Who was it that said the best was yet to come? I just saw Inglourious Basterds again last night (my third helping) at the most glourious cinema in Los Angeles, the Vista, and while I’m still buzzing from that, here comes what could, after all is shaken out and time gives us even more perspective, the definitive piece of cogent, well-reasoned appreciation of Tarantino’s movie, courtesy of writer (and friend of SLIFR) Chris Stangl. Chris was on the front lines with me re Speed Racer last year too, but as I never assume allegiances will carry over from year to year, let alone movie to movie, I was eagerly awaiting his thoughts on the movie. Now the wait is over, and it has been worth it. Of course I encourage you to click on over to Chris’ site The Exploding Kinetoscope and read the entire piece for yourself. But on the off chance that you need an excerpt to prime the pump, as it were, I cannot resist, and I hope Chris will forgive me for being so liberal with my cut and paste capabilities. This is the kind of writing I wish I was capable of, and the best thing I can think of say about it that won’t go on for another 500 words is that I wish I had written it myself. Here’s a taste:
“That the living tissue of his cinema is a successful graft of 10,000 movie donors should be particularly appealing to film critics, who more than any of us live with perpetual projector bulb tan and a Geneva Drive tattoo over the heart. What Tarantino does by crafting the fabric of cinema history into fully wearable new garments is not dissimilar to the life's work of Brian De Palma and Jean-Luc Godard. Tarantino is less black-hearted than De Palma, less politicized than Godard, less schematic than either. To single him out for ridicule as a filmmaker with film itself as a ruling thematic concern is bizarre. Most of Generation X's directors don't even have ruling thematic concerns.
Tarantino is not without his authorial tics. He punctuates suspense with hyperfocused extreme close-ups of food, feet, arcane detail, peers out of car trunks incessantly, frames characters in doorways and crams metatextual declaration into dialogue. But his technique possesses no faddishness. In an age where most directors flatten their visual field magazine cover thin and alternate between big head TV close-ups and impotent camera flailing, Tarantino composes for the entire frame, constructs screen geography by holding shots as long as possible and, in Basterds in particular, uses deep focus to impart as much information as possible in a shot. Take some time with the scene in which Zoller pesters Shoshanna in a cafe. She just wants to smoke, sip coffee and read, but the soldier tries his damnedest to chat her up, fending off her rebukes and disruptions from ardent fans, then recognizes the opportunity to impress the girl with his celebrity. Tarantino places Shoshanna by the storefront window and keeps everything mostly in focus from the woman in the foreground to the buildings across the street. Sidewalk pedestrians recognizing Zoller are fully visible as they move from exterior to interior space, and several interlocking stories are being told at once.
Inglourious Basterds luxuriates in the pleasures and pains of the movies and meditates on film as a force shaping our lives, interior identities and human history. That second clause is the writer-director's great step forward in his sixth feature, though his concerns have not changed, they are articulated with emphatic force in Basterds. The breadth and depth of reference is impressive by its own right, but less canny filmmakers pull similar, less encyclopedic stunts all the time: naïve accumulation of a hundred years of film cliché may also cause the sensation of a thousand films overlapping on one screen.”
It likely will not convince anyone who sees things differently. But I would challenge those who do to come up with a piece this clear-minded and resonant in rebuttal, one that is equally cognizant and extrapolative of Tarantino’s influences and their ultimate effect without simply condemning the director for having been influenced at all. Once again, more evidence that the year’s best movie has resulted in some of the year’s best, freshest writing and thinking, about Inglourious Basterds, other movies, and yes, about the ways movie bounce around in real life.
David Hudson provides a complete roundup of basterds talk at The Auteurs Daily.