Posted on 21 April 2014.
Director Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” Script Sees Light Via Live-Read: A Breakdown
Like a kid marking the calendar on December 26th awaiting next Christmas, the moment you anticipate the release of Quentin Tarantino’s next film is the moment you leave the theater after his most recent one. Since 2004’s “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” the man’s been on a streak of debuting a new film every two to three years. So, when he revealed some tidbits on “The Tonight Show” back in November about his new script being “a Western,” it served as a nice base-layer of appetite-whetting you knew was coming down the pike relatively soon.
Unfortunately, the dreams of desire were dashed in January when the Western he’d written, called “The Hateful Eight” leaked online. He had given it to some close actor friends and was justifiably furious at the betrayal before he bestowed his latest project upon the world in fully-fledged form. He vowed to never make it into a movie and mused that he would perhaps just publish it and let that be that and move on to the next thing.
To say the least, I found the news distressing. As if the Grinch had not only stolen Christmas before it happened, but potentially put the kibosh on the holiday for another several years. Even though the ability to peek at your present existed in the form of the available online document, I resisted. It would only make God (Tarantino) cry. I was resigned to be happy to read the script when he published it and I could lend my support through purchasing what he had legally put out there on his own volition.
Then, a few weeks ago, it was announced Q.T. was going to do a one-time-only live reading of “The Hateful Eight” in downtown Los Angeles. Christmas, albeit in a different form, was back on the calendar.
Let me break this down like a 1997-era Kurt Russell and Jonathan Mostow.
The live-read was held on Saturday, April 19th, at 8:00 p.m. in the theater of the Ace Hotel. Thousands of people attended. I sat in Row L of the Orchestra section, smack dab in the middle of line of seats, making any luckily-unnecessary quick evacuation impossible. I noticed Harvey Weinstein a few rows ahead of me. Some fiendish woman waved her arms wildly at Elvis “The Graying Predator” Mitchell as he took the stage to introduce the event. He waves back.
The god Q.T. replaced Mitchell at the podium to rapturous standing applause, which maintained throughout the announcement of the entire cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Amber Tamblyn, James Parks, James Remar, Zoe Bell and a couple of other actors I didn’t know/can’t recall (but briefly considered copying from another website only to want to maintain the integrity of my experience) leapt up on stage, received their pre-accolades and took their seats (some on stage, some down in the first row of the orchestra when they weren’t used for the scene at-hand).
Tarantino briefly set the stage, so to speak, by stating in his typical authorial style, the script was divided into (five) chapters. He read the stage directions throughout.
The story begins in a post-Civil War winter, as a stagecoach manned by O.B. (Parks) makes its way across a landscape headed for the nearby Red Rock for shelter to escape a certain blizzard. O.B. spots a black man standing over three bodies, holding a lantern. This is Major Warren (Jackson), a bounty hunter with three corpses post-hunting. He’s looking to hitch a ride to Red Rock, as well, but O.B. explains it’s up to the passenger who paid for the ride. The passenger is John Ruth (Russell), who’s also a bounty hunter with some cargo of his own. However, his future payday is alive and handcuffed to his arm in the form of Daisy Domergue (Tamblyn). After racial unpleasantries are exchanged and Warren hands over a letter from Abraham Lincoln certifying his position, Ruth allows him and his literal dead weight aboard.
The stagecoach also encounters Chris Minnix (Goggins), a man asserting himself as the new sheriff of Red Rock but without any papers of proof. Eventually he coaxes his way aboard and the group of five (plus the three dead bodies (these eight individuals do not make up the titular octet)) takes refuge inside Minnie’s Haberdashery.
I’ve only read one Tarantino script (“Django Unchained”), but knew he had a penchant for prose-like flourishes in his descriptions. Minnie’s Haberdashery brought them all out. His description of the shop serving as a shelter was that it functioned as almost anything other than a haberdashery. Mainly a place for coffee, which serves as a key element throughout the script. Tarantino even brought out a large blue coffee pot from behind the podium at every mention. Thinking back to his playing Jimmy in “Pulp Fiction,” taking pride in the coffee he buys, you can tell Tarantino is a man who revels in his caffeine.
The rest of the story takes place in and around the Haberdashery and serves as a boiling pot (pun might as well be intended) of trust, deceit, mistrust and race relations. Once our traveling group makes its way inside, they encounter other nomads seeking a roof over their heads in the form of cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen), a fobbish Englishman (Roth), General Smithers (Dern) and a Frenchman with an American name, Bob (one of the names I couldn’t grasp). Tension is always on the verge of spilling over into kinetic violence. General Smithers, a former Confederate officer has a brutal verbal exchange with Major Warren that had the crowd of a couple thousand leaning forward on the edge of their seats. It’s a position that was only relinquished when an intermission was called.
It was awesome (as in, the stuff of awe) to see Tarantino direct. He would occasionally have the actors repeat a line or whisper into their ear and even admonished them all once for straying too far from the words on the page. He was the master of his domain the way you would imagine him to be. Roth played his English gentleman with a glee I imagined emanating from Christoph Waltz. Tarantino has said that Waltz interprets his dialogue with a poetry that only one actor has done before, and that other actor is Jackson. Jackson was the only performer I assumed would be in the theater when the program was announced, even though the only thing I knew about it was that it was a Western. It’s sometimes difficult to appreciate how truly great the man is, as he does so many things (including a brief back-and-forth spat with this very site), but when revisiting his work, it’s impossible to deny. He’s the character and portrayal I’ll carry with me long after the event has passed.
Luckily for anyone not in attendance, I have a feeling you’ll be able to witness what I was able to in due time. Tarantino announced at the beginning of the reading that he’s continuing to rewrite the script and is now on this third draft. The Chapter Five we’d see would be completely rewritten. Those are the words of a man I think has probably been reinvigorated by this process and encouraged to go forth and craft a film of the script as he had initially planned. Christmastime will come again. God (Q.T.) bless everyone.