If you’ve seen the latest Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight, you’ll remember the scene (and there are obviously spoilers here) where Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s character Daisy Domergue asks to play a guitar. While she plays “Jim Jones at Botany Bay,” John Ruth (Kurt Russell) grabs the guitar from her and smashes it. It’s totally in character for him and it works in the scene, but it wasn’t supposed to happen quite the way it did. You see, this was a priceless Martin guitar from the 1870s.
During an SSN Insider screening of the film and panel following, Academy award-winning sound mixer, Mark Ulano explained, “The guitar was a loner from the Martin Guitar Museum and there were six doubles made. The guitar was from the 1870’s [sic] and was priceless. What was supposed to happen was we were supposed to go up to that point, cut, and trade guitars and smash the double. Well, somehow that didn’t get communicated to Kurt, so when you see that happen on the frame, Jennifer’s reaction is genuine.”
He continued, “Kurt shattered the antique guitar and everyone was pretty freaked out. Tarantino was in a corner of the room with a funny curl on his lips, because he got something out of it with the performance.” Um, oops? The thing is, when actors are in the moment, things like this happen, especially when you don’t know you’re working with something that costs more than your existence.
When the Martin Guitar Museum found out about it, they responded to the production with the questions, ‘Do you need another one and can we please have all the pieces to display in our museum?’ according to Ulano. That wasn’t all they had to say, however. In an article on Reverb, Dick Boak, director of the museum, archives and special projects for C.F. Martin & Co. explained, “We were informed that it was an accident on set. We assumed that a scaffolding or something fell on it. We understand that things happen, but at the same time we can’t take this lightly. All this about the guitar being smashed being written into the script and that somebody just didn’t tell the actor, this is all new information to us. We didn’t know anything about the script or Kurt Russell not being told that it was a priceless, irreplaceable artifact from the Martin Museum.”
The guitar was sadly only insured for its purchase price, not its actual value. The museum isn’t going to hand these things out for films anymore. “As a result of the incident, the company will no longer loan guitars to movies under any circumstances,” Boak said. They examined the pieces, but the guitar isn’t fixable, according to the article. “We want to make sure that people know that the incident was very distressing to us,” Boak said. “We can’t believe that it happened. I don’t think anything can really remedy this. We’ve been remunerated for the insurance value, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the preservation of American musical history and heritage.”
As a musician, it hurts to read about this, but if you think about it, having a priceless guitar smashed accidentally on the set of a Tarantino film about the Wild West is now part of American musical history as well.