I miss movie theaters for a lot of reasons. The exhibition of course – seeing something on a big screen with big sound – but also the communal aspect. Those moments when you’re in a dark room full of strangers, but are all connected in having a shared experience. Especially when that experience is particularly emotional. The cheers when Cap caught Thor’s hammer in Avengers: Endgame; the sniffles at the end of Titanic; the laughter throughout the entirety of The Hangover.
Filmmaker Edgar Wright misses movie theaters too, and recently he curated a special issue of Empire Magazine in which himself and various other filmmakers recounted particularly memorable moviegoing experiences in their own lives. As a bonus, Wright and Quentin Tarantino went on the Empire Film Podcast to talk about memorable cinema moments at length, and during the course of their conversation Tarantino revealed a fascinating bit of trivia about a particularly memorable moment in Django Unchained.
Tarantino’s 2012 film remains his biggest box office hit, and I distinctly remember the audience bursting into laughter during a scene that QT refers to as “the baghead scene.” The one in which a group of KKK members argue about their poorly conceived masks made out of bags. The scene prominently features Tarantino himself alongside a cameo from Jonah Hill, and as it turns out, it nearly didn’t make it into the movie.
Speaking about the scene on the Empire Film Podcast, Tarantino reveals that the scene was a highlight of the script during development, but he grew concerned the actual scene might not live up to what was on the page:
“That has as much hysterical laughter as I’ve ever heard in any screening of any movie, and it happens all over the world. That was everyone’s favorite scene in the script. Amy Pascal, half the reason she wanted to make the movie at Columbia was because of that scene. But it was one of those scenes that it was such a hit on the page, I started getting intimidated about would it be that good in the movie? Does everyone love it so much on the page [that it’s] gonna lose something in the translation once I get a bunch of actors playing the roles? Because it’s not based on one performance, it’s a whole lot of people. And it happens at a weird part of the movie.”
Continuing, Tarantino says they shot the scene and while editing, he and his editor Fred Raskin felt it was working. Until they started showing it to people:
“So we shoot the scene, and forget about the fact that it’s a long comedy sequence – it’s a five-minute non-sequitur in a movie that’s already really long. So me and my editor Fred [Raskin] we cut the movie together, we cut that sequence together, and we’re really happy with it… and so an interviewer would come and interview me and I would leave the editing room and have lunch with them and talk about something, and I’d go, ‘Hey do you wanna see a scene from the movie?’ ‘Yeah sure, I’d be happy to!’ Or a director or somebody would visit. And so we had like four different times where somebody came by to visit for whatever reason and we were gonna show them something, so we would bring out that scene and show it to them. And it never got the response we thought it should get. They didn’t really know what the hell they were watching. It’s almost like in The Prestige when Christian Bale does the magic trick [Hugh Jackman is] like, ‘He doesn’t even do it right! The audience doesn’t even realize what a good trick it is!’ (laughs)”
When it came time to show the film to the studios, Tarantino decided to hold the scene back:
“So we had had nothing but dispiriting responses when it came to that sequence. So when it came time to actually show The Weinstein Company and Sony the movie for the first time on an AVID, we decided to take that scene out. And so we showed it to them without that scene, and then afterwards Amy Pascal was like, ‘What the fuck happened to the baghead scene?’ and I said, ‘Here’s the deal. I wanted you to see the movie without it so you would know that we don’t need it. Now, let’s put it back in for the first market research screening. Let’s see what the audience response is and from that point we’ll figure out what to do, once we hear the audience response.’ Because I wasn’t that confident that it was going to get the greatest response. Because I just saw it one person at a time.”
Sure enough, they put the scene back in, and at the first audience screening it brought the house down:
“Then we have the first market research screening, and the entire theater just breaks into laughter for five minutes straight. It brings the entire house down, and right when they needed to be brought down – it’s a heavy section. And so it was like, ‘Okay well I guess this scene is going in the movie.’”
In hindsight, Tarantino admits that showing the scene out of context to people was “asking too much,” and resulted in the disappointing responses. This just goes to show how important context is for a movie working – it’s why it’s hard for a film to have the same power at home when you’re on your phone or not giving it your full attention.
It’s also a reminder that the scenes that will end up being the most memorable in theater sometimes aren’t that way until you show them to a packed audience.
So here’s to the return of movie theaters later this year, and the return of collective fits of laughter. We can’t wait.
For more on Tarantino, check out Matt’s deep-dive into his filmography.
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