Wednesday, September 02, 2009


UPDATED 9/3/09 11:39 a.m.

The conversation continues…

To those who have not yet had their fill of intelligent considerations of Inglourious Basterds, it is my pleasure to point out three sites whose interaction with the movie has been inspiring and challenging, to say the least, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun to read. First, there’s Jim Emerson, who has been delightful in his examination of this movie over the last two weeks, and has come up with a wonderful summation, “Inglourious Basterds: Real or Fictitious, It Doesn’t Matter…”, a title that ought to have certain of the film’s detractors in knots, especially as it is derived from a line of the movie’s dialogue. I have more to write in response to Jim re my perception of there being a twinge of horror, of ambivalence in the final conflagration, to go along with what he rightly terms the dominant sentiment of full-on emotional investment in the explosion of revenge at its heart. But that will come at Jim’s site, and I’ll probably repost it here too. Jim and I see the movie practically eye to eye, and he has made things even more clear for me in his step-by-step analysis. We differ only slightly about the ending, a disagreement that is made nearly insignificant by the level of appreciation we share for the movie as a whole. This is a piece that cannot not be enjoyed by those interested in seeing how the movie reflects on itself as an examination of the propagation of myth, personal and military, and the importance of role-playing in IB and in Tarantino overall.

Secondly, Ed Howard and Jason Bellamy’s rich conversation about Tarantino’s career has been augmented this morning by part 2 of their talk, which focuses exclusively on Inglourious Basterds. Ed, Jason, superb job on part 1; I cannot wait to get part 2 home and take my time with it. Thanks!

Finally, Joseph ‘Jon’ Lanthier contributes his own decidely ambivalent, well-considered thoughts about IB, which are then addressed by Jonathan Rosenbaum and a few others at Bright Lights After Dark. Jim, Ed, Jason and Joseph 'Jon' have made a rich, involving, utterly unique cinematic experience even richer by their participation and their recognition of IB as a spectacular piece of moviemaking and a work of art. I will echo many, I’m sure, by expressing thanks that they would take the time and offer their abilities as observers and writers to help ensure that the movie could live and breathe so vibrantly beyond the walls of the cinema.

(Thanks too, Jim, by the way, for that beautiful screen grab.)

UPDATED 9/3/09 11:39 a.m.

And then there's Kim Morgan on what Inglourious Basterds owes to history. In her wise summation of the very human reaction to seeing and absorbing Tarantino's movie universe for what it is and how it operates, Kim considers that parallel universe and the one churning and burning inside our own heads as we watch and think about the movie later. Thanks for the well-considered piece, Kim!



Ed Howard said...

Thanks for the mention, Dennis, I really enjoyed your conversation with Bill as well, and probably would've participated more had I not been knee-deep in writing about the film myself. The conversation about this film in various places has been truly fascinating, and I think it's a testament to what Tarantino's made here that he's got everybody humming, and not just chattering idly but really digging into what this film means, what it's about, what it all adds up to.

I agree with you about the ambiguity in the theater scene, too, which I think is very deliberately intended to create contradictory reactions: simultaneously feeling the "oh yeah kill the Nazis!" vibe and also getting the undercurrent of horror, the sense that there's a moral cost to revenge. I don't know how anyone could look at that closeup of Eli Roth gleefully machine-gunning everyone and not think that Tarantino wants us to question this at least to some extent.

Alonzo Mosley (FBI) said...

Since I just saw the film on Sunday and totally missed the discussion last week, I thought it might be too late for me to contribute. But since you've decided to do one more post, I'll throw in.

At the risk of appearing lazy, the following is from a post on my own blog four years ago. The post concerned The Dirty Dozen, but I started off discussing a miniature I saw at the Holocaust museum in D.C.

"In the miniature, the Jews being gassed is shown in a cutaway. Above ground, we see a Nazi soldier placing the gas container into a vent that will dispense it to the underground chamber. This tiny detail jogged something in my memory. As those of you who have seen the film might recall, the ultimate mission of the Dozen is to blow up a French chateau used by the German high command and their wives for R&R. Something goes wrong and the Germans, for their safety, lock themselves into an underground bomb shelter. The remaining of the Dozen barricade the door and toss explosives into all the squat air vents of the shelter. We see those in the bunkers fruitlessly pawing at the vent gratings where the explosives sit and we know they will be unable to do anything to prevent their imminent death."

"When I first saw this scene, the only thing that I remember thinking was how the filmmakers were able to shrewdly include Jim Brown's biggest talent (i.e. running) into one of the last big action scenes. Now I look at those air vents and wonder if the writer wasn't trying to draw some parallels here. Obviously, you're not going to find many people who will mourn the deaths of Jewish prisoners and German soldiers equally, but when you take into account how these Germans were (a) unarmed, (b) trapped and (c) accompanied by their civilian wives, the difference between the two becomes murkier."

"Perhaps I'm a bit slow when it comes to understanding some film subtext, but it didn't occur to me when I first saw this years ago how "Dirty" referred to more than just how the Dozen weren't allowed to bathe during their training. These military criminals were given a chance to be soldiers again. Not only soldiers, but heroes. And you can sense some of them truly gaining confidence and pride in themselves for the first time in years. Then they were told of the mission, and they realized that they were simply being given the dirty work. Their not needed because of extraordinary talent, but rather because any other self-respecting soldier would find such a mission as noble as shooting someone in the back."

Robert H. said...

Sorry, Dennis, but I can't join in on the Tarantino spooge-fest -- it may be cool, but it is dubious art, at best. Watching this idiot on CHARLIE ROSE spout that he'd like to do a movie about John Brown & Harper's Ferry using the same aesthetic as IB... it may be someone's dream, but it definitely ain't mine. If it does come to pass, he can probably steal some bits from MANDINGO & DRUM to hammer the fact that 'Slavery is BAD.'

Not all film geekery is a GOOD thing... and overlooking the "homage vs. outright plagarism" elephant that's still in the room; he may indeed have a distinctive voice -- but it's shrill, self-serving, and definitely has overstayed the party.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Actually, Robert, I don't think there's much dubious about the art here at all. What you seem to be reacting to (insofar as this comment goes) is the element about Tarantino that is problematic for many people, even those who love his films, and that is his tendency to come off as overbearing, gaseous, or worse in print and television interviews. What's he's doing, especially in regards to an as-yet-to-appear movie about John Brown and Harper's Ferry sounds like off-the-cuff what-if-ery to me, just another out-loud shuffling of the cards in his mental deck. Remember, Inglourious Basterds took over 15 years to gestate, and if such a project ever does come to light, I'd imagine he will have put a bit more thought into it than a couple of remarks on Charlie Rose at this point might suggest.

I totally understand not wanting to listen to him gas on about his intentions in interviews-- the movie should speak for itself, and I think it does quite eloquently. On the other hand, there are interviews he's done, like the ones he sat for recently with Kim Morgan and Ella Taylor, in which he comes off much less hyperactive and certainly more circumspect about where he's at and how he got there. There's still the element of hyperactivity there, but it didn't become distracting in these pieces.

Also, I think that this "homage vs. outright plagiarism" elephant in the room, as you term it, has been more than adequately addressed in discussions like the one here, between Ed Howard and Jason Bellamy on The House Next Door, and at Jim Emerson's. It's a variation on the old saw about De Palma boiling Hitchcock's bones to make his rancid bread, and I think it's a fallacious place to start a discussion about either De Palma or Tarantino, who both synthesize elements of Hitchcock and many, many others to make films that, paradoxically, uniquely express their own sensibility. Nobody makes movies in a vacuum; it's just that these guys are brilliant at this kind of stylistic, artistic synthesis, whereas most everyone else who tries it is cloying and obvious, or flat-out incompetent. I agree that not all film geekery is a good thing, but I think the uses to which Tarantino puts his not only have matured, particularly over the last two films, but put him in the unique position of introducing whole chapters of film history that may have seemed dry and forbidding before to young film enthusiasts who could make good use of the door he leaves ajar with films like Inglourious Basterds. And his enthusiasm is infectious. I just try not to pay much attention to all the attendant press surrounding a new Tarantino movie these days, and I feel like that's a better start for me.

One of the movies I'm having the most fun thinking about in relation to IB is, in fact, Kevin Willmott's CSA. They're not quite apples and apples, and certainly not stylistically, but it's been an interesting exercise if nothing else. Hopefully I'll be able to make something out of the comparison besides random thoughts for a later post.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ed: Yeah, I'm definitely of a mind that there's something else going on in that scene besides the slaking of our thirst over the righteous butchery. I'm not saying it's in the forefront, it may not be the primary focus, but I really do sense it, especially if what Tarantino says is true and we suddenly lose our ability to see their faces from above as they are being mowed down. At that point, those folks in the theater become not just Nazis, but recognizable humans-- they are significantly more than just meat. This is not the same as ones heat bleeding over the murder of a Nzai, no matter what his/her crimes. It is, simply, a momentary recognition of another layer of what is clearly happening when the Basterds' plan is carried out. I'm seeing the movie again tonight and will pay particular attention to this before I write any more about it.

I am so very much enjoying that two-parter you and Jason have offered up at the House Thanks for doing it!

Alonzo: You've made me really regret missing The Dirty Dozen on the big screen here last week. But off to the DVD I go to check that out for myself. It's an element of the movie that I hadn't considered either, but I will say it's been a good 20 years since I've seen it all the way through.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Jesus, my kingdom for a frickin' copy editor. Ed, that should read..

"This is not the same as one's heart bleeding over the murder of a Nazi..."

Robert H. said...

Thanks for your reply; I'll attempt not to be strident.

I agree that no one works in a vaccuum, but there IS a difference between homage and outright theft - one can argue the degree of subtlety, but it does exist.

DePalma had the accusations thrown at him re: Hitchcock ... and, depsite liking SISTERS, OBSESSION, DRESSED TO KILL, I do have to say that, artful as it is, it's still plunder.

The difference being that Hitchcock's work is/was widely known, so one could argue that it was more homage than outright theft.

A good majority of Tarantino's 'homaging' is from films that are obscure or that aren't widely known by a general audience. Therefore, adding his own distinctive dialoging to some well chosen pilferage and soundtrack, the result would seem fresh to an audience who aren't that familiar with the sources; and to those who are familiar, they're just happy that their tastes have finally gone mainstream.

KILL BILL, DEATH TRAP and IB, are basically well made, well funded fan films - better than remakes, because they take all the best bits here and there, and mix them all up into something that's familiar, but not.

It's a one trick pony show... but it appears to be a trick that everyone likes.

Well, almost everyone...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Re Tarantino, Robert, ouch. What can I say, other than I disagree? I saw Inglourious Basterds again last night, and I have to say I remain happy to have been so duped!

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