Enraged that this had happened when casting had barely commenced, the director shut down the movie unilaterally (perhaps finally ...) and sued Gawker. In the meantime, to give the material a more controlled public airing, Tarantino arranged a live-read of the script in association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's film programme.
We gather at the venerable United Artists Theatre, a sumptuous 1927 movie palace, all faux-Byzantine motifs and three tiers of balconies, bearing our $200 tickets and plenty of questions. Is The Hateful Eight dead? Will this therefore be like some mythical reading of a legendary never-made movie, like Welles' Heart of Darkness or Jodorovsky's Dune? Which actors will appear, and will they be the same six to whom the leaked script was first sent?
Tarantino has answers when he sweeps onstage dressed in a boxy Man in Black outfit with loud red piping. "This is a first draft," he announces, "and there will be a second, and a third." So the movie seems to be getting made. He tells us that "Chapter five will be totally rewritten, so this will be the only time it's ever performed."
Standing at a lectern stage-left, he introduces his cast: Samuel L Jackson brings the house down. Kurt Russell follows him and the audience detects real movie-star charisma. Justified's Walton Goggins, Dexter's James Remar, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Amber Tamblyn and Bruce Dern fill out the other major roles. Various seats and microphones cover the stage: this is a reading, not a stage adaptation; there will be no blood, just a lot of finger-guns and Tarantino yelling "blam-blam-blam!" in his role as narrator, and reminding us occasionally that the landscapes we can't see are rendered in "awesome, spectacular 70MM splendour!"
Tarantino runs a tight ship tonight, occasionally chiding the actors to keep to the script - "no co-writing, please!" - and ordering re-dos when dialogue is fluffed or lost amid the applause, but despite only three days of rehearsal, the cast is surprisingly together and on its collective toes.
What we see tonight is more reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs than of Tarantino's more sprawling recent work: two locations, both claustrophobic and teeming with mutual suspicion and recrimination, with much occurring off-screen or in flashback. Tarantino opens with a lengthy sequence in a stagecoach as it tries to beat an incoming blizzard to the nearest shelter, Minnie's Haberdashery. On board are John Ruth (Russell), a brutal bounty hunter nicknamed The Hangman because he brings them in alive to the executioner, and his racist, foul-mouthed charge Daisy (Tamblyn, excellent), a woman whose crimes are for now withheld, but whose vileness and venom are instantly evident (John Ruth enjoys punching her in the face - a lot). The stage then picks up ex-Union Army officer and bounty-hunter Marcus West (Jackson), who has three frozen bounty-corpses to bring to town (he prefers the "dead" part of "dead or alive"). Ruth has heard of him and offers grudging respect and a seat in the cabin, while Daisy merely screams "Howdy, nigger!" at him.
At which point, Tarantino steps out of his impresario-narrator role, addresses the audience and says, "For you who're counting, that's number one! There will be more!" There is some frankly rather inappropriate cheering at this shout-out to our most potent secular blasphemy, but not, I note, from the two serious young black men sitting next to me. Suffice it to say, the N-word gets a vigorous workout throughout the night.
A third passenger - Goggins - appears out of the snow, claiming to be the new sheriff of Red Rock, everyone's final destination. On arriving at Minnie's Haberdashery, we encounter an elderly Confederate general (Dern), and three suspicious-looking characters, a near-silent Madsen, an Englishman (Roth) who claims he's the new Red Rock executioner to whom Tamblyn will be delivered, and a Frenchman who claims to be running the place for the absent Millie and her husband.
Soon enough someone poisons the coffee and two people drop dead, and the stage is set for a Miss Marple-ish search for the killer(s) among those present, with guns drawn and the room divided into warring "northern" and "southern" halves, and everyone wondering who everyone else really is.
As the bodies pile up toward the conclusion, it's evident that chapter five will indeed require extensive rejigging. As it stands it's a mathematical, mechanical and rather rote culling of the cast through murder and bloodshed, and will require more layering and nuance to accord with the sprightly remainder of the script.
As for the actors, Bruce Dern's small performance was a masterclass in acting, all vertiginous pauses, strategic moments of quiet, and effortless modulation. Russell was a truly commanding and charismatic presence, filling the room like he came with extra dimensions unavailable to mere character players. Tamblyn made her loathsome character pop and fizz, Jackson was very Jackson (at one point, he bursts out laughing and say, "I can't believe I'm reading this...." - a horrifying, blowjob-heavy soliloquy), and Goggins earns his second-lead status effortlessly. Tarantino, in PT Barnum showman mode, held it all together beautifully.
If they ever get The Hateful Eight made, I'll be there. I just hope chapter five doesn't make it.
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