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August 13, 2009

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That Fuzzy Bastard

Wait, first you say that I.B. can't possibly be an Abu Gihrab mash note because it's too arty for Lynndie England to enjoy, then you says it's all pulp fiction (an inherently populist form) so don't be uncool 'cause it's just a movie maaaaan? That seems... contradictory. But to phrase my response in the form of a question: If we posit that 24 is evil and fascist for its deliberate whipping up of pro-torture sentiment at a time when such is being hotly debated, then what makes I.B. not subject to the same charge? Because Q.T. seems to do it accidentally, rather than deliberately?

As for Godard: Yes, I know you're not saying that Tarantino often includes quotations from Continental philosophers. And I would debate your point about cinematic freedom---one of the exasperating things about Tarantino is that for all his court-jester toying with narrative, he always ties up all the threads in a tidy, unthreatening little bow by the end (which is why Pulp Fiction's techniques were instantly adapted to television, and Alphaville remains gloriously undigestible). But my point is this: In Godard, there's a hyperconsciousness of the movieness of movies, which is often exploited for comic or jarring effect, like in the final section of Pierrot. But said comic and jarring effect is only possible if there's some understanding that movies and life are different. What's missing in Tarantino is an awareness that there is something in life that isn't included in Shaw brothers movies, something with relevance to those watching, and making, movies.

It is indisputably hilarious when Marvin gets his brains blown out in Pulp Fiction, and much has been said about Tarantino's transgressive wit in that scene, and his filmmaking skill at making us laugh at the sight of an innocent person getting shot dead. But the difference between a cinematic wit and a drooling moron is an understanding that there's a difference between actors pretending to kill someone, and an actual person being killed. But Tarantino seems not to perceive that gap (or at least, unable to make that gap a conscious part of his films), and thus ends up firmly on the drooling moron side of the ledger.

Mostly, this doesn't bother me too terribly much---he makes dumbass action flicks for people who think they're better than Michael Bay movies but whatever, to each his own. But to have a movie about how cool it is to torture wartime enemies come out in the middle of a very big, public debate about the morality of torturing enemies, well, that moves us away from The Blue Light and into Triumph of the Will.

And @ tc: Yeah, I imagine the Europeans will notice that. That the Americans are torturing yahoos, horrifying to the Europeans, and that said yahoos succeed in ending the war and (as I've heard) killing Hitler earlier than those stupid liberal FDRniks in real life. That is, that torturing yahoos are apparently, in Tarantino's mind, completely teh aw3z0me.

Tom Carson

@TFB: And what did you not understand about me saying that there really aren't any "torture" scenes? If you want to keep using that word after seeing the movie, be my guest. But I gather you haven't.

Glenn Kenny

"Pulp fiction" might be an "inherently populist form," but I'm not talking about what it is inherently, I'm referring to the actual stuff. Pulp. Fiction. Depraved stuff on cheap paper. EC Comics. That kind of shit. That's where a large part of Tarantino's imagination springs from. But you're right. I have no idea what Lyndie England's into, or not into. But as unattractive as she might be, she was also a stooge, for what it's worth.

But yeah, tc's right: to call it a movie about "how cool it is to torture wartime enemies" is a pretty definite indication that you haven't seen it. But it's clearly an idea you want to cherish, so be my guest.

That Fuzzy Bastard

No, I haven't seen it. I'm just basing my impression on the trailer, which centers around a big speech about how super-cool it is to spread fear and terror through the enemies, and what I've read from those who have seen it. I suppose you could say that carving swastikas on an enemy's forehead, or tying them up at gleefully watching them sweat as a dude with a bat advances on them, is not the same thing at all as what went on at Abu Gihrab. But I can't say that seems like a particularly substantial difference.

And no, I don't know either what England likes in movies. But I'd bet you dollars to donuts that Charles Granier will think this movie is totally sweet.

Glenn Kenny

@ TFB: Okay, man, you got me. I'm busted. I blog here under the name "Glenn Kenny" but on my birth certificate you'll see the name David Addington. And you might know "tc" better as John Yoo. Happy?

WOLVERINES!!!!!!!

Tom Carson

In this case, I can guarantee that watching the trailer makes you an expert on the movie at about the same level that watching the filming of a scene from Can-Can made Nikita Khruschev an expert on Hollywood. But no matter.

In the scene you refer to -- incidentally the worst one in the movie, even though Harvey Weinstein hopes we'll think otherwise -- the German soldier who refuses to give information isn't told that he'll suffer until he gives over. He's told he'll be killed, as he promptly (and gaudily) is. As for the carved swastikas, without spoiling the climax, they set up one of Tarantino's most startling and politically incorrect jokes -- the implication that Nazism is and should be an eternal stigma, no matter how someone tried to hedge later. I can't wait to see how they react in Deutschland.

bill

I sometimes get the feeling that if, someday, the Earth were to tilt off its axis, somehow causing the majority of artists to drift from the Left to the Right, most liberals would not be able to handle it. Conservatives know that the vast majority of actors and directors are liberals, but I assure you that we go to the movies anyway. But the second someone gets a whiff (often misleading) that a filmmaker might not be as big a lefty as everyone had assumed, the conversation takes on this "What should be done about this?" flavor. Look at the nonsense with Apatow. Apatow! Not even, I don't know, Scorsese.

Tarantino is one of the least political major filmmakers I can think of, but the hand-wringing over what "Inglourious Basterds" says about his political consciousness is already starting. How completely boring.

God, some people really take in art for all the wrong reasons.

bill

Lest my meaning be understandably misconstrued, while reading my previous comment, you should mentally replace "all the wrong reasons" with "the lamest reasons." Thanks.

Tom Russell

Bill, while I disagree that "most" liberals would not be able to take such a seismic shift-- after all, I think more liberals went to see Apatow's latest film than complained about any perceived politics, just as I think most conservatives aren't dumb-fucks like Ann Coulter-- I will agree that that sentiment, the "is it safe for me to like x" approach, is awfully tiresome.

Or, to say that all more succinctly, you have a point, sir, and you made it well.

Christian

Bill, I'm fairly certain most "liberal" artists are aware that John Ford, Hawks and some dude named Eastwood hold conservative points of view. They haven't been assigned to film re-education camps yet.

Tom Carson

@bill: speaking as an Eastwood and John Wayne fan who'd pick She Wore A Yellow Ribbon as the last movie I'd watch if I had two hours to live, I do think you're fond of generalizing about "liberals" with too broad a brush. That said, I'll agree with you if you want to say that the pot doesn't have much to teach the kettle on that count. But the "Is this movie good for Our Side?" gatekeepers are tiresome no matter which end of the spectrum they're guarding. I had some hopes for Big Hollywood, since I'd love to read brainy film criticism grounded in a conservative POV. But every time I've swung by, it's overloaded with shrieks about Hollywood's (actually very timorous) Liberal Agenda -- all about creating bogeymen, as opposed to evaluating the work. If you know of a better site besides your own blog, please direct me to it.

bill

@Tom - You're right, of course. I exaggerated. But I stand by the sentiment.

@Christian - True, but Ford and Hawks aren't around to weigh in on current issues, and everybody's had a good three or four decades to get used to Eastwood's politics. Besides that, he rarely makes overtly political movies. Besides THAT, I've heard some liberals attempt to make arguments that Eastwood is less conservative than he claims to be, generally citing "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters to Iwo Jima" as exhibits A and B, as though no true conservative could have ever made such films.

bill

@tc - As I said, I exaggerated my initial point, but I did so in order to make the points. That's how points are often made. I do agree that the Conservative equivelant of this argument is no less exasperating. I can't agree that the Hollywood Liberal Agenda, when it goes into effect, isn't all that timorous -- I probably think it goes into effect less often than the Big Hollywood people, though.

The tendency to look at all art through a political prism is unspeakably dull (and more often than not weakly reasoned, to boot), but I don't know of very many sites where the host makes a point of stating their politics that doesn't do that very thing. If you have visited my site, then you know I make a much bigger deal about my conservatism HERE than I do THERE (and I'm sorry about that, Glenn). But the number of left-leaning film sites outnumber the right-leaning ones by about, oh, I don't know, 10 to 1, and I can only name a small handful of ostensibly liberal sites that don't strain the work through their own political sieve. The right-leaning sites that make a big deal of their conservatism are trying to make it clear that there's an alternative. I'm not terribly keen on how they go about doing that, but why they should be kicked around more than their liberal counterparts, I don't know.

Tom Carson

@Bill: naturally, I don't know what you're talking about, since I have NEVER (Tennessee Williams intonation here) exaggerated a point in order to help make it stick in readers' minds. Uh-uh, not even once. And so much for that joke.
Yes, I know you don't assert your politics on "The Kind of Face You Hate" the way you occasionally -- far from always, may I say -- do on SCR. But your comments here are what turned me into a fan of your posts there, so I can't help seeing your site as a smart conservative's take on this thing we call film.
I wish there were more blogs like yours, but isn't one reason liberal-oriented movie sites predominate on Ye Web simply that latte-slurping rootless cosmopolitans like us are more comfortable getting into aesthetic arguments about topics like The Greatness of Cinema? You've got to admit that most right-wing spokespeople these days don't exactly encourage people to pay attention to art unless it's a useful source of someone to demonize. We ain't gonna get OReilly's thoughts on Lars von Trier unless he decides Antichrist is a symptom of the secular-humanist conspiracy -- which, to anyone who's seen the damn thing, will be a better joke than the movie itself ever coughs up.
As for calling Hollywood's liberal agenda "timorous," I stand my ground. I assume we're both equally disgusted by Sean Penn sucking up to Hugo Chavez in real life, but that doesn't mean Sean's next film will be a Chavez biopic. He's an idiot, but his agent isn't a fool.

Tom Russell

"I've heard some liberals attempt to make arguments that Eastwood is less conservative than he claims to be, generally citing "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters to Iwo Jima" as exhibits A and B, as though no true conservative could have ever made such films."

I think that's because both sides tend to exaggerate and, to a degree, vilify the other. And while I'm naturally more inclined to take umbrage when the left is attacked as being, I don't know, America-hating terrorist hippies who want to force trees to have abortions or something, I will admit that the right tends to get painted with a somewhat broader brush, that you're right that they're kicked around more than their liberal counterparts. In the minds of many on the left, being conservative is synonymous with the gay-bashing, racist, reactionary, anti-intellectual fringe. It's a bit scarier, and bit more unflattering, than being ineffectual namby-pambies, and I feel for you, Bill.

I'm frankly hoping that in this time of crisis for the party, the GOP jettisons the loonies and returns to the tenets of conservatism as first expressed by Pup Buckley. Now, I may personally disagree completely with those tenets-- I'm not the sort to stand athwart to history-- but I think I can disagree with them amicably and vice-versa.

Tom Russell

Oh, and for another obvious example re: the ways conservatives can be slighted/tarred, there's John Ford. People assume that because he was a Republican, a supporter of the Viet Nam war, and a friend to John Wayne, that he, like Wayne, was a supporter of McCarthyism.

Well, that's not quite true; we're all familiar with "I'm John Ford. I make Westerns." But there's more to the story than that, much more; Cecil B. DeMille was trying to introduce a mandatory loyalty oath to the Director's Guild and another director, whose name escapes me at the moment (someone else help me out here?), was being accused of communist sympathies.

And Ford stood up, said who he was and what he did, and then proceeded to lambast DeMille and asked for a vote of confidence for the other director.

(If someone with a better memory than I wants to shore up some of these details/correct any distortions of fact, please do so.)

I bring this up not to "claim" Ford as a liberal or even say "he wasn't really that conservative"-- only that "conservative" is assumed to mean a lot of things that it doesn't actually mean.

Michael Dempsey

The "other director" was Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

slutsky

"KB1 is a kung-fu movie. A well-shot kung-fu movie with a couple of emotionally jolting moments (remember when the Bride first wakes up; Tarantino just lets the camera sit there as this woman realizes she's lost her child), possibly one of the greatest kung-fu movies ever made, but it's ultimately a kung-fu movie."

You say this like it means something. Great, you pointed out the movie's genre. That doesn't really clarify anyone's understanding of it besides what category of the video store you think it deserves to be in.

The Siren

Good discussion. TC, if you want intelligent film commentary from a conservative viewpoint, I have several suggestions. Unfortunately my limited posting time makes it hard for me to post links, but these are all on my blogroll. They mostly do old movies (what can I say) but write well about them:

The Shelf
10 Grand in Checking
Laura's Misc. Musings
Another Old Movie Blog
Seraphic Secret (Robert Avrech does excellent posts about silents)

Some of them also have a number of political posts but those are easy enough to skip if you prefer.

Another filmmaker who is seldom mentioned as a conservative, although he most assuredly was, is Preston Sturges. Just a footnote.

To get back to QT -- he always reminds me of a remark someone made about Fellini, that he shows dangerous signs of being a highly gifted filmmaker with nothing to say. I do NOT agree with the sentiment about Fellini, but so far that is how I have perceived QT, without having seen his most recent films I admit. I approach QT with an open mind always, because his directing skills are undeniable, but I always feel those skills are used in the service of blowing my mind with all the coolness, and not much else. I hope Inglourious Basterds (can someone PLEASE enlighten me as to the reason for the typo-infested title?) will change my verdict.

bill

@tc - First, thank you for the kind words. Second:

"You've got to admit that most right-wing spokespeople these days don't exactly encourage people to pay attention to art unless it's a useful source of someone to demonize."

I will admit that this is the case with the O'Reillys and the Coulters, but they're the media-appointed spokespeople. They're not actual people, any more than Michael Moore or Keith Olbermann are actual people. In the wide world of movie fans, I don't think conservatives who love art for being art are as rare as you think.

"I assume we're both equally disgusted by Sean Penn sucking up to Hugo Chavez in real life, but that doesn't mean Sean's next film will be a Chavez biopic. He's an idiot, but his agent isn't a fool."

I'm less convinced of this possibility than you are. I'd love to bring up CHE to bolster my argument, but since I still haven't seen the movie, I can't, in good conscience, do so. But you give Penn a good script on Chavez, and I don't doubt he'd bite.

@Tom - "In the minds of many on the left, being conservative is synonymous with the gay-bashing, racist, reactionary, anti-intellectual fringe. It's a bit scarier, and bit more unflattering, than being ineffectual namby-pambies, and I feel for you, Bill."

Thank you. That's a point that I'd given up trying to make, so I appreciate you making it, especially coming from the "other side" as you do. See, this is why I'm comfortable getting into politics here. I know things will remain civil and reasonable. I really appreciate talking to people like you and tc. See, everybody else in the country? Things don't have to suck so bad.

@The Siren - When you say you haven't seen recent Tarantino films, does that include KILL BILL? Because I'd be curious to know what you think of those, particularly part two.

Tom Carson

@Siren (I wish you hadn't given up on calling yourself Campaspe, but that's life): thanks very much for taking the time to point me to those blogs. As for IB's title, Tarantino has been so maddeningly -- what else is new? -- smug about refusing to explain the misspellings that you'd think he'd just cooked up Finnegans Wake. But my best guess is that he distorted the title to help signal the movie's distortions of history.

Without getting into what he has to "say" -- an iffy yardstick anyhow, since Rod Lurie has plenty to say but I often wish he'd either shut up or find another medium to abuse -- I can think of several qualities that might help put QT on your good side. First, he genuinely loves actors and thrives on letting them shine in unlikely ways. Second, his dialogue is full of nutso new contributions to the rangy American idiom whose screen demise you recently lamented in your Budd Schulberg post. And third, as Inglourious Basterds (believe it or not) makes clearer than ever, he adores women like no director this side of Pedro Almodovar, something so rare in American movies that even people who don't like his work otherwise should bless him for it.

@bill: Granting that you haven't seen it, I'm not sure CHE is such a good refutation of my joke about the unlikelihood of Penn playing Hurricane Hugo, since it was set up mostly with foreign financing and Benicio del Toro, god love him, is nobody's idea of a huge movie star. Despite the appalling omission of Che's post-revolutionary crimes, it also doesn't make much of a case either for or against his politics -- which, given the subject, is pretty perverse, but hardly conventional left-wing agit-prop either. It's really just one more of Soderbergh's formal exercises, a choice GK admires more than I do.

I also don't doubt that there are plenty of conservative aesthetes out there. I only meant that the subject doesn't get much prominence in right-wing venues except polemically, as opposed to the often purring way that NPR listeners or New Yorker readers, say, are encouraged to admire their own well-rounded sensibility every time they flip from an anti-Bush polemic to a movie review.

Tony Dayoub

Bill,

Chiming in with a response to a few thought-provoking things that you bring up:

-Eastwood is definitely conservative, but as I've heard many other conservatives I respect (like Joe Scarbourough... and yourself) assert, he doesn't exactly fall in line with the Right Wing Conspiracy described in the media. Big surprise! The right is not monolithic (thank God). At last year's NYFF, Eastwood was asked if he backed McCain (to put into context: if memory serves, it was after the controversial comments from anti-Obama hecklers at his rallies first started being aired on TV). Eastwood responded by saying he thought of himself as more of a libertarian these days, than a Republican or Democrat.

-Kill Bill: Part two is definitely stronger. My problem with both parts as a whole is that he originally envisioned it as one epic movie, and (I speculate...) was encouraged by the Weinsteins to release the movie in two parts. I suspect this may have been for many reasons: Two movies means more money than one movie for the ailing Weinstein Company especially if they're by QT; that makes it even more profitable on DVD, as you can release each movie separately, then the inevitable (and rumor has it, upcoming) behemoth... the epic 4 hour Kill Bill saga in one omnibus edition for the fanboys; and finally, QT's propensity for partying, self-promoting, and anything but actually making movies leading the Weinsteins to wring out an extra movie from him (make their investment pay off, so to speak).

I think the split of KB into two movies is to the detriment of both films (but especially the first one). Now, you have two bloated overlong movies (again, mostly the first one), instead of one maybe longish, leaner, meaner movie that could avoid any qualifiers of being "flawed."

-Che: I'd like to hear what you think of the film, after you see it. In this case, the two parts are essential to understanding Soderbergh's vision of Guevara. Full disclosure: I'm Cuban, and had my knife sharpened when I went to see this film. Fortunately, I was forced to watch it "in toto." If I would have seen the first part alone, I would have thought that he was glorifying Guevara for his part in the Cuban Revolution. He is presented heroically, for sure. But Soderbergh goes on to subvert the heroic icon he portrays in the second part, presenting instead a delusional loner who stubbornly fights a lost and corrupt cause by stubbornly holding onto his victory in the Cuban Revolution as a model for effective change in Bolivia, despite all indications that the victory in Cuba was a fluke.

Matt Miller

Re: the misspelled title of QT's latest--

I'm under the impression (though I'm not sure where it came from) that the Weinsteins anticipated problems with the MPAA if the word "Bastards" was prominently displayed on marketing materials. So the second word in the title gets a, um, bastardized spelling. If that's true, I would assume that the "inglourious" part is just Tarantino playing along.

Tom Russell

@Matt-- That certainly sounds plausible, though I remember reading in one of those trashy tell-alls that Tarantino is just a really, really bad speller.

jake

Holy shnikes, Rosenbaum lays the smackdown: http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=16514

But I still want to see this. A.) You managed to entice me Glenn and B.) Well, there's not a whole lot interesting stuff playing at the big movie theaters these days. Though I would like to hear your thoughts about this. I wonder if Rosenbaum is being intentionally provocative here like with his review of No Country for Old Men and his NY Times (I think) article on Ingmar Bergman's career.

Glenn Kenny

@ jake: I don't think Rosenbaum's being intentionally provocative—his complaint is entirely sincere. But the fact that he brings Styron's "Sophie's Choice" into the argument indicates just how out of touch he is with this film's pulse. You'd think the co-author of "Midnight Movies" would know just slightly better, but that's life.

Dan

"I sometimes get the feeling that if, someday, the Earth were to tilt off its axis, somehow causing the majority of artists to drift from the Left to the Right, most liberals would not be able to handle it."

I think it depends on how subtle an artist's politics are. Hollywood is, inherently, conservative because it wants to bring in Americans, and America is, by world standards, a conservative country.

There's also the matter of how we're defining "conservative" here. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are fairly far to the right, but they're not propagandists or morons by any yardstick. "Team America" has a lot to say about limousine liberals, and it comes out in favor of an American interventionist military policy (well, to a point, I doubt phrasing it in the terms of "pussies, dicks and assholes" was chosen just to be scatological) but it's also slamming mindless patriotism, ignorance of other cultures, and using military force without thinking.

So, yeah, I don't necessarily agree with their political stance. But I can respect how they got there, because they obviously thought about it.

bill

Just got back from seeing this about fifty minutes ago. I'm kinda speechless. Minus one or two quibbles, I do think "Inglourious Basterds" is every bit as amazing as Glenn says it is, and I feel like the Rosenbaums and Wellses (well, of course) are not only unbelievably out to lunch, but also seem to be trying to embody the concept of "bleeding heart" as a kind of Andy Kaufman-esque parody.

It's a head-spinning film. Magnificent filmmaking, and entertaining to an absurd degree. AND I even liked Eli Roth.

John M

Oh Bill, I was with you until "AND I even liked Eli Roth."

I liked the film too, but I'll confidenly second Manohla Dargis's quick parenthetical: "a bat-wielding American nicknamed the Bear Jew (the director Eli Roth, dreadful)."

I don't really care about this eager beaver's movies--I've only seen CABIN FEVER, which was about as mediocre as I expected it to be--but Roth is--I want to say "for me," but it feels pretty close to objective--the worst performer in Inglourious Basterds. Overdoing every frame he's in, completely out of synch with every other performer, and oddly juvenile. With that guy, I'm sorry, it's amateur hour.

What Tarantino sees in him, I haven't a clue. Maybe it's like with Spielberg and Michael Bay--the comfort of surrounding yourself with inferiors.

Tom Carson

Sorry to chime in yet again, since I've had my say on IB and then some. But any of you who remember my contretemps with That Fuzzy Bastard several days ago on this thread -- in which I voiced my hunch that "European audiences will have no trouble making the Gitmo connection even without one-plus-one signposts" -- might be as tickled as I was to come across Jean-Luc Douin's review in Le Monde via Richard Brody's NY'er blog. Said review includes Douin's observation that the Basterds' behavior raises "the specter of Guantanamo." Yeah, it's gratifying.

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