Tarantino + WWII = (Evil) Geniusby Sarah Dawson / 01.11.2009
Inglourious Basterds, The Prince of Postmodernity’s newest offering, opened this week with surprisingly little fanfare. I suppose of late he hasn’t been producing quite the same kind of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs awesomeness as he was in the nineties: Kill Bill was okay-ish, but actually pretty lame compared to P.F. if we’re all honest with ourselves. He redeemed some of his coolness in his enigmatically vague role of “special guest director” of Sin City, but then lost it again in the crash-and-burn anticlimax of Death Proof (which I didn’t actually hate as much as the box office did).
And then, for his big comeback, he makes a war film. Eh? Yawn. But, hold on…
Ample and serious firepower? Check. Totally barking lunatics? Check. Good looking ladies not afraid to take matters into their own hands? Check (actually this is sounding exactly like the makings of a good Tarantino). Loads of material for cheeky referential in-jokes? Check. Revenge plot? Check. Dead Jews splattered on the floor? Wait a minute…
Oh come on. Yeah the Holocaust was bad. We know that. But what’s the difference between a Nazi Blitzkrieg and some crazy motherfucker driving his invincible car into a bunch of hot ladies really… They’re both just as Freudian.
It’s just a matter of scale.
Tarantino says it’s about time to wrench it from its shackles of history and make it freely disposable for ironic use, just like everything else. It’s about damn time. Tears for the Holocaust are so 1940s.
Or does he?
Actually, this is not a film about Nazis. This is film about film. Or a “metafilm”, if you want to sound clever. Then, if you’re planning on watching this film, you’d probably be more likely to explain why they call it a Royale with cheese if you wanted to sound clever. But Quentin’s onto you.
For a large part of the film, you’re watching a people watching film. You stare the screen, they stare back. So what’s that thing in the middle?
In simple terms, Tarantino’s film-about-film says movies are in one way or another about a kind of glory, about cultural mythmaking. The Nazis did it. We do it. It’s about putting things up on the pedestal so that we can all go ooh, ahh or eek together at the appropriate time. Not that that’s never a noble endeavour, but how come we never stick out our greasy, KFC-licked fingers to poke the LG flatscreen and ask, “Hey! Where’s the third dimension?” Only when it’s leaping out to get us in plumes of flame and smoke (as it does in I.B.) do we actually start to screaming, “What is this monster?!”
So Tarantino’s film is brazenly and unashamedly revisionist of a history we all know backwards. (They didn’t just forget to highlight the title when they spell-checked the script), and shows us that veracity and cameras have never really been good friends.
We know the difference between reality and movies, you say? I’m not talking about the crazies who have to be reminded that, no, they can’t enroll at Hogwarts next year. I’m talking to those of you who have probably never given much thought to the fact that, believe it or not, Truman Capote didn’t necessarily sound like Phillip Seymour Hoffman got into the Spur balloon helium, or that to NOT choose life, NOT choose a job, NOT choose a starter home is pretty much like looking at the same picture, upside down.
The problem is: Tarantino, the king of hip self-referentiality, is so far inside enemy lines, the forces who sent him have forgotten he’s their spy. Either way he’s getting some sweet intelligence. But the people who need it will never crack the code. Sigh.
Inglourious Basterds is a truly intelligent film, made for and about that writhing mass of wholly unintelligent people out there that constitutes humanity. The people who consume the world like Jules’ burgers and will go out, get their popcorn and Astros, and sit open-mouthed, poised to guzzle down as many references to Internet memes and classic film their beady eyes can detect. Then they’ll go home and compare with their friends.
Hey, don’t sneer… that’s you, isn’t it?