Take that, you bad Nazi!

OK... I'm going to come right out and say it. Inglorious Basterds is a bad movie. Not bad as in shitty, but bad as in poorly executed, unfocused and disappointing. I think Tarantino really dropped the ball here, for reasons I'll come to. It certainly starts out with a bang, an opening segment worthy of all the hype with Tarantino working to his strengths and pumping on all cylinders. But then the film develops a slow leak and as it wears on and on, all the energy and magic drains out of it until we're left with an homage homage, a reflection of a reflection with nothing at its core.

Basterds has a single overriding problem: It's not immediately clear what the film is supposed to be. As a war-time thriller (or even as Zionist revenge porn), it just doesn't seem to mean business. It lacks the cold seriousness that's given Tarantino's cinematic brutality so much of its power and impact in the past. If anything, it seems to be a comedy that just isn't very funny. I want to focus for a moment on the idea that Tarantino's usage of extreme violence has been typically steeped in the seriousness of his scripts. Starting with Reservoir Dogs and then through Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills, every act of brutality is perpetrated on (or by) a character we are emotionally connected to and involved with. We may not like them, but we know them. Not so in Inglorious Basterds. We know nearly nothing about the Basterds themselves, except through the not-so-ironically-fascistic, eye-for-an-eye rhetoric of Pitt's Aldo Raine. The characters they kill, maim and scalp are simply “Nazis” and Tarantino treats them as nearly anonymous thus reducing the violence to utter meaninglessness. It plays as pure sadism without the emotional involvement of character context and I think this is what critics that see the film as “wildly insensitive” are getting at. I'm not sure I disagree.

Inglorious Basterds is a clear misstep in Tarnatino's filmography where he delivers on occasion but misses the larger target of creating a coherent and contained narrative. The plot drifts toward complete banality as the reality of history dovetails less and less effectively with Quentin's desire to make a Grindhouse war flick. He therefore just makes up a new one to suit the story he wants to tell. Surely to God a relatively true story could have been culled from a war as well-documented as WW2 was. It didn't have to be factually accurate but Inglorious Basterds ends up in Watchman territory without needing to. I'm not saying I wanted a BBC World at War episode but granting artistic license to fuck around with history to the degree Tarantino does in Inglorious Bastards is a stretch.

Which brings me back to my recent (and I might add, hitherto uncommented upon) master-post on comic book movies, a genre that I think Inglorious Basterds clearly belongs in. Once again, this is an accomplished film that resonates below its potential because it lacks the dramatic underpinnings that separate great films from big films, something audiences rarely “get” anymore.

I'll skip all the commentary on the "film as weapon for good" horseshit and leave my thoughts on the movie at that. I can see your little cinephile fists shaking right now so let fly your rebuttals, you little basterds.



Dropkick said...

oh Sporgey, i hate to say it but i really think you missed the point. First time i can feel comfortable saying that to head buff.

The lack of comments on your post about comics is because i feel the argument is disjointed much like you feel about this movie. I was curious to hear what your thoughts were on Disney buying Marvel but i didn't find them in your argument. In fact, I'm not sure what you're arguing, i think you're upset that movies are not as good anymore and that people are not as smart. I can't figure out if you think people are not as smart as they used to be or as smart as you.

I think mainstream cinema has, and will always be a vehicle for money making and not quality. So when a film like Basterds slips through the cracks that's mainstream yet hits the audiences over the head with an experience that's so steeped in the love of cinema and follows its on beats than that of what a mainstream flick should, i feel the film should be celebrated.

Sure it may not be To Kill a Mockingbird or The Best Years of Our Lives or Network or The Gold Rush or The Deer Hunter or 12 Angry Men or Sullivan's Travels or Sunset Boulevard or Bridge on the River Kwai or A Streetcar Named Desire or The Maltese Falcon or Sunrise, Patton or An American in Paris, High Noon or Double Indemnity or Trouble in Paradise or Five Easy Pieces or Paths of Glory or Gun Crazy or The Third Man or In the Heat of the Night or On the Waterfront or From Here to Eternity.
And i don't think the film really wants to be. oh and by the by, i've seen more than a handful of those.

I for one am a cinephile that doesn't see the future of cinema as bleakly, i think there's films made in the past ten years that have been more challenging or have had a bigger impact on me than anything i've seen before them. Maybe that means i need to see more movies, but still, cinema is far from being dead.

Basterds, was great fun and i wish you were the first one to see it. I wonder if our over hype ruined it for you. That's what happened with me and District 9. In fact when i went to see District 9 i was just wishing it to end so i could sneak to the screen next door and catch Basterds again.

La Sporgenza said...

You might be right, Kris. I was trying to express the idea that while segments of IB worked very well, the extended narrative - the complete package if you will - ended up feeling somehow lacking and disjointed, at least to me. I'm hardly alone in this regard as a whole host of critical commentary about the film touches on the same issue. As always, I read these after I watched the film. At its best, film criticism is about the subjective exercise of expressing how (or perhaps more importantly “if”) a particular film speaks to us. Being one of Tarantino's biggest fans, I admit to having higher expectations of his work and while I may be misreading IB, I just couldn't find enough coherent story arc to surmise what his original intention was. You speak of me having missed the point, but don't offer your interpretation of what that point was. I'd be interested in your take on that. I endeavored to make several specific points about why I thought IB failed in comparison to other, earlier Tarantino films and why I thought it shared a connection to my (and about a million others) earlier contention that mainstream films have drifted toward more simplistic story telling in the last decade or two.

Regarding the comic book post, after spending a week researching and writing it, I too wasn't entirely happy with it. I may have bitten off more than I could chew and I'm not nearly a accomplished enough writer to have articulated an entire societal trend in a 1000 word post about mainstream movies. That being said, here's the point-form conclusions I wanted to get at:

We've collectively stopped reading and moved toward a society that is more comfortable with symbols and icons than the complex narratives and inner dialogues of the novel.

The comic book adaptation (and variants of it) has grown in lockstep with that societal shift to become the predominant source of green-lighted mainstream Hollywood film scripts since 2000.

Disney buying Marvel for the incredible sum of $4,000,000,000 is an logical extension of this trend (and one that marks its likely continuation).

The resultant overall effect of this trend has been the arguable loss of the average audience's ability to comprehend the larger “the language of cinema”, to borrow a slightly oblique phrase from the frogs at Cahiers du cinéma. This is a bad thing for cinephiles and while the phrase may sound elitist and pretentious, mainstream film has oscillated into and out of this territory during its 100+ year history.

I offered up 25 universally agreed to “Great” films to suggest that an understanding of what constitutes one needs to be put in some historical context. I further opined that most modern film audiences have seen very few of them. I'm glad to hear that you have seen more than your share, but need to point out that I wasn't speaking about you, but rather today's average film audience.

Regaining a more complex and articulate modern mainstream film trajectory will necessitate raising the bar to once again challenge film audiences rather than simply placate them with purely escapist fare.

At this point, it seems unlikely that most would even agree that there is a problem in the first place, let alone a need to fix it.

I'm not sure if this summary makes the original post seem any clearer. It was a post that I'd hoped would spark some ongoing dialogue about mainstream Hollywood film making circa 2009.

...and by the way, this is about the 40th time you've suggested that I missed the point of some movie matter or another.

I just wanted to clarify that.


La Sporgenza said...

I'm also not terribly comfortable with the moniker "head buff" by the way.

Dropkick said...

but you did miss the point on The Fountain!

oh your clarification on the Marvel thing is great so that definitely clears it up, so much so that i completely agree with you.

And it may be true that i blew the horn too hard on Basterds. I think i get really excited when a film can be both entertaining and have a subtext in today's mainstream cinema and i forget to ask myself how a film could have been better.

IB still is to me, one of the better film experiences of the year i've had thus far. And i felt, the point of the film was not to fuck around with history for the sake of entertainment value but Tarantino is showing us the power of cinema. It can be whatever it wants to be, it can even rewrite history. and i found that message after walking out of the picture the hardest to shake off. I wasn't thinking "well that didn't happen" i was thinking "that happened in that film, and it was more fitting than reality." The whole picture a send up of classic movie character types and Tarantino just showing how tension should be done. i couldn't help but feel uplifted by the flick. It made me remember why i like movies so much in the first place.

oh and Michael Fassbender was the best!

and you're the buffiest out of all of us. you big buff you.

La Sporgenza said...

I did indeed miss the point of The Fountain.

I think we can agree, however, that CJ and Juan-Tom are nuggets of the first order.

the coelacanth said...

nugget is the modern day basterd, and i am proud to stand alongside j-t as one, nuggets in arms.

La Sporgenza said...

Inglorious Nuggets.

How fitting.

Mr. Scratch said...

Sporge, you are aware that reading is a fundamental part of comic-Books and graphic-Novels, right? Not just "symbols and icons"?

La Sporgenza said...

.....it's like talking to a fucking wall. Do you sound this stuff out in your head before you write it scratch?