to say about them. The script, like many of Tarantino’s past works, is divided into chapters, with the final chapter already having been scrapped by the director, who has promised that any future version will end differently. That is probably for the best, as the ending we saw performed, while certainly exciting, might ring a little similar to past successes and thematically hollow or without a greater purpose, which can be somewhat applied to the script as a whole.
Having said all that, if Tarantino is still tinkering, and if he’s as hyper-aware of audience reactions as he seemed last night, there’s still hope. The lengthy standing ovation at the end may have been the encouragement he needs to whip this thing into shape. The guy remains incapable of making anything less than interesting, and his growing enthusiasm for all things Western can only be a good thing for the genre’s standing in Hollywood. Even in its current compromised, unproduced form, The Hateful Eight still makes an impression. And if, worst-case scenario, the movie still doesn’t make it to screens, Tarantino’s already got a hit play on his hands.
SHOTGUN by C. Courtney Joyner – A Western Novel Review
The paperback cover
C. Courtney Joyner’s first novel, SHOTGUN, has just been nominated for a Peacemaker Award as Best First Novel by the Western Fictioneers. It will be published in June by Thorndike Press in a large-print, hardcover edition, retailing for $28. What’s so unusual about this is that Pinnacle Books published it as a mass-market paperback in December of 2013 for $6.99. This is the cinema equivalent of releasing a movie direct-to-video, and then opening it in theatres a few months later – it’s the opposite of the way these things are done, and it speaks volumes of the high hopes the publishing world has for SHOTGUN, which is surely the first of a series.
Though this is Joyner’s first novel, he is no stranger to storytelling, with more than two dozen movies – some writing and some directing – to his credit. And in a very cinematic, very visual opening, we meet the protagonist, former Civil War surgeon Dr. John Bishop. One ‘Major’ Beaudine and his men want the half million dollars in gold they know Bishop has. Beaudine was the cellmate of Bishop’s illiterate brother, and before brother Devlin swung, Beaudine ‘helped’ him by writing letters for him; letters that betrayed the Bishop brothers’ secret – although John swears there is no secret and no gold.
Stopping at nothing to gain the knowledge he demands, the Major takes off most of the surgeon’s arm. And that’s almost charitable, compared to what he does to Dr. Bishop’s wife and child. When he recovers, the doctor has a shotgun mounted to the stump of his arm, and goes in search Major Beaudine, even as Beaudine and others are in search of the elusive gold. The doctor is helped in his quest by a beautiful Cheyenne named White Fox.
The hardcover cover
The storytelling is unorthodox: instead of a chronological tale from a single point-of-view, it jumps from the major to the doctor, to the other characters, and forward and back in time, as needed. You’ll learn everything you need to know, but not always in the order you’d expect. You’ll understand White Fox’s loyalty to Dr. Bishop eventually, but for a while you’ll just have to accept it. You’ll meet the blind officer Creed, hunting the doctor with as much determination as any seeing man, and sometimes leading the one-eyed and toothless. You’ll meet a red-hooded band of renegades whose loyalties are not easily discerned. You’ll be as happy as I was that the ending of the book is open-ended. There will be more SHOTGUN stories. There had better be.
TCM CLASSIC FILM FEST 2014 -- PART 2
The 5th Annual Turner Classic Movies Classic Movie Festival – usually abbreviated to TCM Classic Movie Festival began on Thursday night, April 10th, with a Red Carpet procession in front of the fabled Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and the screening of a restored OKAHOMA!, attended by star Shirley Jones and many others – if you missed my coverage of the Red Carpet, you can read it HERE .
As soon as the Red Carpet ended, I raced across Hollywood Boulevard to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, headquarters for the TCM Fest. After quite a few stairs and turns I made my way to poolside, where several of the screenings were to take place. They would be screening AMERICAN GRAFFITI after the sun set, and while we waited, a Wolman Jack impersonator spun platters for a jitterbugging dance troupe. By 7:30, dark had descended, and Ben Mankiewicz introduced stars Candy Clark, Paul LeMat and Bo Hopkins who, despite having done the movie forty-one years ago, all looked great. Ben noted, “I’m going to start with Bo, because Candy, it was your first film, and Paul, it was your first. But Bo, you made a film before. It’s a film some people here are familiar with. Tell the people what it was.”
“Well, my first screen appearance was with Bill Holden, Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine in THE WILD BUNCH.” Hoots, cheers and applause!
“What were the similarities between George Lucas and Sam Peckinpah?
“Night. And day.” Among the interesting revelations during that conversation: Harrison Ford talked George Lucas into letting him wear a cowboy hat in the film, so he wouldn’t have to cut his hair – it was a small role, and he was afraid that if he got his hair cut for the period, 1962, it would be too short for any other jobs he might get. Candy Clark revealed that Richard Dreyfus had broken up with his girlfriend just before they started, and spent much of his time between scenes crying in his trailer – that’s why his eyes look so bloodshot throughout the film. Paul LeMat admitted that at one point he picked up Dreyfus and threw him into a pool. Unfortunately, he threw him into the shallow end, and his head smashed on the bottom of the pool. The boys didn’t wear any make-up in the film, except Dreyfus, whose goose-egg-sized swelling had to be hidden.
Candy Clark and Bo Hopkins
photo by Stephanie Keenan
Candy Clark, then 25, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, was up against 14 year old Linda Blair for THE EXORCIST, and they both lost to 9 year old Tatum O’Neal for PAPER MOON, who also defeated Sylvia Sidney for SUMMER WISHES, WINTER DREAMS, and Madeline Khan for PAPER MOON. But the biggest indignity of all? When the nominations are being read, and the five actresses faces are shown, they zoomed in on someone other than Candy Clark! I watched as much as I dared of AMERICAN GRAFFITI – now I’m going to have to rent it! – then hurried over to the Chinese Theatre Multiplex, beside the big Chinese Theatre, and got on line for JOHNNY GUITAR. It was introduced by film historian Michael Schlesinger, who revealed that we would be seeing the very first theatrical showing of the DCP, the digital restoration. “JOHNNY GUITAR was shot in Trucolor, a misnomer if there ever was one. It was Republic’s in-house color process, and if there was one word to best describe it, it would be ‘ghastly.’” I always thought it ironic that a studio that majored in westerns would come up with a color process that couldn’t reproduce green – as in grass and trees – at all. I remember Roy Roger’s TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD, about Christmas tree rustlers, was shot in Trucolor, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would steal grey Christmas trees – they were obviously dead! On the other hand, it reproduced reds beautifully, which is why Republic made so many films with beautiful redheads like Maureen O’Hara and Adrian Booth in the 1950s. Paramount acquired the Republic library, and with greens added to the pallet, we were about to see a movie that, as far as color goes, was being seen as it was meant to look, for the very first time.
A show of hands revealed that about 60% of the audience had never seen the film before, and presumably had no idea of what they were in for. As Schlesinger explained, this is a movie that works on many levels. Number one, it’s a western, with horses, guns, stagecoach robberies, and manly men like Ward Bond, Sterling Hayden and Scott Brady. Number two, it’s also a feminist film, in that while all the manly men are off to one side, “… Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge are doing all of the heavy lifting.” And some would say that it’s a sub-rosa lesbian film, saying that while Mercedes hates Joan because she incorrectly thinks Joan loves Scott Brady, the undercurrent feels like they’re approaching BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN territory. “Number three, this movie has a rabid gay following. It’s ALL ABOUT EVE GOES WEST to them.
“Number four, it’s a not-too-thinly-disguised attack on McCarthyism.” Though the script is credited to Philip Yordan, he was acting as a front for blacklisted writer Ben Maddow. And leading the posse in their frequent rushes to judgment is Ward Bond, the most virulently anti-communist actor in Hollywood. Schlesinger claims that by 1957, Ward Bond had pissed off so many people that he was nearly unemployable, which is why he was thrilled to get then WAGON TRAIN. With twenty screen credits – admittedly many TV – between 1954 and 1957, the ‘unemployable’ notion may be wishful thinking on Schlesinger’s part.
Joan Crawford bought the novel by Roy Chanslor, sold it and herself as a package to Republic, and hired Nicholas Ray, hot from REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, to direct. It was not always a happy set. Joan had chosen McCambridge as ‘the other woman,’ to make sure that was role was played by someone less attractive than herself, “…which she was, but she was also a better actress than Joan, and stole every scene she was in.” Sterling Hayden was not a fan of Joan’s, and after making the movie, famously said, “There’s not enough money in Hollywood to make me do another movie with Joan Crawford. And I like money.” But tense sets can produce good movies, and JOHNNY GUITAR, for all its oddness is certainly entertaining.
On Friday morning there were two events of interest to western fans, the screening of STAGECOACH, introduced by author Nancy Schoenberger, and the dedication ceremony for the Charlton Heston commemorative stamp.
At 6 p.m., PAPER MOON was shown. Star Ryan O’Neal was to provide the introduction, but he flaked (the only no-show of the entire event). Ben Mankiewicz pinch-hit for O’Neal, revealing that PAPER MOON was originally slated to be directed not by Peter Bogdanovich, but by John Huston, with Paul Newman in the Ryan O’Neal role, and Newman’s daughter, Nell Potts, in Tatum O’Neal’s Oscar-winner role of Addie Pray. Ben was as eager to hear what Ryan would have said about the project, and working with his daughter, since he was very enthusiastic at the time, but there have been problems between them since. Here’s what director Peter Bogdanovich has said: “Working with Tatum O’Neal was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.” It’s a wonderful movie.
As soon as PAPER MOON ended, many of us bolted to get on line for a movie made the next year, 1974, with three of the same cast-members: Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman, and Burton Gilliam – in PAPER MOON he’s the hotel clerk with the big-toothed grin that gets sent up to Madeline Kahn’s room. That movie was 1974’s BLAZING SADDLES, which was shown in the giant Chinese Theatre, with director, co-writer and star Mel Brooks attending. The newly renovated – but not ruined – Chinese Theatre is the largest IMAX theatre in the world, with 932 seats, and 932 of us were waiting outside the theatre, up the stairs to the Hollywood and Highland shopping center beside it, and around and around he walkways. We got in, and there was not an empty seat in the house. I’ll tell you all about it next week, in part 3 of my TCM Festival coverage.
In the meantime, here’s Maureen O’Hara talking to Robert Osborne before the screening of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.
DON’T MISS THE SANTA CLARITA COWBOY FESTIVAL THIS WEEKEND!
Just five more days until the big event, Saturday and Sunday, April 26th & 27th at Melody Ranch! Since there is a film currently in production at the Ranch (everyone’s being pretty mysterious about what film it is), a small part of the Western street will not be available for strolling, but access to other areas has been expanded, and some venues will be in new locales – I know for instance that the OutWest Buckaroo Book Store will be in a large tent that will actually give them more room for author events than they’ve had in the past. Good news for me, as I’ll be moderating a couple of authors’ panels. On Saturday from 1:30 to 2, the topic is THE WEST IMAGINED, and I’ll be talking with Western novelists Edward M. Erdelac, author of COYOTE’S TRAIL; Jim Christina, author of THE DARK ANGEL; and C. Courtney Joyner, author of SHOTGUN.
Author Peter Sherayko
And on Sunday, from 1:30 to 2, the topic is THE WEST LIVED, and I’ll be talking to non-fiction writers Jerry Nickle, great-grandson of the Sundance Kid; JR Sanders, author of SOME GAVE ALL; and Peter Sherayko, author of TOMBSTONE – THE GUNS AND GEAR.
Also on Saturday at 12:30, and Sunday at 2:30, I’ll be chatting with Miles Swarthout, who wrote the screenplay for THE SHOOTIST from his father Glendon Swarthout’s novel. Miles is also involved with the upcoming movie THE HOMESMAN, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, from a novel by Glendon Swarthout. You can learn all about the events at the Buckaroo Book Shop by going HERE.
You can learn all about the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival HERE
ROB WORD’S ‘WILD BUNCH LUNCH’ AT THE AUTRY A ROUSING SUCCESS!
Those of us attending the third-Wednesday-of-the-month Cowboy Lunch @ The Autry had a wonderful time listening to great Peckinpah stories from Bo Hopkins, L.Q. Jones, stunt ace Gary Combs, and WILD BUNCH costumer-turned Peckinpah producer and co-writer Gordon Dawson – that’s Dawson wearing the cross he made for Strother Martin to wear in THE WILD BUNCH. I never noticed Jesus had been replaced by a bullet! Much more coming soon to the Round-up!
THAT’S A WRAP!
Hope you have a great week! With six or seven authors to talk to at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Fest, I’ve got a ton of reading to do between now and next weekend!
All Original Contents Copyright April 2014 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved