Quentin Tarantino's talents as a screenwriter are undisputed. And his ability to get audiences laughing in the midst of extreme violence has been a trademark since he landed on the scene with "Reservoir Dogs" in 1992. As he put it in a recent interview with The Times: "There is something sexy about gallows humor. This is funny but is it OK to laugh? Is it a contraband laugh? That's worth me leaving the house to have that experience."
So it was with great anticipation and some trepidation that Tarantino approached a key scene in "Django Unchained." For those that have yet to see the film, consider this your spoiler alert. The scene features a group of Klansmen getting ready for a raid, and experiencing some difficulty with their wardrobe choices.
"It was the scene I was most intimidated by. It was so funny on the page that it was truly mine to screw up," said Tarantino, just days after he completed the film, which has already grossed an estimated $15 million from its Christmas Day opening.
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With his typical swagger, he added: "I knocked it out of the park on the page. It could only be made lesser by filming it."
And a series of mishaps almost resulted in the scene -- which features Don Johnson, Jonah Hill and others debating the construction of their Klan hoods -- being dropped from the film.
First, Johnson pulled a groin muscle early during the filming of the movie, delaying the shot until the final days of production.
"This was a big comedy mountain that I wanted to climb and we had to put a pin in it and shoot it in Los Angeles after we've done the whole entire movie. It seemed like a recipe for disaster," the director said.
Once they did shoot the scene, Tarantino -- already battling a lengthy run time on the film -- debated leaving it out altogether.
He showed a cut of the film -- minus the scene -- to executives at Sony Pictures, which co-financed the movie with the Weinstein Co. He said Sony honcho Amy Pascal acknowledged the movie worked without it but asked him to put it back in because it was a major reason she even greenlighted "Django" in the first place.
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Tarantino's first test screening confirmed Pascal's instinct on the scene. "We had our first screening and I put it in, and the audience reacted great. I think it's their favorite scene in the movie. It's that crazy kind of laughter where they are catching up with it as it's going on. And the absurdity of it starts hitting everyone at the same time. It was a dream."
The response from African Americans, he added, has been particularly raucous.
"Black folks laugh so hard in the scene and the subtext of their laughter is, 'We were afraid of these idiots?' "
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