A cool conversation with Quentin Tarantino


"That's, like, really cool."

"But, like, how about the one in, you know . . . ? That one was cool, too."

"That one? It was really incredibly cool, too. Oh, it was like, too cool for words!"

You're guessing mall teens on the subject of the best cuts on R.E.M.'s new CD? Or possibly two mentally challenged Sylvester Stallone fans (a redundancy, I admit) on the subject of their hero's best muscle group? Or, remote but still feasible, two of the Colt-impaired, remembering fabled games of yore in a chilly yard called Memorial Stadium?

Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Consider instead: A couple guys talking about movies. Yes, two grown men, by profession a movie critic and a movie director, surfing on a natural high of burbling movie craziness discussing great flicks of the past. Yes. I know. I was there.

The other participant, who shares this correspondent's wretched tendency to use the word cool, happened to be America's current movie Wunderboy, Quentin Tarantino, the director of "Reservoir Dogs" and now of "Pulp Fiction."

Is anyone anywhere hotter? He's all over the talk shows, loose-jointed and pointy-chinned and terribly dressed in a style that might be called High Movieboy (boots, jeans, jacket), making chitchat with Letterman and Leno and even some Generation X late-night guy. He's schlepping to interviews, posing for pictures, giving out good quotes in every media outlet in America. Ever since "Pulp Fiction" won the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, and became the most eagerly awaited film of the year, Tarantino has gone from cult film godhead to Major Player.

Now -- two cancellations into it and 20 minutes late -- he's found time for us. But to interview the incandescent Tarantino is no small thing, particularly by telephone. His worst thing is how fast he talks. He turns everything to speed, the words just roar out, tumbling, tripping, the ideas flashing greedily, a movie education in every paragraph. Try taking notes on that! In fact, the writer's notebook, later consulted, proves somewhat useless, revealing a strong attack of wrist cramp, where the hand just gave up trying to stay with Tarantino's jet-powered dialogue.

Still, with some ardent detective work, certain nuggets of meaning can be coaxed out of the hieroglyphics. For example, when Tarantino is told that a critic had no idea what was coming next in the film, he hoots with glee, a teen-ager at 31.

"That's really cool!" he exclaims. "I can usually see where it's all going myself, and it's cool to come up with something you can't anticipate."

But the big Tarantino issue is the movie's voice more than its plot. His film is amazing -- a deadpan take on a situation, unromantic and frequently at comic cross-purposes to the dramatic meaning of what's about to take place. For example, as two killers draw in on their marks, they discuss . . . what McDonald's calls the Big Mac in France (le Royale).

"It actually came from my acting background," says Tarantino. "I have no fear of performance and I know a well-written line or passage can carry the day. So I'll let a scene run while the actors work through the dialogue. I don't have to cut, cut, cut."

At the same time, he claims to be a sort of unconscious writer who creates without agenda or master plan.

"I just start with an idea and see where it goes. For example, Jules and Vincent, the two hit men. That's the oldest chestnut in movies, the two anonymous hit men. But they're the kind of characters that start a movie and then they're abandoned. I just decided to hang out with them throughout the whole movie and go to the moon with them!"

The film's peculiar structure -- it tracks three stories and a framing story, manipulating time and space somewhat gleefully -- is just as unconscious.

"It's not like I'm making war against time structure or anything like that. I'm not. It's just that I always wished that filmmakers had the same freedom as novelists in dealing with time. So I sort of dip in and out of time, just to see what happens."

How does he seem to know so much about the sleazy precincts of underworld L.A.?

"It's a cross between life and the movies. I've always loved the crime genre, so I suppose I pick up things there. But it's also from life, or from my own. There's weirdness everywhere. I get it from everywhere, from myself, from this friend, from that uncle."

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