Inglourious Technicolor


Well, I will say that Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is unusual, imaginative and often funny and suspenseful, if a bit long. On the other hand, it made me feel ill. Where does this bad feeling come from? I first felt it when I saw the teaser trailer of Brad Pitt briefing his men. I’d like to address this without spoilers, and without engaging too much with what Tarantino has said about the movie, since that stuff is really too dumb to get into.

First off, I might as well admit to being one of those extremists who regards THE DIRTY DOZEN and WHERE EAGLES DARE as somewhat crassly exploitative — I think if you’re going to tackle something as serious and unpleasant as war, you ought to have something worthwhile to express about it. I think SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was basically a crock, but you could argue that the Normandy landing sequence gave people a fresh sense of what that conflict was like, and that is a worthwhile goal. Of course, the whole aesthetic was swiftly subsumed into the video game industry, which is a little, er, questionable, and perhaps shows a basic flaw in the Spielberg approach.

So INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is an entertainment based in a fictional version of WWII which does not respect actual events. In style and music choices (plenty of spaghetti western samples, plus David Bowie’s theme from the Schrader CAT PEOPLE) Tarantino makes it clear that this film is intended to be taken the same way as his previous work, a genre-splicing nasty romp which might test the audience’s endurance with some gore or cruelty, but intends for them to basically have a good time. If you cringe at the scenes of mutilation, you should think of it as an emotional workout rather than a meditation on man’s inhumanity to man. This movie is not a meditation on anything.

So I already have a problem with that. I might be willing to allow that a “Jewish revenge fantasy” might have some cathartic value, but Tarantino isn’t Jewish, so he would be basically pandering to somebody else’s fantasy, which seems less legitimate. What, in fact, is he doing?

The presence of Eli Roth, director of the QT-produced HOSTEL, as actor and director of the film-within-a-film (which, apart from being in black and white and 1:1.33 ratio, is an incompetently inaccurate recreation of 1940s cinema, featuring jump cuts and what look like Steadicam shots — wouldn’t the point here be to make a decent, convincing pastiche of Nazi cinema?) is a pointer. HOSTEL and its sequels have been called “torture porn,” but that’s not really accurate. The victims are the POV characters, and the film seeks to give the audience a vicarious experience of being harmlessly “tortured” — another emotional workout, an exaggerated and simplified form of the horror movie’s pleasures, a crude take on what Hitchcock called “putting the audience through it” — why you would really want to have that experience is beyond me, but there it is.

The striking difference in what Tarantino is up to is that in his film, the torturers are mostly the heroes, and by making their victims Nazis, he wants to give us permission to enjoy the torture and mutilation without guilt. We might still experience squeamishness, we might even question whether the Basterds are “right” to behave as they do, but this is all part of the emotional workout. Pretty much any response is fine with Tarantino. This is why the trailer made me feel… unhappy.

I’m not keen on Nazis myself. But I think that unless you can answer the question, “What would you do if you were a German drafted in the late ’30s?” — which none of us actually CAN answer — you probably don’t have the right to judge people just for putting on that uniform. At any rate, if you’re going to make a film celebrating war crimes enacted against Nazi soldiers, it might be good to provide at least some evidence that you’ve thought about this stuff. Otherwise you’re on the slippery slope to Auschwitz, the video game.


On the other hand — “It’s a film about cinema,” said Joe Dante, who was quite enthusiastic. Perhaps not a war film at all. Or a film about the victory of movies over war, somehow. Certainly, that’s literally what happens in the climax, which contains, all too briefly, the most beautiful image Tarantino has ever conceived or executed (no spoilers, but if I say “face in smoke” you will recognise it when you see it). The script drops some interesting names, which QT fans might check out and get a kick from, conceivably, which would be good (anything that leads audiences to Clouzot or Pabst would count as positive, for me), and is maybe the first to examine Goebbels (or “Gurble,” as Brad Pitt pronounces it in his hillbilly accent) as a movie exec, which he was, among other things. The movie stuff, which doesn’t really involve the Basterds themselves too much (it does seem a little like QT didn’t find his own creations interesting enough to sustain the film) gave me mainly a good feeling. And then there’d be another gross bit.

148 Responses to “Inglourious Technicolor”

  1. absolutely agree–I wanted to blog about the Basterds, but I couldn’t think of much to say… I dislike Tarantino’s worldview a great deal… I think of him as, basically, the smart Frank Miller (and man do I hate Frank Miller)… At least with Tarantino, you get some funny lines, and some meditation on cinema (but not on anything else)… I actually loved Jackie Brown, because it seemed for once the director had stumbled onto a story (Grier’s) that he cared about, for its own sake–but nothing in the ouevre, bfeore or since, has made a comparable impact… I did love the image you refer to…. and I was mightily impressed by Melanie Laurent…. but, aside from that, this film simply confirmed that QT is the king of nihilistic conformism

  2. Personally found it adolescent, despicable and overlong; but this piece kinda sums it up nicely:

    “Vengeance seems to be a subject about which Tarantino the person, as well as Tarantino the filmmaker, has strong feelings; his onscreen treatment of it as something both necessary and satisfying are reflected offscreen as well. “If I had a gun and a 12-year-old kid broke into this house,” he told the critic J. Hoberman in a 1996 interview, “I would kill him. You have no right to come into my house…I would empty the gun until you were dead.””

  3. I believe you’re confusing Eli Roth with Daniel Brühl.

  4. Of course, I don’t know if QT still feels the same way about shooting 12 year olds. In a BBC interview on Kill Bill he was asked about the nobility of vengeance and he kind of shied away: “I don’t know how NOBLE it is…” So he doesn’t really have any opinion about it, I think.

    This is getting into what he says in interviews, which I knew I couldn’t stay away from, but I wanted to say my piece about the film before starting on that. Basically QT hates holocaust movies because they’re “depressing,” which seems a rather childish response. So he makes WWII with a happier ending.

    My problem with holocaust movies tends to be that they’re not depressing ENOUGH. They tend to be about survivors. Kubrick is supposed to have said of Schindler’s List, “To me, the Holocaust is about 6 million people who died, not 600 people who didn’t die.” Godard suggested that the only film to make would be from the POV of a guard who has to figure out how many corpses he can fit on a cart, the day-to-day business of extermination… but that such a film would be unwatchable. Maybe it should be.

    Of course, QT stays out of that area, but it haunts the background of the film, is the reason for it existing. The movie is kind of self-righteous about it’s own bad taste, which puts it in a worse category than Salon Kitty, for me. I always expect Tarantino to be adolescent, and that can be fun, but an adolescent’s views on war are probably something I can do without.

  5. GM: No — I can see how I’ve made it confusing though. Roth is an actor in Inglourious Basterds, but he also directed the film within a film, I think. Bruhl acts in Inglourious Basterds and stars in the film within a film.

  6. Quentin Tarantino is the death of cinema. Instead of artistic seriousness we are asked to take seriously a mouthy video store clerk with no taste and no imagination. I depise him with every fiber of my being.

    I trust you all know that Reservoir Dogs got its title from a customer request for a certain “ferrin film” supposedly so named. After duly considering the matter QT realized the customer was referring to

    (wait for it)

    Au Revoir les Enfants.

    More Louis Malle, please.

    Alas, he’s dead.

  7. Oh, I see what you mean now. Sorry about that.

  8. I hadn’t heard that explanation of the RD title! I know he used to come up with a bogus explanation for execs, “It’s underworld slang,” and the meaningless title kind of sums up his approach to film. The movies work OK as shaggy dog stories, I guess, but when he touches on anything serious it’s insulting. The increasing cannibalism of old movie scores also points to his attitude to cinema: grist to the mill. The idea that a cinephile could end a movie a bunch of nitrate prints getting torched and not show any sadness about that also worries me, but that’s a very minor concern. (For the record, I would burn movies to kill Hitler, but it would fucking pain me to do it.)

    GM, that’s OK, you helped me clarify the piece, thanks!

  9. robert keser Says:

    This may seem picky and overly bookish, I know, but I refuse to give my money to any movie that willfully promotes the egregious misspellings of this title. The Tower of Babble has bequeathed us ample linguistic problems and misunderstandings; the world certainly doesn’t need any additional inventions from Qwentan Tantarino! (Of course, it helps a lot that I found KILL BILL 2 just about unendurable).

  10. Arthur S. Says:

    I really want to see IB but I don’t know when it will be coming my way. I will go on record and say I “like” Tarantino…he is juvenile(save for JACKIE BROWN) and he doesn’t have a lot to say but his films can have moments of brilliance.

    Samuel Fuller(whose THE BIG RED ONE is the best American WWII film) once said that war as an experience was impossible for cinema to really represent without the audience being shot at by firing squads while they watched the film. He felt it best to show the psychological effects of war. He pointed out that the D-Day scene in his film is sparse on violence because if he showed the actual thing with the field of guts(as recreated by Spielberg), no one would actually watch the film and he felt that a film ought to be watchable.

    I think a film about the Holocaust should make people think and reflect(as in Resnais’ NIGHT AND FOG) and not be made into a film which is solely about watching people suffer because first you would never be able to put enough make up on actors to make them look starved enough, emaciated enough, second there is something immoral about exhibiting suffering like that for an audience to feel sad and mourn about. It just makes people feel bad for no other reason aside from the fact that they wanted to have a good cry watching a film. So in that sense Tarantino has a point but that doesn’t mean he has a better approach, obviously.

    In a way Douglas Sirk’s A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE was the most mature way of dealing with world war II. It tells it entirely from the POV of a Nazi soldier who in the first scene is part of a firing squad. He tells a rookie not to miss the target because then they would be made to kill again and again(“It’s like killing double the people you do”) and it addresses the complex ethical position of “ordinary” Germans during the war.

    For me NIGHT AND FOG was the best film to directly tackle on shoah. The only thing with comarable weight is a film I saw recently, Jean Rouch’s CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER where Marceline Loridan a real-life Holocaust survivor turned film-maker walks down the same Parisian streets she passed when she was interned. It is poetic and beautiful but it’s also powerful and responsible.

  11. I think Tarantino’s “point” is just a dislike of solemnity and being asked to reflect. Jackie Brown is indeed his most serious film, and he’s tended to distance himself from it.

    War and the Shoah are hugely difficult topics to tackle, of course, but I don’t automatically give credit to filmmakers for approaching them. If you blunder in with no idea of the issues, that doesn’t deserve respect.

    We’re in a decadent phase now — Schindler’s List, which has many good points, nevertheless introduces the idea of a feel-good movie about genocide. Life is Beautiful and Boy in the Striped Pyjamas both suggest that the holocaust might be mistaken for something else, which seems unacceptable and a failure of imagination to me.

    Spielberg is quite smart on this subject when he admits that any film tackling this will fail at conveying the enormity of the horror — but there are honorable and dishonorable failures.

    Inglourious Basterds in a way is about stealing back pleasure from horrible facts, the revenge of cinema upon tragic events, but as interesting as that is in the abstract, it doesn’t strike me as a healthy response. And the gloating nastiness is much closer to Nazism than it is to the spirit of resistance.

  12. Well, the misspelled title, which QT won’t talk about, is MEANT to be noticed as misspelled, so I guess I’ll allow it.

    One possible explanation: QT is notoriously dyslexic. Jane Hamsher mischievously reprinted that note he sent her in her memoir of Natural Born Killers (you know, QT’s script is a lot less offensive than Stone’s movie) — for one thing, he writes about her “nice leggs” — the sleazy sex-pest tone being far more embarrassing than the illiteracy.

  13. Arthur S. Says:

    And of course someone like Godard(who is referred to often in reviews of the film) said that cinema failed to bear witness to the Second World War. Both sides made propaganda films, the Allies had better film-makers but they weren’t about the war as it is lived and felt.

    Although I think Powell-Pressburger’s THE SMALL BACK ROOM made a few years after V-Day does that and the remarkable thing is that it’s a post-war film that doesn’t use the inevitable victory as a crutch. In the end of that film, David Farrar is told by his superior that the Allies are losing the war and works needs to be done soon and since he was the only one of the back room boys who cared more for human lives than scoring points for the bureaucracy, he gets to head a unit. I wonder what Leo Marks thought about that…he wrote a book about WWII that seems screaming to be made into a film. That seems like the reverse of what Tarantino does, ending a film in a brooding state of tenacity rather than victory and relief.

    Spielberg’s 1941(which I like a lot) is actually a “movie about WWII movies” specifically the movies Americans went to while war was breaking out in Europe and Asia. I like SCHINDLER’S LIST because it was the first cultural exposure someone of my generation had to the Shoah(for earlier generations it would be Anne Frank’s diary) although it’s obviously flawed and it kind of elevates a minor figure into some forgotten martyr of WWII. If you remake the film you can make it more ambiguous(as Schindler really was) is he really indifferent and interested only in the free workers or is he really saving them. Saving Private Ryan is too sentimental though the opening scene is a striking piece of cinema. As is EMPIRE OF THE SUN which is overall his best WWII film. Its an obvious personal fascination for Spielberg. Aside from it being the single most cataclysmic event in human history.

    Life is Beautiful is simply awful…thank goodness Primo Levi wasn’t around to see that. He’d be ashamed of being an Italian. I saw it on TV, dubbed in English and don’t see how it could be improved in the VO.

    The resistance epitomized stoicism, sadness and solitude as in Melville’s L’ARMEE DES OMBRES, which has this tremendous scene where they see GONE WITH THE WIND and muse about the end of the war when they can see it in France (which will never happen). The backlog of banned American films screened to an overager French youth ended up creating the Nouvelle Vague. So that was I suppose the Nazi plan backfiring. Their banning of movies only led to newer cinema rising out of the ashes.

    I wonder what Tavernier thinks of the film. His Safe Conduct seems an obvious reference point.

  14. Arthur S. Says:

    The odd thing is that sex isn’t a theme in Tarantino’s cinema. Violence yes, macho male bonding definitely and mysterious women but sex isn’t a theme in his films at all. Not repressed sex, crude oggling(as in Michael Bay’s films), it’s just not there. The second KILL BILL film for instance which is about these exes, it’s shown as mentor-student rather than man and woman. So Tarantino as a lewd pervert seems very odd. I suppose he was being sincere about a woman’s “nice leggs”.

    The misspelled title is I suppose a way of ensuring that people don’t confuse his for the first IB. The problem is that when this film spawns it’s imitators you’ll have many more misspelled titles and revisionist histories.

  15. I really enjoyed these Basterds…and I agree with Dante… I think this, like all of QT’s stuff spare for Jackie Brown, is a film about cinema.

    And the “face in smoke” image….my god, did my draw drop at that…what an amazing piece of work that scene was…

    Here’s my further thoughts on the film…and feel free to join others in ranking QT’s stuff:

  16. Well if it’s a film about cinema then i’m through with cinema.

  17. Godard is full of shit about films refusing to bear witness to WWII. The best film about WWII is George Stevens’ I Remember Mama.

    Steven, unlike Godard, actually saw the war AND the extermination camps. His footage of those camps is one of the reasons I cannot countenance QT.

  18. I was very interested to hear what you had to say about this. For slightly different but possibly congruent reasons, I hated almost every minute of it. I tried to take it on QT’s face value (“a movie about movies”) but when the opening scene turned out to be a hamfisted pastiche of Once Upon A Time In The West, executed with a notable lack of visual inventiveness, all was lost.
    It didn’t help that I’d watched the Leone movie the previous day and was struck all over again by the extraordinarily precise balance of elements, the iconic characters teetering on the verge of ridiculousness, the perfectly judged comic-strip dialogue (“Inside the dusters were three men. Inside the men… were three bullets”), the compositional use of silence, foley work and music.
    Weirdly, all of QT’s former strengths seem to have deserted him. His ear for a great, offbeat use of familiar music is all over, as evidenced by the horrible way Peur Sur La Ville was trundled on for a minute to make a point and then hastily faded down, much as is the practice in comedies as soon as the opening verse/chorus of Jumping Jack Flash has done its work. Bowie’s Cat People sounded a lot better in the Schrader film, too, and you won’t hear me praising that farrago much.
    From beginning to end, Misspelled Wotsits is a lazy, self-indulgent mess, peppered with fine moments that just reminded me of how much I used to enjoy Tarantino’s energy back in the day.
    Oh, and I wonder if anyone else thought that he cast his Hitler not for his resemblance to the real Adolf, but because he looked identical to the actor used by Russ Meyer whenever he wanted a Hitler lookalike on whom to inflict various cruel and sexual indignities?

  19. Tony Williams Says:

    I take great offense to your description of THE DIRTY DOZEN as “crassly exploitative” and having nothing “worthwhile” to say about the serious nature of war. Aldrich ruined his chance of an Academy Award nomination by refusing to cut the wine cellar sequence out of the film, justifiably so, since it showed that the guys we were led to deliberately identify with in the first part of the film were really ruthless killers carrying out orders little better from their Gitmo, Iraq, and Afghanistan descendants.

    Like David E. ,I detest Tarantino but what what Aldrich attempts to do in THE DIRTY DOZEN is far more serious. At the time European critics. recognized that Aldrich was not only showing that the Americans were capable of committing war crimes on the level of the Nazis (as with the wine cellar/gas chamber analogy) but were still doing in Vietnam as the gasoline/napalm imagery shows. I also suggest you look very closely at the scene where Richard Jaeckel’s Sergeant (a yes-man up to that point of the film looks in horror when he realizes what Lee Marvin’s Major expects him to do.

    This is a much more serious film than you give it credit for. Naturally, Aldrich does not achieve all his objectives (TOO LATE THE HERO is more successful here) but I think you need to do a deeper study of the film in terms of mise-en-scene and closer reading. An recent article has appeared on the film in THE JOURNAL OF POPULAR FILM & TV as well as one article in Yvonne Tasker’s anthology ACTION CINEMA and an analysis in BODY AND SOUL: THE CINEMATIC VISION OF ROBERT ALDRICH.

    As one writer wrote in FILM COMMENTS (Donald Phelps?), Aldrich gets you to go along with the narrattive up to a certain point and then pulls the rug from under your feet to make you reconsider what you’ve seen. Aldrich does depict war as “serious and unpleasant” in his own iconoclastic manner far more accomplished than WHERE EAGLES DARE and Tarantino’s latest exploitative travesty.

  20. Arthur S. Says:

    Godard being Godard he probably didn’t mean it in the literal sense. He was probably being argumentative or Socratic and in any ways it seems an answer to Tarantino’s boast about cinema defeating the Third Reich in his film.

    Then there’s Humphrey Jennings in films like A DIARY FOR TIMOTHY, I WAS A FIREMAN(which recreated an actual attempt to put out a firebomb by a Nazi plane in the same place with the actual participants) and LISTEN TO BRITAIN which bore witness to the war as it was happening in London.

    George Stevens was never the same after he shot that footage.

  21. Eli Roth is so terrible in this film, it defies belief:

    And you are right, his film within a film was too “modern.”

  22. Whew. Tony, thanks for the discs, which just arrived. I’ll need to look at The Dirty Dozen again, obviously. My feeling was that any serious point was drowned out in the blood and thunder, but I’m wrong to suggest no point was intended.

    One of Tarantino’s points is that movies made during WWII weren’t afraid to be entertaining… to which there are many possible rebuttals. The fact that the public in Britain and America didn’t know about the holocaust yet is one. The fact that they needed cheering up and distracting from their worries is another. I don’t think QT is trying to achieve a similar goal re Iraq, thank God.

    Of course, Tarantino doesn’t have Leone’s control, nor his pithiness. I didn’t feel his purely technical skills had deserted him entirely, although I think since he improved his visuals on Kill Bill, his verbals have gone to seed a bit. This film had OK shots (refreshingly classical, clear shooting style for action) and OK dialogue (funny bits, long stretches of waffle). None of this is enough to compensate for the rancidness of the conception, imho.

  23. David S, you don’t seem to have been bothered by the film’s politics — could you talk a bit about that?

    Sexuality: Tarantino is a shrimper, and all his films since Pulp Fiction (with its foot massage rap) have indulged his foot fetish to some extent. Here it’s the perverse Cinderella scene with Landa and Von Hammersmark.

    Godard is simply misinformed on the attitudes of Hollywood execs to the Nazis — there were several films tackling the subject before the war, certainly Hollywood was more direct in Confessions of a Nazi Spy that anything made in Britain before our entry into the war. But JLG is not alone in this mistake, it’s one that still gets repeated a lot.

  24. “One of Tarantino’s points is that movies made during WWII weren’t afraid to be entertaining…”

    When he makes Casablancabe sure to wake me.

    Haven’t seen The Dirty Dozen since it came out.

  25. DCairns — I think it is fascinating what you propose in your post…but for me…I don’t think the film has “politics” or intended to make any political statement. The only thing it is concerned with is itself and film. Maybe I’m wrong…you make many good points (as do some of the other posters) but beyond this being a movie where Nazis get the s**t beat out of them by Americans, the French, and Jews…I didn’t see anything political in its agenda.

  26. Christopher Says:

    Eli Roth just sold me on “The House with Laughing Windows”..also check out his little review of Hitch’s “The Birds”
    I plan on seeing “Basterds”..I only hope it won’t put me to sleep as the Kill Bills ultimately did…stay away from the Grog i guess..Tarantinos been making the rounds alot on TV,talking and talking,always fascinating to listen too..

  27. I was wondering today about why I found QT’s Hitchcock reference (cigarette in the cream) so objectionable, and my girlfriend pointed out that it’s oddly out of character for the precise, mannerly and effete Landa to do something so pointlessly grubby. Unless it’s part of the film’s “All Nazis are disgusting in every imaginable way” schtick. It seemed of a piece with the opening scene’s meaningless John Ford quotation, where framing Shosanna in the doorway of the house is a reflexive bit of gimcrackery rather than an iconic fusion of story and subtext. (By the way, does anybody know when the word ‘subtext’ came into general use in a film-critical sense? Fassbender’s character uses it, but since he also says “I guess” rather than “I suppose”, his grasp of period idiom seems a little shaky.)

  28. this is great! it’s like Film Club 3.5

    David S.–I would argue that any work of art (any utterance at all) is political… and the works that disclaim politics are often the most political of all… in Tarantino’s case, this film, like just about everything else he’s done, restates his (to me) extremely unsettling level of comfort with the most conservative version possible of an American masternarrative that is doing a lot of harm worldwide… I can’t help returning to the term nihlistic conformism… nothing else fits…

    unlike Paul Verhoeven, QT has no interest in exploiting the critical potential of exploitation subjects–he just dives in there and turns these things into ripping, fanboysterous crowd-pleasers…

  29. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, Those disks took their time arriving! The mail is really appalling these days.

    To return to the idea that WW2 films were meant to be “entertaining”, if QT means that those films were aimed at a popular audience in an accessible manner and not meant to be dogmatically propagandist, then he has a point. My problem here is that he here appears to be as illiterate in terms of film history (despite his supposed knowledge!) as he is in f contributing to the development of cinema. As David E. has aptly stated, T. represents the “death of cinema” , and here he embodies the death of intelligence.

    Just because a war film was meant to be entertaining in terms of reaching its audience does not necessarily mean that it was devoid of any serious message whether you define it as group solidarity in Howard Hawks’s AIR FORCE or the necessity of committment rather than isolation in CASABLANCA (which also, as a recent documentary shows had many exiles from the Nazis in leading and “extra” roles). We must also remember that the hero dies at the end of BATAAN along with all the other American characters. The same is true of GUADALCANAL DIARY and WAKE ISLAND. Despite their accessibility, these were not audience-friendly “fun” films in the way QT defines “entertainment.”

    Since we are all literate on this site (which is more than can be said for Tarantino!), I need not go into any further examples here especially as we know that films made towards the end of the war took a more somber view of the conflict such as THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, A WALK IN THE SUN, and THE STORY OF GI JOE that deal with loss, both physical and psychological in many ways that then could go beyond the level of “entertainment” and the “Why We Fight” philosophy that occurs in the middle of the conflict as other national cinemas (North Vietnam especially) reveal.

  30. Nihilistic conformism is an incredibly compact and apt summation of Tarantino’s underlying worldview.

    I might have been happy to consume the movie as mindless fun if I had found it enjoyable. But something stuck halfway down, and I had to get it analyzed. And I don’t think you can say “a movie where Nazis get the s**t beat out of them by Americans, the French, and Jews…” isn’t political. The unique feature here is the celebration of Americans using Nazi cruelty against Nazis, which certainly has political implications.

    Yeah, the Hitchcock cigarette reference doesn’t fit the character. For all Tarantino’s being celebrated for his dialogue, he’s always been slack with vocab. Would Bruce Willis’s French girlfriend in Pulp Fiction use the word “oafish”? Basically everybody talks like QT, then the actors individualize it. Read the opening of Resevoir Dogs and you can’t tell who’s who. Not that I *mind* too much. Not compared to the other stuff.

    Didn’t think Roth was exactly dreadful… but I did think a proper actor could do it a lot better… and a proper actor who actually looked bearlike would make a lot more sense.

  31. According to an article I read this morning, the people getting off on this “kosher porno” (a phrase that makes me want to hit someone) are not Jews but Germans. Supposedly, they find it cathartic. There can be good reasons for that as well as bad, but — and maybe this is down to me being a vengeful, scalp-hunting, Nazi-torturing Jew; hey that’s just the way we roll — I’m leery of things that Germans find cathartic.

    Of course, that article may well have been bullshit.

    The Nazi-era German film industry is a potentially great subject in itself, which is why I wish Tarantino hadn’t touched it.

  32. Tony Williams Says:

    David C and Katya, These are very astute observations.

    In THE DIRTY DOZEN, Aldrich had already explored the theme of “Americans using Nazi cruelty against Nazis” as you will see. I’m not surprised that this is one of QT’s “original” insights.

    Katya, A few days ago I viewed Veit Harlan’s JUD SUSS (1940) recently released on DVD and it is amazing how this film projects the dark aspects of Nazism on to the Jews including the final scene when Suss facing execution protests that he was only carrying out orders thus anticipating the Nuremberg defense. In his video essay Eric Rentschler (author of THE MINISTRY OF ILLUSION) discusses these issues also relevant to certain national inheritors of similar appalling practices.

  33. My German friend found it a bit offensive.

    The Germans apparently enjoyed the BBC French resistance sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo, because it treated Nazis more as idiots than bastards. Which again is a sign of something wrong with the approach, rather than some great accomplishment.

  34. The “original” aspect of Tarantino’s movie is his cheerful acceptance of war crimes as just good fun. Saving Private Ryan manipulates the audience into applauding the murder of an unpleasant German prisoner, but Tarantino’s is probably the first film to celebrate torture so openly.

    QT might argue that he’s not celebrating it, just offering it up for our enjoyment. But that seems to be splitting hairs.

  35. Anagramsci — you have a point there.

    D. Cairns — you know, as I was typing that line I thought to myself, damn, that sure does sound political.

    Again…I can’t quite explain it…the “politics” you explain here, did not bother me. I don’t think anyone is going to walk away from this and think, “Wow, you know what, torturing people IS THE WAY TO GO.” I do think this some people are viewing this as some sort of perverted wish-fulfillment, and you wonderfully pointed out the problems with that (though I personally did not have those problems).

    I think I may have alluded to it in my review…and again, shows how the politics are perhaps inherent in the piece though the piece itself really has nothing deep to say about politics…that IB is ironically…perhaps…a fascist piece of work.

    And somewhere out there in the blogosphere, someone suggested that the work of the Basterds most resembles the current work of Al-Queda, or more importantly, the film in a political sense has more to do with current events and recent history than with anything from the era it so (in)gloriously depicts.

    So, yes, I am conceding…IB is very political…and I thank you all for making me think deeper about the film.

    Granted…I still really enjoyed it.

    As for all the in film references others are debating here…there is much to quibble with and I respect those who can spot all the “sources” so to speak of much of the imagery and such…but that is what QT is all about and why he always draws such love/hate reactions from genuine lovers of film.

  36. Tony Williams Says:

    Well, David C. This is another reason for me not seeing it, not that I was planning to anyway. But it certainly shows that QT is not only a filmmaker of his generation but also the Veit Harlan of Hollywood probably eager to make a comedy about rendition and torture (with his friend Eli Roth) as well as new versions of RED NIGHTMARE but this time supporting the Blackberry private contractors still used for assassinations by the mighty Obama!

  37. Christopher Says:

    ….Tarantino mentioned that the Germans he talked to,loved the film and said THEY could never make a picture like that in Germany..of course he may have been talking about when they were shooting it,before anyone actually saw it..I’m sure i’ll feel the embarrasment for my german friends when I see it..knowing that the Nazi mind set wasn’t always the mind set of the german “fighting man”as in films like Desert Rat, and more recently Valkyrie..

  38. Thanks, David HS, for your response.

    I’m not particularly afraid that the film will inspire torture — although 24 apparently makes secret service recruits think “enhanced interrogation” is a great idea — but I do think it’s saying something I find very offensive.

    “Wow, you know what, torturing people IS THE WAY TO GO.” — sadly, enough people already think this, as recent events have shown. The sudden presence of great amounts of torture in US TV and film does seem to be some kind of response to Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, and some of that response is weirdly and worryingly enthusiastic.

  39. Tony Williams Says:

    DC, And as you know “Allo Allo” was the comedy version of that old BBC French Resistance series starring Bernard Hepton where things were much more serious.

  40. Yes, the splendidly grim Secret Army. Television history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

  41. christian Says:

    At the risk of getting scalped, I’ll throw down for IB. Joe Dante is correct and who knows better about making films about cinema than he? People want IB to cover all this complicated moral ground, which is somewhat there, but I’d argue that THE DIRTY DOZEN skirts it even more (here’s my take:

    IB is a cine-fantasia and I found much of it enormously satisfying. This is a film not only about cinema, but linguistics, and QT didn’t just make a WHERE EAGLES DARE retread. Besides, any film that gives us a performance like Christoph Waltz deserves some glory…

  42. Blimey, 42 comments.

    Nothing like Salo’s little dance number in IB, and it’s no Casablanca either. As Tony says, WWII movies, the good ones, were deeply serious, even as they entertained the folks. And Salo is a test case for how far you can push the treatment of abjection in cinema, it’s the closest thing in a way to Godard’s proposed holocaust flick. And it takes its content entirely from a work of pornography, but you couldn’t get a greater contrast with QT’s brand of “kosher porn.”

  43. Thanks for standing up to be counted, Christian!

    Christoph Waltz is very good indeed, the way his almost girlish enthusiasm doesn’t reduce his menace at all is very interesting. It’s the least obvious performance. My point is that none of the film’s merits counted for that much with me, against its obscenity.

    The problem with it being a film about cinema is that this leaves the war stuff unexcused and inexcusable. If I made a film about opera or gardening I probably wouldn’t throw in Nazis and torture. I think QT thinks these things are “inherently cinematic,” which seems questionable to me. Maybe they’re just easy to get a reaction with.

    And I admit that if I had sat there and enjoyed the film consistently as you did, my “moral objections” might have lost all their force. But I honestly found it quite an unpleasant experience, despite the merits.

  44. That it “celbrates torture openly” makes IB not a film about WWII at all but rather about Iraq.

  45. And yet the Jewish heroes are the once who strap explosives to their bodies. It’s kind of a grab-bag of resonant images, with a complete reluctance to deal with any of them on any level other than plot and sensation. And it’s not even obvious that Tarantino has considered ANY of that — I’d be mildly surprised to learn he even watches the news.

  46. Tony Williams Says:

    I’m not even going to access David E’s latest example as I did with SALO since he said it all in his previous post. These well-known images are bad enough but to see a film celebrating a hideous event described by Rush Limbaugh as a Frat Boy’s joke says it all.

  47. Tony Williams Says:

    Christian, I’ve just read your blog but I would add that more is going on beneath the surface of the poster illustration than meets the eye. It is very similar to the poster ad vertizing CITIZEN KANE in being designed to sell the movie rather than represent its actual nature. Also, you cite the stars Savalas and Brown. But note the irony of the roles. Savalas’s character is really an attack on the racist fundamentalist Klan supporters in HUAC and is there not an irony in the remnants of the Dozen cheering on a black man to do the dirty work of the establishment?

    I’ve not read the full report about Joe Dante’s comment nor the context in which he made it ,but if IB is really a “film about cinema” then so is BIRTH OF A NATION and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, two notorious films that have their academic supporters who look on these works on the level of form alone. Other critics thankfully look at the aspects of context and ideology.

  48. christian Says:

    I’d say that in 1967, it was a pretty easy subversion, however appreciated, to have Savalas’ fundamentalist rapist be the team’s lone villain. And since Brown was a popular football star, white folks cheering him on isn’t that out of place. The rest of the Dozen are fairly amiable for death-penalty worthy criminals, but the generals are portrayed as officiously evil as possible. Not hard points to score in the late ’60’s.

    Again, TDD is a movie selling action heroics trying to subvert them – but not too much — works out as a contradiction in terms of the material. Even Lee Marvin thought it silly. He prefered THE BIG RED ONE. So TDD is still a fantasia itself. And if including Nazis makes the film hyperly-political, what about WHERE EAGLES DARE or RAIDERS OF A LOST ARK? Do they lose points for not seriously dealing with the real evil or anti-semitism of the Nazis?

    But Tarantino the “Death of Cinema”? That’s ridiculous. He’s helped save movies, especially for screenwriters. And Godard love him, but his anti-war films were as fanciful as anything in IB. Did he think revolutionairies would sit through his films to learn about Marxism? Maybe so, but then he believed in the power of film more than QT…

    See, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is stirring up good movie talk!

  49. “He’s helped save movies, especially for screenwriters.”


  50. I would never call anyone capable of making a thing as wonderful as Jackie Brown “the death of cinema”… however, the siren song of the fanboys who called Tarantino back from the brink of that breakthrough IS quite dirgelike…

  51. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, folks cheering Jim is not out of place. But they are cheering a black man doing a dirty deed for the white establishment burning people in the same way blacks were burned in the South.

    There is a difference between Nazis in DD and those other films you cite. Again, look at the mise-en-scene in the chateau, the use of busts, then go back to the opening scene in the General’s conference room.

    As I said, DD does not work as well as TOO LATE THE HERO but it does subvert the codes of the WW2 film that Aldrich and Heller wanted, not glorify action and violence as QT does in all his films in a frat-boy, adolescent mannerr

  52. christian Says:

    You can find 20 more violent movies out than IB and how is he glorifying violence in the moment with Fredericl Stoller unable to take pleasure in watching himself kill onscreen? His death isn’t intended to be a triumph of Shosanna’s will. That’s the kind of moment that separates QT from others.

    And THE DIRTY DOZEN wasn’t a huge hit in 1967 because audiences got off on the subversion of heroics…

  53. First, The Dirty Dozen might not seem that subversive now, but I’d give Aldrich some credit, since the studios weren’t chasing the youth audience with political films at that time — Easy Rider was still around the corner. Late sixties mainstream cinema in America was often more conservative.

    I’m not convinced you can really subvert that kind of action movie without altogether alienating your audience though. In that sense I lean towards Christian’s view.

    The problem with IB isn’t the level of violence — it couldn’t be, for me, since I eat violent films for breakfast. It’s the attitude. Ironically, it’s also the connection of the violence to real events, which is also the very reason Zoller can’t take looking at his film. Tarantino throws in things to make Germans sympathetic because he likes messing with the audience, but I don’t think he achieves anything with these conflicted responses. In a way I think he’s just copping out of having an opinion about what he shows us. Throwing in a few contradictions does not automatically lead to complexity.

    I think it comes out of a misapprehension of Scorsese’s approach. The lack of moralizing, the reluctance to impose a healthy social perspective on the action. Scorsese’s value is that he’s trying to be honest: this is the way he thinks it is, and it’s up to you to make up your mind about it. QT does not have that unflinching honesty, and his movies are genre pieces. He uses Scorsese’s matter-of-fact attitude as a pose.

    I’d still like to know how he’s saved screenwriters, too.

  54. Scorsese’s honesty is a very different beast, I think. Years ago I saw him answer the question “Do you regret turning down the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs?” with the answer, “If I’d directed it it wouldn’t have won an Oscar.” His explanation was, “I read the book and thought about it, and said ‘If I make this, I’m going to have to show this, and this, and THIS….'” – to Scorsese, if you make a film about a guy who wants to skin women and wear their skin, that’s going to be on screen and the audience is going to have to think about this guy and his life and his mindset.

    It’s crucial to me that thought, sustained thought about what motivates any of the characters, is completely absent from IB. Characters behave the way they do simply to make stuff happen. The Audie Murphy character’s reaction to the onscreen violence seemed for a minute to be a heavy-handed exception, but his willingness to get all rapey all of a sudden put him back in the ‘nasty Nazi’ camp where QT apparently believes everybody who ever wore a German uniform belongs.

  55. A good example of that “for the sake of the plot” behaviour is Landa, right at the start, letting a character go. Why does he do that? because he’s complex, or because it allows the story to proceed while imparting a smeary illusion of complexity?

  56. “smeary illusion of complexity” thy name is Tarantino.

    There is noting complex whatsoever about the narrative roder shift is ,Pulp Fiction.


    Try to imagine a QT version of Je t’aime je t’aime


  57. I don’t think Pulp Fiction even lays claim to complexity, as the title implies. It just shuffles plots to surprise. I don’t have an issue with that. The stories work better that way than they would straight. Tony Scott switching True Romance into chronological order just shows up the flaws in the story, for me.

    At heart, IB is just as dumb, a WWII comic strip, and the tacked-on contradictions are in bad faith. All of which I might accept if I’d been consistently entertained, but the underlying assumptions are so unpleasant that the whole thing felt queasy. It’s kind of like the war movie Winston Smith watches in 1984.

  58. La Faustin Says:

    Damn you, David Cairns et cie. – after reading the original post and the first few comments, I had to run out and see this. It will be a long time before I trust again.

    It may be kicking a dead horse – a dead, holographic horse — to question IB’s logic, but the Basterds’ reason for existence makes no sense. “Nazis will hate and fear the Jews” – they didn’t already?

    In the IB optic, WWII becomes The Jews’ War Against Hitler – which was what a lot of US isolationists claimed before Pearl Harbor. IB seems to imply that no one but a Jew would be interested in targeting the Third Reich, and that Jews have no interest in any war aims beside Hitler.

    Katya, you’re so right about the Nazi-era German film industry (and elegant comment overall) – it needs its own Laissez Passer. Did you ever see La Niña de tus ojos, with Penelope Cruz, about Spanish movie actors in Berlin for a 1938 co-production? A bit of a missed opportunity, but …

    On a happier note, check out in re Jud Süß: Ein Film ohne Gewissen (Jud Süß: A Film Without Conscience), about the making of the 1940 propaganda film DC reviewed in The Forgotten (!

    Wonderful as this sounds in itself, we can hope it means attention paid not only to the 1940 film, but also to the 1934 British version of the story, starring Conrad Veidt, in which Süss is the hero. It was shot at Gaumont at the same time Christopher Isherwood was working with Berthold Viertel on Little Friend. In Christopher and His Kind, Isherwood has a wonderful Veidt-as-Süss story:

    “Veidt sat in a cart, his hands manacled, on his way to death – a wealthy and powerful man ruined, alone. However, just as the filming was about to begin, something went wrong with the lights. There was to be a delay of five minutes. Veidt stayed in the cart. And now a stenographer came up to him and offered him a piece of candy. The gesture was perhaps deliberately saucy. Some stars would have been annoyed by it because they were trying to concentrate on their role and remain ”in character”. They would have ignored the stenographer. Others would have chatted and joked with her, welcoming this moment of relaxation. Veidt did neither. He remained Suess, and through the eyes of Suess he looked down from the cart upon this sweet Christian girl, the only human being in this cruel city who had the heart and the courage to show kindness to a condemned Jew. His eyes filled with tears. With his manacled hands he took the candy from her and tried to eat it – for her sake, to show his gratitude to her. But he couldn’t. He was beyond hunger, too near death. And his emotion was too great. He began to sob. He turned his face away.”

    Christian Bale, take note.

  59. Tony Williams Says:

    David C. You make a good point about The Dirty Dozen and the action syndrome tending to diminish whatever radical edge the director may attempt. I believe an article in the 1988 issue of GENRE by Claudia Springer (I believe) argues that the dynamics of the action film tend to distract the attention of the audience away from the point being made. This does happen in TDD. However, to refer to that line, “Kill the Germans and feed the French” made humorously by Reisman, remember that the French servants who know no English witness this act that must have occurred in the full version. Many scenes were cut out of TDD including the dealth of Posey (Clint Walker) to ensure a reasonable running time for that decade.

    However, one scene did survive in the action sequence. The French servants run out of the mansion then immediately retreat inside where they will also be killed in the explosion. Why do they do this? The missing scene of the brutal murder of the unarmed German prisoners by the Dozen members who are, after all, only “carrying out orders” would explain this. Horrified by this brutal act that makes the liberators no different than the occupiers, the French servants rush inside the chateau where they will be killed along with the Germans in an Allied Attack.

    Such a level of complexity would not be found either in QT nor those other films cited (WHERE EAGLES DARE, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK).

    Faustin, Thanks for citing that wonderful story about Veidt, an actor I admire more and more as I read about his opposition to the politics of his homeland in the 1930s and beyond.

  60. You’re speaking my language, La Faustin. There can never be too many Conrad Veidt references on this blog.

    “The Ferdinand Marian Story!” I hope that’s released in the US. There seems to be a surge of interest in this topic in Germany, as there’s also a recent German documentary about Veit Harlan and his descendents (including Thomas Harlan, whom I posted about at The Forgotten). Link to the Variety review:

  61. The Ferdinand Marian movie could be great, I hope they get it right.

    I think action movies not only tend to distract audiences away from the political points being made — although the action could theoretically be devised to illustrate such a point, as in the Dirty Dozen example you cite — but the need for heroes, tasks, conflict and spectacle effectively counteracts any anti-war message. You need to get seriously Brechtian to stop the audience cheering on the allies.

    Although a movie like Das Boot has a certain alienation built in — any time you start hoping the protagonists win, you get caught by the realization they’re on the wrong side. Or at least I hope everybody does.

    Just got Dassin and Veidt’s Nazi Agent, which I look forward to seeing.

  62. christian Says:

    Well, as a screenwriter in Hollywood, the pro writers I’ve encountered over the years have much praise for QT. To say he hasn’t help shifted the attention to dialogue and monologue since his debut is simply not true. It’s a silly statement to deny his effect on the importance of the word, particularly since it’s clear he’d rather direct two people talking than a movie of action scenes. His scripts often reflect novelistic devices more than film.

    But there’s a lot of contradictions in these arguments here: the Germans are shown sympathetically, but QT doesn’t really mean to show the inherent conflict when one is killed…okay.

  63. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, Christian, QT has returned attention to “dialogue and monologue” but in an infantile, street-kid” manner very far removed from the intelligent dialogue of a Joseph L. Manciewicz, Billy Wilder, and George Cukor film. A difference exists and it is one involving aspects of maturiity and quality neither of which exist in the films of QT. It is just one of amusing dumb kids who make up his audience anyway

    David, I take your point for a more alienated Brechtian approach to violence but even this has been co-opted (one episode of MOONLIGHTING concluded in this manner in the 80s and more work is needed here. The SCREEN tradition was a failure.

    Finally, you are really going to enjoy NAZI AGENT and Katya, the more I read about Veidt and see his films, the more I admire him. He was a real radical activist and humanitarian.

  64. christian Says:

    Tony, your hatred of QT has colored your objectivity. And to say that “dumb kids” just drool over that “infantile” conversation between Pam Grier and Robert Forster in JACKIE BROWN where they talk about aging…yeah, okay.

    To say QT is the “death if cinema” is objectively absurd, regardless if you like his films or not. The dude bought the New Beverly Cinema building to keep the last repertory theater in LA surviving….hardly a film jihadist.

  65. christian Says:

    And let me pull in Verhoeven’s STARSHIP TROOPERS which many love to point out the subversion of fascistic jingoism, which is there, but really, Verhoeven just gets off on the gore and violence more than QT. Not everybody has experienced what Verhoeven did in the war, but when I saw ST, his 100 million dollar subversion was lost on the audience who were cheering every action scene to the point where — swear to God — the teen sitting next to me said, “Makes me want to join the army.” What kind of subversion is that?

  66. Hello. Warm wishes. I haven’t actually read all the posts here because I was just too keen to throw in my tuppence ‘orth after seeing all the flak this film is getting. Sorry if I’m chewing over what’s already been said.
    I couldn’t agree with you less this time, David, and I’m actually a bit sad to see you making the same assumptions about Quentin Tarantino’s “stupidity” and “adolescence” that Dave Calhoun does in Time Out (Calhoun thinks Max Linder was German, do you really want to take his side?). Maybe these are based on the “too stupid” interviews Tarantino’s given. I don’t know, I haven’t read them, and clearly that was a good idea because whatever he might have said in print Inglourious Basterds is ALL about Man’s inhumanity to Man. This is ALL about rage. And, yes, it’s about War. It’s a film made in an occupying country about an occupied country. Okay yes it’s also a film about Film but… okay for example: Why does Tarantino concentrate so much on the casting of European actors for the accuracy of their accents (indeed make that a plot point) and then throw in Mike Myers as a British officer and Bradd Pitt with a ludicrous Southern drawl? Why does Fassbender’s acting immediately improve when he talks in German? Because the British and Americans here are the goonish other, the outsider? Because this is very clearly a story about occupation. (That the lingua franca here is English is also I feel not simply a convenience. The first and last casualty of war here is culture. Both Occupied and Occupier will suffer culturally at the hands of an Allied Invasion: SEE how smart that lovely European Chapter 1 is! SEE how stupid that chuckling American Chapter 2 is!)
    Why do you assume – like all the film’s detractors – (though none assume at such great length as you) – that we are not supposed to sympathize with the Nazi about to have his head beaten in with a baseball bat? Surely switching from chapter 1 to 2 we are caught first in the headlights of Colonel Landa and then in the headlights of Aldo Raine. As we hear Eli Roth (a well cast bogey man) tapping the walls as he approaches it is absolutely us that he’s appraoching. And time and again our sympathies are pressed into the service of those who donned the Nazi uniform, albeit fleetingly (but of course one of Tarantino’s signature talents is fucking with out sympathies).
    Yes, Tarantino isn’t Jewish. But is Pitt’s Raine? Again that has to be significant. The Basterds (their illiteracy scratched into their rifles yet another chilling note) aren’t the heroes of this film. The heroes are two cultured women, Shosanna and von Hammersmark. I don’t mean they are simply the heart of the film, I mean they clearly are the capital h Heroes and both the bravest and the most effective people we meet.
    And I’m convinced that Tarantino’s depiction of violence here (as in Pulp Fiction) is among the most morally motivated you’ll find. In both movies he really DOES convince as a “master of suspense” (but I guess to earn that title you need to hit it with every film) inasmuch as I found myself turning round in my skin with the tension of scene after scene whose success relied on me wanting to see people NOT get hurt (hence maybe the quote in IG of Hitchcock’s “mistake” in Sabotage, blowing up the child. In my opinion that was no mistake. IG just happens to be full of such “mistakes”.) So basically you’re supposed to feel upset, I absolutely believe that. Not as upset as you felt, David, but then a lot of that seems to have resulted from a sense that you weren’t supposed to be upset at all. No you’re definitely supposed to feel upset. In fact I experienced a lot of the same emotions watching this that I expereinced watching Spielberg’s “Munich”, another threnody to the ceaseless if not spiralling violence occassioned by the Shoah dressed up as Jewish Revenge Fantasy.
    Oh and your criticism of the film within a film again I think misses the point. If anything it should be a pastiche of Michael Bay, a lunatic montage of ceaseless gunfire made by an occupying country overseeing a boom in film attendance.
    No this film also reminded me of sadness, but I loved it.

  67. None at all.

    Verhoeven is in no way subversive.

    Woorth bringing up in this context as IB rips of V’s The Black Book shamelessly.

  68. “and is maybe the first to examine Goebbels (…) as a movie exec”

    Maybe… But I’m aware of at least one film presenting this side of him: Fernando Trueba’s “la Niña de tus ojos” (The Girl of Your Dreams ), a comedy inspired by the real fact of Spanish film crews doing films in UFA in Co-Production. Penelope Cruz plays a Folklorica (loosely inspired in film icon Imperio Argentina) with whom Goebbels is smitten.

  69. Tony Williams Says:

    Christian, I duly admit that I hate Tarantino, but my hatred is based upon an objective analysis of his films, with the exception of JACKIE BROWN that I have yet to see. Quite frankly, I have other better films on my viewing list and will probably get round to it when I find time to spend three hours viewing the work of a director I detest. I’ve never been one to subscribe to the axiom that a “good director can never make a bad film nor a hack a good film”. Exceptions sometimes happen and this may be one of them.

    However, I doubt whether this will compare in any way to the fine example above of A WOMAN’S FACE that David E. has supplied in which acting, direction, camerawork, and lighting combine in a highly coherent manner that puts to shame 99% of what emerges today. However, as Welles told Bogdanovich concerning the achievements of Hollywood, any Renaissance does not last long but I’m citing this as an example of what excellence was achieved in the past and what we have now lost.

    OK. JACKIE BROWN may be the exception but I stand by what I say in the rest of the films I’ve seen on QT and any exception does not prove the rule..

    Also, I’ve never described him as a “film jihadist” but even Al Capone instituted soup kitchens during the Depression and Mussolini got to make the trains run on time. Also, I wonder what tax write-off he may have got for it? But that he loves films I do not doubt, only I wish he had stayed in the video store since he does not possess the necessary intelligence and talent to direct anything of value.

  70. I just heard about the Trueba today, from David Wingrove, sounds fascinating.

    Wow. OK.

    Verhoeven is probably more a controversialist than a subversive. He loves mixing it up and offending people, and sometimes he’s very entertaining and even thought provoking when he does so. Interestingly, he doesn’t make any great claims for Starship Troopers’ subversion — he says he got a little satire into it at the beginning, and the rest is action movie. I’m sure he would regard it being taken as a recruiting film as a sick joke to relish.

    Now we’ve heard from two kinds of IB fan, those who found it largely apolitical and amusing, and Simon who thinks it’s deliberately disturbing. I think it does have deliberate moments where QT would like you to be unsettled, but I’m unconvinced this is at the service of any particular point.

    I remember Martin Amis praising the burger dialogue in Pulp Fiction, saying it showed what idiots these characters were — Travolta has been in Europe and all he can talk about is the fast food. Which is certainly a possible reading. But it never remotely occurred to me watching it that any criticism of the characters was intended. I think he loves those guys. Who’s right? In a way we have to go with what feels right to us. I’d say QT’s public persona backs my reading, but the reading comes from the film.

    Again, I can’t see QT being critical of the Basterds. He likes the idea of disturbing you by sometimes making you sympathize with the Nazis. But that’s it.

    One point I’ll give him — as Anne Billson says, QT’s visuals are refreshingly classical, free from Michael Bay incoherence and largely devoid of CGI FX.

  71. I wouldn’t use the word “disturbing”. No, I was definitely entertained, but – as your review suggests – not every emotion has a name, and I think Tarantino recognises this and is quite specifically interested in cinema’s efficiency in unearthing them, far more interested than he is in naming them… which is fine, that’s honestly not his job. But if the film, as many of its supporters have happily claimed, was intended as an escapist “revenge fantasy” why would Tarantino have so botched the punishment of the one character he spent the first twenty minutes or so of screen-time directing our rage towards? There’s nothing joyous about Landa’s send-off, especially when one compares it to the exhilarating suicide-bombing of the cinema, it’s not even a send-off. It’s complicated.

  72. Well, it did seem botched. I felt we were meant to be grossed out, but to still applaud. Whereas I have no sympathy with torture and mutilation, but would have been happy to see Landa killed. Did Tarantino want to deprive his audience of that satisfaction, while also making the point that many Nazi war criminals escaped alive and were never prosecuted? Maybe.

    But then, I also suspect he finds it amusing, hence the closing line. I’m not sure provoking the audience while laughing up his sleeves makes him any more of an artist. It’s the kind of phony complexity I get annoyed by in Von Trier.

  73. Well again I wouldn’t use the word “complexity”. I definitely don’t think either Tarantino or Von Trier are interested in complexity. But there’s no laughing up his sleeve either, it’s there in our face. I agree we were meant to be grossed out and then applaud (and, not but, I think) – applaud not the mutilation (which I suppose counts as torture… if it doesn’t the only torture I can recall from the film is Raine prodding von Hammersmarck’s bullet wound – charming) but rather applaud the director’s own name (the last line’s pay-off) at which point I’m still reeling from Hitler’s head exploding in a burst of machine gun fire, the fact that the War had no such catharsis and the knowledge that this rage remains unchecked. That this is overshadowed by the director advertising so obviously the pride he took fashioning this Yankee Doodle fantasy does I think require a certain artistry. Mission Accomplished.
    But then again I loved Southland, so what do I know.

  74. I think Verhoeven is amazing–ST is brilliant BECAUSE it works either way, UNTIL the hugely important scene in which Doogie Howser, decked out in SS regalia, leads the crowd in a chilling “HOORAY” over the discovery that the enemy feels fear, and can therefore be tortured… THAT scene can either be ignored or dealt with, but it’s right there waiting to sucker punch every idiot who thrilled to the heroics which preceded it)

    Tarantino is not even close to being in Verhoeven’s league, as intellectual (and deeply critical) schlockmeister

  75. […] August 23, 2009 Great discussion at David Cairns’ Shadowplay. […]

  76. In the interest of extending this thing to 100 comments, may I just interpolate: “Skol, Satan.”

  77. By all means!

    I like Verhoeven but I’m cynical about him too. Could almost say the same about QT but this one makes me like him less. Enjoyed his first two but haven’t revisited them. Javkie Brown is uneven — Samuel L Jackson’s stuff harks back to the early, dumb Tarantino, Grier and Forster look forward to a QT we may never get — but it has very good things, and you actually CARE. Enjoyed Kill Bill 1, 2 seemed mainly atrocious. Death Proof an overextended skit. It’s about female friendship but unless I misread it, one “friend” sets up another to potentially get raped.

    I can’t buy QT as having a moral stance on violence at all. He’s made it pretty clear he regards it as just a colour in his palette, which may work in Kill Bill but I don’t see how it can be in a Jews vs Nazis drama. Issues are raised which the filmmaker needs to be ready to deal with.

  78. Here’s a link to a recent Guardian piece on Tarantino by John Patterson. I haven’t seen Inglourious Basterds. The only QT film I really liked was Jackie Brown:

  79. Jacques Rivette, of all people, is crazy about Verhoeven. Not only does he love Starship Trooper, he love Showgirls ! How he ca defend such gilded crap and get all high and mighty about Haneke amazes me to now end.

    I met Verhoeven once back at the time of Spetters. He dresssed and behaved EXACTLY like the anti-hero of his subsequent film, The Fourth Man. As I believe I mentioned here (or maybe it was in Frederiksbad) in his youth Verhoeven made gay porn films starring (wait for it)

    Rutger Hauer.

  80. To me <i.Starship Troopers is a footnote in the transplendent career of Neil Patrick harris who I worship like the God that he is.

  81. Harris is excellent

    je suis d’accord avec Jacques Rivette, a 100%

  82. Rudger Hauer was very good in Ermanno Olmi’s La leggenda del santo bevitore(The Lengend of the Holy Drinker)

  83. Man. A lot of QT haters on this blog. Chill out. The movie’s mad fun.

  84. Thanks for that erudite argument, Cribbster. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but you can’t really start a conversation with “mad fun.” It wasn’t fun for me.

    Maybe if Haneke would shut up about his films I could get with them, but every time he explains what he’s up to my eyes roll back in my head. I prefer Verhoeven, who mixes entertainment and malaise with at least some sense of what he’s doing.

  85. Hmmm. We’re throwing a cocktail party for Haneke here in L.A. next week. I’ll let you know what he say. Love his latest <i.The White Ribbon. Nihilist as all get out. But for serious reasons. Plus he understands , and respects, history.

    QT as we all know doesn’t.

  86. I just don’t think pretentious erudition is going to enlighten anyone in this particular instance. “Inglourious Basterds” either blows your ass away or it doesn’t. It’s a movie mad for the gut, not the mind.

  87. First, I dislike the word “pretentious” — most people who use it don’t know what it means, which is in itself pretentious. If you believe the film cannot or should not be analyzed, don’t discuss it. You might find yourself thinking, which might spoil your fun. I take the view that anything can and should be thought about and discussed. And I enjoy that. This might not be the place for you if you don’t.

    If this annoys you and you want to discuss it, I’m totally up for that. But then I’ve won.

    You could argue “Triumph of the Will, either blows your ass away or it doesn’t.” I think it’s important to look deeper. (I’m not comparing QT to Riefenstahl, but she’s a pretty good example of why a gut reaction shouldn’t be trusted alone.)

  88. I’m positive I used the word properly. Regardless, I’ve read quite a bit of the legitimate criticism regarding “Basterds,” and none of the negatives have interested me greatly. Much of the debate is centered around one or two endlessly debatable issues about revenge and a filmmaker’s moral obligations and concerns and whether (or not) he’s as good as he was in 1994.

    I think most discussion about both is irrelevant.

  89. The mind and the gut have always been one and the same for me.

  90. basically, Tarantino is saying: “isn’t it fun to make a wartime film–complete with self-branded enemies that we can kill with impunity (and, if we’re lucky, maybe die OURSELVES while we’re at it)?”

    if you agree with that, then I suppose you’d find Inglourious Basterds mad fun indeed

  91. I suppose I have no problem suspending my own real-world morality while watching an entertaining war fantasy. I see no problem liking movies that examine war seriously (“The Thin Red Line,” perhaps?) and those that don’t (… “Inglourious Basterds,” obviously).

  92. The trouble is, the film may invite you to enjoy it apolitically, but it’s loaded with political assumptions nonetheless.

    In fact, my first reaction was from the gut — I felt ill. I then had to pick apart my reaction, because that’s the cure.

    Birth of a Nation might be quite enjoyable if one suspended ones morality. I can suspend my morality or my brain, but not both at the same time.

  93. I have a hard time comparing “Inglourious Basterds” with the obvious racist impulses of movies like “Birth of a Nation.”

    You’re making poor, needless arguments.

  94. I don’t agree with you, David E that “we all know” Tarantino neither understands or respects history. There’s surely an argument that history of film is history of a sort, and as I hope I’ve made plain much of what “blew my ass off” while watching this came from contextualizing it in terms of the shadow cast by the Second World War, both in contemporary Allied Adventurism – HOW the telling of this story has conditioned the subsequent culture of those countries involved – and simply in terms of a salient lesson about fucking with the Jews. Does that sentenec make sense? probably not. Killing Hitler off is obviously not proof that Tarantino neither knows nor cares what actually happened to him, it can surely just as easily (and certainly more usefully) be interpreted as evidence of exactly the opposite.
    And, re: “He’s made it pretty clear he regards it as just a colour in his palette”… David C, I can’t think of a writer on film I currently enjoy more or owe more gratitude to you, but how has he made it “pretty clear”? not, to my mind, in the films themselves. In interviews? Maybe Tarantino just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s possible to be an artist and have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s not even an artist’s job to necessarily know what you’re doing flatout, I honestly believe that. The greatest artistry is displayed by creating something with an intelligence higher than that of the artist who made it, particularly in a medium as collaborative as film. I think you believe this too. But in that case it must be allowable to defend a film even if you are unable to discuss it. Too often we see works dismissed because critics have been given nothing to write about. I create theatre. I don’t create plays but most theatre critics are really play critics. Now I have no way of telling if what I’m involved in is any good but the stuff sells out and people love it while the critics for the most part write angry and bored accounts of what literally happened in front of them, to the point where I’m almost beginning to think it’s one of the artist’s jobs to make critics look dumb. But theatre critics are the worst. You’re nothing like them. My battery’s running out.

  95. Arthur S. Says:

    The mind and the gut has always been the same for me too.

    A film is pretentious if it asserts a claim to a standard that it does not achieve on its own legs. GONE WITH THE WIND is a big national epic about the Civil War, every frame screams pomp but it’s really a story of one woman’s journey through life. RUN OF THE ARROW doesn’t claim to be an EPIC movie but it has a lot to say about Civil War and American identity, much more than the Selznick film.

    The only film of Haneke’s that I really think is great, something special is CACHE. Its one of the most sophisticated films of this decade yet filled with a simplicity and elegance. It is specific to French society but its also universal, or universal to middle class life in capitalist societies. Its a film where everybody is on shaky ground and which really makes you think. And the use of digital is so organic and precise.

  96. I agree with Simon that it’s never a good idea to place any stock in the things an artist says in an interview…

    re: the shadow cast by the struggle against Hitler, there’s no doubt that World War Two, both as a military and a MEDIA event, lies at the absolutely bedrock of western political consciousness–and if you’re saying that Tarantino is claiming (by ending the film on the note that he does) that, since 1945, we’ve spent all of our time looking for more Nazi foreheads to carve the “enemy” symbol onto, that’s interesting….

  97. Birth of a Nation was a huge hit, of course, and I believe that this wasn’t because of its racism but because it was, in its time, unprecedentedly mad fun. Surely this was the point of David C’s reference: purely funcentric responses can miss points that shouldn’t be missed. Not to mention: he didn’t think the movie was fun anyway.

    At any rate: I haven’t seen the film yet but the word-of-mouth I’ve heard from filmgeeks I know has been almost uniformly enthusiastic. But filmgeeks are precisely the people most easily snowed by “films about film,” the transcendent virtue of fun, etc., so I’m happy to have David C do the ungroovy work of thinking stuff over, whether or not I end up agreeing with him.

    100 responses and beyond!

  98. Cribbster: at least I’m MAKING arguments. All you’re saying is you like the film. Fine. I believe you. Will you believe I didn’t? Nothing pretentious about that. And I didn’t compare it to Birth of a Nation any more than I compared it to Triumph of the Will. I use those as examples of why I like to think about my entertainment, why I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t.

    Simon: I’m thrilled to have you defending this film because we can get a real discussion going. I’d agree that QT’s killing of AH doesn’t mean he doesn’t know history. He certainly knows some history. But I certainly think he doesn’t respect it enough. It would be possible to rewrite the events of WWII with a good motive, and we could learn a lot from that. It’s an interesting idea. This seemed about the dumbest thing you could do with it, but it would still be fun if it wasn’t about something so painful. It’s holocaust denial by default.

    Tarantino on violence: well, of course, there are his interviews, but if we disregard those, there’s Kill Bill. I think the only collaborators who can make his films smarter are the actors, and here Waltz makes Landa more credible than he’s written, Melanie Laurent gives the movie more dignity than it deserves… but that’s normal, I don’t begrudge him that. I do think that if the writer-director isn’t thoughtful enough, no amount of support from his team can compensate. “Great films are made by the director,” said Orson Welles (while stressing that good films could be made by practically anyone involved).

    I love the idea that the artist’s job is to make the critic look stupid. The best films are often those I struggle to deal with.

  99. Katya: my thoughts precisely.

  100. In Hitler – Dead or Alive (Nick Grinde), four crooks just out of Alcatraz come to Germany to kill Hitler and succeed. Of course, Hitler gets his goose cooked in quite a few wartime Looney Tunes. I would guess that Tarantino may have had this in mind.

  101. Interesting thought. I just saw a Nick Grinde movie, The Man with Nine Lives, starring Boris Karloff. Thought it was rather good.

    An interesting approach would have been to make the movie as if it had been shot during WWII, but QT/Roth doesn’t even do that with the film within the film. Incidentally, the Germans shot a lot of propaganda films in colour, so if the idea was to make Heart of a Nation seem like a Michael Bay movie, that might’ve been helpful.

    Simon, a thought occurs to me about Aldo Raine and his non-Jewish status. We COULD read Raine as Tarantino’s stand-in. Like QT, Aldo is from Tennessee. Like QT, he leads a group of Jewish colleagues (the Weinsteins, Eli Roth) on a violent mission. Despite this mission going into foreign territory, QT/Aldo has virtually no language skills. Despite the violent nature of the mission, neither actually kills anyone. Brad Pitt certainly fuses with QT in the last line. And that might be why QT isn’t in the movie.

    Which I find interesting, but still doesn’t make me like the film any better.

  102. D. Cairns — first, I applaud you for keeping this discussion going! My comment will now make 106. Bravo! (I also think this is a testament to the film’s polarizing appeal — you can not NOT have an opinion about IB or QT in general).

    Secondly — anagramsci said: “re: the shadow cast by the struggle against Hitler, there’s no doubt that World War Two, both as a military and a MEDIA event, lies at the absolutely bedrock of western political consciousness–and if you’re saying that Tarantino is claiming (by ending the film on the note that he does) that, since 1945, we’ve spent all of our time looking for more Nazi foreheads to carve the “enemy” symbol onto, that’s interesting…”

    WOW — I think you’re on to something!

    Isn’t talking about film exhilarating? Which is why, as I believe it was Katya who pointed this out, true lovers of film will always appreciate and get giddy about a movie about movies (even if they think that movie is garbage in the end). The fact that we can disagree about the merits of that movie (or movies) is what makes discussions like this so much fun (and enlightening).

    But I think I’m just stating the obvious and not adding much new to the discussion…so I shall continue to lurk and enjoy.

  103. The visual reference to The Searchers in Chapter 1 is not gratuitous. The Basterds’ scalping of their enemies links them to Ethan Edwards, and also suggests that they have become the moral equivalent of their enemies – like Ethan to Scar. QT is certainly aware of all this.

    Which is not to say that IB truly subverts the joy in bloody revenge that it generates. No more than Aldrich did in Dirty Dozen or Verhoeven did in ST. The majority of audiences take all that gung-ho stuff literally and don’t see the subversive aspects or the irony – it’s just a secondary level for the more *sophisticated* viewers.

    QT definitely has a point of view here. He’s saying that War is Hell and reduces all its participants to the same barbaric level. And asks a question that can never be comfortably answered, “Do you want to play nice, or do you want to win?”

  104. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, Nothing surpises me about Tarantino anymore and the Pitt as “the author in the text” is perfectly comprehensible in this scenario so if Jerry c’s reference to THE SEARCHERS, a favorite text of the movie brats and one that would be used by an illegitimate offspring who, in this sense ,would be “a right bastard.”

    Joking aside, I think that anagramsci’s interpretation about “looking for more Nazi foreheads” is valid but accidental on the part of a frat boy who “just wanna have fun.”

  105. Has anyone seen Jackie Farkas’ short film The Illustrated Auschwitz?

  106. No, is it good?

    I saw the Searchers shot as more of a Once Upon a Time in the West shot — since Shosanna is running off, framed by the doorway, it’s like the squaw fleeing Woody Strode in Leone’s title sequence. Which is really the main visual cue for the scene. (Leone was certainly influenced by Ford though, so the point may be moot.)

    I don’t think the film suggests we’ve been looking for more foreheads. If it ended with a non-Nazi being carved up, that would suggest that. But the victim is a Nazi. It just seemed a straight repeat of the earlier carving, only this time in bloody ECU.

  107. […] (in conversations here with Charles Reece, with a number of interlocutors on Shadowplay and through email, with a friend) I somehow argued myself toward an interpretation of Inglourious […]

  108. “there’s no doubt that World War Two, both as a military and a MEDIA event, lies at the absolutely bedrock of western political consciousness”

    No it doesn’t, IMHO. I staunchly believe that it is World War One the one which actually -and mightily- populates the collective subsconscious: Paul Fussell’s “The Great War and Modern Memory” cleverly argues how many worldwise assumed clichés about war were originated in the trenches of Flanders and Picardy.

    Bloody WW2 was just the friggin’ REMAKE

  109. you may be right about the ways in which filmmakers and audiences imagine battlefields Gloria–but there’s a reason people call World War Two “The Good War”… it’s the war that keeps on giving, ideologically speaking

  110. I haven’t seen Jackie Farkas’ short film The Illustrated Auschwitz. Someone recommended it.

    I managed to see INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS last night. I found it a fairly shallow film, but to be fair, nobody does shallow better than QT. On the plus side, I suppose one might argue that in its own fantastical and cartoonish way it does depict the gross stupidity and mindlessness of war and violence.
    Good perfomances from Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz. I thought the multi-lingual aspect of it was well done. I enjoyed the “‘Allo ‘Allo!” tongue-in-cheek humour.

  111. Chapter 1 references both Once Upon a Time in the West AND The Searchers, but ultimately I think The Searchers references are more significant because, after the massacre of Shoshona’s family, she – like Ethan Edwards – can never go home again (the door is the threshold between home and exile) and is condemned to “wander between the winds,” spiritually speaking, with no purpose other than vengeance. By the end of the film she is literally an avenging ghost. The Basterds’ practices of scalping and scarring also invokes The Searchers (while the “Bear Jew” and his baseball bat recalls the killer apes of Kubrick’s 2001 and the idea – shared by Kubrick and Peckinpah and also apparently QT – of Man’s inherent savagery).

    Speaking of scarring, what does anyone make of the conspicuous scar on Pitt’s neck? Was his character’s throat cut? Was he hung? And how does that factor into the pleasure he takes in scarring others?

  112. It looks like a cut. One would assume it’s a war injury. But I don’t know if we can read it as much more than decoration. It’s a match for the sticking plaster on the back of Ving Rhames’ neck in Pulp Fiction.

    Although — comics writer Grant Morrison puts forward the theory that Wallace’s soul has been stolen — through the incision in his neck — and is what Travolta and Jackson retrieve in the glowing suitcase. I like that theory, myself.

  113. For me, the best depiction of the actual absurdity of war remains Peckinpah’s CROSS OF IRON.

  114. Grant Morrison is the greatest–do you remember where this theory saw print DC?

  115. Has anyone seen the Enzo Castellari film Quel maledetto treno blindato?

  116. You can read Grant Morrison’s comment at the link below:

  117. A song from Kris Kristofferson:

  118. Perhaps my two favourite parts in Inglourious Basterds are the opening scene, set in the French farmhouse, and the tavern sequence. I like the slow and sinister build up of tension in both. The fact that most of the farmhouse sequence is in French is especially effective.

  119. The Grant Morrison theory is espoused by King Mob in Morrison’s epic The Invisibles. During the American adventure.

    The farmhouse is good. By concealing the deaths of the hiding Jews, Tarantino actually shows tact.

    The tavern is also impressive in its sheer length, which works well, and it does get very tense. I’m told that the English agent doesn’t really have a surprising accent at all, his German is perfect apart from a few deliberate-sounding mistakes at the end of lines.

    One could get picky and point out that, with the evidence they leave behind, and the time they have to think about it, the Basterds would be bound to realize that Hammersmark’s cover is blown, but I’ll let that pass.

    Haven’t seen the Castellari.

  120. ah–right–Invisibles–thanks!

  121. Cheer, David, and everyone. Man I’ve been thinking about this film a lot. I went over to read the comments on’s film club because they’re on the whole a nice bunch of people and there were a few accounts there I found really interesting (“the motif of private versus public versus professional identities and where you fall on this spectrum when it comes to making choices to save yourself and your family or to honor your/your group’s morals/duty (not to mention language as a barrier and betrayer); the desire for celebrity and individual recognition versus the desire to obliterate identity to hide (and, relatedly, the fascinating theme of nicknames, their origins, and their applicability)”… it shows at least that you can love this film without leaving your morality at the door [like with Godard?]…. ) One recurring theme among the comments was how each viewer responded to the baying of the audience surrounding them (is this a big American thing?) while watching a cinema full of nazis burn.
    And now I think – or at least I’m willing now to throw out there as a theory – that maybe, in keeping with the ethos of making critics look stupid, Tarantino’s interviews – and indeed the whole wretched advertising campaign – are actually part of the show. Hm, this seems incredibly shaky now I write it down, and certainly won’t make you dislike the film any less, but I certainly champion Tarantino for making Film As Theatre, by which I don’t simply mean he’s a showman, I mean very specifically that he is interested, perhaps above all, in what it actually means to physically go to the cinema and sit down among people and watch something. Now to have given an INTELLIGENT interview about this film would have skewed that experience, to openly address the moral problems raised by the experience of watching this movie for those videogum commenters would have been to jeopardize that very experience. Does that make sense?
    I’ve just come back from Paris. On the television was a dubbed film about Nazi occcupation with Jack Shepherd and, I can’t rememebr, her off The Goonies: Soldiers on every street corner, bustling streets, grey, I hadn’t seen the film before but basically I had. As your observation about Saving Private Ryan suggests, authenticity is a bum steer. It has become the cliche. Really the most authenticity can ever hope to elicit from an audience is approval, and that’s pretty weak tea in any art form. To knock Tarantino for a lack of authenticity therefore seems to me to be knocking him for understanding his medium. Which he clearly does. I’ve never felt the anger of an occupied country communicated so efficiently as I have in that “Big Face” of Shosanna in the cafe. Yes this was the work of the performer, but like that deadpan Russian being shown the coffin and the child and the dessert it is also very much the work of everything that’s come before. This goes far deeper than just Verhoeven’s two hours of enjoyable sarcasm. Those eyes staring through the floorboards! I never seen it put so well.

  122. Oh, and the mind and the gut are not the same for me, but for something to effect my gut it does have to get through my head. So maybe my gut’s in my head. Yes, that’s it, the end-of-level monster.

  123. Or maybe film engages the gut to work on the mind. I don’t know.
    On which note if you’re still doing Film Club I would love to take a look at King Kong. The making of it alone warrants a book (and got it), and if every film but one had to be destroyed I’d argue this has to be the survivor, and as it turns out there are a lot of people on this site very happy to bandy the word “dumb” around, these other people would argue that it isn’t. And that might be fun.
    Also what’s the new Euphoria brief?

  124. P.P.S. I know Orson Welles said “Great films are made by the director”. I see what he means but still strongly disagree. (Although, conversely, I do think IG is a great film and I do think TQ should be credited for its greatness… to say any particular aspect of this film is “better than the film deserves” makes absolutely no sense to me and shows uncharacteristically bad faith). I think in fact that auteur theory has done a great deal of damage to film criticism, promoting a real schism between the experience of seeing a film and what it is critics then actually then choose to write about. (That no such schism exists on this site is what I love so much about it.)

  125. Welles’ line came at the end of a lenthy mickey-take of director-worship, which makes it particularly interesting. Somebody has to see that the various elements are in a harmonious balance. The editor or the producer can do this, but only if the director does it can the film achieve the true controlled unity necessary for art, is Welles’ argument. Of course, the writer’s contribution is way up there, but being situated at the start of the process, the writer rarely has a shot at overseeing the final result, although a well-written script that everybody follows with care and understanding gets you most of the way there.

    As for criticism missing the point, the odd thing is hardly anybody writes about anything the director actually DOES. So many critics ignore formal elements, brush lightly over performance (“subtle,” “hammy”) and basically deal with the story and the emotions they felt.

    King Kong would make a very interesting subject for discussion…

    Keep meaning to relaunch the Euphoria strand, will get around to it one of these days.

    As for authenticity: it’s of no particular value in itself but I think it can be a devastatingly effective tool for heightening other effects. The level of stylisation in L’Armee des Ombres is just right for that particular movie, allowing both authenticity and noir aesthetics to do their work. In Laissez-Passer, the style is less interesting, in itself, but almost passively allows a very compelling story to emerge with you-are-there immediacy. Horses for courses, basically.

    QT’s musical choices, visual tropes, etc, are all fine for what he’s doing, at least in principle. I have a bigger problem with his giant plot holes, but they don’t bother me so hugely.

    The departure from history in IG is likewise quite permissible in theory, it depends what’s done with it. If the film were saying, “If Superman was real, here’s how he would have defeated Hitler,” that would be childish and rather shameful, but lucid. I don’t know what IG is saying: “If the Jews had fought back…?” But many DID, and the Holocaust still happened. The desire to invent a happier ending for the war strikes me as understandable but not something one should yield to uncritically. To the extent that Tarantino offers criticism of the wish-fulfillment, it didn’t strike me as in any way adequate. His idea for a movie is MUCH more stupid than he allows.

    As for QT’s remarks being a smokescreen, I’m sure he tailors his remarks to the audience, and for most news outlets that means going as dumb as you can. The quotes I read from a screening for Jewish audiences, including Holocaust survivors, I believe, were a lot more nuanced. The publicity campaign is pure Weinstein: if a film is foreign language, use any lines of English you can find (“Allo!” “Yeah!”) to pretend it isn’t. So Aldo’s briefing is tailor-made.

    American audiences are much more vocal than UK and European ones. To an extend that’s a little worrying sometimes.

  126. It seems like the main objection to IB is that it offends the starbucks liberalism by making the audience cheer on acts of brutlatiy. This completely misses the point. Take the theatre scene: The Nazi war hero can’t watch his own exploits on the screen because he knows real men die. Meanwhile we get several shots of hitler giddily laughing and cheering on the violence in the film within a film. Thn we get the most violent scene in the movie played for cheers and laughs. QT knows what he’s doing. He’s making the audience in the theatre react like Hitler. It is purposely unsettling.

  127. Hmm. And yet, plenty of his admirers don’t seem unsettled.

    I sort of like what you’re saying, I think it’s well argued and there’s textual evidence within the film to support it. However, I think there’s evidence to support several contradictory arguments, because QT wants to have his cake and eat it. He’s not committed to being unsettling or making us think about our reactions, he still wants the film to totally work as a big bloody cartoon, which is how the majority of its defenders are perceiving it.

  128. “The Nazi war hero can’t watch his own exploits on the screen because he knows real men die. ”

    I thought the Nazi war hero was distracted by his desire to rape Shoshanna… one of the real strengths of this film, for me, is its refusal to sentimentalize in this “real men die” way… sure Zoller knows this propganda shite isn’t like the films he admires, but he’s no disillusioned war vet either…

    EVERYONE in this film (except for the “Jew-hunter”) is 100% convinced of the need to kill their enemies–and absolutely none of them are thinking about the ways in which those enmities have been constructed…

    the people who are constructing this movie as a phantasmagoria of art uber alles are the most perplexing to me of all… if the movie works at all, it works in the reverse direction–as a statement about the inability of art to do anything but respond to other art… I think we’ve all had enough of the “monster-who-understands-the-finer-things” trope, and the best thing about this movie is the way it sets us up to expect a meeting of the hearts and minds between Shoshanna and Zoller on the aesthetic plane, and then tosses them both onto the celluloid pyre, without any moment of tenderness passing between them (unless you count Shoshanna’s nod toward empathy after she thinks she has nullified the threat represented by Zoller… personally, I like to read that as another tease)

  129. […] to put these final thoughts about Inglourious Basterds up here [cut and pasted from the glorious Shadowplay thread, but perhaps even more inspired by Sean Collins' thoughts on the film […]

  130. Zoller’s actions are ambiguous up until the point he tries to break into the projection room. Seems like QT is leading us to think Zoller’s a sensitive guy, only to slap us in the face. Since all the major characters in uniform in the film ARE monstrous, any deconstruction of war movie catharsis seems to me rather perfunctory.

    The guy they shoot in the bar, the one who’s just become a father, is really the only remotely sympathetic German (and in QT’s world he’s not that important because he’s not “cool”) and his killing is essential to the covert operation, so it’s an act of necessity rather than vengeance. It’s interesting that QT has Hammersmark shoot him, because if Aldo did he might lose “sympathy.”

  131. Tony Williams Says:

    The above and recent comments evoke in my mind the concluding paragraphs of Eric Rentschler’s magnificent study of Nazi Cinema – The Ministry of Illusion. Writing at the end of the first Gulf War falling detailed and sophisticated analysis of several films, he concludes that Nazi Cinema did not die but still continues using postmodernist techniques of display and spectacle designed to distract the view from the monstrous type of manipulation occurring on screen.

    I see parallels to this latest cinematic atrocity of QT.

  132. However — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that QT IS trying to make us aware of this in some ways. I’m not sure how wholehearted he is in this, or if he’s just throwing it in for the sake of spurious “complexity” — but the film does draw attention to the workings of propaganda in a way that would be anathema to true Nazi cinema. One of the things it’s ABOUT is propaganda. However, as always with QT, I have my doubts as to whether the film is at heart about much at all, or whether it merely uses subjects as raw material, just as it uses (film) history.

    Much modern cinema aims for the illusion of complexity and the illusion of politics, while trying to appeal to every side and avoid real commitment. This is quite different from Goebbels’ cinema, which was certainly committed if nothing else!

  133. Tony Williams Says:

    True, it is a more complex form of spectacular cinema but one appealing to the baser aspects of human instincts, namely the appeal of violence and how cool it is without bringing in any interrogative complexity into the work. We can not expect this since he is working at a different level.

    Yes, Nazi cinema did aim at a particular type of commitment but, at the same time Goebbels banned any critical reviews and just wanted plot synopsis. But although the eras are different as are the works, this type of spurious ( admittedly pre-postmodernist in terms of Third Reich cinema) spectacle is common to both

  134. Nice piece. I’d agree with Dante and others (I’ve read some v. persuasive reviews that take this line) that the film is about cinema, but it’s also a film in itself and an incredibly boring one on the whole. Tarantino’s chapter structure seems to give him free rein to be as disconnected and free associative as he wants and it’s downright lazy in my opinion. I truly miss the tight structure, wit, energy, creativity, and lyrical quality of Pulp Fiction. I wonder when we’re going to see it again. As much as I didn’t like Kill Bill that much as a film, while enjoying pieces of it, just as I did with IG (the tavern and ending are brilliant), it’s a far better movie.

    To be blunt, people seriously need to stop kissing his ass. He seems a genuinely lovely bloke, but his ego is just getting fuelled by this grotesque buzz and it can’t be helping him as an artist.

  135. I just hope he’s done with revenge for a while–I’d like to see him get back to the more varied emotional palette of Jackie Brown

  136. “I thought the Nazi war hero was distracted by his desire to rape Shoshanna… one of the real strengths of this film, for me, is its refusal to sentimentalize in this “real men die” way… sure Zoller knows this propganda shite isn’t like the films he admires, but he’s no disillusioned war vet either…”

    I believe considering his facial ticks in the theatre that Zoller doesn’t care to relive his “glory” in the field. Also I am not convinced that he wanted to rape Shosanna when he went up there, it was just that he didn’t know how else to respond to her rejection. That said, I concede that I could be misreading it. Ultimately I doubt QT cares about it other than as a means of manipulating the audience, which is what he does effectively with the reaction shots of Hitler watching the film within a film mirroring the reaction of his audience watching the destruction in the theatre. QT loves movies not because they speak to the broader culture, which considering his interviews he doesn’t care about (may not even be aware of; but because he appreciates how they can move the audience. This is why what would have been a fairly straightforwarded and boring gang story in Pulp Fiction has such a following. QT is no Scorsese. However the fact that he can’t resist calling attention to how his scenes are manipulating the audience make them particularly effective in introducing the mass audience to what directors actually do.

  137. I realize that that comment was more a defense of QT in general and not of IB in particular, but I do believe there are more merits to this movie than its detractors are allowing. It isn’t the master piece QT thinks it is either, but the tavern scene, the opening scene, and the theatre scene are spectacular.

  138. I didn’t mind the protraction of the scenes caused by the chapter structure, although I object when QT’s characters are just windy for the sake of it. I think he achieves a considerable feat by drawing out some of those scenes as long as he does and maintaining tension.

    On the whole I think I agree, Brian — QT enjoys the manipulation, and he enjoys exposing it and messing about with it. I don’t think there’s anything, or anything MUCH, behind that, in terms of meaning, so my objection still stands, but he has packed, if not complexity, then some complicatedness at least into this one, which is why it can be debated so much.

    I’d say that Zoller is genuinely repelled by the propaganda film, and then turns to attempted rape simply to upset the audience’s expectations — a fairly cynical bit of writing and one designed to get the plot where QT wants it rather than to make any character point.

  139. I agree with you on Zoller. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on whther there needs to be any meaning behind it to be worthwhile. In my opinion the film speaks for itself only and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

  140. Yeah, I was disappointed the way QT left Zoller. You could understand Soshannah’s contempt, but there was a suggestion that Zoller was misunderstood and a character with real depth. His reaction made him throwaway and just more fuel for that rather glorious inferno.

    QT orchestrates some amazing scenes, but individual moments don’t make a movie. He can be heralded for the scenes, but he should also be yanked down for not bringing them together as a more cohesive whole.

  141. One thing that would help unify the movies would be some kind of overall theme. But by just being about other movies the film can always back away from real commitment, from expressing a sincere view of anything, or from telling us anything about the world. And the problem I have is not that it’s a trivial piece of indulgence, but it’s a trivial piece of indulgence about WWII with the Holocaust happening just out of frame. Truly, a death camp video game seems like the next step.

  142. Well exactly. I suppose it’s good he tried to make it more than just a macaroni film, but where a film like Once Upon a Time in the West had the spaghetti opera, the stylistic excess, it also managed to say something about an epochal shift- the end of the West. Tarantino doesn’t really say much about WWII other than a bloody fantasy about mowing down Hitler and his cronies.

  143. Even at his least ambitious, Leone wants to give you a world-view, which may be filtered through movies but it’s focused on the world. QT’s movies may are more and more focused on himself.

  144. Interesting discussion, which I’m coming to late.

    David C – Isn’t the unifying theme a variation on one of QT’s favorite themes – that people create their identities through the stories they tell about themselves (where the moments of crisis occur when what actually happens doesn’t jibe with their expected outcome). In IB, the identity up for grabs is “our cultural memory of WWII”. The movie worked for me along the lines of Greil Marcus’ “‘No’ that becomes a ‘Yes'” – like the Sex Pistols’ “Belsen was a Gas” and “Holiday in the Sun” (although QT is prankster to Johnny Rotten’s bomb thrower) – where the “real world” is felt in the movie through negative space – in that the movie wouldn’t work at all if we didn’t know the Holocaust was going on in the real world, that men like Landa often did get to have the last word when the victors write their history.

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