LOS ANGELES — Quentin Tarantino isn’t saying why he spelled the title of his World War II adventure, “Inglourious Basterds,” the way he did.
The writer-director is enjoying having a little fun with his audience, similar to the way he credited himself and Uma Thurman, with whom he co-wrote the “Kill Bill” movies, by their initials Q and U.
“I’m never going to explain that,” Tarantino said during a news conference in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where “Inglourious Basterds” premiered. “When you do an artistic flourish like that, to describe it, to explain it, would just ... invalidate the whole stroke in the first place.
“(Artist Jean-Michel) Basquiat takes the letter L from a hotel room door and sticks it in his painting,” he added. “If he describes why he did it, he might as well not have done it at all.”
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Tarantino’s film about Jewish-American soldiers who hunt down and scalp Nazis, which opened this past weekend atop the box office with an estimated $37.6 million, is one of several in recent memory with a name that’s tripped people up, either because of its spelling or because it contains a potentially offensive word.
The Weinstein Co., which is distributing it in the United States, says it hasn’t heard of any censorship of the title — which has nothing to do with a 1978 Italian action picture called (and correctly spelled) “The Inglorious Bastards.”
But when “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” came out last fall, it prompted protests about the title across the country. Commercials during Los Angeles Dodgers games were eventually dropped at the team’s request, and the city of Philadelphia rejected posters for its bus stops. In some instances, the Kevin Smith comedy about best friends who make an X-rated movie to pay the bills was just called “Zack and Miri.”
Then there was the content of the posters, which initially were considered too risque because they suggested a specific sexual act. The Weinstein Co., which also released this movie, later changed them to feature stick figures representing its stars, some of which read: “Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks made a movie so outrageous that we can’t even tell you the title.”
The trouble with curse words
The need to tinker with a tricky title has also arisen lately on television. DirecTV refers to the Oxygen weight-loss series “Dance Your Ass Off” as “Dance Your A.. Off.” Similarly, the Showtime documentary series featuring comics Penn Jillette and Teller is listed on the satellite guide as “Penn & Teller: Bulls...!” and it appears in other places as “Penn & Teller: BS!”
For all the trouble, having a curse word in the title doesn’t necessarily create more buzz for a movie, said publicist Alex Klenert. As an executive at ThinkFilm in 2005, Klenert worked on a documentary about the origin and many creative uses of the F-word (which was also the title of the film), and “Awesome: I F-----Shot That,” in which the Beastie Boys gave cameras to fans who shot footage of a 2004 concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
In both cases, “for what we had to do with the movie, it created another layer of extra work we had to do to position the film in certain markets, especially regionally,” Klenert said. “With the Beastie Boys documentary, they just were not going to use (the F-word) in it. If you put it in theaters across the country, you can’t have a theater with a child walking in with a poster that says (the F-word) on it.”
Instead, some posters and many reviews referred to the film as “Awesome: I ... Shot That!” or they partially blurred out the expletive. The posters for the documentary about the offending word, meanwhile, featured a cartoon man with his bulging eyes forming some of the letters.
“Ultimately, it creates more trouble than it’s worth because you have to edit it on a certain level,” Klenert said.
He added that he saw a lot more attention and excitement for 2005’s “The Aristocrats,” a documentary about a famously profane joke with an ironically genteel punch line.
“We had sold-out theaters,” he said. “That was a better example of a film that created buzz. It didn’t necessarily have it in the title but it was all about the subject matter and how dirty the swear words were.”
As for Tarantino’s unusual spelling, “that’s just the way he is,” says Klenert. “He has such a unique vision, people are more accepting of it because it’s him.”
The tricky phrasing hasn’t seemed to trouble many people on Twitter, where “Inglourious Basterds” was a top trending topic on opening day Aug. 21. Although, as one user joked: “Tarantino created ‘Inglourious Basterds’ simply to watch Twitter go into fits about its spelling.”
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