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August 13, 2009

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Dan Coyle

IIRC, the role of the Bear Jew was written with Adam Sandler in mind, or QT had hopes of casting him when he was first working on it.

Dan Coyle

Well, I saw it. And while I lean on the good side, I'm not really sure what I thought of it. I have no idea which cut of the film Wells saw, because the violence was so ineptly edited as to be almost cartoonish. I think I get where he's coming from, but you've gotta separate these things. There were one or two scenes that turned my stomach in ways I think that Wells' stomach was turned, but it was no more inflammatory than, say, Saving Private Ryan.

There are things that just don't quite work. The scene in the basement goes on and on and on and on, and the payoff just isn't worth it, the most ineptly edited climactic fight I've seen since Revenge of the Sith. The repellent scene where Aldo jams his finger into something I can't spoil. The sudden idiot ball carrying of certain characters. At times I felt like I was watching Alex Cox direct a Frank Miller script, as insane as that sounds. I never thought I'd see anything that reminded me of Cox at his most infuriatingly mischevious in a Quentin Tarantino film, but when that poodle entered the frame...

But there are so many good things in the movie that make it impossible to hate. The amazing performances from the cast. Even Eli Roth was far more tolerable than I'd been led to believe. Well, Mike Myers was awful. Is there anything we can do to get that man to stop appearing in films? Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger were amazing. Brad Pitt provided just the right bit of levity when it was needed. And what can be said about Christoph Waltz that hasn't already been said?

Is Inglorious Basterds a GOOD film? I'm not quite sure. Is it a worthwhile experience? You bet your ass it is.

MS

All of the mainstream media discussions of "Jewish revenge porn" are totally missing the point of the film, which seems to be that everyone commits atrocities during war, but the winners are the ones who get to write the histories, and more importantly, make the movies about what war is like. This is probably lost on audience members who clap when the baddies finally get massacred in this particular film, but somebody out there needs to point out that this "victory" happens right after a scene in which the Nazis cheer the massacre of Allied soldiers in a film they're watching in the same theater. Add to this that QT plays Bowie's "Putting Out Fire" (with gasoline) over the whole sequence, and you think someone might realize that he's got more up his sleeve than trying to "rewrite history." The indignation that Daniel Mendelsohn and David Denby have expressed regarding the film make me wonder what might have happend if they had wasted less energy trying to find reasons to be outraged and paid more attention to the film's own narrative logic and formal arguments.

The "happy ending" of the film is hollow as hell, and there is plenty there to argue that QT is telling us that the revenge fantasy we've all been hoping to fulfull is another form of atrocity.

I understand that many critics and filmgoers have issues with Tarantino that no film he ever makes will ever be able to change. Sometimes I wish he would be more like Thomas Pynchon and just let his work speak for him. Nonetheless, Inglourious Basterds feels to me like the best essay on the complicity of the spectator and the consequences of violence since Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" -- which needed about ten years to simmer. We'll see what happens with this one.

Glenn Kenny

@MS: Great points. I also felt that Tarantino's "Death Proof," with its bifurcated structure featuring repellent misogynist sadism in the climactic crash of the first half and childishly feel-good "payback" in the second half, had similar concerns about both audience complicity and filmmaker...fucked-upness. Mendelsohn and Denby can't grant legitimacy to Tarantino's observations because they're couched in the tropes of not just "entertainment," but of more-disreputable-than-usual-"entertainment," that is, grindhouse and B-movie fare. But Tarantino's game is far more complex and ambivalent than the cheapjack nihilism of a "Nazi Love Camp Number 7" or some such. In any case, I find this sort of critique far more interesting and engaging and finally disturbing than the rub-your-hated-audience's-nose-in-it acrobatics of an Ulrich Seidl.

Also, something about this film reminds me of the weird, unsettling flirtation with Nazi imagery deployed by the (substantially Jewish) likes of the Blue Oyster Cult and The Ramones. tc, or somebody, help me out with this!?!?!!!

John M

MS, I think I'm with you, but how was EYES WIDE SHUT about the consequences of violence? Did I miss something there?

Agree completely re: Mendelsohn, Denby, and Rosenbaum. Denby's review, in particular, has almost nothing interesting to add to the debate, just lots and lots of exasperation and outrage. I found it appropriate that the review was coupled with his gush over JULIE AND JULIA, one of the "gentlest American comedies of the past decade." Ick.

Richard Brody's input at his New Yorker blog is really interesting, however. In a nutshell, he disagrees with Rosenbaum and Mendelsohn, but thinks Tarantino brings up a lot more questions than he can possibly answer. And that, ultimately, he doesn't dig very deep--he's just in way over his head. (He also thinks the movie's overlong and poorly paced.)

And, ahem, I for one thought Mike Myers was great.

Zach

Just got back from seeing the film, and my impression was that it was truly, madly, awesome.

It's QT's best film, hands down, since Jackie Brown.

The critical debate is fascinating and rich - in many cases, even the worst pans have got to function as some kind of backhanded compliment to Q for getting people's dander up in (mostly) intelligent ways.

Brody's critique is indeed perceptive, and I'm with him that Q opens a can of worms and doesn't close it, but he's totally off the wall when he calls the film "mechanical and dull." IB has to be one of the most thrilling works of cinematic storytelling to come out in many a moon - I can't remember the last time I was that far out on the edge of my seat with suspense over what was going to happen next.

Yes, Tarantino is in over his head when it comes to the thematic issues and questions raised, BUT it's nothing short of virtuosic movie making - editing, shooting, writing, and superb direction of a very talented cast.

Tom Carson

Glenn, I'm enormously flattered that you'd ask me for backup in your equivalent of either Mowgli's "We be of one blood, you and I" or else "Samwise, come protect the Master." But since you've already brought up the Ramones, these lyrics strike me as apposite (emphasis added):

Hey, ho, let's go --
SHOOT 'EM IN THE BACK NOW --
What they want, I don't know.
They're all revved up and ready to go.

MS

John M: Re: Eyes Wide Shut. Fair question, and the short version of my answer is that "violence" probably means something very different in Kubrick's film than in a Tarantino thread, so this is probably not the place, but I read both films as essays on the dangerous consequences of a certain kind of presumptuous spectatorship.

Dan Coyle

Mendelsohn, Denby, and Wells' pearl clutching is so generally unconvincing I still think they saw a different cut of the film than I did.

There's something to be said about Tarantino's screenplay going hard and fast for the swerve. Nearly every plot twist seems calculated to "go the other way!" whether it makes sense or not, but I don't want to get into spoilers just yet.

Oh, and Armond White's review talked about Spielberg's "Complex" portrayal of WWII in the Indiana Jones movies. Now I will say that Raiders is a better film than IGB, though they're really in two different categories, but complex portrayal? in a Spielberg/Lucas movie? Fuck you, Armond, you fucking liar. Go suck Spielberg's dick on your own time.

bill

@MS - "All of the mainstream media discussions of "Jewish revenge porn" are totally missing the point of the film, which seems to be that everyone commits atrocities during war, but the winners are the ones who get to write the histories, and more importantly, make the movies about what war is like. This is probably lost on audience members who clap when the baddies finally get massacred in this particular film, but somebody out there needs to point out that this "victory" happens right after a scene in which the Nazis cheer the massacre of Allied soldiers in a film they're watching in the same theater."

First of all, that old "the winners right the histories" line is a provably false cliche', because, for instance, the Germans have written their share of histories abour WWII, and, regarding Nazis at least, they seem to be pretty much in agreement with the victors. On the other side of the equation, I would say that the vast majority of the most widely known histories of the Vietnam War were written by the losers, and American histories of that war don't tend to pump up America.

As for "Inglourious Basterds" itself, the fact that the massacre at the end comes after Hitler and Goebbels are laughing at a film depicting a massacre might be lost on some people because IT'S HITLER. And it's not supposed to NOT be Hitler, if you see what I'm saying. Tarantino is pretty gleeful in his depiction of Jews killing Nazis, and I believe it's a function of the desire for vicarious catharsis when dealing with Hitler and Nazi atrocities. You say the ending is hollow, and that it's another kind of atrocity, but let me ask you this: when Tarantino gives us the set up -- that two groups of largely Jewish characters were seeking to burn and/or blow up a movie theater that contained the entire Nazi high command, including Hitler -- were you hoping, in reaction to the film purely as a story, hoping that Shosanna and the Basterds would fail?

bill

Goddamn...sorry about all the typos It's very late.

MS

@Bill: "were you hoping, in reaction to the film purely as a story, hoping that Shosanna and the Basterds would fail?"

Of course not, but I think we can agree that there is such a thing, in both language and film, as multiple levels of narrative coding, and that a skilled filmmaker might be able to profitably exploit a tension between these levels, not only to entertain, but to make other points about audience expectations and desires. Much of the discussion of the film that I've seen revolves mainly around the question of whether or not Tarantino is this kind of filmmaker. That's fine, and some minds cannot be changed, but I stand by my earlier point that Tarantino's FILM goes way beyond savant fandom to address the war movie genre, its claims to historical representation, and our position within the whole mess -- not the "histories" you reference that I can buy from Amazon, but the group of codes and conventions that constitute the depiction of war in narrative film.

Nathan Duke

Saw "Inglourious Basterds" twice over the weekend and thought it was great. I'd say it is, without a doubt, the most structurally inventive American film of the year so far. I love the fact that its two biggest "set pieces," aside from the finale, are 20- and 30-minute sequences set at tables. I love the fact that IB is a summer movie, of sorts, but that is 2/3-subtitled and its star (Pitt) is only in 1/3 of the film. Hell, I find it amazing that a studio summer film references Pabst not once or twice, but three times and even throws in a nod to Clouzot. QT has a lot of chutzpah and it pays off here. I'm glad to see other people are liking it.

Tom Carson

@GK: In case my first response seemed a mite gnomic, here's a more considered one. First off, when we talk about Jewish rockers appropriating Nazi imagery, it ought to be understood that imagery isn't the same as substance. That is, nobody believes or should believe that the Ramones, Blue Oyster Cult -- or the Dictators, whom you left out -- were advocating their own extermination, which is what endorsing Hitler's ideology would amount to in their cases. Or anyway, it'd risk leaving their bandmates muttering"I guess we need a new bassist," to quote George Harrison's one and only great joke.

The whole ploy is really more a kind of defiant insolence that turns the tables on Nazism by refusing to be cowed by it -- in playground terms, "I am not going to let this scary stuff be the boss of me. I am going to be the boss of it.' It's not so very different from the way Mel Brooks thumbed his nose at Hitler by reducing him to a Borscht Belt patsy. In other words, a form of Jewish revenge, to bring us back to QT territory. What complicates things is that Quentin is a goy gleefully projecting this fantasy on Jewish people's behalf, which they may or may not object to as artistic trespassing.

Given the ages of those bands, their Jewish members would have grown up hearing the Final Solution invoked so relentlessly that they may have understandably balked at the idea of Hitler dominating their lives from beyond the grave for the rest of the century. In the Ramones' case, an extra dimension is that Dee Dee grew up as a U.S. Army brat in Germany. Casting himself as a mock Nazi for American audiences was a suitably cartoonish, surreptitiously painful way of expressing the dislocation and alienation of that kind of upbringing.

The Ramones lyric I quoted, though, was meant to tie two topics together by reflecting another emerging debate on SCR. Namely, the one about whether QT is messing with the audience -- shooting 'em in the back now, get it? -- by equating their glee at seeing Nazis massacred in *his* movie with Hitler's own callous delight at the slaughter in Nation's Pride. I think it's unmistakable that this is not only an element in the climax but an undercurrent throughout the film, since the Basterds' righteous cruelty has a disturbing side from the get-go and their enemies aren't always simple gargoyles. For instance, the German sergeant who gets clobbered by the Bear Jew isn't a fink we'd love to see getting his brains splattered to kingdom come -- a reaction QT could easily have manipulated the character to induce -- but a more or less valiant, intelligent soldier who knows his duty and accepts the consequences, complicating our reaction.

And Bill, since I know you love this movie as much as I do, I'm a little mystified by your insistence that a simple-minded reading of the climax is superior to one that incorporates ambiguities. If we're nudged to see something troubling in the kinship between Hitler's responses and our own, that doesn't mean we want the Basterds (much less Shoshanna) to "fail." Just that we should be alert to Niezsche's good old warning about "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster," which funnily enough is where IB and Spielberg's Munich end up sharing a bit of common ground.

And not to commit the intentional fallacy, but we have Tarantino's own word for it that he meant to do just that. This is from a Q & A after a screening of IB at the Museum of Jewish Heritage -- a venue, incidentally, that I give him full props for balls in appearing at, since the audience included Holocaust survivors and their families: "I fucked with the climax. . . At some point those Nazi uniforms went away and they were people being burned alive. I think that's part of the thing that fucks with the catharsis. And that's a good thing."

Interesting, no?

justin

@ bill: "As for "Inglourious Basterds" itself, the fact that the massacre at the end comes after Hitler and Goebbels are laughing at a film depicting a massacre might be lost on some people because IT'S HITLER. And it's not supposed to NOT be Hitler, if you see what I'm saying. Tarantino is pretty gleeful in his depiction of Jews killing Nazis, and I believe it's a function of the desire for vicarious catharsis when dealing with Hitler and Nazi atrocities"

i saw an odd parallel between the audience i saw the film with laughing at the carnage the basterds created and hitler laughing at the equally exploitative nation's pride. i'm still not entirely sure how i feel about this. is it quentin gone haneke? and if not are we to despise hitler for laughing at dying jews, but rejoice and laugh ourselves as the nazi's are exterminated? i feel like i need another viewing to clear things up.

bill

Look, the ending had a bit of an Italian horror film chill to the catharsis, but the Nazi uniforms never went away for me. Had it been a platoon of German soldier, that might have been a different story, but we're dealing specifically with Hitler and Goebbels and the rest. They were human beings only in a technical sense. Regard this reaction as a character flaw if you must, and maybe it is, but at not time while watching that scene did the words "Poor Goebbels" cross my mind.

Glenn Kenny

@ bill: I don't think anybody expects you, or anybody else, to think "Poor Goebbels." But part of what makes this picture so interesting to talk about is its curveball split. The climax is both rousing AND unsettling, for reasons MS and tc cite. Over at another website, a commenter discusses whether Shoshonna is actually moved by Zoller's exploits in "Nation's Pride," another interesting can of worms given the outcome of those characters' final confrontation. This kind of ambivalence is hard to do without being either a wuss or a finger-wagger. I think Robert Aldrich really was a master of it—I'm not thinking so much of the obvious antecedent "The Dirty Dozen" but of "Emperor of the North," "KIss Me Deadly," and even "The Grissom Gang."

MS

Just discovered this relevant comment Tarantino made at a screening of IB at the Jewish Museum earlier this month. Don't want to beat this to death (pun intended), but I'm not ready to give up on my argument that the film is not just cathartic "revenge porn."

QT on the film's climax:

"In this movie I jerked you off and I f***ed with the climax… At some point those Nazi uniforms went away and they were people being burned alive. I think that’s part of the thing that f***s with the catharsis. And that’s a good thing."

MS

Now I look like an idiot because someone posted that earlier this morning. Apologies.

Allen Belz

Still worth repeating, though. Can't go into it in half the depth I'd like to, as I'm in the middle of cooking for a group, but I'd agree. One doesn't have to go the whole distance of feeling for the other person who's committed atrocities as a person, one certainly can't allow them to continue said actions, if they're able to stop them. But a huge part of Hitler's rationale for believing he could do whatever he wanted to the Jews was that they were only human in a technical sense, and were responsible for all the evil in the world. And the moment one steps onto that seeming A=A path, things start getting fucked up.

bill

I can't type much because I have to use an effin' phone, but I think Alan just called me a Nazi. Very clever. If you really think my comment about Hitler is akin to Hitler's comment about Jews, then I don't know what to say, other than you're too literal.

But I asked my wife if the Nazi uniforms went away for a moment for her during that scene and she said yes. And to be honest, there was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment for me, too, in a shot of what appear to be just a bunch of people in evening dress getting machine-gunned. However, despite Tarantino's intentions, my catharsis remains largely unfucked. This film, among many other things, is a revenge fantasy, with the emphasis on "fantasy". None of these things happened, but the more you know about what nightmarish serial killers were, the more you (I) kind of wish it had, or it least something primal and lizard-brained is tapped into when I watch it played out on screen,

And Glenn, yes, I got that Shosanna was beginning to feel an element of pity for Zoller at the end, but I also took note of the fact that it didn't serve her too well.

T. Hodler

I am surprised that one aspect of this movie that seems really pertinent hasn't been mentioned more often: the fact that the Inglorious Basterds pattern themselves after members of the Apache nation. When considering how Tarantino's film (and Hollywood itself) deals with genocide, it may be worth remembering that the Germans weren't the only nation in history to attempt the crime.

Christian

Great point -- and recall, the Swastik was used by Hopi Indians as well...

Dylan P.

Whether this is a good movie or not, you can't deny that the debates surrounding this film, and the discourse on both is morality and its relationship to cinema (both historically and aesthetically) is the most energetic, exciting, and deep film conversation that has gone through the culture in a long, long time.

How's that for a run-on sentence?

Anyway, I am excited to see it tonight. And as someone who is not typically a fan of Tarantino's work, that itself has me double excited.

Dan

I found it to be a blast, myself. The pacing was a bit off, I felt like we could have sped things up slightly in one or two sequences.

But any movie that shoots the French countryside to evoke Leone and Ford, and takes jabs at the whole "everybody speaks English" trope, is going to be rock-solid anyway.

Allen  Belz

No, definitely not calling you a Nazi...Nazis weren't the only ones who had such thoughts in the course of their lives. We all have.

Allen Belz

Which is why I don't trust my lizard brain any farther than I can throw it, why unironic primal revenge scenes in movies feel mostly hollow to me (and even more disturbing than ones that are meant to make you feel disturbed), and why I haven't enjoyed indulging said lizard brain since that "flirting-with-nihilism" phase a fair number of people go through in their early-20s. But that's just me...no judgment intended, honestly.

Allen Belz

Lastly...I've nat zeen the movie yet (har har) - I'm going tomorrow - but I did rewatch "Death Proof" the other day, and a lot of it snapped into place for me...I'd concur with most of your thoughts above, Glenn.

Tom Carson

@bill: I don't want to make you feel ganged up on, but do you know the wonderful Russian WW2 movie COME AND SEE? At the end, the young hero -- having witnessed all sorts of unspeakable actrocities committed by the Nazis -- takes his revenge on an abandoned portrait of Hitler by firing at it over and over, an image that may even have influenced Tarantino's finale.

Anyhow, as he shoots, the portrait gives way to a montage of still images of Hitler and the Nazis' rise that race steadily backward in time. The final photo is the famously unsettling one of the future Fuhrer as a baby, and at that moment the firing stops. Even the vengeful hero can't bring himself to "kill" that version of Hitler; he's face to face with the mystery that even this monster was (or once had been, anyhow) a fellow human being.

Especially coming from a nation that had more reason to hate him than any other -- exempting Israel only on the grounds that it didn't yet exist -- it's one of the most moving declarations I've ever seen that even the most justified hatred can only go so far before it dehumanizes us right along with its object. And because that kind of perception isn't what we expect from Tarantino, it's fascinating to see him complicate IB's otherwise exultant climax with his own (lurid, needless to say) articulation of the same idea.

bill

Allen - if I misunderstood you, then okay, though I do think you're still taking my statement too literally.

As for the lizard-brain, mine does get fed at the movies on occasion, and while Tarantino may want to fuck with the catharsis, he doesn't want to ruin it completely. I mean, if we can all acknowledge that the climax of this film is something that, had it occurred in reality, could be broadly described as a good thing, then why not acknowledge the operatic charge one might get out of seeing the fiction? I don't mind at all Tarantino wanting the scene to jolt you in the opposite direction as well, but I'm pulled up short when people claim it' "just another atrocity", because it's not.

God I hate writing this stuff in a car on a phone. Which I only offer as an aside.

TC - I don't feel ganged up on, so don't worry about that. And in COME AND SEE, I would argue that part of what stops the boy -- along with the points you cite, which are absolutely correct -- is impotence. His hatred can achieve nothing. In INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, the heroes are not just exacting vengeance, but their hatred is being channeled, against those who've earned it, into a form of vengeance that will also bring about an international good. And so it's hard for me to think that Shosanna and Marcel and the Basterds are sinking to a level of inhumanity that is anywhere within shooting distance of the same moral realm inhabited by the Nazis.

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