Thursday, August 27, 2009

Revenge Of The Giant Face

Inglourious Basterds(2009)Directed By Quentin Tarantino
Nazi Officer: “So my character is from Africa and the jungle, and he’s brought to America against his will and it doesn’t turn out well for him?" Group: “Yes"Nazi Officer: “I am the story of a negro in America?”
Group: “No.”
Nazi Officer: “Then I must be King Kong.”It's easy and almost expected to say of Quentin Tarantino films, "they are enjoyable, crowd pleasing, a "treat" to see in the movies, yet are ultimately soulless and brainless genre exercises", but to say this of Inglourious Basterds is to simply ignore the content of the film, and to just comment on what we all know from seeing the trailer. This little racial joke I began with comes from what will be remembered as the infamous bar scene in Inglourious Basterds. It captures the irreverent flair for dialogue that Tarantino films are famous for, and uses a discreet film reference to capture a wider concept. The idea that King Kong is a distorted racial caricature of a black man, hypnotized by the blond woman, is not an unheard of idea (not to mention the savage African cannibals who worship him). American audiences of the time celebrated the film (and Tarantino and others sensitive to depictions of race in early film, would suggest unconsciously or consciously), for it’s materialization of predominant cultural views of racial prejudice, while still officially and sincerely as an action adventure. The joke is one in a series of inter-textual puns and cinematic meta-fiction, “In this country we respect directors”, and “Hell, watching The Bear Jew, beat the hell out you boys is closest thing we got to going to the movies.”. The Nazi (whose sinister grin and scowl are reminiscent of the Nazi interrogator from the Raiders Of The Lost Arc), delivers these lines of dialogue at a table with a British soldier (a British spy, and film critic specializing in the Wiemar cinema), a German Film Starlet (whose conspiring with the Allies), and two of the Basterds (one a legendary ex-Nazi turned Nazi-killer named Stieglitz), to stack the card with further cinematic in-jokes. Inglourious Basterds, is a World War 2 propaganda film about World War 2 propaganda films, and cinema as a cultural weapon. Highly flammable 38 millimeter film print is used as a fuse in a plot to burn down a theater full of Nazi’s gathered to watch a propaganda film called “Nations Pride”, by the cinema owner who is a blond Jew (a “silver Jew” was the term) hiding in plain sight named Shoshanna. Here propaganda cinema (the film within the film and the adventures of the Basterds) is used literally as a subversive weapon of resistance (by those hiding in the midst of the cinema).Shoshanna’s story and not that of the eponymous group of American soldiers, is the heart of the film. Inglorious Basterds is a misleading title in the literal sense, but as “glorious bastardization”; propaganda for revisionism, deconstruction, and genre play it makes perfect sense. Tarantino bought the title from Enzo Castalarri’s WW2 film about condemned prisoners on a jailbreak (an Italian knock off of "The Dirty Dozen"), but after it snowballed into a 12 part mini-series, he altered it completely into the 5 chapter film we have today. The Basterds are now a group of Jewish American soldiers, lead by Sgt. Aldo Rain (Brad Pit), a self described “part Injun” and southern commander, who tasks his men on a black-ops mission to demoralize the Nazi’s by scalping 800 men (100 scalps per man in the unit). The only scalping's save one occurs in the film as flashbacks. The Basterds also serve the film as surrogate for telling a western audience a foreign story; an island of English, in an ocean of subtitles. This is used as a joke, “Do you American’s speak any language besides English?”, and comes up again in the lobby before entering the theater, scene where the soldiers pretend to be Italian. Otherwise, the Basterds themselves are a kind of afterthought in the film.Their mission is never really vital because Shoshanna the cinema owner is planning to kill all of the Nazis anyway, and their attempts at completing the mission despite all their shit talking, are inept cartoonish bumbling. Tarantino has made an American war film where the American soldiers are basically just comic relief. The real story is Shoshanna's and that of a hapless Romeo And uninterested Juliet; her annoying (as these romantic sub-polts often are) relationship between her and the hero of “Nation’s Pride” (the Nazi propaganda film premiering at her theater). If there is a personal aspect to this story (as Tarantino in an interview said there always is with his films.) it can be seen here, where the Nazi movie star wooing the young cinephile, who finds him revolting, but pity’s his naivete. Though later the hero reveals his “kill them with kindness” attitude has it’s limits, and he is not above evoking his power as an authority figure. There isn’t really enough of the Basterds plot or Shoshanna’s to fill out the movie, so SS Officer Hans Landa (played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, who never misses a beat in the 4 languages he speaks through the film) the infamous “Jew Hunter”, links the two. He is the real hero of the film, in a way, he sets all of the events in motion, and it’s only through him the ending is even possible. He is not a true believer, as Nazi’s are usually excused away for being, but a calculating opportunist who enjoys the power he has over those who fear him. He plays cat and mouse in the lobby, for no other reason than his for his own amusement.His fate is an even greater re-imagining than the fate Tarantino dreams up for Hitler. In real life, after the war the Allies accepted the help of ex-high ranking Nazi officials or useful scientists, in exchange that they wouldn’t be tried for War Crimes, and could live out their lives as private citizens. Like “The Dark Knight”, Inglorious ends with a back alley deal, but Landa is a Nazi though, so he can’t escape without some comeuppance, and thus...::SPOILER: the Americans before serving him up to high command to be awarded a medal, carve a swastika in his head. “So [he’s] got a uniform he can’t take off now…”.::SPOILEROVER::There are many a sympathetic Nazi to be found in Inglorious (the soldier who just had a baby) but "oh well" a scalp here, a bullet there, and let the great cosmic credits sort them out.As critic J. Hobberman wrote (though otherwise fond of the film), “The movie allows the Jews to act like Nazis”.The Bear Jew”, rumored to be a Golem with a Louisville slugger, is played by “Hostel” director Eli Roth, who described the film as “kosher porn”, a play on words for critics having dubbed his films “torture porn”. And the psychedelic and German Expressionist burning theater sequence from chapter 5 where Roth smiles ear to ear while pumping a machine gun into a crowded theater, would seem to be in line with this thinking. However, there is a series of scenes before this where images from the Nazi War propaganda film, “Nation’s Pride”, and the Nazi crowd applauding, are juxtaposed with the clandestine actions of the resisters, planning to kill the Nazi’s. Here Tarantino brilliantly gives us twin scenes of hero worship, one Nazi, one American. In a moment of cinematic poetry the sounds of propoghanda film bullets covers the sound of real life bullets, until the screen literally explodes; in a monstrous “Wizard of Oz”-like disembodied head projected into the smoke from the flames, laughing like a maniac God at the slaughter.This chapter is aptly titled “Revenge of the Giant Face”, where the cinema devours the bad guys in fires of judgment and the good guys in the flames of martyrdom. “Death Proof” began the switch in Tatantino’s career from not just cutting up and pastiching genres together, but inverting and exploding them. In “Death Proof” the masculine car chase movie and misogynist slasher flick, were inverted into girl power, stunting, strutting, and shit talking, which revealed as much as it reveled in its remixing.“Inglourious Basterds” is a continuation of this, with American shit talking, sandwiched between foreign espionage, and historical revisionism. For the first time his constant references to other films are important parts of the story, not just butter on the genre biscuit. Clever as it all is, it’s still an entertaining, funny, and gasp inducing movie, that even in it’s reimagining of history manages to shine new lights on unexposed corners of it. There hasn’t been a better film this summer, and I don’t think there’s been a better film this year. It's very entertaining, and does do so without reliying on the usual tricks of the war movie or adventure film trade. It is almost inconceivably egotistical to end a movie where the final lines of dialogue are “I think this is my masterpiece.”, but there it is, and though it’s propaganda of another sort, it’s not far from the truth.


ronakmsoni said...

May I ask you where you get your stills from?

Sorry, that was rather unceremonious. Let me tell you that I like your reviews, but limit reading them to things I've already watched or don't care about seeing, as you reveal a bit too much for my tastes, even outside the 'spoiler' parts.

Joe Sylvers said...

I take some, I surf around for others. It's fine I get asked that allot. I appreciate getting read at all, so thank you. The visuals are there for those who I know won't read but may scan over. If an image catches their eye, they might be prompted to read a little more. I feel it helps make abstract things concrete, and I enjoy playing with the tensions between words and images. I like in-depth reviews that's just my way. I set out to write the way I would want to read, with everything interesting present and accounted for, because there are so many films to watch. The more in-depth the more I can pick which I really want to see. But I do apologize if I ruined anything for you. I'll take it into consideration more in the future. Hope to read more of your comments in the future. Thanks for stopping by.