Ever since the screenplay’s leak on the internet, the ensuing lawsuit and blustery cancellation of the film by Quentin Tarantino, the director’s new western Hateful Eight, has generated more buzz than perhaps any other movie project in Hollywood. It’s no surprise therefore that Saturday’s live read of the script staged as a fundraiser by LACMA and Film Independent took place before an eager sold-out audience.
Curious cinephiles, avid Tarantino fans and assorted Hollywood types filled the 1.600 seats of the historic, newly restored United Artists Theater in Los Angeles and broke into wild cheers when the director came on stage to present what was billed as the first and last-ever performance of Eight. It quickly became apparent from Tarantino’s introduction however that the director has not quite completely abandoned plans to shoot the film. “This is the first draft” said a customarily animated Tarantino, “I’m working on the second and I fully expect there to be a third draft”.
To wild applause he then introduced the cast of the reading presenting them as the “Tarantino Superstars”, including Kurt Russell, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth and Bruce Dern who took places on the chairs which were the only props on the stage. Then Tarantino set the stage for Scene 1 asking the audience to imagine a “glorious 70mm vista”, a vast expanse of snowy winter Wyoming landscape traversed by a stagecoach. The horse-drawn coach is carrying two passengers: Kurt Russell’s hardened bounty hunter and the female prisoner shackled to his wrist that he intends to deliver to the gallows in the town of Red Rock. Soon the party meets a third passenger, a fellow-bounty hunter (Samuel Jackson) who still wears the uniform of the Union cavalry, in which he served during the Civil War. Overtaken by a blizzard, the group takes refuge in the remote outpost known as Millie’s Haberdashery where they are received by an unlikely Frenchman named Bob. This
is the main location for the film, as the bounty hunters meet up with more characters including an old Confederate general (Dern), the town executioner (Roth) and a taciturn cowboy (Madsen).
Characteristic rapid-fire Tarantino dialogue ensues as tensions rise. Parallels with Django Unchained, Tarantino’s previous western, are obvious, however, the tone of Eight is also reminiscent of Death Proof (Zoe Bell was also on hand for the reading) as well as the tavern scene from Inglorious Basterds. Like in those films, foul language and violence are also on abundant display signaling that Tarantino has no apparent intention of defusing the controversies that so often follow his work. Standing at a lectern stage right, reading scene descriptions, inserting classic film references and occasionally directly engaging the audience Tarantino was as much a character in the read as any of the actors, leaving no doubt of who was in complete control (at one point he admonished the performers to abstain from improvising: “No co-writing, please!”).
All in all it was a thoroughly entertaining evening of tarantiniana that left fans satisfied as well as even more impatient to one day see the actual movie.