Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

by Everett

Like any good writer, I’ll start with a disclaimer. I watched this movie in the theater. I was tired and the audience certainly had a negative influence on my viewing experience. Perhaps on a different day, alone in a living room, I would think differently. Regardless, the review as it stands:

Inglorious Bastards is a signature Tarantino film: a postmodern cluster-fuck from a man-child educated chiefly through media, and currently snorting lots of coke. I’m not saying this is always a recipe for bad movies. For example, in the Kill Bill movies Tarantino mixes comic book violence and dialogue with anime and kung fu fighting; he removes all depth and general suspense from the plot, meanwhile moving the movies along with his intoxication for creating whatever he desires to see on film, his soundtracks at the forefront. What we get are two aesthetic films, the purpose of which is to feed our eyes candy. And it works, even when the screen is covered in blood.

Inglorious Bastards tries to use the same formula for box office success that made Kill Bill work, and while the Bastards are currently pulling in big bucks, I think Tarantino is guilty of using old tools on a new problem. The problem is compounded because audiences are too drunk on Tarantino’s aura, his cult-credit turned into blockbuster magic, to see he’s failed.

How he failed: Tarantino wanted to swoop down and save Hollywood by making a Holocaust movie where Jews weren’t the victims, but rather instruments of terror, bringing down justice on evil Nazis. It’s a fantasy movie about history, using old cowboy and Indian movies as a guide, only with the addition of Pulp Fiction like dialogue, violence, and that comic book flavor Quinton has come to be known for. Historical people are involved, and some historical events are touched on, but everything is subject to Tarantino’s fantastic rewriting. I’m not arguing that all movies need to be completely accurate when they portray historical events, but in this film Tarantino does a disservice to the events of the Holocaust. In one scene a bastard, the ‘Jew-bear,’ graphically beats a Nazi to death with a baseball bat while the other bastards clap and cheer. Then another bastard nonchalantly scalps the dead Germans while everyone banters and jokes. The scene is done in such a way that the audience is led to cheer and laugh along with the bastards, the distributors of hilarious, splendidly-violent, justice.

From Tarantino’s portrayal of Hitler as a spoiled child who isn’t getting his way, hosts of Nazis who are absolutely evil and nothing else, Jews who delight in torturing and killing Nazis without any suggestion at irony, and an audience that is successfully led to delight in what they see, proves only how much we Americans have in common with Nazi Germany: In the quest for a scapegoat to blame for terrible events we demonize people and acts without looking in the mirror, because we must see what we want to see.

Aside from Tarantino’s impertinent handling of a sensitive piece of history, Inglorious Bastards still manages some impressive acting by Christoph Waltz and a decent showing by Brad Pitt that was usually entertaining, though sometimes unbelievable. There are moments of witty dialogue that are sure to make you laugh or smile, even if you hate the rest of the film. And as always with Quentin’s movies, the music delivers and the cinematography is gripping.

Tarantino’s other sin—he got carried away; The film was too long. At least half an hour needed to be cut from the movie.

Final Chapter: The inglorious conclusion. Three cheers for the talented Tarantino, really. But Quentin, please leave history to other directors, and keep your desire to watch bloody vengeance unfold to movies that handle subjects without the burden of so much weight.

8 comments:

r. charles said...

Quote:

"In one scene a bastard, the ‘Jew-bear,’ graphically beats a Nazi to death with a baseball bat, and the other bastards clap and cheer, then another bastard nonchalantly scalps the dead Germans while everyone banters and jokes. The scene is done in such a way that the audience is led to cheer and laugh along with the bastards, the distributors of hilarious, splendidly-violent, justice.

"From Tarantino’s portrayal of Hitler as a spoiled child who isn’t getting his way, hosts of Nazis who are absolutely evil, Jews that delight in bringing the Nazi’s painful deaths without any suggestion at irony, and an audience that is successfully led to delight in what they see, proves only how much we have in common with Nazi Germany: In the quest for a scapegoat to blame for terrible events we demonize people and acts without looking in the mirror, because we must see what we want to see."

//

Fair enough, but from this last argument I can't tell whether you're lamenting the fact that the Basterds aren’t portrayed appropriately, or equally evil to the Nazi’s, or if you’re lamenting that the audience’s inability to realize this proves how similar we are to Nazi Germany. That in itself is ironic. I don’t think it was Tarantino’s point, but I’d have a hard time believing he wasn’t aware of it. When has he ever drawn a clear line between good and evil? That line can exist on the screen as well as between the screen and the audience. Were you judging the movie based on your reactions to it or on your assumptions of the simpletons you were forced to watch it with (also an irony)? Did you actually find the ‘bear-Jew,’ or any of the Basterds, really, to be portrayed as balanced, likable people? Sure they were funny or clever sometimes, but so was the ‘Jew-hunter.’ The cause of the Basterds vengeance is just more sympathetic; that doesn’t make it justified.

Maybe the audience was overly ready to delight in what they saw, or maybe you were expecting them to be; and yes, people are overly enamored with Tarantino's "aura." But those scenes still made me cringe and look away. There are historical accounts of Jews being released from camps and doing horrendous things to their former keepers. I’m not arguing that this gives the film historical credibility, but human credibility. The vengeance is understandable and despicable at the same time, but it's always shrouded in bombast. In a typical war movie, I might take that as glorification, and I guess I can understand the argument that it's the same here, but it’s made clear from the start that this is not a typical war movie, and I’m more inclined to think that the bombast is the irony--a smirk at (or neglect of?) an audience that is capable of watching a head beat in without thinking there's something wrong with the guy swinging the bat; and likewise a smirk at an audience that thinks it is above delighting in or seeking vengeance, an audience that is quick to criticize what it deems as inequality on the screen, while righteously rejecting their similarity with their fellow audience. Is Tarantino taking advantage of an audience that swallows its food without tasting it? Perhaps; or maybe a certain percentage of the blockbuster audience isn't going to taste the food no matter what it is.

(continued)

r. charles said...

(continued)

Maybe that's part of Tarantino's dilemma as a developing director, making cult-style movies for audiences that don't care about what the violence may or may not “mean” about themselves or the person next to them, that have no frame of reference for classic cinema, and that could care less what you or I have to say about it. But since that is now his audience, his films are critiqued in that light. That's his cross to bear, and perhaps he's not bearing it excellently. But if we all saw this movie in an art-house theater with twenty other people, would we be so concerned?

I went into the movie skeptical, expecting to be tired of Tarantino’s shtick, expecting it to be too long (it was), expecting excessive violence (I've seen much, much worse), but I came out refreshed at having seen a good story told in masterful cinematic fashion, seeing characters that I found to be equally filled with hatred, equally unquestioning of their own right-ness, all with distorted but active concepts of honor, and all fascinating. The presence of history simply gave us notions of who was more "justified" in these things. That doesn't make any of them right. The extreme variation between serious disgust and careless nonchalance with which the audience views it may only exemplify the reality of what is happening on the screen.

All that being said I don't expect you to change your mind, or feel that you should. It is sensitive history, as you put it, and such a toying with it is bound to have opposing reactions mixed with shared appreciations. And it should.

r. charles said...

I noticed that you made some revisions since I wrote most of this. Apologies for any instances in which I mistake or misinterpret your words.

--------- said...

r. charles, thanks for the well thought out response. In the end, I think you're simply more generous of a viewer, and that's probably great for you and certainly better for the movie. I like your interpretation you give at the ending, but I simply don't think it's what Tarantino was after.

I also think believing that Tarantino was banking on the audience's response in order to make a meta-point with extra irony is like assuming Pollock was also capable of fantastic realism because he was so well known for drunkenly thrashing 'canvases' with paint. And I like Pollock. But I wouldn't ask him to paint me a portrait.

I mean, Tarantino=Pollock... spell the rest out.

Now I have to admit that what solidified my thinking on the movie was catching an interview with Tarantino on the radio. He said he doesn't think about the meaning of movies or the meaning of scenes until after the movie is finished. So maybe if you suggested your interpretation to him now, he would accept it. But he also said he was simply lamenting the lack of movies that made Jews look like badasses. Jews always seem so pathetic in most movies. That was his motivation for making the movie.

r. charles said...

You may be right about it coming down to more generous viewing, although that too has many different shades.

I tend to avoid interviews with Tarantino because, like most people, I find him annoying. But, while I don't doubt for a second that that was his motivation for the movie, I do doubt that he didn't think further than that before and while making it; saying something like that simply allows him to avoid having to make himself vulnerable to the topic. I would agree that Tarantino wasn't banking on audience response to make any point, but I do think it's there, and I think that's fascinating whether he intended it or not. Anyway, thanks for the thoughts, and I'm glad we can respectfully agree to disagree.

agust symeon said...

Both of you seem to have neglected to answer the most important question: Does it kick ass? I respectfully await your response.

r. charles said...

The first words out of my mouth upon leaving the theater may very well have been "that kicked ass."

Or:
"That was fucking awesome."

I'm guessing that Everett's response contained an equal or greater amount of cursing, only arranged with other words.

Anonymous said...

when i got out my feeling was

(no offense ross) "this movie is for cunts."

p.s. i think this was brad pitt's worse performance since seven

p.p.s. ross, as far as cunts go, i really respect your opinion