Inglourious Basterds Editor Sally Menke Talks Tarantino, Cannes Cuts, and Kill Bill 3
There's one woman in the world who understands Quentin Tarantino better than anybody, and that's Sally Menke. Since her work on Reservoir Dogs, Menke has cut every single one of Tarantino's films, and for the last decade, she's eschewed almost all other jobs to devote herself solely to the genre-blending auteur. This Sunday, Menke will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement honor at the Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards, and as Inglourious Basterds begins its transformation from unexpected summer blockbuster to even-more-unexpected Oscar player, we thought there'd be no better time to talk to Menke about how she does what she does.
How has it worked out that you've worked almost exclusively with Quentin Tarantino over the last decade?
It's worked out perfectly. [Laughs]
But did you receive a lot of offers to work with other directors over the last few years?
Definitely a lot of films have passed my doorstep that seemed really intriguing, that I'd like to do, but I'm just totally dedicated to QT. Every time I've got a project, I always check with him first. "What do you think? Are you going to start in three months? Four months? Eight months? A year?" I always check with him first because I always want to do his films.
Quentin announced very early on that he wanted the movie to have a Cannes debut. Was the editing more breakneck than it usually is?
Good grief, yes. We worked so fast trying to get this done. The thing that's brilliant about the working relationship between QT and I is that it's very symbiotic. I've worked with him now for seventeen years, so I kind of know where he's going before he even comes in. I can get things in pretty good shape, and then he comes in and we do our thing. This one, though, we just had no time. It was down and dirty, but because of our relationship, we didn't have to work long hours. We work so cleanly together -- we're on the same railroad track, going to the same place.
Some reediting took place after the film's Cannes premiere. What is it like to have a very public showing of a certain cut, then go back and make changes based on the reception?
Well, we had decided to make changes prior to Cannes. We knew that we were going to Cannes with a different cut than we would probably end up with. I mean, we went in there proudly -- it wasn't like we were having a test screening or anything like that. In fact, Quentin did not want to go to Cannes without feeling really proud about it. Still, we knew ahead of time that we were going to put some things back in and address certain scenes, so it wasn't a surprise. It was like, "OK, let's get back from France! Let's go do this work, because we're opening soon!"
Take the scene where Michael Fassbender's character meets with the Basterds. The Cannes cut didn't include it. Why?
There were many, many reasons why we didn't put it in. One of them was that we physically ran out of time, especially with a couple of moments with Shosanna, where we knew it wasn't quite right but it still held the emotional arc needed for that character at that point, so we felt good about going into Cannes that way. There were definitely some points where we thought we should put some emotional beats back in for the character.
There are also some pretty well-known sequences that had to be cut from the film, and characters played by Maggie Cheung and Cloris Leachman were lost. I read an interview with Cloris where she said she knew from Day One that her scene would probably be cut. Do you read the script and make those same predictions and annotations?
Absolutely, I do. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong.
Did you know that when you got the big behemoth of a Kill Bill script, that it would eventually need to be split it in two?
At that point, when I first got the script? No, except that it was over 160 pages, so that alone was a good indication. It was pretty darn long. Still, even then, I thought, "Well, how is this going to get down to one film?" Very early on, we started talking about it being split into two, so it wasn't a surprise, given the quantity of scenes.
Was that a relief for you? You would have had to do a hell of job to cut that all into one releasable film.
You know, I have to say that it was a relief. It meant we could get everything in that we loved so dearly, rather than going, "Ohhh. We have to see that go."
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