Tony Scott & Quentin Tarantino with “True Romance”. That rarity, when two visionaries coincide in art.

In film, it’s often said that the movie is made 3x. First by the writer, second by the director, and a third and final time by the editor. This leaves an unreliable correlation between a script and an edited film. Scenes get added and omitted while actors’ lines originally written get dubbed, and the lines shot during production get removed. A story is never “locked”. To quote Leonardo da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” In essence, it’s the director that takes a writer’s words and translates them into production, where actors bring to life on silver-screens. The writer holds sheer belief in their work for several months, giving birth to a script akin to a mother would to her child. The editor uses the director’s creative instinct and takes the footage, putting the shots to work by giving the viewer a subconscious nudge and enhancing the film’s linear continuity. This collaborating trio, among a plethora of below-the-line and above-the-line artists and technicians, are what results in moviemaking magic.

American actors Brad Pitt, Michael Rapaport, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette on the set of True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

During production, the director chooses his most artistic counterpart, the cinematographer, and embarks on a journey of translating the imagery described on paper, into a formulated, visionary exhibition of selective shots. The editor employs himself as the chief magician, working illusory enchantments like a wizard, with seamless edits to tell the story. The final cut results in a completely ulterior representation of what was originally imagined by the writer and conceived by the director. What the writer and director intended is no longer prevalent, and what remains on-screen is the transmutation of creative collaboration, resulting in an alchemy.

American actress Patricia Arquette on the set of True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The writer/director collaboration is circumspect to an adversarial relationship. In film history, these two visionaries have bumped heads with conflicting creative insights. The screenwriter, himself a visionary, who’s not in charge of the directing reigns, maintains an embedded right to authorship of material. The director looks beyond this, because they’re aware it isn’t the writer’s vision that translates words into live action. Nonetheless, the writer gives birth to the story. Without a script, the picture wouldn’t exist. But it’s the director who chooses the composer and casts the talent. The writer doesn’t have anything to do with the film’s shot-selection (unless alluded to with subtext in his script). The director’s shot-list isn’t a declaration or constitution, it’s a guideline of ideals that will most definitely be deviated from, due to constraints. The director, as confident as he is in his vision, eliminates any self-proposed shot-directions included in the subtext of the action described by the writer. This is for the sake of the director’s own artistic taste which made him believe in the script to begin with. His determinations decipher which modifications should be made. The divergence from the original screenplay will be in relation to the degree of relevance to the narrative’s overall theme.

American actors Christian Slater and Bronson Pinchot on the set of True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Examples of this dual-visionary collaboration of writer & director engaging in creative quarrels are few and far between. Noteworthily, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma (Scarface), Sylvester Stallone and John G. Avildsen (Rocky, Rocky V), Chris Columbus and John Hughes (Home Alone), David Mamet and Brian De Palma (The Untouchables), and of course, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott on True Romance. This cult-classic has garnered a cult-following and is sure to be on any cinephiles top 20 list of all-time favorites. There’s no debate: this isn’t a Tarantino film; it’s wholly a Tony Scott film. Tarantino doesn’t include it with the list of 9 films he’s made to date. Rightfully so, since he penned the script. Should one be so thankful that his script fell in the hands of Tony Scott to work magic? Would Tarantino’s presence behind the camera have diminished the fairytale vibe of the picture?

American actress Patricia Arquette on the set of True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

An excessive amount of film buffs consider True Romance to be a film that exists in the Tarantino-verse. Without a shadow of doubt, it’s Q.T.’s voice in dialogue and plot, which attracted such a studded-cast in 1993 (2 years after his Sundance hit, Reservoir Dogs). Everybody wanted in on the True Romance script. Outside the starring marquee of billed talent, True Romance housed Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Michael Rapaport, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore and James Gandolfini. But what resonates with the spectator as Tarantino’s voice in dialogue and plot, doesn’t hold a glimmering similarity in the film’s structure and romantic fable. All credit is due to Tony Scott, the film’s most important player. His vision of Tarantino’s script is what gave the film its fantasy of two lovers on a getaway with hopes of a wondrous ending into the sunset.

American actor Christian Slater with British director Tony Scott on the set of his movie True Romance, written by Quentin Tarantino. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Tony Scott’s hiring of then frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer (Days of Thunder, Top Gun) to score the music, is what made the film feel like wonderland (even if the theme song was a re-engineering of the theme from Badlands). Jeffrey L. Kimball’s masterful cinematography framed each shot to be larger-than-life. And those who claim True Romance to be in the Tarantino-verse should be proposed with a litany of questions. To start, would they be okay with Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) dying in the climax of the orgiastic hotel shootout?  Alabama (Patricia Arquette) would have been alone in Mexico without their son Elvis. Tarantino’s original script wasn’t chronological. This non-linear sequence is in typical Q.T. fashion, yet would have been a disservice to the story. It would have exhibited a puzzle in need of solving, rather than a contrivance of fictional stories like in Pulp Fiction (1994).

Christian Slater sits in bed with Patricia Arquette in a scene from the film ‘True Romance’, 1993. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Sir Tony enhanced otherwise bland elements of the script. Drexyl Spivey’s (Gary Oldman) brothel was originally written as his barren apartment. After Clarence ridicules Drexyl’s perverse decision not to cooperate with his demands, Drexyl accuses Clarence for insolence (as half-naked call-girls roam about in chaos). Scott added panache with a wall of fish tanks that Drexyl gets lunged into, shattering glass and spilling water with dead fish across a blood bath of mayhem. Moreover, regarding the film’s ending, Scott maintained his stance as the confident director. He heard Tarantino’s ploy with utter silence, listening to his plea to keep the original version. But Sir Tony took Q.T.’s suggestion and still chose his own fairytale bookend. If there was one man that could take a Tarantino script, change the ending and convince Quentin it’s to the advantage of the audience, that man was Tony Scott. Oliver Stone was certainly unable to convince Tarantino of this, considering Q.T. infamously walked out of the theater after watching his script get butchered with Natural Born Killers. Oliver Stone re-wrote the script with David Veloz and Richard Rutowski, steering off-course of Tarantino’s script. Apparently, Q.T. hasn’t seen the film in its entirety, even some 27 odd years after its release.

Gary Oldman Plays A Pimp named Drexl In A Warner Bros Film Called “True Romance”, Co-Starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. Warner Bros. Pictures (Photo By Getty Images)

Tony Scott stayed loyal to Tarantino’s script on True Romance, reworking its structure and giving the ending a heart. Christian Slater was directed to view Robert De Niro’s performance as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver for inspiration in playing the character of Clarence. This is due to how the first few days of filmmaking always start-off in rusty fashion. Directors are still getting accustomed to fluid relationships with cast and crew. These preliminary days almost always call for second takes and redo’s. Filming scenes of dramatic dialogue between actors on these days are ill-advised, and scenes of second-unit action are preferred, in hopes of getting rid of ring-rust by capturing minor exterior sequences instead of intimate interiors. On True Romance, contrary to non-linear shooting schedules, the scene shot on day one was also the first scene written in the film. Clarence is at a bar, asking-out a Blonde to the movies to see a Sonny Chiba, martial arts triple-feature. Slater’s zealous acting in this scene prompted Scott’s direction to change Slater’s perception of Clarence’s character. The impression Travis Bickle would have on Clarence Worley is noticeable throughout the rest of the film.

Christian Slater with Patricia Arquette in an iconic shot from Tony Scott’s True Romance, 1993.

Had Tarantino directed True Romance, one may have appreciated its inevitable darkness and morbidity, causing one to accept it as an art film. But Tony Scott’s True Romance stands as a cult-favorite among moviegoers because it’s his facsimile of the script that gave the film its heart. It’s hard to resist the temptation of experiencing the picture as a romantic legend. Access to viewing True Romance 1x per year is intrinsic to a romantic quality of life. Clarence’s survival in eloping with Alabama into Mexican paradise with their son Elvis is the perfect bookend to a surreal fable: a comic store clerk falls in love with a call-girl on his birthday and their only shot at a rich future is to sell a suitcase of cocaine to a supercilious Hollywood producer in exchange for vast sums of cash. Clarence and Alabama’s future livelihood would depend on the capricious Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek). Despite all of Clarence’s qualms in the climactic elevator scene with Elliot (Bronson Pinchot), it took a miracle for them to get away with it. Thank you, Q.T., for such a “cool” story. But hats off for Tony Scott, it’s because of him Clarence and Alabama getaway. In the Tarantino-verse, this wouldn’t be the case.

Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in a scene from Tony Scott’s True Romance, 1993.

Like the writer said himself, “The title of the film is not ironic, this is true romance.” Clarence is a virile man. He and Alabama consummated their marriage before it took place. Alabama was resplendent in her baby-blue corset when they engaged in the phone booth. The moonlight passed through the blinds translucently on the night of their first intimate encounter. In a sick and twisted way, she thought it was romantic when he killed Drexyl and came home with a bag of burgers. God offered Clarence a posterity like the stars of heaven with his son Elvis. Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino collaborated on a picture that would garner the hearts of the world’s most authentic cinephiles. That rarity, when two visionaries coincide in art.

written by ardalan pourvali

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s