Saturday, August 29, 2009

You've Seen the Face of Jewish Vengeance: Dennis, Bill, and Inglourious Basterds - Part Four

[Beware of spoilers and whatnot]


Well folks, here we are, on Day the Last of my ever-so-lengthy conversation with Dennis Cozzalio about Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece Inglourious Basterds. And I gotta tell you all, I'm fried. As you will all soon see, I am all talked out about this film. I love it so very much, but as of now I have nothing more to say on the subject. It's all been said, and done. Dennis offers us all one more lengthy and thoughtful piece, and then I swoop in at the end to tack on a kind of half-assed addendum, but try not to judge me for that. Let's remember the good times, such as they were.

Speaking of the good times, Dennis, this was a lot of fun, and don't think that I don't recognize that you had the bulk of the heavy lifting to do. You had to start us off, which is harder than bringing things to a close (and considering how much I'm struggling with that task, can you imagine how I would have botched the opening!?) and generally present new topics each day. So thanks for taking the job I so badly didn't want, and doing it with such grace and wit. For concrete evidence of that grace and wit, please see below.

DC: Well, Bill, yesterday certainly was an eventful day on the Inglourious Basterds front lines, was it not? It is near 1:00 a.m. PST as I start on this e-mail, and I hope I’m up to delivering something worthy to end on through the gathering crust threatening to seal shut my peepers. The level and intensity of the discussion about the movie have taken on a scale and dimensions that I would never imagined when I first proposed our little experiment in bicoastal criticism. Just getting a handle on the vastness of damned good or otherwise provocative writing and commentary about the movie, whether it be pro or con, has been exhilarating, and I most certainly include the estimable Jonathan Rosenbaum’s comments in that grouping. I just wish he’d gone a little further in his initial comments, which were abrupt and reasonably gathered a bit of a storm of confusion about exactly what he meant by Tarantino’s film being morally akin to Holocaust denial” and “existing at the expense of Holocaust survivors.” It isn’t good form, or good criticism, to drop bombshells like that and leave them lay, so I was glad that Rosenbaum, initially through Tony Dayoub’s site Cinema Viewfinder, chose to come a little more out in the open and challenge what struck him as the deficiencies of some of the commentary. (One of my observations was held up as a specific example of reasoning beyond his understanding, a politic way of saying that it didn’t make no sense to him.) But then Mr. Rosenbaum decided to rehash his elaboration of his comments on your site, and that’s where things got really interesting.
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I won’t extensively quote Rosenbaum’s two or three posts, nor my two responses, or Greg’s two responses. I’ll leave it to those who choose to follow the link to your post to decide whether Rosenbaum’s model for what constitutes the acceptable representation of historical reality holds water, or whether Greg and I are deluded, misguided, full of shit or all of the above for suggesting that it is not Tarantino’s job to provide detailed historical verification of the Holocaust as background for his film, but that he is right to assume his audience is intelligent enough to take that element seriously off the top, and that what QT is doing is spinning his dramatic license from an acknowledgment of Holocaust reality in order to deal with the people who perpetrated those horrors. This is where our discussions with Mr. Rosenbaum have landed us at this late hour. And I must say, I give Rosenbaum credit for stepping even further into the fray and engaging with us about this subject. I fully understand that a critic with a profile as relatively high as his has probably had enough of the kind of avalanche of negative response in dealing with some of his decidedly non-mainstream opinions and would be hesitant to open his writing back up to the random nonsense that constitutes “commentary” on a lot of these well-read sites. (I can imagine a flurry of observations along the lines of, “Hey, you are stupid if you don’t like QT or his movie. What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you see it was number one at the box office?” would tend to make one want to lock up the comments column and throw away the virtual key.) So it is indicative, at least to some degree, that he recognized that the level of discourse here went a bit beyond the usual nonsense, even if our reasoning wasn’t rigorous enough to convince him of our impeccable intellectual standing. At any rate, it ended up an unexpected, thoroughly enjoyable, if exhausting development that has me buzzing still, and has made me happier than ever that we decided to handle examination of the movie in the way that we have.
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To address a couple of points that you bring up— No, I don’t think we are meant to feel sympathy for Landa. He has made a show of his intelligence, his cagey, teasing instincts as a detective—someone commented somewhere that he was like Columbo in SS drag (“Und by ze way, one more thing, Mssr. LaPadite…”)—and his utter ruthlessness when the time comes. The fleeting sympathy I may have felt for a group of people getting barbecued in a burning theater did not extend to the individuals of actual history there represented—I’m only 1/5 serious when I say that I’m slightly disappointed that Hitler’s head, upon being shredded by machine gun fire, didn’t belch forth a mass of heretofore hidden tumors oozing out of every new orifice, like Barry Convex after being shot by Max Renn in Videodrome. I don’t think it’s requisite that you have an actor of the caliber of Bruno Ganz, Alec Guinness or even Anthony Hopkins to breathe life into Hitler, or any of the Nazi Top Ten as it were, in order to deal with them in this context, and it’s more effective if the level of their conception is done up in such broad strokes as they are here if you don’t have such capable, recognizable faces in the roles. Better that so they don’t get in the way of seeing Hitler and company reduced to their most atavistic and decadent, the easier to be reminded that these beasts have already given up their humanity. And certainly no sympathy was extended by me to this cretin Landa, however slick and continental and entertaining he may have been. It was very satisfying to this viewer, in the way that neatly conceived and clever twists in entertainment can be (and so often aren’t) to imagine Landa getting every little perk he requested out of his deal with Raine, and yet having to life this life of privilege and luxury with that symbol carved on his noggin. Perhaps a plastic surgeon might help him out one day, but there would be all that time in between.

And if I might, I’d like to quote you whole hog on Zoller. This assessment of the character, and his character, insofar as he reflects the German experience as a correlative to the American war hero-turned-movie star Audie Murphy is, I think, my favorite passage in all of your writing on the film so far, Bill. I love how you capture the perfect agony of Shoshanna getting the upper hand after Zoller’s first breaks in, and then is lured further into that projection booth, only to have everything go to hell in a moment of sympathy for one of the devils:
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“After she shoots him, she gazes out at the movie screen, onto which his life story, Nation's Pride, is being projected. Her face softens, because he's just told her he didn't like watching the film, and also probably because she gets a sense of what he went through in combat. So she softens, sees that Zoller is still alive, and approaches him. What does her pity get her? A death right out of Argento, at Zoller's hands. Furthermore, let's not forget how he violently bulldozed his way into the projection booth, looking for sex. His insistence on this made his claims about finding Nation's Pride uncomfortable to sit through seem a little disingenuous. And look, very few soldiers have ever come home from war, relishing the memories of the men they've had to kill. American GIs returning from WWII were just as tortured by what they'd done as Zoller claimed to be, but does that mean that the Americans thought that what they'd done hadn't been necessary? So why should Zoller have been any different? Let's not forget that however much he may have failed to enjoy watching his exploits on screen, he'd still happily hitched his star to Joseph Fucking Goebbels, and no one can tell me that anyone who had Goebbels’s ear didn't know what the Nazis were all about. So fuck Zoller, is what I'm trying to say.”

I get a strong sense of what the moment was for me in reading your words (though her demise reminded me more of the way De Palma might have shot it—I would imagine less representative bloodshed, with all that red glitter flying through the air, and more chunks of flesh being torn away had Argento been behind the camera, or at least a pond of blood instead of a mere pool). But your anger over Zoller’s movie star arrogance in the context of his Nazi privilege is palpable and tactile enough to practically handle here. Nice examination of this crucial aspect of the movie, Bill.

Which leads me to Jeffrey Wells. I won’t spend much time on this guy, because I frankly find him embarrassing-- I cannot take seriously anything written by a man who trolls film directors for naked pictures of the actresses in their films, and then pretends it was all a joke when the sleazy business comes to light. And yet here I am, offering my amazement over his conclusion regarding Sgt. Rachtman's rectitude before Aldo and his men under that bridge, when faced with a certain skull-crushing experience. I’m not sure how Wells’ logic is supposed to effectively condemn Tarantino conception of the reductiveness of Jewish revenge simply by recognition of the expression in Rachtman’s eyes, “clearly that of a man of intelligence and perception… his eyes in particular… have a settled quality that indicates a certain regular-Joe decency.” Well, I certainly read more arrogance and condescension into those limpid blue pools than did our Mr. Wells, whose ideas of manly physical beauty as expressed in his blog of late wouldn’t seem out of place in an Aryan Renaissance Festival, so I’m not exactly sure what to make of that. I can only conclude that the idea of this Nazi’s calm demeanor taken as evidence not of his sinister nature and assurance, but instead as a mirror with which to reflect the irredeemable barbarism of these Jewish avengers, a nature most often prescribed to Nazi devils, is simple nonsense. “Regular-joe decency”? Jesus H. Palomino! I defer to reader Robert Fiore, who made an observation in the comments here about one of Tarantino’s themes here that puts Wells’ assertion to shame. Robert says: “The really fascinating theme (the director) has going for him in Basterds, and what will stick with us from the movie, is the delusion the German characters have that they can be part of the Nazi enterprise and still be decent people in some aspect of themselves.” Toosh! If Rachtman assumes this to be true, and I suspect that his notions of military honor, separated as they are from the cruel facts of his army’s mission and methodology, tip his hand here, then he is truly damned. Genocidal rationalization and murderous impulses usually don’t mix well with moral certainty and delusions of “regular joe decency.” I also adore Robert’s comment which came directly before his incisive observation about those Nazi delusions of decency: “What has become more apparent over the years is that while Tarantino inhabits all of cinema, high cinema is where he visits and low cinema is where he lives. It's the artistic potential of low cinema that engages him.” To leave Wells in the ditch with his beloved Rachtman from here on out, I wonder if Fiore’s notion of what Tarantino is up to in a general sense would make any sense to Jonathan Rosenbaum.

As for the performances, I realize, upon reflecting on this movie in such detail, how typically wonderful is the acting in any given Tarantino picture, and we’ve talked to some degree about why that is—that there must be an unusual level of comfort and confidence that he transmits to his cast, a knowledge that he absolutely loves them as artists and craftsmen, and he loves reveling in what they do and how it emerges on screen. But for all the history of fine casts and individual performances in his oeuvre (if I may be allowed to use such a squidgy-sounding word at this point), would it be crazy to think that he’s reached some sort of apex in the showcasing of his actors in this new movie? I don’t think so. So much has already been written about Christoph Waltz’s effortless brilliance as Landa, and I’m not sure I have a lot to add that wouldn’t seem obvious or redundant. His is one of the great movie Nazis insofar as he is so articulate and boastful, and affable, about his abilities as a detective (not anything really so crass and distasteful as a Jew hunter), and how revealing he is about the knowledge of human behavior that coexists with his willingness to snuff it out that informs his suitability, his excellence at his duty. Yet as I said before, it is this assurance and how it is inverted and turned upon him that provides the ultimate chill when one finally contemplates the postwar life he has, if you’ll excuse me, carved out for himself.
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Melanie Laurent is so physically beautiful and right for the part that it took a second viewing for me to fully understand just how good she was. That café scene alone, with Goebbels, his “interpreter” (how do you translate, “Take me from behind, Joey! Now!”), Zoller, the unctuous SS officer who later turns up in the bar, and then finally Landa, with his goddamned strudel and cream, is a long, brilliant exercise in charting the landscape of a woman holding her breath. Every twitch Laurent delivers arrives like an earthquake, and they all have significance. She is marvelous here. My other favorite Laurent moment is the disdain with which she sizes up Zoller after she invites him, to his surprise, to come in to the booth and he asks, “What for?” For the look on her face in that brief two or three seconds alone, she will always have a place in my heart and my esteem.
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(I’d also like to take a moment to point out that I was fooled by Tarantino favorite Julie Dreyfus, who played Goebbels’s stunning associate, Francesca Mondino. For the entire time she was on screen I was convinced she was Italian giallo star Edwige Fenech, even though I knew in my head that Fenech is around 60 years old at this point--and still lovely, by the way. It wasn’t until later that I realized Mondino was played by the actress who portrayed the one-armed Sofie Fatale in Kill Bill. True to form, though, Tarantino’s tribute to Fenech was yet to be revealed…)

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Rod Taylor on screen as Churchill, though I have to believe we’ll see more of him in the inevitable nine-hour cut Tarantino has waiting for Blu-ray and DVD. Michael Fassbender was perfectly cast in the Graham Greene-ish role of Archie Hicox. Talk about wish fulfillment—a dashing, articulate hero type who wouldn’t look out of place in “a production of the Archers,” and he’s a film critic to boot! (Come on, Jonathan, at least admit you smiled when this man came on screen and started talking about his book on G.W. Pabst.) And then there’s Mike Meyers, fulfilling a lifelong wish of his own to be in movie where he could be the Richard Attenborough-ish general pointing to the map and telling the main characters how Jerry plans to move across the continent. The guy is terrific, although I kept waiting for that Austin Powers grin to come popping out at some point. (It did, didn’t it, and I just missed it somehow.) And what is Myers’ name in the movie? General Ed Fenech! See, Tarantino tantalizes us with a fantasy version of this beautiful woman, tweaks our (my) memory of her, reveals the fool, and then gives us Edwige Fenech is the guise of this little military troll! Brilliant! Superb! A tour-de-force!

As for the Basterds themselves, I gotta believe there’s more footage of Samm Levine to be revealed in that nine-hour cut. B.J. Novak was terrific in his scene across the table with Landa near the end. And of course Til Schweiger and Gedeon Burkhard as Hugo Stiglitz and Wilhelm Wicki, were marvelous and had much more opportunity to show it in the infamous bar scene. I will say that I was open to disliking Eli Roth based solely on his unctuous, opportunistic persona defending the Hostel movies during appearances on Larry King Live. But I thought he did a good job swinging that bat, and the totally believable psychotic gleam in his eyes made up for any physical discrepancies that might have come to mind between his imposing physicality (or lack thereof) and that nickname, “the Bear Jew.” Finally, I don’t think I can emphasize enough how much I have come to enjoy seeing Brad Pitt in these kinds of character roles. One of the first times I ever noted how good the guy could be was in the relatively tiny role he took as the stoner chorus in True Romance. And as you aptly pointed out, Bill, his work in Burn After Reading was, in that movie, peerless—he should have snagged the Oscar nomination for that performance rather than the one he did get nominated for, the recessive blank slate at the center of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Even his brilliant turn as Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a character role writ large and off-center—the central role of that movie belonged to Casey Affleck as Pitt’s titular counterpart. The point is, Pitt, like Alec Baldwin, is a far more interesting presence as a character actor than as a leading man, and the more roles he takes like Aldo Raine—if he’s ever lucky enough to get another role this juicy—will be the signal that the man knows where his talents really lie. He’s spot on terrific here, exaggerated accent and all. Gorlomi!

As for what didn’t work, not much, truthfully. Being Italian, I even liked the exaggerated accents, and especially Roth and Doom’s robotic gestures of sophistication as they try to wriggle past Landa in the lobby of the theater. Not high comedy, but still funny! I thrilled to the pastiche of music cues (I bought the soundtrack a couple of nights ago, and it shall travel with my on my little weekend getaway which begins as soon as I post this e-mail), and as suspicious as I was about the Bowie song, as soon as I saw how well it integrated with the movie’s visual scheme (undulating, insistent rhythms, Bowie’s somewhat sinister vocals, lyrically relevant imagery) I became completely unconcerned with notions of it being an anachronism—you could make the same claim about a lot of movie music in general, particularly the stuff from Morricone that QT has stitched together here.

And like Zorro swooping in at the last minute, Jim Emerson just posted a comment about an element of the film that I agree I would have changed, an anachronism the movie could have done without—and that’s Samuel L. Jackson’s narration about the film nitrate. Not the text, but Jackson’s participation. It doesn’t add anything to the richness of the concept of cinema as a weapon, or how QT has created this grand tapestry of violence as a tribute to the power of this great art form. It just feels like Sam dropped by the studio one day and QT got this idea in his head that he had to figure out a way to fit him in. (It is funny, as a side note, to mention that Glenn Kenny rightfully took Armond White somewhat to task for not recognizing Jackson’s voice and casually assuming that it was Jacky Ido, who plays Shoshanna’s projectionist lover, who provided the basso profundo voiceover. Make of that blunder what you will, Dear Reader.) But really, I think Tarantino could have found someone else, someone whose presence doesn’t so easily throw you out of the movie at that point and down the director’s navel, who could have done the job just as proficiently and, depending on whom he chose, may have even added subtext rather than subtracted it. Thanks, Jim, for saving me from my own difficult question!

Okay, the hour draws near and I gotta go. But before I do, I would be completely remiss if I did not thank you, Bill, for indulging this e-mail exchange idea and fulfilling the possibilities of it as you have. Your thinking about the movie kept me humming, even if we don’t exactly see eye to eye on some of the specifics. The appreciation and the enthusiasm you brought here, and to your own table at The Kind of Face You Hate, is precisely what I always hope will come from respectful and intelligent interaction in the blogosphere. That it doesn’t happen as often as it should is something with which I will not concern myself now. I am just happy to have had this experience alongside you, and Don, and Jim, and Greg, and Tony, and the Caustic Ignostic, and anyone else I may be forgetting who joined in our little round table here—and especially Jonathan Rosenbaum, who gave us all a jolt and made us step up our game in the late hours. This has been extremely rewarding and challenging, and as Jim said in the comments column, may we always have a movie to experience that gives us so much joy in the hours and days and weeks after we’ve seen it, so much to chew on, digest, and even reject. It is this opportunity that reveals the true dimensions of a movie and what it can offer, and it is in this process of discovery that we become better at seeing and understanding as opposed to just reacting. Thanks again sincerely, Bill, and thanks to Quentin Tarantino for making a movie with which none of us resent spending so much time.

You can keep up with interesting developments along the front lines of response to Inglourious Basterds by following the David Hudson-esque alerts to the new and interesting posted by Inglourious Fan.

And I just couldn’t resist giving the last word to David Letterman, who has, predictably, had a lot of fun with this movie which has so improbably risen to the height to the general public’s consciousness this past week. Enjoy! And arr-eee-va-derchy!




BR: Yeah, yesterday took me pretty well by surprise, and highlights the great danger of this infernal piece of wizardry we call the "internet". Perhaps you remember the old days when a group of people could get together and talk about another person, one who was not presently with the group -- one who was, in fact, elsewhere -- and that group could say things like "Say, that thing that person said: what was the deal with that?" or "That thing the other person said sure was confusing. I wish he or she had been clearer!" Such things would be said specifically because that other person was nowhere around, and retribution would not be forthcoming. But sister, you try pulling that noise on the internet and see where it gets you. That other person will pop in out of the blue and attempt to explain what they meant, and we found that out the hard way.

The truth about Rosenbaum's entrance into the conversation is that I was so tired by that point, not to mention taken aback, that I was damn happy that you and Greg -- and later Kevin Olson, Ryan Kelly, and the bewitching Tom Carson -- were there to hold up what amounted to my end of the argument. And you did a great job, I must say. While I genuinely appreciate the fact that Rosenbaum dropped in to clarify his point, and to make himself available to further discussion, I truly don't believe any of his clarifications took hold. He continued to hammer on Inglourious Basterds as a disrespectful, to put it mildly, Holocaust film, but Kevin pointed out that the proper genre designation for Basterds is "War Film". As a matter of fact, it's closest to a World War II espionage film than it is to anything else, so how, exactly, did it get lumped into the same category as Schindler's List, The Pianist, Life is Beautiful, and other such films? I don't know, and my inclination is let that line of conversation just lie fallow. Still, as you say, it does underline the fact that the conversation that has been taking place in the comments section of our blogs, and Greg's blog, and Fox's blog, and Glenn Kenny's blog, and many others, has been at a very high level, because, at those sites, even the people who dislike Tarantino's film are unwilling to dismiss it outright. It's that reaction that really frustrates the hell out of me. I'm left speechless in the face of it. At his blog, Greg said: "I just wish, deep in my heart and sincerely, that they could have seen the movie I saw." That's more or less how I feel, because to me, anyone who disliked this film is really missing out on something extraordinary. At the very least, they're missing out at an incredibly good time at the movie theater, but I believe they're plain and simply missing out on a genuine work of cinematic art, a remarkable achievement. That probably sounds incredibly snobby: You don't get it, and I feel sad for you. :-( But I don't think that's what I'm saying. I respect the differences of opinion, and I've been on the other side of this phenomenon often enough. I hear what they're saying. I just don't understand a word of it.

And I never meant to suggest that you, or anyone (although some do, it would seem) would feel pity for Landa, and I love your description of his future. It's not as though I wouldn't have liked to see the Bear Jew (God, I love that name!) go uptop his skull with a nice piece of lumber, but the beauty of the ending we got, apart from the wonderful Ennio Morricone music cue, is that it put me in mind of the original J. Lee Thompson Cape Fear, when Gregory Peck tells Robert Mitchum he's not going to kill him, because Mitchum doesn't fear death. He fears prison, so that's going to be his punishment. Which is not to say that Landa doesn't fear death -- I got the impression that he sort of did -- but rather that he has no idea the hell that he's set himself up for by wrangling a free trip to America. I must say, I do like that. And another thing I loved about that scene was when Raine shoots Wilhelm, and Landa says, "You killed Wilhelm! I made a deal to save that man's life! They'll shoot you!" Raine replies, "Nah, I won't get shot. I'll get chewed out -- I been chewed out before." It's a strangely hilarious way of showing the difference between punishments faced by those who disobey the Reich, and those who disobey the American military. Tarantino is subtly pointing out that the Nazi mindset was so depraved that it couldn't even fathom the concept of reasonable response.

Regarding Jeffery Wells, let me make myself perfectly clear: I find his response to the bridge scene to be nothing less than morally reprehensible. Presumably, he's not actually so bone stupid as to not know the extent of the Nazis' demonic cruelty and barbarism. But how easy it seems to be for him to shrug that knowledge right off his shoulders, and imagine that this Nazi officer might harbor some genuine decency in his heart. Regular Joe decency, at that (the best kind)! I get genuinely angry when I think of Wells's post, but I really shouldn't use the last post of this wonderful discussion as an excuse to empty my spleen all over the guy. Let me just say two more things on this subject. One is that, charmingly, Wells titled the post in question "Jew Dogs". Second is that I must admit that I do harbor a fantasy that Wells will get wind of this conversation and find out what we've said here about him and his post. Then he'll get so angry that he'll write a whole post about us, in which he labels us go-alongers and leave-us-aloners, points out that our writing doesn't even reach the level of mezzo-mezzo, and assures his readers that we are most definitely not outlaw biker poets who favor wearing emotionally vivid cowboy hats. As of this writing, that hasn't happened yet, but my fingers remain ever crossed.

But back to the film. Reading your detailed analysis of the film's performances makes me regret my rather slapdash take on the subject, especially since I join you in your love of Michael Fassbender as Hicox. As I mentioned in the comments section of your blog, a post or two back, I recently learned that Simon Pegg was originally supposed to play the role, but had to bow out because of scheduling conflicts. I think Pegg would have been terrific, but Fassbender is outstanding, and one of the reasons I loved him so much is because he had the air of an actor in a 1940s war-time espionage film. And you're right, Dennis, he could have come right out of Powell/Pressburger. Maybe if Roger Livesey had gotten sick, Fassbender could have stepped in. Now, I don't want to go nuts, but I could honestly see it. "Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don't mind if I go out speaking the King's." I mean, come on! Explain to me what's not to love about that. I'm listening.

In the comment sections of various other blogs, I've also expressed my happiness that B. J. Novak was given something to do at the end of the film, and I agree, he was very good, in the same way that Eli Roth was good: he wasn't asked to do much, but he completely sold what he had to sell. And yeah, it's a shame that Samm Levine apparently got scissored out of the film, which I have to say reminds me of something about the film that I can't actually call a problem, but, well, I would have loved to have gotten to know the rest of the Basterds, maybe have Tarantino give them each a moment. One of the great pleasures of this kind of ensemble film is seeing the differect characters get paired off over the course of the film, and seeing how the two dynamics play off each other. We got a bit of this, with the most interesting, for me, coming from the duos of Eli Roth and Omar Doom(!), and Brad Pitt and B. J. Novak. I'm sure the absence of some of the others was a function of editing, but it still struck me as slightly curious -- and in some hard to define way, realistic -- that the Doom and Novak characters should suddenly, in the last half hour, have something to do, while three of the Basterds are pretty much out of it completely.Robert Fiore's point about Tarantino being interested in the artistic potential of "low cinema" is exactly right. I couldn't have said it better myself, and it sort of reminds me of something I read a Glenn Kenny's site. After his review, Glenn went back to see the film a second time, and later he broke the film down, scene by scene, and came to the alarming realization that Inglourious Basterds consists of a mere sixteen scenes. Is it just me, or that fairly amazing? A commenter -- maybe at Glenn's site, maybe elsewhere, I'm afraid I can't remember -- pointed out that Blow Up, at 110 minutes, has over twenty scenes, but Inglourious Basterds, an out-sized World War II revenge film has just sixteen. And, as you know, it still moves like a freight train. This is evidence of real formal and creative ambition on Tarantino's part.Lately, I've heard some people claim that his approach to genre material is arrogantly ironic, but that's not the case at all. That's not to say that he doesn't include irony in his films, but that he absolutely loves the genres he works in, and he knows how good they can be. For him, it's not a matter of any film "transcending its genre", a bit of critical snobbery that I'm sure he can't stand any more than I can. It's just about making the best goddamn World War II revenge film he knows how to make, and God bless him for it. He's given me the best time I expect to have all year at the movies, and the best week of blogging I've had in a very long time.

Let me double the thanks to all the people Dennis thanked, as well as all the people I've already thanked, which would appear to make things uneven, but you guys will work it out, and especially, Dennis, I want to thank you for honoring me by asking that I take part in this project with you. You set an incredibly high standard every day, not just in film writing, but in pure class. So thank you all again. And man, I can't wait for the DVD.

Say good night, Winston.

13 comments:

Greg said...

It was a great discussion and I'm happy to have done my part in the comment section. Thanks.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

Fantastic end to fantastic discussion, guys. I haven't read through it all with a fine-tooth comb yet, but I wanted to point out that at Bright Lights After Dark Rosenbaum seemed a little more willing to compromise, and made some points that I thought clarified his argument to a positioning I could probably sympathize with, if not wholly adopt. Also, the grandchild of a holocaust survivor came out of the woodwork to browbeat me, which I guess was bound to happen at some point.

Ryan Kelly said...

Don't be hard on yourself, Bill, you didn't botch shit. You held your own with Dennis, no easy task, and you both articulated your points extremely well. I must say, even though I don't quite love it like you do (but you also don't love Death Proof like I do!), but I love that you love it, if that makes sense. Taken as a whole, this is far and away the best piece I've read on this movie. Ad the two of you cover, as far as I can tell, just about every aspect of the movie (some of which I am kicking myself for not discussing --- notably, I love when you two talk about the scene in the projection booth, probably my favorite individual moment in Tarantino's movies).

It is cool that Rosenbaum is going around and engaging with people about this subject; but, as you point out, it doesn't fee like he's elaborating his claims, which are pretty bold. I would seriously argue that the man may be the best film critic the English language has produced, certainly among the best, but something about the tone he's taken towards this movie has bothered me from the get-go, before I even saw it. It brought to mind what Glenn said in his initial piece about the movie, how Tarantino brings out the "scolding third-grade teacher" in many critics. I remember reading something on Rosenbaum's site where he wrote a letter to the editor of the NY Times in his youth because one of their critic referred to Godard's films as 'frivolous', and he said something to the effect that more frivolous than Godard's films is the mind that refuses to engage with them. And now here he is, aptly refusing to engage with IB on its own terms, because... well, just because.

This is probably the first time in my life that I've ever worked through my misgivings of a movie through writing and reading about it. Generally I'm pretty sure how I feel about something the moment i leave the theater, but this is something that, the more I think about it, the more highly I think of it. As you saw on my FaceBook right when I got home from the movie for the first time, it left me in something of a state of bewilderment; frustration and admiration in equal respects. I think that frustration I felt just speaks to how dynamic it is, and the amount of fascinating discourse its generated speaks to that as well. It has people talking, thinking --- not about the sad state of movies, or how much money awful movies are making, but about movies. About film as art, about film as history, about film as a visual and visceral form. What else matters?

Again, great work from you two that puts me to shame. You two are a good team, mightn't you do something of this sort again?

bill r. said...

Greg - I'm thrilled you took part, and your comments in the last post were better than I could have done, in making the same argument, so thanks again.

Joseph - I saw the comments on your blog, but I've tried to read very little of anyone else's writing on this film outside of myself, Dennis, and the comments there, because I was always in danger of having my own thoughts clouded, but now I can go back and check out what you said there in detail.

I don't know that being browbeat by the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor is all that inevitable, actually. I hope not, anyway.

Joseph "Jon" Lanthier said...

bill: Fair enough -- I tend to close myself off from criticism, too, until I write my own stuff. If you've already read Rosenbaum's comments at BLAD, however, there's no need to return (they're the main attraction).

As for the inevitability of Holocaust survivor-descendant browbeating -- I think that once Rosenbaum opened up the "Holocaust denial" can of worms the likelihood certainly increased, even if it shouldn't have necessarily.

bill r. said...

Ryan - Thank you very much (and now I get to go read YOUR post, after I watch Horrors of the Black Museum, of course). I don't really think I botched things, necessarily, but I currently have an empty tank when it comes to writing about this movie. I love it no less than before, but brother, am I spent, and I just don't think I had much to say in Part Four.

Anyway, yeah, Rosenbaum's reaction is pretty bewildering and kind of off-putting. Others have pointed out elsewhere, on Glenn Kenny's site, that the guy who co-wrote Midnight Movies should have had a stronger connection to what Tarantino is up to than he obviously does, and I can't see why. He's arguing against it in circles and without logic. Confusing.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Bill:

Just fantastic stuff all around from you and Dennis. And thanks for the shout-out! This has been one of my favorite threads to read...even if, as I state over and over on my blog, I only wish to actually write about what's on the screen and why it's so damn good.

I just finished writing something about the film, and oddly enough I felt burnt out before I even wrote something on it...so I went the stream of consciousness route, hehe. There have been so may great discussions about the film in the last week that it really took me sitting my ass down and forcing myself just to write my reactions to the film...because lets be honest, I could never hope to top what you Dennis pulled off here. This has been the number one discussion in the blogosphere about Inglourious Basterds.

Nice work my friend.

Craig said...

Your inadvertent summoning of Rosenbaum may be even more impressive than conjuring Edelstein way back (and you didn't have to call him an asshole to do it!). I won't repeat my extended comment over at Dennis's, other than to say, like the rest: Great work, and thanks for helping the rest of us make sense of our own thoughts toward this challenging and remarkable film.

bill r. said...

Kevin - Thanks a lot. As I've already told you, despite how much fun I've had doing this project with Dennis, my instinctive reaction to the movie is that it's just a straight-up blast, and that'll be the main reason I watch it again. And again and again. Anyway, I look forward to reading your review, after I've detoxed from thinking about the movie for a day or two.

Craig -

Your inadvertent summoning of Rosenbaum may be even more impressive than conjuring Edelstein way back (and you didn't have to call him an asshole to do it!)...

Ah ha ha...er, yeah. I seem to remember him being kind of mad about that.

Thorsten said...

Regarding Rachtman, the Nazi officer beaten to death: It may be interesting to note that he ist not an SS officer but of the regular army, the Wehrmacht. One of the myths regarding the Third Reich, in the discussions after the war here in Germany, was that while the SS and others did commit all those horrible crimes, the Wehrmacht allegedly stayed away from it, their soldiers and officers sticking to some kind of, well, decent soldateska bravery, coming out of the war morally intact. For decades, until recently really, discussion about the participation of the Wehrmacht in war crimes was lead quite harshly and it took some time until the historical facts settled down.
So when Tarantino shows Rachtman as a brave man who will not give away the hidout of his soldiers, who walks in slow motion as a western hero, who has the manly physical features of actor Richard Sammel and who stares death into the eye without whimpering – well, that is pretty much the ideal and the myth of how the Wehrmacht conducted the war. Also note that at no point anything is said about what he and his soldiers were doing when being trapped by the basterds. Probably just doing normal warfare craft, right? So Rachtman is indeed very different from the other Nazis in the film, respectively Landa and the August Diehl character (the sinister one in the bar), who are both members of the SS, from which even the dullest german patriot couldn't say it kept its hands clean.
Watching the scene now I asked myself if Tarantino fell for the myth of the good Wehrmacht or if he just uses it to do this Italo Western thingie. It surely felt strange.
... And then, shortly before his gruesome end, Rachtman spits out some words of pure anti-semitism.

Don Mancini said...

This conversation has been a wonderful gift to your collective readers. And it speaks so well of you both, as critics and as people, that you manage to conduct it all with such civility and mutual respect, regardless of occasionally divergent aesthetic and political perspectives. It's great to read thoughtful discourse about film that doesn't devolve into name-calling or narcissistic posturing. Thank you both. You guys rock.
(P.S. Bill, I grew up in Richmond.)

bill r. said...

Thorsten - Thank you very much for stopping by and offering your genuinely unique perspective. I wasn't personally aware of the controversy in Germany regarding the Wehrmacht's role in Nazi atrocities, and I'm not quite clear, from your comment, where it ended up. Are you saying that, now in Germany, it's understood that the Wehrmacht cannot be let off the hook, as some had previously believed?

I think Rachtman's ant-semitic remark sums up the kind of guy Tarantino wants to understand he is, and while it would be foolish to say every one of the German ground troops were like that -- hell, not even all of the SS were like that -- I think it's even more foolish to believe that a military could fight under Hitler's rule and not be primarily made up of men who had bought into his view of the world. The SS very rarely were personally, hands-on responsible for the atrocities.

Also, Thorsten, I understand that by and large German critics are raving about this film. Is that true?

Don - Thank you very much. I've really been thrilled that you've been involved in this discussion, and your sheer enthusiasm for how simply thrilling this film is matches my own.

Also, I've traveled through Richmond countless times, but I'm afraid I've never actually visited there. I used to take the train from northern to southern Virginia, and traveling over downtown Richmond in daylight made me think it was probably a pretty fun place to hang out, but I never have.

Thorsten said...

Bill, sorry for my absence, there was a holiday in between.
The controversy about the Wehrmacht came to my mind when an exhibition about its role lead to some angry discussions, partly because some of the exhibition was said to be inaccurate, but mostly because it very clearly focused on war crimes. There is a Wikipedia article about it, even in english:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wehrmachtsausstellung

Yes, german critics are in their vast majority very fond of the film. I recommend a text by Georg Seeßlen, one of our best and best known critics. It is in german but maybe babelfish can help:
http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/kino/0,1518,642401,00.html

Opposed to Rachtman, the Christoph Waltz character never makes a truly anti-semitic remark if I remember correctly. He just hunts and kills Jews and, as he later explains, does a job and pursues a career. This would be the second socio-type in the Third Reich, after the true Anti-Semite: the opportunist who quickly changes sides after the war, who would do his job in any system (and who Tarantino gives something to think about on his way to Nantucket Island).

Thanks for the great Blog, btw.

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