Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.64.2: VAINGLORIOUS BASTURD [Movie Review]

V064-02_basterdsThere are a lot of reasons that my personal taste in motion pictures rebels at the latest piece of jejune flatulence by Quentin Tarantino, Inglourous Basterds. Tarantino, a director who is huge fan of the Hong Kong pulp of tedious martial arts films and the almost iconic John Woo film with requisite guys pointing guns at one another’s heads and spouting inane dialogue (homaged in Pulp Fiction), manages to give the term “derivative” an even worse name. If you think thatThe Departed (2006, Scorsese) was ripped off from a Hong Kong film (it was, from Mou Gaan Dou, a 2002 Hong Kong film, Eng., Infernal Affairs), you only need see Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, to appreciate that Tarantino’s sole addition to cinematic technique is the art of portraying human death as the equivalent of kids pouring lighter fluid on a termite mound.

There is much argument about whether screen violence promotes or condemns what it shows. This has been going on since The Great Train Robbery, perhaps the first film showing someone getting shot. That’s too long a subject for this purpose. Anyway, Tarantino is on record as not minding violence and death, even having said not long after 9-11: “It didn’t affect me because there’s, like, a Hong Kong action movie… called Purple Storm and they work in a whole big thing in the plot that they blow up a skyscraper.” Movie death, real death, hey what’s the dif, man.

So I rented Inglourious Basterds (no, it’s his cute spelling) from On Demand because this fraudulent spool of celluloid is up for eight awards at the Oscars. Here’s the plot. It’s partially a rip off of The Dirty Dozen (1967) in which a bunch of military misfits nearly win WWII without the intercession of D Day. At least Dirty Dozen was entertaining, and not some suck up to studio executives. Tarantino’s bunch of heroic anti-heroes consists of several Jewish soldiers assembled by Southern-drawling Aldo “The Apache” Raine (Brad Pitt, who was far more terrifying in Kalifornia) to avenge Jews being sent to extermination camps by acting as hit squads on Nazis in Vichey France. They don’t just shoot their nasty Nazi victims, but they have some fun torturing them. Remember the ear cutting in Reservoir Dogs, well these guys are into scalping Nazis (yes, Quentin Torturino shows it to you in full ripping color).

But, if you have seen the trailer, you have pretty much seen how much there is of this aspect of the plot, because three-quarters of this movie is in German, with English subtitles–bad subtitles, much of which are lost because they are in yellow text over the picture frames. But it doesn’t really matter because the plot really becomes something about Germans wanting to put on a movie about one of their war heroes in a small cinema and to which all the German high command and nastiest Nazis right up to the Furher himself (played by a guy who looks more like Abe Lincoln) so they will all be in one place for the Basterds to “do” them (Jesus, did Qwerky Terrortino think up this scheiss all by himself?) The real Nazis were stupid for opening up the Eastern Front, but they weren’t as stupid as Tarantino—or as stupid as the Academy for giving this crap any cinematic credence. Most of the dialogue—in any language—is inane, and Tarantino proves he has no ear or directorial capacity for human communication.

Austrian actor Christopher Waltz, who plays an odious SS officer almost as well as Ralph Feinnes did in Schindler’s List (Feinnes lost, unfairly to Tommy Lee Jones playing Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive), does the only real acting in this film and is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Even this performance smacks of such rotten Nazi stereotyping that, were the dialogue not in German, you would expect this guy to be uttering lines like “Zo, I sink you might be Chewish, ya? Ve gonna have to check your veenie.”

But, typical of the ambiguities (unintentional, I am certain) of this movie are that Waltz is rather likeable because everything about this film is done with that tongue-in-cheek smirkiness that has the gall to use something like the Holocaust as the frame of a story that would only appeal to a 19-year-old video game wanker!

Mind you, Hollywood is always looking for a new enfant terrible movie director, and the director looks and plays the part. But Tarantino’s middle name should be “Derivative.” Beyond blood and gore he wouldn’t recognize an original idea if it was a sharp rock and he was sitting on it bare-assed. The industry likes Tarantino because he spends as much time working the “brilliant bad boy” image as he does thinking up new ways to get a rise out of your gorge. So, no matter what the film, “there will be blood,” and in this one there are scalps sliced off, throats savagely slashed, heads brutally bashed by baseball bats, necks strangled, and fingers rammed into open wounds. And let’s not forget Aldo Raine’s predilection for graphically carving swastikas into the foreheads of Nazis with a Bowie knife. Oh my Quenty, what a bad boy you are!

There is the requisite stuff gets blown up, and guts galore scene at the end. The movie theater is locked down with all the nasty Nazis inside and incinerated with movie film (get it? Killing Nazis with film), which reminds us of what the SS did on occasion to Jews they locked in synagogues. Ya, we get that, too, Qwenty (talk about being derivative).

And that gets us to what is most offensive about this sort of nonsense. Not that it is bad movie-making (there is plenty of that), but that it sucks morally. First of all, this film screws with serious history in a way in which an historically-challenged generation does not need (and that probably includes Tarantino). But then this sort of brutally eye-for-an-eye (and an ear or two) revenge pulp plays nicely into the end-justifies-the-means mentality of the Bush-Cheney so-called “war on terror.” Sure the Nazis (although not every German soldier was a Nazi) were vicious bastards (not basterds) and needed to be expunged. And sure, the jihadists who behead journalist’s in front of video cameras are bastards who deserve the same. So we assuage out natural humans response needs for vengeance with movies like this and crud like the television program 24. But none of this is cute, funny, or worthy of being trivialized with stereotypes and video game mentality.

But I have another violent revenge movie for QT to do. The plot goes like this. Several Middle Eastern type guys are planning a revenge. One 0f them can’t even drink a glass of water without gagging, another’s genitals don’t work (and Cialis isn’t going to help), a third can’t sleep in a room smaller than a basketball court—we can get graphic with this. They are among those who have been released from interrogation at Gitmo as insurgents and have re-entered the US and enrolled at UC Berkeley (all in Engineering). There’s a law professor from the law school at Berkeley who wrote the torture justification memo for the Bush administration. They are patient and know the professor’s every move. When the time is right they will execute their kidnap of him. They have their video camera . . . and there will be hell to pay . . . or re-pay. 
© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.11.2010)