Christoph Waltz explains his love, and mine, for Tarantino's dialogue

christophwaltz_big Christoph Waltz spoke to Terry Gross on Fresh Air on December 19, 2012, to talk about Tarantino's new movie, Django Unchained--which is the second of his films for Waltz. They talk about a lot of things, including Django, and how Tarantino finally found him, an actor who is fluent in English, French, and German, but also had the skills to deliver his signature dialogue. That delivery ability is what got him the part as the Jew Hunter in Inglourious Basterds, and it's what won him the Oscar for it, too, easily. If you haven't seen that movie, watch it for Waltz's performance alone. Seriously. And if you have seen it, go watch it again. And call me and I'll come watch with you.

In the meantime, read Waltz's answer to Terry's question, in which he perfectly explains Quentin Tarantino's insane ability to keep us totally enraptured by seemingly pointless moments in the lives of his characters. I could swim in his dialogue, and he clearly agrees.

TG: So when you had your audition for Inglorious Basterds, how well did you know Tarantino’s movies?

CW: I knew all of the movies.

TG: You’d already seen all--?

CW: I had seen all Tarantino movies as they came out, as they were released. Starting with Reservoir Dogs, and I even had seen Death Proof. So I knew them all.

TG: So you already had an ear for what he was doing [in terms of dialogue and delivery of Tarantino’s writing]?

CW: In a way, in a way. I had a fascination. You know, even in Death Proof, which is somewhat, you know, not as easily accessible, but somehow watching Death Proof, I understood something about the dialogue, because these girls were driving in a car and one had her legs out the window, and the other one was just bored and getting on with it somehow, and they were talking about nothing in particular, for a long time… and… I was mesmerized. And I always wondered, what is it that I’m so interested in? There’s nothing interesting. But why am I captured, why am I at the edge of my seat, even though nothing is happening other than two bored girls driving along?

Exactly! But we are. The first time I saw Pulp Fiction, it was only a portion of it, playing on cable television (which in retrospect seems a shockingly inadequate way to watch Pulp Fiction), and I kept watching out of pure intrigue, because I loved how the characters were talking. That was it. I wanted to listen to them talk to each other all day. It was the superfamous scene at Jackrabbit Slims, the retro restaurant Vince Vega takes his boss's (Mrs. Mia Wallace) wife to for dinner. I was in high school, maybe seventeen years old. I bought the dang DVD because I had to hear more, after I kept seeing only snippets when it aired on TV. Then over time, I devoured all his other movies. I even like Death Proof; yes, what is it about those girls that I'm so interested in, every time? But I cannot look away.

I would easily take Tarantino's dialogue over Shakespeare's any day. That is all.

10 books everyone should read

(in my opinion)

I was excited to get a request from my friend Andres, for a list of my "10 books everyone should read," because it forced me (non-reluctantly) back to my bookshelf to see which books have had the biggest impact on the way I view the world. That is my criteria. Because while there are many books that interest based on my own personal taste and penchants (this includes South Asian politics and history, linguistics, Georgia history, travelogues), I recognize that this is not the material that needs to be on a list "for everyone to read." Spots on this short-list must be reserved for those books whose stories and message endure beyond their particular topic or subject at hand, and instead resonate with the human spirit, our universal soul.

These are the 10 books that have changed the way I see the world, and which continue to resonate deeply with me. Their subjects dive deep into universal love, pain, suffering, faith, healing, goodness, and evil. Humanity.

Fiction:

The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini (2004) - You will never see Afghanistan the same way. Possibly the most affecting book I have ever read. I wept for a nation.

Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe (1994) - I was supposed to read this book for World Lit in college, and couldn't devote enough time to it to learn the African names; I ended up with Sparknotes to pass the test. But it was assigned to me again in a West African History course the following year, and this time, I was absorbed in the story, blown away by the way its historical point echoes significantly on the state of modern Africa and post-colonial strife on that continent. The title comes from a famous poem ("things fall apart / the center cannot hold..."), and we witness how things do fall tragically and magically apart within one African tribe, when Christian missionaries arrive. It is a tale of the very good and the very bad to come of missionary work in Africa. Achebe forces you to examine both essential parts.

Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley (1931) - If you've ever had a conversation with me about literature, chances are I've professed my love for this short-list classic dystopian thriller. I read it in high school and again in college, and its comments on the modern world ring truer today than when he wrote it more than 80 years ago. The other famous dystpoian tale, George Orwell's 1984, is based on a society where the Big Brother government is so controlling we have no freedom. Huxley's tale is set in a society where they have so much pleasure--in the form of free sex, pornography ("the feelies"--just your regular cinema experience that often ends in an orgy), and soma drugs to stay happy and carefree--that there is no need to keep us under control-- our addiction to pleasures does that for us. Imagine a world where we are so seduced by comforts that no one needs to be controlled by a repressive state. Far scarier, and far more accurate a depiction of what a dystopic future might look like (in my humble opinion). Gripping story.

American Born Chinese, written by Gene Luen Yang (2006) - If you don't feel like mulling over the failures of humanity (as a few of these others might), then start with this, an illustrated tale of life as a Chinese-American kid. It was my first foray into the world of the graphic novel, and I was blown away by how much emotion can be expressed in an illustrated little boy's face. (But then again, I should know already how emotional cartoons can be, after 18 years of watching Pixar movies.) A tale of cultural overlapping combines with the Chinese folk tale of the Monkey King, to make for a lighthearted, humorous commentary on growing up as a hyphenated American; in his case, Chinese-American.

Candide: Or Optimism, written by Voltaire (1759) -  This is another book that I basically ignored the first time it was put in front of me, and which became a stunning revelation when it was assigned to me a second time. I guess my high school perspective missed the massive amounts of humor in this classic work of satire. Voltaire's commentary on the relentless optimism of man--even in the face of never-ending bad news and disaster--is still a touchstone today. Read it (duh).

 

Non-fiction: 

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, written by Malcolm Gladwell (2009) - I swear to you, Malcolm Gladwell's brain does not operate like the rest of ours. He sees the world in a fascinating way, and asks the questions many of us would never think to ask. Why are there numerous kinds and flavors of mustard, but only one kind of Ketchup? Is plagiarism really even a thing? (And does it matter all that much?) Are smart people overrated? This is a collection of the best articles Gladwell has written for the New Yorker in the last decade or so. And they will blow your little, intelligent mind. My favorite in the whole book: "John Rock's Error: What the Inventor of the Birth Control Pill Didn't Know About Women's Health." Among many other "why-didn't-I-think-of-this-before?" questions. And blessedly, he has some answers.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, written by Randy Shilts (1987) - Shilts wrote The Book on the early HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the successes and failures of activists, politicians, doctors, scientists, and everyday people faced with the disease of a century. You can read my Amazon.com review if you don't believe me: this book is one of most important books I have ever read. It also confirms another truth: journalists are fantastic history writers. Shilts weaves a tale of human drama, and it reads like fiction. How else would I commit to 600 pages on this subject?

Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion, written by Edward J. Larson (1998) - I'll give you a clue--the famous Tennessee trial on teaching evolution in public schools was nothing like you think it was. It was purposely challenged, and Scopes, a still-green young teacher, was the volunteer offender, who would be used to launch a legal war over the still-touchy subject of science and religion in schools. If you read one history book, read this one. Highly relevant today.

 

On Georgia and the South (Everyone should understand the South a little better, whether you live here or not!)

Beach Musica novel, written by Pat Conroy (1995) - The writing is extraordinary, and the drama compares to nothing else. This is a sweeping tale of a South Carolina family across several generations, spanning a century and tackling racial prejudice, a changing South, the Holocaust, multiple wars, and the battle wounds inflicted on a generation in Vietnam. Add a lot of family drama and coming-of-age tales of love (and loss), and you've got Beach Music. Perfect for the approaching long, hot Georgia summer.

Praying for Sheetrock: A work of nonfiction, written by Melissa Fay Greene (1991) - Greene lives in Atlanta now (and has written a wide variety of other works), but she was living near the places and events this book recounts in the 1970s and 1980s, when McIntosh County -- on the Georgia coast -- was still lagging far behind the rest of the state in grappling with desegregation and racial prejudices and injustices. The events really happened, though it reads like fiction. An important piece of history for anyone who lives in the South, or feels they want to understand it a bit better (or maybe this will only add to your complicated image of it--rightly so).

 

A note: I own all these books. I am willing to lend them out.

 

Community. My community.

Atlanta

Tonight Alicia Philipp came to my nonprofits class to speak to us about her thirty-five years working as the President of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Community foundations are organizations where donors who want to donate large sums of money, but don't have $25 million required to start an individual foundation in their name, can place their money in order to help a community they are invested in, or care about immensely. She is currently working on a project to fund a for-profit co-op owned by workers living in an inner-city area who will grow hydroponic lettuce to sell to large institutions like Emory University; they needed to raise $1 million this year to start by January 2013. She spoke with six individuals and among those SIX people, raised $800,000 of it. She has been doing incredible things like this in Atlanta and the 26 counties that make up its Metro area since she became the Foundations' president at age 23. 

Someone asked her why she'd chosen to stay in Atlanta for thirty-five years, and working with the CFGA. Why had she never gone elsewhere?

Well, certainly the offers were there over the years, she said. And there were times she really felt like she needed a change. But she would get an offer and then, an extraordinary new project or opportunity would arise with the Foundation here in Atlanta, and she would know immediately she needed to be in Atlanta to make it happen, to help it succeed. She understood after these moments that it wasn't about working for a Community Foundation anywhere, it was about working for the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. It was about this place, these people, this city.

Her words were hitting my straight through the heart. I was near tears (burning throat, watery eyes) several times, as the meaning of what she was saying sunk in. Yes. Atlanta. I want to be here and be a part of this community. I am not ready to leave it behind.  I am invested here.

Is this what it feels like to be vested in a place? To care dearly about its citizens, to wish to see it grow, innovate, improve? To want to make it a better place? Not that I don't want everywhere to be improving, but I have this deeper feeling that I really want to be a part of Atlanta's improvements, history, community.

I remember going to interviews to receive scholarships in high school, and the adult panel members would ask these questions about what I was going to do in college, in life, in career, that would improve Dublin, Georgia, and did I plan on returning to the city after school. I was completely honest -- "nope!" -- and received no scholarships.

But now I see what they were trying to do, for their community. Invest in its future, help it thrive.

Here I am, after six years in Atlanta; I've recently made a commitment to a lease that will keep me here post-graduation, and I could not be more excited about staying here. Alicia's words felt like a giant prophecy, or a reaffirmation I suppose, a reminder that there is a reason I am excited to be here. It is OK, in fact exciting, to reach this point and understand that I care about one particular place.

After all, haven't I been learning about playing with the notion of "place" for over two years in graduate school? One of the themes that keeps reappearing in my own work in public history is that Place plays its own role in the past, present, and future; it is a character all its own, in the human narrative. A place holds special meaning for the people "from" there; and I feel "from" Atlanta. I really do. (And that's quite weird to say, to feel. Michigan-Georgia hybrid with 13 addresses under my belt in 24 years.)

Yes, I see. It is about place. I know the history here. I want to work here and be a part of the community that includes this amazing woman who has dedicated her life to this urban space. To this city I am part of, where I am staying.

I love Atlanta. I love that it's a refuge of blue in a red state (or at least a refuge of dark, dark purple). I love that it's known in the culinary world as a city of great burgers. I love that the NAMES Project Foundation and AIDS Memorial Quilt is here, relocated from San Francisco. I love that we have Emory University, where the Dali Lama is an honorary professor. I love that we have an urban National Park, where the park ranges wear their official park ranger outfits and green hats, but walk on the city streets where Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up. I love driving on I-285 to work in the morning and watching the Delta planes land right over my head on the runway/highway bridge. I love my scrappy public school, Georgia State. I love that they're building the National Center for Civil and Human Rights next to the World of Coca-Cola, which will be a forum (and living museum) on all things important in modern, international civil rights. I love my quilt and fabric shops. I love that I've found a converted factory space to live right in the center of this place that is distinct, in a city that has arguably cookie-cutter apartments. I love that we have one of the three permanent StoryCorps booths in the whole country--the others are in NYC and San Francisco. We have the Centers for Disease Control and the only CDC museum in the whole country.

Atlanta is my home, and it matters. How could I leave it now, just when I can begin to contribute the most to it? Alicia reminded me that's OK, and it is important, even, to care about a place in the world enough to stay long enough to make a difference. This is a recent realization for me, truly new. Atlanta is my community. There are things I want and need to do here. I'm not done yet--I've barely begun.

That's the way this wheel keeps working out.

On this lovely day, February 19, 2011, I was driving home from Barnes & Noble thinking of all the things that make my life so good, right now. There are many, including the amazing people I have surrounding me. But this list does not include people--they are the biggest given. I am not a big-crowd, many-friend person, but the people I do love mean a great deal to me. And these are all of the other things that came to mind as I sat in my car, and then attempted to recall later on in my apartment. And a few things I don't love.

Putting them down at this moment, so that when life turns again, I can see what was meaningful at this point.

Things I love:

  • the 850 square feet in this world that are my own
  • dancing in my living room because no one is around to make fun of me (except my cat)
  • citron yellow (even though I cannot wear that color)
  • more recently, anything in murky, even ballet-pink. Mauve, if you will.
  • the itty bitty iPod nano I reluctantly bought to replace the one I lost at the gym. It has a clip. It's touch screen. It has only music I actually want to hear right now.
  • the idea of cooking
  • sometimes, cooking
  • patchwork things. but not all patchwork things.
  • Denyse Schmidt's inspired, modern but not too modern quilt designs
  • tiny, vintage prints (on fabrics)
  • school. Really, truly honestly, I love it so much. I will love and hate when it ends.
  • reading books. avoiding reading books. buying books. writing in the margins of my books. underlining passages in my books. thinking that someday I will have a giant bookshelf. having lots of smaller bookshelves now.
  • the colors on my walls
  • organized spaces. clean spaces.
  • my long, white $15 couch
  • my car
  • starting a book
  • finishing a book. (have I already said books?)
  • being able to pay my bills, even if it means I can't pay for much else. Truly a blessing.
  • the thrill and fear of giving a talk at a history conference (next weekend)
  • the lyrics to John Mayer's song Wheel
  • Dunkin' Donuts coffee. The Best.
  • my black plastic glasses.
  • that my parents are downsizing, and heading abroad to mission work once they are empty nesters. Definitely better, for them, than sitting around waiting for holidays when your kids come home.
  • podcasts
  • Patrick Cox and all of the talented people who work with him on PRI's The World broadcast
  • Pimento cheese
  • Sweetpockets cupcakes
  • walking on Georgia State's campus, observing the many types of people who walk with me (and sometimes, getting fashion inspiration)
  • spring, encouraging warm weather
  • Twitter. I really love Twitter, and all of its wonderful, unfettered potential.
  • daydreaming of the projects I want to accomplish in my life. Some sooner, some later. Like the thing I want to sew tonight, and the book I want to write later. Et al.
  • the Public grocery store by my house. It has amazing urban-audience items, and very nice, late hours. They know the people they serve around these parts. Plus, Publix has the best employees, really.


Things I am not so crazy about:

  • the thrill and fear of giving a talk at a history conference
  • car maintenance
  • the fact that I need a car to get to all the places in my life
  • ugly, generic dining room light fixtures (which is why I changed mine)
  • the prospect that many of the funds for programs I care about (and that my career may depend on) are facing big cuts. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • not being able to wear sunglasses on days when I am wearing my black, plastic glasses
  • not having enough time to consistently exercise
  • pre-washing my fabric. I don't like lots of steps in between me and my projects. This is made worse by not having a washer and dryer. However, I am a firm believer in pre-washing. So I always do it.
  • the fact that I have never been to New York City. I really feel there's a part of me that belongs there.


"You can build a house of leaves, and live like it's an evergreen /

It's just a season thing / it's just this thing the seasons do /

And that's the way this wheel keeps working out /

... Can't love too much one part of it"

John Mayer