16 December 2009

Thoughts On: Inglorious Basterds

Reviewed on DVD...

All the reviews I read for Inglorious Basterds come off like miniature referendums on Quentin Tarantino himself.

I reject the premise. It's just another flick. As for the fact that it plays fast and loose with World War II and Hitler, is that supposed to be controversial? 
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Really? It's a pretty OLD trope. 

Inglorious Basterds is a sloppy, daffy, perverse and elusive film. Most movies are not any of those things, especially not the high profile ones, so bonus points go to Tarantino's little war from the outset.

Basterds is a punk rock movie.  It is sneering and adolescent. It offers you the punk rock choice: jump up and down with the rest of the idiots or shake your head and go home. 

There's nothing here to make me feel challenged or threatened or surprised or whatever effect Tarantino's going for. Far as I'm concerned, the man's just shaking trees. Sometimes tasty little apples fell, and sometimes bird shit. Inglorious Basterds is non-stop homage, non-stop cliché or non-stop deconstruction. Sometimes it's all three. And when you're picking up the good apples and tasting them, it's fun enough.
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"I don't know about you, but speaking French is easy... it's not getting to deploy any creatively arranged 'F-bombs' that's murder!"

It's ultimately too bad Tarantino can't do a straight up and down genre picture. (At this point, I'm guessing he's aware that if he ever even tied, he'd get crucified.)  For my money, his willingness to rip off older films and reheat their shtick is, yes, a real talent, but it's one that's really best suited to livening up conventional hack work. 

don't see it as a great framework for entire films.  That being the case, I guess I'll never be an out and out Tarantino lover.  

Inglorious Bastards has a remote control for a heart.  Sometimes it's stuck on picture-in-picture: the war movie with the Spaghetti Western soundtrack, the exploitation shoot 'em up pausing for half hour to be the Film Talk channel.

Mister Hitchcock intrudes as an influence from time to time, making for some of the movie's best moments.  I still can't help but thinking those scenes would've kicked far more ass in a more conventional film. 

Tarantino "winks" on the idea that he's sucking up influence like a Hoover.  Basterds's credit sequence is delivered in multiple fonts.

The film gains nothing whatsoever with its zig-zagging. Some build-ups fall entirely flat or even fail to "build up" at all, thanks to cumbersome and oddly chosen sound or visual cues.

Something else I've noticed about the style Tarantino helped pioneer.  Those quick inserts and cutaways?  Y'know the almost "Family Guy"-esque snippet gags that once felt playful and unexpected?  They now feel obligatory.  

The big, "controversial" ending--they kill Hitler (is that what the kids call a "spoiler"?)--could only really have surprised audience members  who weren't paying attention in the first place. If they had been watching with even a glimmer of cinema-going experience, they would have realized that Inglorious Basterds isn't a war film. It's a war-film-film.

Sometimes it's Sam Fuller, sometimes it's David Lean, sometimes its whichever Italian hack made the original Inglorious Basterds.  

Inglorious Basterds is still ostensibly a narrative film--albeit scantly--and we middle-class-middle-brow types take out narrative film REALLY seriously. We want narrative films to play by a certain set of rules or we else we get cross. I honestly think the "killing Hitler" thing was more upsetting to people not because they felt it was disrespectful, but because it revealed the film to be a sneering jape rather than any sort of realistic narrative.
Of course, how they failed to miss that Basterds is clearly a sneering jape from frame one, still eludes me.

There's almost no story. Some commandos and a Jewish girl set out to kill Hitler. That's it. An antagonistic SS colonel, a Nazi war fero, an UFA film star and a British paratrooper film-critic (yes) are thrown in as distractions, all of which serve simply to pad the plot out and provide "in-between places" in the threadbare story. Tarantino likes to play in these "in-between spaces".

And again, sometimes there's apples and sometimes there's bird shit. 
 
I really like my metaphor.