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Home Services Story ScripThink Joe Gilford

I avoided  “Inglourious Basterds” for a while. Not for any other reason than it was so talked about; so hyped. I wanted some distance from the hype (It’s not the hype’s fault. Hype is great for any movie. I hope I get hype someday for my movies). This happens to me often. I avoid seeing many movies in their first run. I tend to see it on cable or on my academy screener.

Let me start by saying that I’m a big admirer of Tarantino, but only in pieces—which is the way I experience his films. Sometimes I love these pieces, but never the whole thing at once. But I don’t think he can be “loved” as we love other filmmakers. I also feel he’s not that interested in our love. He’s got some barbed wire around his artist’s heart as well as a rubber coating of some kind—like silly putty.

I’m not a fan of Reservoir Dogs. That’s like watching an out-of-control acting class. I love most of Pulp Fiction.  My favorite part is the sequence when Travolta and Uma Thurman have a date that goes terribly wrong. I use this as a free-standing short film in my screenwriting classes. It’s a terrific story, well executed with wonderful acting and some great laughs. It’s thrilling. And it’s so expertly executed. In fact, it’s hard to match the improvisational directing of Dogs with the beautifully unified theatrical style of Pulp Fiction. Almost as if two different filmmakers were at work. Tarantino is a deliberately self-conscious filmmaker. He knows that you know that he’s Quentin Tarantino.  And he’s going to reinforce that in your movie-watching experience.

Basterds gets me the same way, but I’m not as thrilled. It’s got the epic strokes of a “great’ movie. It’s actually making fun of our expectations for a kick-ass great war movie. But Basterds’ languorous pace and overly long scenes make it all feel drawn out. Thrills happen moment to moment or when one of our main characters is in danger. Certain scenes repeat—so many scenes with our heroes seated face-to-face with their Nazi antagonists. The tense time passes as they evade discovery or the scene culminates in a shootout. Here’s the list:  The opening scene with the French farmer. Later, Shoshona and Col. Linda eating strudel. And finally the scene in the basement tavern with the SS officer. They are all the same scene; the same tension; same structure and same beats. I’m not saying this is so terrible, I’m only saying I would rather have sat through something different each time. 

I’m not unaware of Tarantino’s homage to Sergio Leone in Basterds, especially in the opening. But why? Westerns are fine for tension and have their own wonderful set pieces. War movies are great too. But why cross those two genres? That’s like mixing oranges and tangerines. It’s just not that sharp of a contrast. Action+Comedy—now that’s genre mixing. And that’s why Pulp Fiction works so well most of the time. So if either genre is fine on its own, why mix it up? The answer in my mind is that “Quentin just felt like it.” This I believe is what defines Tarantino’s presence in our world at this time.

I believe that all of it is a way for Tarantino to distance himself and his audience from experiencing any emotion. In fact, I believe he is so in-control of our experience, that he is daring us to feel something. Yes, he wants us to thrill from the film’s action. But don’t get soppy. It doesn’t pay.  At any given moment when you are expected to be drawn into an emotional experience, Quentin blows it out of the water with a preposterous line of dialogue or a melodramatic music cue—the projection booth shootout scene is a perfect example

While almost every filmmaker—including our meanest, like  David Lynch and Roman Polanski—are dedicated to making us feel something, I don’t think Tarantino cares what you feel after one of his films. I assume he wants me there to thrill at his technique and his cineaste’s style of storytelling. I believe he wants me to put footnotes on his shots and his scenes; his homages and quotes from other movies.

The plot of Basterds is familiar to all of us—it’s Great Escape meets Guns of Navarone with a large dose of Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen—some of my favorite war movies as a kid. But I’m not sure what fantasy he’s asking us to participate in: the one about the possibility of having killed Hitler with our collective bare hands or the fantasy of simply making this movie as the filmmaker who can do whatever he pleases. Now THAT’S a fantasy we would ALL like to be a part of, I can tell you that.

Tarantino presents us with such a catalogue of thrillers and war movies that we have a hard time keeping up with him Let’s start with Brad Pitt’s character’s name, “Aldo Raine”, a goofy tribute to the 1950s actor, Aldo Ray. Strangely, Pitt’s character actually doesn’t mime Ray in any way. It’s just a silly reference. But make note of it. That’s pretty much all Tarantino is up to in Basterds. This is like listening to a great jazz solo that’s all little quotes from dozens of other familiar songs, yet never really gets to much that’s original.

Certainly there’s the novelty of an imagined mission to wipe out the German high command. But between the ranting Hitler and the smirking Goebbels, Tarantino is camping up the kitsch and cliché with all pistons. And I appreciate it.

The way that Tarantino keeps his following is the way that he utterly resists the expression of tenderness or vulnerability in his movies. This is ok. I remember as a young guy how tough I was. It wasn’t until I had my first child that my resistance to my emotions and conflicts melted away. Yes, I became a big grownup mush—like everyone else.

Tarantino brings us a young man’s state of mind. This I believe is Tarantino’s response to—and it’s a welcome one—the waterfall of false and manipulative emotion that tumbles from the screen on a normal basis. We need Tarantino today for the same reasons we need David Lynch—to shock us out of our sentimentality; to yank our heads out of the sand.

Tarantino is bringing us a frat-house point of view. “It’s only a movie for chrissakes!” he’s telling us.  “Watch it. Have a good time. Check out how cool I am.”

As much as I am annoyed by Tarantino, he gives us the opportunity for some very cruel laughter. His lack of tenderness is replaced by a unique approach to giving our protagonist some gargantuan problems to deal with—Pulp Fiction’s Vinnie and Butch are up against some impossible dilemmas which get worked out in ways that are consistent with the Karma of that particular Tarantino universe. Lt. Raine is faced with certain death until he goes against his practical Smokey Mountains philosophy and accepts a deal that is certainly too good to be true—and of course it’s not true. That’s what Tarantino is giving us to leave the theater with. “It’s all a joke, man! LOL! We didn’t REALLY kill Hitler! But didn’t it FEEL SOOOO good for just that one movie-moment to see all those Nazis blasted into oblivion?” And finally—“AREN’T MOVIES GREAT FOR THE WAY THEY CAN DO THAT??”

So if you’re looking for Quentin’s Schindler’s List, you might not find exactly that. However, you will find a list, but it will not be a list of those who may have been saved by this fantasy. It’s a list of movie moments; quotes from our favorite films. A list made by a filmmaker who does not want to be seen as a humanist, but one who wants to be seen as a filmmaker. It’s refreshing when you think about it. It’s genuine. And it’s not patronizing. I would take what I saw in Basterds over some of the ingratiating (and routine) social politics of many other movies that pull at our sympathies for all the wrong reasons. 

I feel that Quentin’s adolescent fantasy of blowing away Nazis versus some of those other treatments of the subject is honest and in its own frat-house way, is fun. Movie fun. The kind of fun we get from doing the same thing in a video game. Tarantino is a sensationalist, giving us as deep a virtual movie experience as anyone can. But don’t expect to be thinking too much after the movie’s over.

Tarantino is no piker, either. His technique is indisputable. He gets the best people behind and in front of his camera and brings us his one overriding message—HE LOVES MOVIES. And he wants us to love them too, but please…no crying.

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Quentin’s List

Tarantino’s black humor is just what we need

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