Quentin Tarantino is doing his thing his way

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NEW YORK >> Quentin Tarantino is waging wars on multiple fronts.

His eighth and latest film, "The Hateful Eight," is his loudest, brashest defense of celluloid in the battle between film and digital. He shot it in Ultra Panavision, the dormant widescreen format of "Ben-Hur" and other '60s epics, and he released the film first in a 70mm roadshow beginning a week before a trimmer, digital version landed in multiplexes.

For even Tarantino it's an audacious gambit to release a three hour-plus film (complete with an overture and intermission) in a method that few theaters can still project, let alone know how to. In a multi-screen era, "The Hateful Eight" is an invitation to a full meal of Movie Night.

The movie, too, sits on a divide; Tarantino calls it "a blue-state, red-state Western." Part Agatha Christie mystery, part post-Civil War explosion, "The Hateful Eight" is about an ex-Union soldier and bounty hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) holed up during a blizzard with an assortment of suspicious characters and a handful of proud Confederates (Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern). As tension builds, politics and lies slowly peel away.

Tarantino, 52, has also been swept into a political battle of his own. After the filmmaker attended a New York protest against police brutality in October, police unions called for a boycott of "The Hateful Eight."

But if ever there was a filmmaker who welcomes confrontation, it's Tarantino. In a recent interview beside a roaring fire at an East Village hotel, a calm and confident Tarantino, fighting a cold, reflected on the conflicts that surround "The Hateful Eight."

Q: For you, does the racist clash at the heart of "Hateful Eight" relate to contemporary problems?

A: I was excited about trapping these exciting characters in a kind of "Reservoir Dogs" Western, and interested in throwing my hat into the mystery genre. But during the last year of making it, things in the news just kept happening that made the movie more relevant and more relevant. I don't want to go to dinner on that too much. The movie has to work as the movie. But the murders at the Mother Emanuel Church is sort of what this movie's about to some degree or another.

Q: How do you feel about race relations today?

A: Sometimes things need to get really bad before they can ever get better. Really bad can become untenable if enough people get sick of it. That was a big thing about why I ended up taking part in that rally and ended up voicing my opinion and declaring what side I was standing on.

Q: You provoked quite a reaction from police groups, one of which threatened "a surprise" for the release of "Hateful Eight."

A: You should be able to criticize civil servants for what you think is wrongdoing without being painted as a cop-hater. I don't feel the police are all corrupt, however I do feel they are suffering from institutional racism and there needs to be a top-to-bottom examination of the way they practice and the way they criminalize young black and brown males. The fact that they seem to have backed off from it seems to suggest they realize they overreacted on me and it looks bad.

Q: Your film will play in two versions: a scaled-down roadshow, followed by a wider released version.

A: The movie that plays in most theaters and most malls and stuff, artistically, everything, it's the exact same movie. It's a little more audience friendly, a little less impressed with itself. But if you go see the roadshow version, if you go to that, you're mine. It's like you're seeing Placido Domingo at the Paris opera house, or you're seeing "La Boheme" at La Scala or even Pacino on Broadway in "Iceman Cometh." You get the program and the overture and intermission: That's what you're doing that night. Everything else you do is secondary to going to see my movie that night.

Q: "Let's slow it down," as Jackson's character says, seems to be ethos of the film, which slowly, deliberately gathers suspense.

A: I really considered doing it as a play first. I might literally do it as a play, as soon as next year. I don't know. I have to go around the world tour and see if I still have the juice for it. If I don't have the juice now, I could easily do it three years from now. In fact, that's kind of the plan.

Q: Do you worry about the audience's patience?

A: If it's too much for people, if audiences don't accept it, well I guess that's just the way it is. I'm not being cavalier when it comes to my financial partners, but I think I've earned the right to do my thing my way. While I really want it to do well and it would be lovely if it's popular, movies are for a long time. I'm really proud of the piece. If it ends up not connecting with audiences, I won't be heartbroken. I'll be a little disappointed, but I won't be heartbroken.


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