What a Night

A dark road, Inglorious Basterds and Quentin Tarantino

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SFFS YEAR-ROUND
MEMBERS SCREENINGS

The Film Society is pleased to invite its year-round members to the Variety Screening Series.

These screenings have extremely limited seating and are for year-round Film Society members only (no guests, sorry).

Inglourious Basterds with director Quentin Tarantino expected to attend
Monday, December 7
6:15 pm pre-screening reception
7:15 pm screening
Stag Theater at Skywalker Sound
Skywalker Ranch Rd, Marin County

So said the invitation, I responded and we were awarded passes to attend. Hadn’t seen Inglourious Basterds, but it’s been in theaters for a while and on my list for a while. I’m also eager to see Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas’ famed center of creativity. Carol arranged to get off work at 4, and we left the house at 5.

That’s all the address they gave, and there’s no “directions” on the Stag Theater website, so we got a map to Skywalker Ranch Road. The Google Map said 29 miles, about 41 minutes in light traffic. Get off 101 at Lucas Valley Road, go 7.8 miles to Skywalker Ranch Road. That sounded easy enough. The traffic was fairly heavy but moving so we turned off 101 with over a half hour to go that 7.8 miles. We figured Skywalker Ranch is a pretty big deal and lots of people work there, so it should be well marked.

Lucas Valley Road is a wide two lane road winding through semi rural countryside, well striped and with bicycle lanes on each side. Easy to go over the 45mph speed limit. After two or three miles, a sign said, “Trucks not advised to go beyond this point,” the bicycle lanes stopped and the road narrowed considerably, though the bright yellow stripes in the middle and the white stripes at the sides continued. Lucky for us. The road went all curvy as it wound over and through the now more rugged terrain, some curves of the fish-hook variety; and it was very dark. I drove slowly and hopefully surely within the range of my bright lights. A car caught up to me, following not too closely… there was no way it could pass. On we went, looking for our road… we should be there by now… we passed a wide drive, but it was gated. The cars I was leading now numbered four or five. On we went. Soon we saw a “stop sign ahead” warning sign. Good, that’s got to be Skywalker Ranch Road, but NO… Lucas Valley Road teed into Nacasio Valley Road. I stopped, unsure of what to do. It was very dark. Cars behind me honked. I turned left into the darkness and drove about a half mile until I saw a driveway wide enough to make a U-turn and waited for those impatient drivers to pass.

Back on Lucas Valley Road with no one behind me, I figured about 2 miles back to Skywalker Ranch, which would be on the left. Ultimately we saw a wide driveway with wooden gates a couple car lengths off the road. I turned in, big numbers 5858 were on posts at each side. I made a U and stopped. A car turned in, went to the gate and it opened. A VW Jetta turned in and slowed opposite me. I waved and yelled, “We’re looking for Skywalker Ranch Road.”

“I’m going to the Stag Theater he said, and proceeded through the gate. Two more cars turned off the road and passed through the gate… I hurried and followed them before the gate closed. I had no clue, but what the hell. Our winding road crossed a cattle guard and straightened a bit. Ahead was a gatehouse, a man and woman held clipboards and were talking to the drivers ahead of me. “This must be the place,” I said to Carol. The guy checked off our names and said, “Follow the road to the right and look for ‘screening’ signs.” We hadn’t even reached the theater, but had had our share of adventure.

Stag Reception Room
Stag Reception Room

Inside, our names were checked off another list and we went into a big room with high timber trusses, furnished with round tables and wooden chairs with tied on cloth cushions. An array of tables in the center groaned with food, to the right was a bar, and next to the bar an empty table. We helped ourselves to glasses of wine, cheeses, dates, strawberries, bread, crackers, chicken on skewers and cold pizza-like tomato things. Good stuff. Fifty or more folks were in the room with more coming by the minute. We knew no one, but enjoyed our food and wine and kept looking.

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Soon the room was full and buzzing. It seemed as though the jeans clad group of thirty somethings all knew each other and were really happy to be together. Although we got on the list through the SF Film Society, we still hadn’t spotted a single familiar face. No matter, the doors to the Stag Theater opened and we were early in to find our favorite seats.

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The Stag Theater is a lovely Art Nouveau space with side aisles only and generous sweeping rows — good for leg stretching as well as not having to stand to allow someone to pass. All of the technical stuff is state of the art as one might expect of George Lucas. The 300 seat theater was comfortably full as Quentin Tarantino was introduced to hearty applause. “How many of you have already seen the film?” he asked. About half of the hands went up. He said he had seen it several times, but would “stick around for the first reel” to check out the world class sound and projection systems.

The film was charming, violent, wildly funny, action packed, European, star driven but with a large ensemble cast, and displaying fine dialog, for which Tarantino is known. Carol said it was gruesome, and indeed, some parts are… it’s about WWII. But its 152 minutes flew by for me. It is beyond my skills to review it. Oh, I could tell stories about my favorite scenes, but Roger Ebert wrote a great review. You’ll be better served by that.

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I remember a couple of specific questions, during Quentin Tarantino’s Q and A, probably not word for word:

Q – Could you have made this film without a marquee star?
A – Yes. We had financing guaranteed for $60 million, and were ready to start. Weinstein said if we got Brad Pitt, they’d increase the financing to $70 million. Brad had been wanting to work with me and I had been wanting to work with him, so things worked out.

More important was casting for Nazi Col. Hans Landa. We needed a German who could speak English and French, not only fluently, but with subtle humor or ironic nuance when called for. A financing deadline was approaching and I was ready to pull the plug if we couldn’t find that actor by day x. Well, on day v, Christoph Waltz showed up to audition. He was an accomplished actor doing mostly German TV mini-series. He was perfect, as you just saw.

He went on about how hard it is to find actors that are believable as heros nowadays. Brad Pitt is one of the few. Think of The Dirty Dozen… Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland… the director Robert Aldrich had easy pickin’.

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QT loves to talk and is good at it, animated and passionate and will never limit himself to a phrase when a few paragraphs will do. He talked about the ten-year process from idea to screen, about how the story evolved, about the character development and the casting, but mainly it was just enjoyable to sit and hear him talk about film, his and others.

At somewhat after 10:30 we hit the dark and winding road home.

What a night.

One thought on “What a Night

  1. I am so f’ing jealous! When our screenings have a commentator, its usually the guy who cleaned the set trailers, or the fluffer…I have seen QT on some intereview pieces online, and he is a talker (a facinating one!) He can go on and on. I, too thought Basterds was really good, especially the bar scene. Pitt was at his best, and the Nazi dude was perfect! Thanks for sharing!

    Like

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