Friday, August 28, 2009

TALKING INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS: THE FINAL CHAPTER? ARR-EEE-VA-DERCHY, GORLOMI!


UPDATED 8/29 12:20 p.m.


Unused poster art for Inglourious Basterds courtesy of The Screening Log.)

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These are it, the concluding chapters of my back-and-forth discussion with Bill R. (and lots of illustrious guest stars) about the movie of the year so far, Inglourious Basterds. You can access the previous chapters-- part three, part two and part one by clicking the links. And for further discussion, please check out the comemnts columns at Bill's site, The Kind of Face You Hate both here and here.

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Well, Bill, yesterday certainly was an eventful day on the Inglourious Basterds front lines, was it not? It is near 1:00 a.m. PST as I start on this e-mail, and I hope I’m up to delivering something worthy to end on through the gathering crust threatening to seal shut my peepers. The level and intensity of the discussion about the movie have taken on a scale and dimensions that I would never imagined when I first proposed our little experiment in bicoastal criticism. Just getting a handle on the vastness of damned good or otherwise provocative writing and commentary about the movie, whether it be pro or con, has been exhilarating, and I most certainly include the estimable Jonathan Rosenbaum’s comments in that grouping. I just wish he’d gone a little further in his initial comments, which were abrupt and reasonably gathered a bit of a storm of confusion about exactly what he meant by Tarantino’s film being morally akin to Holocaust denial” and “existing at the expense of Holocaust survivors.” It isn’t good form, or good criticism, to drop bombshells like that and leave them lay, so I was glad that Rosenbaum, initially through Tony Dayoub’s site Cinema Viewfinder, chose to come a little more out in the open and challenge what struck him as the deficiencies of some of the commentary. (One of my observations was held up as a specific example of reasoning beyond his understanding, a politic way of saying that it didn’t make no sense to him.) But then Mr. Rosenbaum decided to rehash his elaboration of his comments on your site, and that’s where things got really interesting.

I won’t extensively quote Rosenbaum’s two or three posts, nor my two responses, or Greg’s two responses. I’ll leave it to those who choose to follow the link to your post to decide whether Rosenbaum’s model for what constitutes the acceptable representation of historical reality holds water, or whether Greg and I are deluded, misguided, full of shit or all of the above for suggesting that it is not Tarantino’s job to provide detailed historical verification of the Holocaust as background for his film, but that he is right to assume his audience is intelligent enough to take that element seriously off the top, and that what QT is doing is spinning his dramatic license from an acknowledgment of Holocaust reality in order to deal with the people who perpetrated those horrors. This is where our discussions with Mr. Rosenbaum have landed us at this late hour. And I must say, I give Rosenbaum credit for stepping even further into the fray and engaging with us about this subject. I fully understand that a critic with a profile as relatively high as his has probably had enough of the kind of avalanche of negative response in dealing with some of his decidedly non-mainstream opinions and would be hesitant to open his writing back up to the random nonsense that constitutes “commentary” on a lot of these well-read sites. (I can imagine a flurry of observations along the lines of, “Hey, you are stupid if you don’t like QT or his movie. What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you see it was number one at the box office?” would tend to make one want to lock up the comments column and throw away the virtual key.) So it is indicative, at least to some degree, that he recognized that the level of discourse here went a bit beyond the usual nonsense, even if our reasoning wasn’t rigorous enough to convince him of our impeccable intellectual standing. At any rate, it ended up an unexpected, thoroughly enjoyable, if exhausting development that has me buzzing still, and has made me happier than ever that we decided to handle examination of the movie in the way that we have.


To address a couple of points that you bring up— No, I don’t think we are meant to feel sympathy for Landa. He has made a show of his intelligence, his cagey, teasing instincts as a detective—someone commented somewhere that he was like Columbo in SS drag (“Und by ze way, one more thing, Mssr. LaPadite…”)—and his utter ruthlessness when the time comes. The fleeting sympathy I may have felt for a group of people getting barbecued in a burning theater did not extend to the individuals of actual history there represented—I’m only 1/5 serious when I say that I’m slightly disappointed that Hitler’s head, upon being shredded by machine gun fire, didn’t belch forth a mass of heretofore hidden tumors oozing out of every new orifice, like Barry Convex after being shot by Max Renn in Videodrome. I don’t think it’s requisite that you have an actor of the caliber of Bruno Ganz, Alec Guinness or even Anthony Hopkins to breathe life into Hitler, or any of the Nazi Top Ten as it were, in order to deal with them in this context, and it’s more effective if the level of their conception is done up in such broad strokes as they are here if you don’t have such capable, recognizable faces in the roles. Better that so they don’t get in the way of seeing Hitler and company reduced to their most atavistic and decadent, the easier to be reminded that these beasts have already given up their humanity. And certainly no sympathy was extended by me to this cretin Landa, however slick and continental and entertaining he may have been. It was very satisfying to this viewer, in the way that neatly conceived and clever twists in entertainment can be (and so often aren’t) to imagine Landa getting every little perk he requested out of his deal with Raine, and yet having to life this life of privilege and luxury with that symbol carved on his noggin. Perhaps a plastic surgeon might help him out one day, but there would be all that time in between.

And if I might, I’d like to quote you whole hog on Zoller. This assessment of the character, and his character, insofar as he reflects the German experience as a correlative to the American war hero-turned-movie star Audie Murphy is, I think, my favorite passage in all of your writing on the film so far, Bill. I love how you capture the perfect agony of Shoshanna getting the upper hand after Zoller’s first breaks in, and then is lured further into that projection booth, only to have everything go to hell in a moment of sympathy for one of the devils:

“After she shoots him, she gazes out at the movie screen, onto which his life story, Nation's Pride, is being projected. Her face softens, because he's just told her he didn't like watching the film, and also probably because she gets a sense of what he went through in combat. So she softens, sees that Zoller is still alive, and approaches him. What does her pity get her? A death right out of Argento, at Zoller's hands. Furthermore, let's not forget how he violently bulldozed his way into the projection booth, looking for sex. His insistence on this made his claims about finding Nation's Pride uncomfortable to sit through seem a little disingenuous. And look, very few soldiers have ever come home from war, relishing the memories of the men they've had to kill. American GIs returning from WWII were just as tortured by what they'd done as Zoller claimed to be, but does that mean that the Americans thought that what they'd done hadn't been necessary? So why should Zoller have been any different? Let's not forget that however much he may have failed to enjoy watching his exploits on screen, he'd still happily hitched his star to Joseph Fucking Goebbels, and no one can tell me that anyone who had Goebbels’s ear didn't know what the Nazis were all about. So fuck Zoller, is what I'm trying to say.”

I get a strong sense of what the moment was for me in reading your words (though her demise reminded me more of the way De Palma might have shot it—I would imagine less representative bloodshed, with all that red glitter flying through the air, and more chunks of flesh being torn away had Argento been behind the camera, or at least a pond of blood instead of a mere pool). But your anger over Zoller’s movie star arrogance in the context of his Nazi privilege is palpable and tactile enough to practically handle here. Nice examination of this crucial aspect of the movie, Bill.


Which leads me to Jeffrey Wells. I won’t spend much time on this guy, because I frankly find him embarrassing-- I cannot take seriously anything written by a man who trolls film directors for naked pictures of the actresses in their films, and then pretends it was all a joke when the sleazy business comes to light. And yet here I am, offering my amazement over his conclusion regarding Sgt. Rachtman's rectitude before Aldo and his men under that bridge, when faced with a certain skull-crushing experience. I’m not sure how Wells’ logic is supposed to effectively condemn Tarantino conception of the reductiveness of Jewish revenge simply by recognition of the expression in Rachtman’s eyes, “clearly that of a man of intelligence and perception… his eyes in particular… have a settled quality that indicates a certain regular-Joe decency.” Well, I certainly read more arrogance and condescension into those limpid blue pools than did our Mr. Wells, whose ideas of manly physical beauty as expressed in his blog of late wouldn’t seem out of place in an Aryan Renaissance Festival, so I’m not exactly sure what to make of that. I can only conclude that the idea of this Nazi’s calm demeanor taken as evidence not of his sinister nature and assurance, but instead as a mirror with which to reflect the irredeemable barbarism of these Jewish avengers, a nature most often prescribed to Nazi devils, is simple nonsense. “Regular-joe decency”? Jesus H. Palomino! I defer to reader Robert Fiore, who made an observation in the comments here about one of Tarantino’s themes here that puts Wells’ assertion to shame. Robert says: “The really fascinating theme (the director) has going for him in Basterds, and what will stick with us from the movie, is the delusion the German characters have that they can be part of the Nazi enterprise and still be decent people in some aspect of themselves.” Toosh! If Rachtman assumes this to be true, and I suspect that his notions of military honor, separated as they are from the cruel facts of his army’s mission and methodology, tip his hand here, then he is truly damned. Genocidal rationalization and murderous impulses usually don’t mix well with moral certainty and delusions of “regular joe decency.” I also adore Robert’s comment which came directly before his incisive observation about those Nazi delusions of decency: “What has become more apparent over the years is that while Tarantino inhabits all of cinema, high cinema is where he visits and low cinema is where he lives. It's the artistic potential of low cinema that engages him.” To leave Wells in the ditch with his beloved Rachtman from here on out, I wonder if Fiore’s notion of what Tarantino is up to in a general sense would make any sense to Jonathan Rosenbaum.

As for the performances, I realize, upon reflecting on this movie in such detail, how typically wonderful is the acting in any given Tarantino picture, and we’ve talked to some degree about why that is—that there must be an unusual level of comfort and confidence that he transmits to his cast, a knowledge that he absolutely loves them as artists and craftsmen, and he loves reveling in what they do and how it emerges on screen. But for all the history of fine casts and individual performances in his oeuvre (if I may be allowed to use such a squidgy-sounding word at this point), would it be crazy to think that he’s reached some sort of apex in the showcasing of his actors in this new movie? I don’t think so. So much has already been written about Christoph Waltz’s effortless brilliance as Landa, and I’m not sure I have a lot to add that wouldn’t seem obvious or redundant. His is one of the great movie Nazis insofar as he is so articulate and boastful, and affable, about his abilities as a detective (not anything really so crass and distasteful as a Jew hunter), and how revealing he is about the knowledge of human behavior that coexists with his willingness to snuff it out that informs his suitability, his excellence at his duty. Yet as I said before, it is this assurance and how it is inverted and turned upon him that provides the ultimate chill when one finally contemplates the postwar life he has, if you’ll excuse me, carved out for himself.


Melanie Laurent is so physically beautiful and right for the part that it took a second viewing for me to fully understand just how good she was. That café scene alone, with Goebbels, his “interpreter” (how do you translate, “Take me from behind, Joey! Now!”), Zoller, the unctuous SS officer who later turns up in the bar, and then finally Landa, with his goddamned strudel and cream, is a long, brilliant exercise in charting the landscape of a woman holding her breath. Every twitch Laurent delivers arrives like an earthquake, and they all have significance. She is marvelous here. My other favorite Laurent moment is the disdain with which she sizes up Zoller after she invites him, to his surprise, to come in to the booth and he asks, “What for?” For the look on her face in that brief two or three seconds alone, she will always have a place in my heart and my esteem.

(I’d also like to take a moment to point out that I was fooled by Tarantino favorite Julie Dreyfus, who played Goebbels’s stunning associate, Francesca Mondino. For the entire time she was on screen I was convinced she was Italian giallo star Edwige Fenech, even though I knew in my head that Fenech is around 60 years old at this point--and still lovely, by the way. It wasn’t until later that I realized Mondino was played by the actress who portrayed the one-armed Sofie Fatale in Kill Bill. True to form, though, Tarantino’s tribute to Fenech was yet to be revealed…)


I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Rod Taylor on screen as Churchill, though I have to believe we’ll see more of him in the inevitable nine-hour cut Tarantino has waiting for Blu-ray and DVD. Michael Fassbender was perfectly cast in the Graham Greene-ish role of Archie Hicox. Talk about wish fulfillment—a dashing, articulate hero type who wouldn’t look out of place in “a production of the Archers,” and he’s a film critic to boot! (Come on, Jonathan, at least admit you smiled when this man came on screen and started talking about his book on G.W. Pabst.) And then there’s Mike Meyers, fulfilling a lifelong wish of his own to be in movie where he could be the Richard Attenborough-ish general pointing to the map and telling the main characters how Jerry plans to move across the continent. The guy is terrific, although I kept waiting for that Austin Powers grin to come popping out at some point. (It did, didn’t it, and I just missed it somehow.) And what is Myers’ name in the movie? General Ed Fenech! See, Tarantino tantalizes us with a fantasy version of this beautiful woman, tweaks our (my) memory of her, reveals the fool, and then gives us Edwige Fenech is the guise of this little military troll! Brilliant! Superb! A tour-de-force!


As for the Basterds themselves, I gotta believe there’s more footage of Samm Levine to be revealed in that nine-hour cut. B.J. Novak was terrific in his scene across the table with Landa near the end. And of course Til Schweiger and Gedeon Burkhard as Hugo Stiglitz and Wilhelm Wicki, were marvelous and had much more opportunity to show it in the infamous bar scene. I will say that I was open to disliking Eli Roth based solely on his unctuous, opportunistic persona defending the Hostel movies during appearances on Larry King Live. But I thought he did a good job swinging that bat, and the totally believable psychotic gleam in his eyes made up for any physical discrepancies that might have come to mind between his imposing physicality (or lack thereof) and that nickname, “the Bear Jew.” Finally, I don’t think I can emphasize enough how much I have come to enjoy seeing Brad Pitt in these kinds of character roles. One of the first times I ever noted how good the guy could be was in the relatively tiny role he took as the stoner chorus in True Romance. And as you aptly pointed out, Bill, his work in Burn After Reading was, in that movie, peerless—he should have snagged the Oscar nomination for that performance rather than the one he did get nominated for, the recessive blank slate at the center of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Even his brilliant turn as Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a character role writ large and off-center—the central role of that movie belonged to Casey Affleck as Pitt’s titular counterpart. The point is, Pitt, like Alec Baldwin, is a far more interesting presence as a character actor than as a leading man, and the more roles he takes like Aldo Raine—if he’s ever lucky enough to get another role this juicy—will be the signal that the man knows where his talents really lie. He’s spot on terrific here, exaggerated accent and all. Gorlomi!

As for what didn’t work, not much, truthfully. Being Italian, I even liked the exaggerated accents, and especially Roth and Doom’s robotic gestures of sophistication as they try to wriggle past Landa in the lobby of the theater. Not high comedy, but still funny! I thrilled to the pastiche of music cues (I bought the soundtrack a couple of nights ago, and it shall travel with my on my little weekend getaway which begins as soon as I post this e-mail), and as suspicious as I was about the Bowie song, as soon as I saw how well it integrated with the movie’s visual scheme (undulating, insistent rhythms, Bowie’s somewhat sinister vocals, lyrically relevant imagery) I became completely unconcerned with notions of it being an anachronism—you could make the same claim about a lot of movie music in general, particularly the stuff from Morricone that QT has stitched together here.

And like Zorro swooping in at the last minute, Jim Emerson just posted a comment about an element of the film that I agree I would have changed, an anachronism the movie could have done without—and that’s Samuel L. Jackson’s narration about the film nitrate. Not the text, but Jackson’s participation. It doesn’t add anything to the richness of the concept of cinema as a weapon, or how QT has created this grand tapestry of violence as a tribute to the power of this great art form. It just feels like Sam dropped by the studio one day and QT got this idea in his head that he had to figure out a way to fit him in. (It is funny, as a side note, to mention that Glenn Kenny rightfully took Armond White somewhat to task for not recognizing Jackson’s voice and casually assuming that it was Jacky Ido, who plays Shoshanna’s projectionist lover, who provided the basso profundo voiceover. Make of that blunder what you will, Dear Reader.) But really, I think Tarantino could have found someone else, someone whose presence doesn’t so easily throw you out of the movie at that point and down the director’s navel, who could have done the job just as proficiently and, depending on whom he chose, may have even added subtext rather than subtracted it. Thanks, Jim, for saving me from my own difficult question!

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Okay, the hour draws near and I gotta go. But before I do, I would be completely remiss if I did not thank you, Bill, for indulging this e-mail exchange idea and fulfilling the possibilities of it as you have. Your thinking about the movie kept me humming, even if we don’t exactly see eye to eye on some of the specifics. The appreciation and the enthusiasm you brought here, and to your own table at The Kind of Face You Hate, is precisely what I always hope will come from respectful and intelligent interaction in the blogosphere. That it doesn’t happen as often as it should is something with which I will not concern myself now. I am just happy to have had this experience alongside you, and Don, and Jim, and Greg, and Tony, and the Caustic Ignostic, and anyone else I may be forgetting who joined in our little round table here—and especially Jonathan Rosenbaum, who gave us all a jolt and made us step up our game in the late hours. This has been extremely rewarding and challenging, and as Jim said in the comments column, may we always have a movie to experience that gives us so much joy in the hours and days and weeks after we’ve seen it, so much to chew on, digest, and even reject. It is this opportunity that reveals the true dimensions of a movie and what it can offer, and it is in this process of discovery that we become better at seeing and understanding as opposed to just reacting. Thanks again sincerely, Bill, and thanks to Quentin Tarantino for making a movie with which none of us resent spending so much time.

You can keep up with interesting developments along the front lines of response to Inglourious Basterds by following the David Hudson-esque alerts to the new and interesting posted by Inglourious Fan.

And I just couldn’t resist giving the last word to David Letterman, who has, predictably, had a lot of fun with this movie which has so improbably risen to the height to the general public’s consciousness this past week. Enjoy! And arr-eee-va-derchy!



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UPDATED 8/29 12:29 p.m.
So here it is, Bill's final installment, which marks an end to our week-long converstion here and at The Kind of Face You Hate. Which is most defiitely not to say that the conversation will end here. It will continue in our comments columns, to be sure, as well as anywhere that the exchange of ideas is welcomed and not subject to pissing and moaning over the simple fact that no everybody sees things exactly the same way. I will be ready to resume the gab in my comments section and at Bill's as soon as I post this. So here we go. This is Bingo!

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Yeah, yesterday took me pretty well by surprise, and highlights the great danger of this infernal piece of wizardry we call the "internet". Perhaps you remember the old days when a group of people could get together and talk about another person, one who was not presently with the group -- one who was, in fact, elsewhere -- and that group could say things like "Say, that thing that person said: what was the deal with that?" or "That thing the other person said sure was confusing. I was he or she had been clearer!" Such things would be said specifically because that other person was nowhere around, and retribution would not be forthcoming. But sister, you try pulling that noise on the internet and see where it gets you. That other person will pop in out of the blue and attempt to explain what they meant, and we found that out the hard way.


The truth about Rosenbaum's entrance into the conversation is that I was so tired by that point, not to mention taken aback, that I was damn happy that you and Greg -- and later Kevin Olson, Ryan Kelly, and the bewitching Tom Carson -- were there to hold up what amounted to my end of the argument. And you did a great job, I must say. While I genuinely appreciate the fact that Rosenbaum dropped in to clarify his point, and to make himself available to further discussion, I truly don't believe any of his clarifications took hold. He continued to hammer on Inglourious Basterds as a disrespectful, to put it mildly, Holocaust film, but Kevin pointed out that the proper genre designation for Basterds is "War Film". As a matter of fact, it's closest to a World War II espionage film than it is to anything else, so how, exactly, did it get lumped into the same category as Schindler's List, The Pianist, Life is Beautiful, and other such films? I don't know, and my inclination is let that line of conversation just lie fallow. Still, as you say, it does underline the fact that the conversation that has been taking place in the comments section of our blogs, and Greg's blog, and Fox's blog, and Glenn Kenny's blog, and many others, because, at those sites, even the people who dislike Tarantino's film are unwilling to dismiss it outright. It's that reaction that really frustrates the hell out of me. I'm left speechless in the face of it. At his blog, Greg said: "I just wish, deep in my heart and sincerely, that they could have seen the movie I saw." That's more or less how I feel, because to me, anyone who disliked this film is really missing out on something extraordinary. At the very least, they're missing out at an incredibly good time at the movie theater, but I believe they're plain and simply missing out on a genuine work of cinematic art, a remarkable achievement. This probably sounds incredibly snobby: You don't get it, and I feel sad for you. :-( But I don't think that's what I'm saying. I respect the differences of opinion, and I've been on the other side of this phenomenon often enough. I hear what they're saying. I just don't understand a word of it.


And I never meant to suggest that you, or anyone (although some do, it would seem) would feel pity for Landa, and I love your description of his future. It's not as though I wouldn't have like to see the Bear Jew (God, I love that name!) go uptop his skull with a nice piece of lumber, but the beauty of the ending we got, apart from the wonderful Ennio Morricone music cue, is that it put me in mind of the original J. Lee Thompson Cape Fear, when Gregory Peck tells Robert Mitchum he's not going to kill him, because Mitchum doesn't fear death. He fears prison, so that's going to be his punishment. Which is not to say that Landa doesn't fear death -- I got the impression that he sort of did -- but rather that he has no idea the hell that he's set himself up for himself by wrangling a free trip to America. I must say, I do like that. And another thing I loved about that scene was when Raine shoots Wilhelm, and Landa says, "You killed Wilhelm! I made a deal to save that man's life! They'll shoot you!" Raine replies, "Nah, I won't get shot. I'll get chewed out -- I been chewed out before." It's a strangely hilarious way of showing the difference between punishments faced by those who disobey the Reich, and those who disobey the American military. Tarantino is subtly pointing out that the Nazi mindset was so depraved that it couldn't even fathom the concept of reasonable response.


Regarding Jeffrey Wells, let me make myself perfectly clear: I find his response to the bridge scene to be nothing less than morally repellent. Presumably, he's not actually so bone stupid as to not actually know the extent of the Nazis' demonic cruelty and barbarism. But how easy it seems to be for him to shrug that knowledge right off his shoulders, and imagine that this Nazi officer might harbor some genuine decency in his heart. Regular Joe decency, at that (the best kind)! I get genuinely angry when I think of Wells's post, but I really shouldn't use the last post of this wonderful discussion as an excuse to empty my spleen all over the guy. Let me just say two more things on this subject. One is that, charmingly, Wells titled the post in question "Jew Dogs." Second is that I must admit that I do harbor a fantasy that Wells will get wind of this conversation and find out what we've said here about him and his post. Then he'll get so angry that he'll write a whole post about us, in which he labels us go-alongers and leave-us-aloners, points out that our writing doesn't even reach the level of mezzo-mezzo, and assures his readers that we are most definitely not outlaw biker poets who favor wearing emotionally vivid cowboy hats. As of this writing, that hasn't happened yet, but my fingers remain ever crossed.


But back to the film. Reading your detailed analysis of the film's performances makes me regret my rather slapdash take on the subject, especially since I join you in your love of Michael Fassbender as Hicox. As I mentioned in the comments section of your blog, a post or two back, I recently learned that Simon Pegg was originally supposed to play the role, but had to bow out because of scheduling conflicts. I think Pegg would have been terrific, but Fassbender is outstanding, and one of the reasons I loved him so much is because he had the air of an actor in a 1940s war-time espionage film. And you're right, Dennis, he could have come right out of Powell/Pressburger. Maybe if Roger Livesey had gotten sick, Fassbender could have stepped in. Now, I don't want to go nuts, but I could honestly see it. "Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the King's." I mean, come on! Explain to me what's not to love about that. I'm listening.

In the comment sections of various other blogs, I've also expressed my happiness that B. J. Novak was given something to do at the end of the film, and I agree, he was very good, in the same way that Eli Roth was good: he wasn't asked to do much, but he completely sold what he had to sell. And yeah, it's a shame that Samm Levine apparently got scissored out of the film, which I have to say reminds me of something about the film that I can't actually call a problem, but, well, I would have loved to have gotten to know the rest of the Basterds, maybe have Tarantino give them each a moment. One of the great pleasures of this kind of ensemble film is seeing the different characters get paired off over the course of the film, and seeing how the two dynamics play off each other. We got a bit of this, with the most interesting, for me, coming from the duos of Eli Roth and Omar Doom (!), and Brad Pitt and B. J. Novak. I'm sure the absence of some of the others was a function of editing, but it still struck me as slightly curious -- and in some hard to define way, realistic -- that the Doom and Novak characters should suddenly, in the last half hour, have something to do, while three of the Basterds are pretty much out of it completely.


Robert Fiore's point about Tarantino being interested in the artistic potential of "low cinema" is exactly right. I couldn't have said it better myself, and it sort of reminds me of something I read a Glenn Kenny's site. After his review, Glenn went back to see the film a second time, and later he broke the film down, scene by scene, and came to the alarming realization that Inglourious Basterds consists of a mere sixteen scenes. Is it just me, or that fairly amazing? A commenter -- maybe on Glenn's site, maybe elsewhere, I'm afraid I can't remember -- pointed out that Blow Up, at 110 minutes, has over twenty scenes, but Inglourious Basterds, an out-sized World War II revenge film has just sixteen. And, as you know, it still moves like a freight train. This is evidence of real formal and creative ambition on Tarantino's part.

Lately, I've heard some people claim that his approach to genre material is arrogantly ironic, but that's not the case at all. That's not to say that he doesn't include irony in his films, but that he absolutely loves the genres he works in, and he knows how good they can be. For him, it's not a matter of any film "transcending its genre", a bit of critical snobbery that I'm sure he can't stand any more than I can. It's just about making the best goddamn World War II revenge film he knows how to make, and God bless him for it. He's given me the best time I expect to have all year at the movies, and the best week of blogging I've had in a very long time.

Let me double the thanks to all the people Dennis thanked, as well as all the people I've already thanked, which would appear to make things uneven, but you guys will work it out, and especially, Dennis, I want to thank you for honoring me by asking that I take part in this project with you. You set an incredibly high standard every day, not just in film writing, but in pure class. So thank you all again. And, man, I can't wait for the DVD.

Say good night, Winston.



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22 comments:

Tony Dayoub said...

Well, I'm all talked out on this subject, but I wanted to thank you and Bill for a fantastic conversation on IB.

This post is a great way for you to wrap it up, and I might come back here in a few days if I can think of anything else to add.

bill r. said...

My response IS coming, by the way. I just have to, you know, write it, and stuff.

Craig said...

I just returned from seeing IB again. As Ebert indicated --and as Tarantino's films often do -- on the second viewing the movie settled, its strengths magnifying and its weaknesses diminishing. It was a large crowd in North Canton, OH, and the audience was attentive and responsive, though with none of the bloodthirstiness that Ryan Kelly noted from his experience.

I have nothing to say about Rosenbaum, whom I respect but whose opinion in this instance is, I think, myopic. I'm more interested in the scene mentioned by Wells (while not the least bit interested in Wells himself). Rachtman doesn't seem to be what I would call "decent"; but there is a certain dignity, or at least pride in his character. Like the other Nazis, he's definitely not a cartoon. It made me think of Kael's complaint about "A Clockwork Orange," that the victims of Alex's gang were made to look ridiculous and despicable. It made me wonder what she would think of Tarantino's tack (or what either of you think of it, though you've sort of touched on it already), which is to acknowledge the Germans' humanity. It's often not a pretty picture, but it's there -- in Rachtman and especially Wilhelm, whose final scene plays out as sort of the tragic flip-side to the scene in Vol. 2 when Beatrix Kiddo learns she's pregnant and uses that information to talk down an assassin. That Wilhelm is a new father doesn't get his life spared the way Beatrix's pending motherhood spared her. (He's betrayed, ironically, by von Hammersmark.) That's why being marked by a swastika -- a grisly form of branding -- carries such power, and why the earlier critique by Goldberg seems a little obtuse on this point. (A Star of David, as you pointed out, would make no sense, and would likely even help post-war Nazis earn undue sympathy and escape culpability.)

On a more marginal point, I rather enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson's narration, which actually occurs first not during the nitrate film montag, but in the Hugo Stiglitz flashback. I thought his voice made a perfect pairing with the anachronistic 1970s-ish letters flashing onscreen. (I'm guessing they had SLJ do the nitrate sequence for continuity's sake.) Additionally, after two viewings, I don't see much ambivalence on Eli Roth's face during the climax; he looks pretty orgiastic to me. I do think Roth's performance is unappreciated, though; in the last third of the movie, his facial expressions take on the appearance of a silent movie clown (a homicidal clown).

Let me add my kudos: Splendid job, guys.

Samuel Wilson said...

Still enjoying these posts, so let me say something about Frederick Zoller. Tarantino does something brilliant with this guy: he's built up as this super killer, and we're shown scenes from his movie showing him relentlessly killing people, but practically the biggest surprise and shock in the film comes when he actually kills somebody.

le0pard13 said...

Dennis, this has been one glourious series, and I've enjoyed it immensely. You and Bill are to be commended. And if there really will be a 9-hour version to be released on disc (seeing that I'm still waiting impatiently for Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair to arrive), I will put real $ down to get it.

In regard to Sam's participation in the film via his voiceover, I enjoyed it (along the lines of having another in the QT company of players show his face, without really showing it) as I did with Harvey Keitel's very brief work (he as the OSS general that Landa negotiates with over the radio and who gives the Lt. his orders for bringing Landa in). These were nice and generous touches by the director.

Much thanks.

Ryan Kelly said...

A brilliant series of conversations, I hope to see something of this sort again, because it was most enjoyable and, as I wrote on Bill's site, probably the definitive piece(s) on the movie. Certainly the best I've read.

I love your dissection of the scene in the projection booth --- for me, the most moving thing Tarantino has ever done. Reminded me of De Palma more than anything he's ever done, and the scene with the theater burning down hammered that home.

Have you seen Almodovar's Matador, Dennis? The way the red dress is used in the compositions of that film is reminiscent of the way Tarantino films that Laurent in her dress.

Again, splendid job from two of my personal favorites.

Don Mancini said...

This conversation has been a wonderful gift to your collective readers. And it speaks so well of you both, as critics and as people, that you manage to conduct it all with such civility and mutual respect, regardless of occasionally divergent aesthetic and political perspectives. It's great to read thoughtful discourse about film that doesn't devolve into name-calling or narcissistic posturing. Thank you both. You guys rock.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Just a couple of quick things before my wife takes a Louisville Slugger to my head for blogging incessantly while on vacation:

Bill, I like the suggestion that Samm Levine and the other Basterds' sudden disappearance seems realistic. While in "reality" (there's that word again) it may have more to do with QT trying to wrestle this movie down to a manageable size without compromising its artistic integrity, I like the idea that life has somehow gone on in between chapters for the Basterds, and that we're only seeing the parts that cover the main ground of the story at the forefront-- that of how they come together with Operation Kino and, inadvertantly, Melanie's own plot.

And wow, thanks to Glenn for pointing out that fact about the movie having a total of 16 scenes! That's amazing. I've heard many people, rather than marveling at what the director has managed to accomplish on a formal level with such a structure, complain that the movie felt "choppy" or like a series of short films strung together. Well, as many of us here have pointed out already, the scenes do have a sense of being complete in and of themselves, like short films. Okay, so what? Now deal with how they work or don't work in the grand scheme of the film, and what's amazing is how they very much do, in the way that they complement each other with themes of betrayal, exposure, identity, infamy and, of course, the seeds of revenge.

leOpard 13 brings up Harvey Keitel as the voice on the other end of the phone giving Raine his orders vis-a-vis the deal with Landa. I didn't know it was Keitel! And that kind of self-referencing in this context works fine for me because it's plenty subtle. (Sam Jackson's, on the other hand, felt jarring to me.) But a friend of mine wrote to me in reference to that scene, and he wondered if I had noticed the appearance of Bo Svenson anywhere in the film. He is credited as "American Colonel" in the end roll-up, but I couldn't remember where or if I'd noticed him. My friend thought he might be the voice on the phone, but maybe not. Anyone have any insight into this?

That same friend sends along a link to an article by Sidney Blumenthal which references Hitler's love of the American West as portrayed by a popular German writer, whose work is mentioned in IB. I haven't read it yet myself, but it sounds pretty interesting.

And thanks, Don, and to everybody again, for participating in this fun week of writing and blogging and examining this movie. You've all made it worth doing.

ledfloyd18 said...

Bo Svenson was in Nation's Pride.

Thanks for the great convo guys. I enjoyed in thorougly.

christian said...

Great stuff, but Tarantino DEFINITELY wants you to note the stoic "nobility" of the German officer before he gets clubbed. He said so himself on Charlie Rose.

And what that scene is truly missing is the Cloris Leachman flashback before it happens, which I think adds a whole new layer.

Anonymous said...

Loved Samm Levine's cameo as the artist painting Hitler's portrait. Almost as much screen time as PFC Hirschberg...

surrey said...

Lovely post and about inglorious Basterds mmmmmmmmmmm awesome........

James said...

How's this for a tribute:

Quentin Tarantino asks Rod Taylor to play Winston Churchill.

Before production, QT gets his crew to watch Rod's 1969 film, "Dark of the Sun".

Rod's co-star in "Dark of the Sun" is actress Yvette Mimieux.

After fleeing the Nazis Shoshanna Dreyfus sets up shop at the cinema and changes her name to Emmanuelle Mimieux!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

And, James, Rod and Yvette costarred in a little item called The Time Machine too! (Which is what Emmanuelle rode in, I imagine, to get herself back to Nazi-occupied France in 1944!)

thisismodern said...

That would explain the Nazi Morlock damn-busting scene then.

Here Comes Everyone said...

Not to spoil it for anybody, but on page 87 of the published script, during the scene with Hicox and the Basterds, before they go into the tavern, it indicates that any of the Basterds not with us at this point have died.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

HCE: Thanks! I was almost up to that point in the script myself. Good catch!

free movie said...

a really great movie and a greater post! hope to read more movies-conversation asap! just tell me before so i can see the movie you're talking about in advance :)

Weigard said...

Well, talk about late to the party. : ) I never did get a chance to see the film in theaters, and just saw it on DVD this last weekend. What a film! Looks like there haven’t been many commenters lately, but with it new on DVD, maybe there will be a few more people coming out of the woodwork and remembering your posts from last summer – I did anyway (I studiously avoided reading them until this week!) I had a few comments, so I guess I’ll add them, even though they’re probably just motes of dust in the cyberbeams.

With regard to the morality of the actions taken in the film – in the real world, yeah, they’re probably questionable. But it seems to me Tarantino has gone to great lengths to suggest that this isn’t the real world we’re dealing with here. It’s not just the altered history, or the jarring cuts away from the action. The thing that most struck me (and it surprised me that you never mentioned it, Dennis, although I guess it’s kind of obvious) is the spaghetti western feel of the movie. It took less than a minute for me to change my impression of the title of Chapter 1 (Once upon a time … in Nazi-occupied France) from fairy tale to Sergio Leone, what with the musical cues (incorporating “Für Elise” into it, ha) and the wide vistas of the western (France) plains. The film seems to move with the same sort of deliberateness, followed by intense action, as Once Upon a Time in the West. I was kind of surprised he couldn’t find a creaky windmill to film. : ) I kind of wondered if the Chapter 1 title was really what he wanted to call the film, except that it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue! It seemed to me that the western was also the source of the film’s moral compass. A gang of outlaws has done unspeakable things, and a group of men (and one woman) have decided to take revenge. What they’re doing themselves may not be the most moral thing, but they feel it’s necessary to stop the Nazis. Like in a good western, IB doesn’t gloss over what the Basterds do – the means to the end matter, but when there’s no law the bad guys are beholden to, good people need to take the law into their own hands.

Part of what seems so ingenious to me about the film is that, in transferring the setting from the old West to World War II, he puts the story into a real-life setting where we already feel loathing for the “bad guys”. Yes, his story is fictionalized, but we come in feeling that the Nazis have victimized us in some sense too. So now, the revenge isn’t just something “those people” over there are doing, but we’re doing it too – we are one with the avengers. So when we consider the moral complexities of what they’re doing, we’re examining our own moral complexities. Look at the Nazis getting off on watching the Allied soldiers getting gunned down like dogs – oh, I’m about to do that too …

Weigard said...

I believe one of you mentioned something that Quentin Tarantino had said about the origin of his idea for the film, something along the lines of not buying people being merciful to the captured monster villain, that he would just cap the guy. I don’t know how serious he is about this – hard to tell with him sometimes. I, for one, would not do that. Shoot, I’m more of the conscientious objector type, who’d have trouble shooting a gun at someone even if I knew they were trying to kill me. But even if I wouldn’t kill the nasty Nazi, there’s another part of me that, at least in a fictional realm, is more than happy to let someone else do it for me. : ) If it were real, I’d have serious qualms about it – but in a fiction (which Tarantino clearly presents this as), I’m happy to go along with it. (Yes, I watch 24.) Is that sick? Could be, but I don’t know that it’s all that unusual. Maybe it just forces someone like me to confront his own hypocrisies. In a way, the film is great for someone like me. It’s almost like a Greek tragedy – catharsis, purging all of those old hatreds from the system (at least for a while). I guess the film works so well on someone like me, I can’t help wondering if Tarantino isn’t more like me than he’s letting on! Or at least he has some understanding of my fellow conflicted wimps.

The scene with the bludgeoning of the German officer is disturbing, but it also seems part of the western film paradigm. It’s a brutal scene (very suspensefully done), but it’s not done so much to exact revenge upon the man, but again as a means to an end. They’re trying to get through the next group of Nazi soldiers, so need to know what’s ahead. What they’re doing isn’t revenge, but it’s for show, in particular for the other two prisoners, to get one of them to talk – and it works out, they get the information. The scene that this reminds me of is from another story on the fringe of “western”, from the end of Firefly’s “Train Job” episode. Mal needs someone to return the cash and explain why the job didn’t get done, and when the first guy refuses to out of principle, he kicks him out the door right into the engine turbine. The next guy is much more amenable. : ) The idea for the scene is very similar, even though the feel is quite different. The Firefly scene comes off as humorous – you don’t see that engine coming, and once you do, the surprise makes you laugh, even though what Mal’s doing isn’t the most honorable thing either. “Here’s your money back, but by the way, we had to kill your henchman“ -- that should go over well. Of course, the whole scene is breezed over much more in the Firefly episode – and also you have the feel that this is a move out of necessity (they need to move quickly and don’t have time to do things the polite way). The IB scene is more deathly serious – Tarantino gives us more time to recognize that the German officer is not just a cardboard villain. There’s a touch of humor in the scene, with the buildup to the reveal of the “Bear Jew”, when we maybe have a bit of a grin on our face – but then it’s quickly wiped away. It seems to me that the Tarantino scene is, in some sense, the more “moral” for giving us this complexity, for making us see what’s being done to a human being, rather than letting him just disappear in a puff of smoke and a laugh. (Not that I’m criticizing Firefly -- I like it too! But what’s done in the IB scene is clearly much deeper.)

Anyway, I guess the upshot of what I’m saying here is that many people’s ethical qualms over the characters’ actions in Inglorious Basterds seem to be exactly the thing Tarantino is himself highlighting – the moral questions that tend to get glossed over in the average film-with-violence. The fact that people bring these questions up seems to me to be evidence not that the film is fatally flawed, but that it’s doing its job well.

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onchannel movies said...

inglorious bastards is the best movie ever