"The idea that cinema can bring down the Third Reich is a really juicy metaphor…On the other hand, it's not a metaphor at all. It's the reality of the movie."
- Quentin Tarantino
"Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France…" A sweeping vista reaches an isolated hilltop farmhouse. Across the rolling fields, dust warns of the slow but persistent approach of a Nazi contingent up the winding dirt road. The farmer observes, then with deliberation prepares himself. The story has begun, the scene has been set.
The tale of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is revealed through five chapters, each of which has distinctive sets conveying Quentin Tarantino's characteristic heightened reality. This is the fifth of his films visually brought to life by Set Decorator Sandy Wasco SDSA and Production Designer David Wasco. The production was astoundingly faster than most: within a week of reading the script, they were in Germany scouting for a short 10 week prep!
The film is a pastiche: the war movies of the 1930s, 40s and each ensuing decade, the John Ford and Sergio Leone westerns, and Claude Chabrol's interpretations of the occupation. Thus, the Wascos had specific references for sets. [See filmography below]
"Quentin's recommendation of Leone's westerns and Aldrich's THE DIRTY DOZEN as reference worked well for us," Sandy Wasco relates. "These movies took liberties with period details. With our abbreviated prep, their kind of impressionistic shorthand helped us get things done quickly. Leone, for example, depicted The American West - a period American West - but he wasn't slavish to any strict historical reality. There were always wonderful pieces of '60s Italian furniture lurking on his sets. If Victorian chairs were called for they would be wildly exuberant Italian overstuffed versions of a Victorian chair!"
"We took a few of the same freedoms," she smiles. "INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is set in France, but, except for one scene filmed in Paris, was shot in and around Berlin. German elements slip in around the edges. Thank goodness Quentin liked this look because we had very little time to shop in France or England! However, we kept a real eye to the research, because Quentin always wanted to verify that something existed in the time, especially when it was surrounding the cinema. Everything to do with the cinema had to be realistic."
After scouring Germany and France for an existing cinema, they ended up building it on the backlot and stages at Berlin's Studio Babelsberg. Perfect for film buff Tarantino - METROPOLIS and THE BLUE ANGEL were filmed there - add in a somewhat weird element: Babelsberg is also where Goebbels shot the films for Hitler, which in turn is portrayed in this film. A duplicate of the cinema interior was built at an abandoned cement factory outside of Berlin in order to produce the explosive climax. According to Wasco, "There are no green screens, no digital effects. It's all done the old-fashioned way."
Cinema Le Gamaar is a bit old and worn, but proudly showing great films of the era. Wasco describes, "…Probably built in 1919-ish. Slightly deco, but hasn't been refurbished in 20-25 years. When the Nazis come in, they 'freshen' it up, complete with sculptures they've appropriated from the Louvre." The script called for a huge 50'x50' chandelier to be "relocated" from Versailles, and during the climax, fall into the auditorium; but after researching locations for the palace, then arranging for the design and construction of the chandelier and for the rigging to move and place it, the decision was made that the effect wouldn't be worth it. Wasco is philosophical, "I think it happens in every movie."
For the Auditorium, safety and budget were the overriding concerns. "We rented 400 chairs from England, but the fellow didn't want to part with them permanently, which meant we had to build duplicates for the burn. Of course by then, we didn't have enough money, so we decided to put the rentals in the back and the burn ones in the front…it was very hard dealing with a tight budget on a fire set! The lights were real, working practicals built in triplicate. Some of the eagles and swastika were made of heavy-duty plaster to withstand the fire. Others, for safety, were foam so if they did fall on anyone…" After all, it is a Tarantino film.
A chandelier from the 1920s resembling an atom was replicated and hung throughout the Cinema Lobby and in the Ticket Booth entrance. "The lamps in eastern Germany were wonderful. Really inspiring," Wasco recalls. "It's interesting that so much is still 'living' there, because of that slight time warp aspect of having been part of the Soviet bloc. The craftsmen and artisans were amazing as well. We could have anything made/duplicated very quickly and of very good quality, from furniture to sculptures and paintings."
Cinema Projection Room
The heart of the cinema and of the film is the Projection Room. It is the synthesis of Tarantino's metaphor of the power of film and the filmmaker. From this cinema aerie, Shosanna [Melanie Laurent] plots revenge, presents her film and gives the signal to destroy. Twists of reality allow the extant world to crush the artist, but she is not denied her vindication. The set not only includes the accoutrement of the filmmaker, but also a corner hideaway where she is able to secrete her true love from the Nazis.
Cinema Office and Shosanna's Living Quarters
Besides giving more insight into Shosanna's current life and the cinema's history, these spaces also allow for action to take place while actors are seated. Wasco points out, "There were so many scenes where people are talking across a table or a desk." Throughout the film, fierce psychological battles are waged from Hitler's, Landa's and Raine's interrogations over desks, a café table, tavern tables, even a veterinarian's surgery table, to Shosanna's encounters with Zoller at a bistro banquette or her revelations across a vanity and through its mirror.
[Hitler: Martin Wuttke; Colonel Hans Landa: Christoph Waltz; Lieutenant Aldo Raine: Brad Pitt; Shosanna Dreyfus/Emmanuelle Mimieux: Melanie Laurent; Fredrick Zoller: Daniel Bruhl]
Hitler's Office at Berchtesgarden [Tarantino's spelling]
"Berchtesgarden was shot in a Berlin building designed as a military office by Albert Spier, Hitler's architect," says Wasco. "Post-war, it temporarily housed the US Embassy. So everything in that room was brought in: the chairs, the fireplace, the eagles, the map and the huge, wide table. When I had the 30' x 8' table built, it looked massive in the construction department. I was worried that I might have measured wrong, but the room ate it up - it fit perfectly".
"Chez Maurice is in real life Café Einsteins, a landmark Berlin restaurant. And in real life, Goering's office was next door…a bit surreal," Wasco remarks. Here, in what is likely to become the iconic strudel scene, Tarantino is contrasting the Nazi and conspirator opulence to impoverished France.
La Louisiane Tavern
Tarantino reveals, "The La Louisiane scene is like a reduced version of RESERVOIR DOGS, but with Nazis and Germans, and instead of that warehouse, they're in a basement bar." The scene is shot across tables and a small bar, then erupts to tables overturned and mayhem.
Chabrol's THE BLOOD OF OTHERS was the model for The Bistro. Wasco tells of a serendipitous happenstance, "It turns out that we found exactly the same place in Paris that Chabrol used in 1984, and it had barely changed. So we had the French art department build banquettes and we rented furniture locally. The floor is beautiful, as is the bar. It was a perfect location, because looking out the windows offers a timeless Parisian street."
A NATIONS PRIDE
The fictitious Nazi propaganda film A NATIONS PRIDE was shot by Tarantino's friend Actor/Director Eli Roth, who also plays the Basterd Donny Donowitz. The seven-minute film-within-a-film required 120 set-ups. Wasco remembers, "It was a huge undertaking. This was miles away from Berlin, in the middle of the prep, but it was beautifully done."
Working with Tarantino
"I love that we got to do Quentin's world, but in Europe. It was fantastic," she says.
About working with Tarantino on all but one of his films, she notes, "It allows us both a shorthand. You can get up and get going really quickly on a project." Vital with the short time they had on this project. As David Wasco points out, "There are no reshoots. There are never reshoots or additional photography on any of Quentin's movies. He shoots so much stuff."
"Quentin is a collage artist, like Rauschenberg," he adds. "For INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, Quentin mixes scenes that play like masterpieces, with scenes that play for fun, full of insider jokes and B-Movie gimmicks. He'll follow classic bits like the opening farm scene with something GRINDHOUSE-y like the Basterds introduction, complete with supergraphics and flashbacks. The joy to me is that unlike so many films today, its pure entertainment and totally unpredictable."
inglorious basterds filmography:
· UNE AFFAIRE DE FEMMES - STORY OF WOMEN 1988 Director Claude Chabrol, Production Designer Francoise Benoit-Fresco
· THE DIRTY DOZEN 1967 Director Robert Aldrich, Art Director WE Hutchinson
· PARIS IS BURNING 1990 Director Jennie Livingston
· WHERE EAGLES DARE 1968 Director Brian Hutton, Art Director Peter Mullins
Lapadite Dairy Farm
· C’ERA UNA VOLATA IL WEST - ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST 1968 Director Sergio Leone, Set Decorators Rafael Ferri, Carlo Levaqa, Production Designer Carlo Simi
· IL BUONO, IL BRUTTO, IL CATTIVO - THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY 1966 Director Sergio Leone, Set Decorator Carlo Simi
· THE SEARCHERS 1956 Director John Ford, Set Decorator Victor Gangelin, Art Directors James Basevi, Frank Hotaling
The Cinema Le Gamaar - Lobby
· ACTION IN ARABIA 1944 Director Leonide Moguy, 2nd Unit Director Robert Wise, Set Decorators Claude Carpenter, Darrell Silvera, Art Directors Albert D’Agostino, Al Herman
· THE PRIVATE AFFIARS OF BEL AMI 1947 Director Albert Lewin, Set Decorator Edward Boyle, Production Designer Gordon Wiles
Hitler’s Office at Berchtesgarden
· CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY 1939 Director Anatole Litvak, Art Director Carl Jule Weyl
· LE SANG DES AUTRES / THE BLOOD OF OTHERS 1984 Director Claude Chabrol, Set Decorator Nicole Rachline, Production Designer Francois Comtet
Films showing at Cinema La Gamaar:
· LE CORBEAU – Henri-Georges Clouzot
· LE HOME AU GRAND SOMBRERO – Maurice Valerie
· L’ENFER BLANC DU PIZ PALU/THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU – Leni Riefenstahl