The Auteurs Daily: Tarantino and His Inglourious Basterds

The Auteurs Daily

Inglourious Basterds

Whether or not the survival of The Weinstein Company rides on the box office success of Inglourious Basterds (and to hear Harvey tell it to David Segal in the New York Times, the real make-or-break release on the calendar is Hoodwinked 2), no one will be able to accuse Quentin Tarantino of not making enough noise about his "spaghetti Western with World War II iconography" (QT, to Roger Ebert).

Since the film premiered in Cannes, he's taken it and his fire-hose mouth just about everywhere; we checked in on the talking tour as it leapt from Germany to the UK and then took note of responses to Jeffrey Goldberg sorting out his conflicted reaction to this bit of "kosher porn" (Eli Roth) in the Atlantic.

Which brings us to Daniel Mendelsohn. In Newsweek, the author of The Lost: A Search For Six of Six Million (which none other than Jean-Luc Godard has expressed interest in adapting) argues that what Tarantino is up to in Basterds is nothing less than "turning Jews into Nazis." He asks: "Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into carboncopies of Nazis, that makes Jews into 'sickening' perpetrators?" Jonathan Rosenbaum takes the question and runs with it; for him, Basterds "seems morally akin to Holocaust denial, even though it proudly claims to be the opposite of that." Tarantino himself has "become the cinematic equivalent of Sarah Palin."

In a less emotionally charged entry at Cargo, Ekkehard Knörer lays out a counter-argument. Mendelsohn, he writes, is classifying revenge and the satisfaction it brings as "fascistic," an equation that morally damns just about the entire history of western culture. What's more, even if we assume, as Ekkehard does, that Tarantino's moral and intellectual development has never evolved beyond adolescence, his revenge fantasies are entertained by all of us, consciously or not, however briefly. Following Mendelsohn's logic, then, "The nerd in me is a Nazi. And that seems to me to be an exaggeration to such a degree that it is no longer mere exaggeration but dangerous nonsense."

All that aside, David Edelstein's simply had a good ride: "The movie is an ungainly pastiche, yet on some wacked-out Jungian level it's all of a piece." (Also in New York, Will Leitch charts "Quentin Tarantino's Girl Power.") The New Yorker's David Denby... less so: "Inglourious Basterds is not boring, but it's ridiculous and appallingly insensitive - a Louisville Slugger applied to the head of anyone who has ever taken the Nazis, the war, or the Resistance seriously."

Ed Gonzalez in Slant: "Inglourious Basterds is no masterpiece, mainly because as alternate history it isn't profound, but for Tarantino it's positively groundbreaking." Tom Carson, writing for GQ, is "so smitten with What Quentin Hath Wrought that if I could lug just one Tarantino title to a desert island, Inglourious Basterds would be it."

SEE Magazine's Paul Matwychuk and Luke De Smet discuss the movie, while Paul reviews the soundtrack and interviews Eli Roth.

Profiles of Christoph Waltz, winner of the Best Actor award in Cannes: Paul Cullum (Daily Beast) and Dennis Lim (New York Times).

And Tarantino goes on talking. He was in Austin recently and the Chronicle's Marc Savlov was there to take note (again) of his admiration for Leni Riefenstahl. He tells Roger Ebert, "I consider that of the cinema geniuses like Kubrick and Welles... my favorite genius is Von Sternberg."

Online viewing tip. Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich for the L Magazine: "Quentin Tarantino in His Own Words."

Online viewing hit. Tarantino lists his top 20 films since 1992, when he began making movies himself. At the SpoutBlog, Christopher Campbell collects a zillion responses to that list.

For more news and tips throughout the day, via the web, RSS or Twitter, follow @theauteursdaily.

 

 

Updates: Glenn Kenny presents "a structural breakdown of the picture based on my second viewing of it yesterday. I've tried to keep it as spoiler free as possible. I think that just by grasping the outline without its particulars, you'll be able to put together how formally unusual the film is." In a good way, he means.

But the New Yorker's Richard Brody finds that the "five chapters are all overwritten and underconceived"; Tarantino "gets caught up in his conception, his writing, and his moral, and forgets to make the film. Inglourious Basterds isn't immoral, evil, or dangerous; it's just mechanical and dull."

For Kyle Buchanan at Movieline, "Inglourious Basterds is the very definition of a mixed bag, though films that don't totally work are often more interesting to me than the ones that run smoothly." This is "the tale of a filmmaker at war with himself.

Tim Robey's review is a window onto the Telegraph's Basterds package.

Tarantino to Vulture: "I know it's going to do fantastic in Germany. People have the wrong idea of Germany. You have to remember that with the possible exception of Jews, the people that have the biggest bringing-down-the-Third Reich fantasies are the last two generations of the Germans."

 

Inglourious Basterds

 

Updates, 19/8: Chalk up another cover for Tarantino: Ella Taylor has a long talk with him in the Voice, where J Hoberman writes, "Energetic, inventive, swaggering fun, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is a consummate Hollywood entertainment - rich in fantasy and blithely amoral.... In a sense, Inglourious Basterds is a form of science fiction. Everything unfolds in and maps an alternate universe: The Movies."

Time Out New York's package includes a little online viewing (the "five moments that made Quentin Tarantino"), Joshua Rothkopf's interview with QT and Keith Uhlich's review: "Tarantino's violence... has gained resonance and horror."

"Continuing his sad retreat from human experience into an increasingly outlandish junk-culture recycling bin, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is another frustrating outing from this undeniably gifted filmmaker," finds Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly - where Matt Prigge presents clips from "Six Films In Which Nazis Get Killed Real Good."

"Basterds is more fun, with less guilt, than it has any right to be," argues Dennis Harvey in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

But for the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, "Quentin Tarantino is having what Martin Amis readers might call a Yellow Dog moment - something which happens when, following a worrying, mid-to-late period of creative uncertainty, a once dazzlingly exciting artist suddenly and catastrophically belly-flops, to the dismay of his admirers."

"Besides the self-consciousness and proud multilingualism, Basterds doesn't clamber atop the sheer tonnage of past war movies and do the truly unexpected," writes Nicolas Rapold in the L Magazine. "The bombout-rubble graffiti taunt of the title remains unfulfilled."

"At two and a half hours, it's the longest, most discursive B-movie programmer Tarantino's ever made - an epic footnote in a storied career," writes Mike D'Angelo at IFC.

At PopMatters, Bill Gibron compares and contrasts Basterds with Enzo Castellari's Inglorious Bastards (1978).

Marshall Fine talks with Waltz.

How is Basterds being received in Germany? Film-Zeit gathers reviews.

Online viewing tip. Eli Roth picks his five favorite films. Related: Chris Lee's profile for the Los Angeles Times and Alex Billington's interview at FirstShowing.

 

 

Updates, 20/8: Tarantino "has the impudence to close the film with Raine announcing that his latest bloody swastika may just be his masterpiece, the implication being that Tarantino wants you to know that Inglorious Basterds is his," notes Josef Braun. "The thing is, I feel no compulsion to argue with him."

"It's just possible that Tarantino, having played a trick on history, is also fooling his fans," suggests Time's Richard Corliss. "They think they're in for a Hollywood-style war movie starring Brad Pitt. What they're really getting is the cagiest, craziest, grandest European film of the year."

For Jonathan Keifer, Tarantino "still loves movies in an unsettling way that makes loving movies seem like a waste of a life; here, instead of a trash-tastic gluttony of grindhouse references, there's the ersatz sophistication of name-checking GW Pabst."

Four stars from Roger Ebert: "Inglourious Basterds is no more about war than Pulp Fiction is about - what the hell is it about? Of course nothing in the movie is possible, except that it's so bloody entertaining."

Jürgen Fauth agrees: "Inglourious Basterds may indeed be morally troublesome, but unlike, say, Death Proof, it's also fiendishly entertaining."

For IFC, Stephen Saito talks with Michael Fassbender; Alex Billington, with Waltz at FirstShowing. More interviews with Taratino: Rachel Abramowitz (Los Angeles Times) and Marjorie Baumgarten (Austin Chronicle).

Online gazing tip. Via Swarez at Twitch, a set of posters from Mondo Tees for Basterds and The Dirty Dozen.

Online slide show. Lucy Patterson for Total Film on "The Evolution of Brad Pitt."

Online viewing tip. FILMdetail has Tarantino discussing Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood - in glowing terms, too, for about ten minutes.

"Could it be that one of the most overrated directors of the 90s has become one of the most underrated of the aughts?" asks Dennis Lim in Slate.

At the SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth is "still struggling with Basterds, as a statement of ideology (or lack thereof), and as a work of art." But she's reevaluating the initial dismissive review she ran in May when she saw it in Cannes.

Duncan Shepherd in the San Diego Reader: "While [Tarantino] is serious where it counts - the architectonic solidity, the painstaking precision, the creative flair, of the camera angles and compositions - he is also funny wherever he chooses, picking his spots and racking up an impressive ratio of successes to attempts."

"Basterds is hardly serious, but it's weighty, even ponderous at times, and it suffers from trying to overstuff into an already bulging package," writes Sam Adams in the Philadelphia Weekly. "It's too much and not enough all at once."

David Fellerath in the Independent Weekly: "Not since RW Fassbinder (and Godard) has a filmmaker shown so much clever, creative interest in how the Third Reich attempted to put mass culture in the service of mass slaughter."

Scott Foundas profiles Waltz for LA Weekly.

 

 

Updates, 21/8: "Tarantino is a great writer and director of individual scenes, though he can have trouble putting those together, a difficulty that has sometimes been obscured by the clever temporal kinks in his earlier work," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The film's most egregious failure - its giddy, at times gleeful embrace and narrative elevation of the seductive Nazi villain - can largely be explained as a problem of form. Landa [Waltz] simply has no equal in the film, no counterpart who can match him in verbal dexterity and charisma, who can be the Jules Winnfield and Mia Wallace to his Vincent Vega as [Samuel L] Jackson and Uma Thurman are to John Travolta in Pulp Fiction."

Ryan Gilbey, writing in the New Statesman, agrees: "The delight we take in Landa creates an odd imbalance in the film: it's laughable when he finally comes face to face with Aldo, so clearly is the American his inferior in intellect as well as entertainment value. The story doesn't even pretend otherwise."

"If only Tarantino had been able to exert Waltz's controlled precision!" exclaims Neil Young.

"It's a palpable, definitive statement of purpose from Tarantino (only the imagination can save us), and some might call it churlish and self-regarding, even naïve, but it's genuine, from the heart, and powerful," writes Michael Koresky in Reverse Shot.

"Tarantino's bravado, his sheer oblivious American buffoonery, accounts for this movie's raw pop power and for the aftertaste of shame and nausea it leaves behind," writes Dana Stevens in Slate.

"Critics calling for a more 'responsible' Basterds (that's the word that keeps coming up in conversations) might as well ask that the movie not exist at all," argues Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago.

Ed Champion, too, takes on the critics and then adds: "Since Tarantino has spent a lifetime insisting that cinema may very well be the only focal point that he can start from, I found Basterds's candor refreshing and I was able, at long last, to accept a Quentin Tarantino film for what it was."

Nick Schager explains why "Inglourious Basterds is something close to an ideal Tarantino flick."

"There's a feast here," writes Keith Phipps at the AV Club, "particularly in the amazing opening, an unexpected essay on King Kong, and performances by Pitt, [Mélanie] Laurent, and Waltz. It's just been placed on a huge table with no consideration of whether it adds up to a meal."

"Tarantino's vision is opening wider instead of closing in on itself," argues Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. He's "only growing stronger at processing and synthesizing the visuals he's spent a lifetime absorbing: The finale of Inglourious Basterds contains hints of the meticulous, grand-scale splendor of De Palma, and of the tightly wound, clock-ticking tenseness of Coppola at his best."

"Inglourious Basterds is far better than [Kill Bill or Death Proof], but it is still, in some fundamental sense, less movie than 'movie,'" writes the New Republic's Christopher Orr. "And if Tarantino hopes to reach his full potential as a filmmaker, someday he's going to have to find the nerve to work once again outside the quotation marks."

Scott Marks briefly revisits comedic Nazis and then announces: "It's officially safe for adults to return to the theater."

London Times critic Wendy Ide is not won over: "When we finally get to it (Tarantino has never been one to cut to the chase when he can masturbate through endless pages of smarty-pants dialogue), the film's climax proves to be its downfall."

The Oregonian's Shawn Levy: "Art from the sum of all parts: Quentin Tarantino and the magpie aesthetic."

Time Out London's package.

Online listening tips. Erin Donovan discusses Basterds with Willamette Week film critics Aaron Mesh and Chris Stamm; AV Talk; and Tarantino's a guest on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment.

 

 

Updates, 22/8: Nick Rombes: "Why is Inglourious Basterds a great film? Mostly, this: it's the first clearly defined widely released post-postmodern American movie."

"The film readily accepts that the domain of cinema is to make its own reality by recasting the images in our heads and reflecting something about our basest wishes in the process," writes Robert Davis in Paste.

"[I]f you're going to make a film celebrating war crimes enacted against Nazi soldiers," writes David Cairns, "it might be good to provide at least some evidence that you've thought about this stuff. Otherwise you're on the slippery slope to Auschwitz, the video game."

From Ray Pride at Newcity Chicago: "Quentin Tarantino Has A Cold: Eavesdropping On The Glorious Talker."

Benjamin Sutton and Henry Stewart talk Basterds at the L.

Todd Gilchrist talks with Tarantino for Cinematical.

 

 

Updates, 25/8: "At its heart, Basterds is a Spaghetti Western transported to 40s France, complete with Ennio Morricone music cues," writes Bilge Ebiri for AMC. It's a point Tarantino has made over and again, but it's also a point that seems to have been all too easily overlooked in many reviews and much of the debate over the past week or so. Bilge sets Basterds side-by-side with Once Upon a Time in the West.

This angle won't go unexplored in Bill Ryan and Dennis Cozzalio's just-launched conversation. Bill Ryan: "The film took off the top of my head, and I loved very nearly every one of its 153 minutes (which felt to me more like 80). You take my enthusiasm for the film, my affection and respect for Dennis, the honor I felt for being asked at all, and then add the fact that Inglourious Basterds seems to be the film of the moment, and you might start to understand why I've been anxious to get started. So let's get started."

Via Cargo, Geoff Klock, author of How to Read Superhero Comics and Why, writes an "Open Letter to David Denby, Keith Phipps and Dana Stevens in response to their Inglourious Basterds reviews," while Jim Emerson blogs, "François Truffaut famously asked if movies were more important than life. Tarantino's movies reject the distinction. When movies are the blood of life, the question makes no sense."

"Like A Nation's Pride, Tarantino's film is a bit of shallow propaganda, promoting not some totalitarian ideology but a worldview in which cool trumps consequence, nothing is real, and everything is permitted," writes Liel Leibovitz in Tablet. "If there's any justice in the world, it's a vision viewers everywhere will vehemently reject." As Ben Fritz reports in the Los Angeles Times, that's not happening.

When David Guzman read the screenplay last year, "I was ready to predict the end of Tarantino's career. Having seen the film last week, I can say I've never been so happy to be wrong. The film is exhilarating and tense, emotionally poignant yet also unadulterated fun."

Discussion roars on at David Cairns and Glenn Kenny's places.

Michael Guillen took extensive notes during a recent Q&A with Tarantino in San Francisco.

Blogging for the New Yorker, Ben Greenman considers the use of David Bowie's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)."

Online listening tip. Aaron Hillis and Joshua Rothkopf talk Basterds at GreenCine Daily.

What would Claude Lanzmann think of Basterds? Richard Brody tips us off as to why that question is even more interesting than it first appears.

Mark Asch concludes his thoughts on what's "you know, ok" about rewriting history on the screen with quite a quote from QT himself.

 

 

Updates, 27/8: "Whether or not he admits it in interviews, Tarantino forces his audience to come to terms with its own bloodlust," writes Bryant Frazer. "But where a stentorian film like Funny Games (either version; take your pick) asks the question, 'Why aren't you heading for the exits?,' Inglorious Bastards asks, 'Are you heading for the exits?' And then, once it sees that you're staying put, it rubs its hands together and declares, 'Great, we're on the same page.'"

"The tragedy of Tarantino is that he could have been so much more than the Schlock and Awe merchant that he has devolved into," sighs Johann Hari in the Independent.

Jonathan Rosenbaum has "Some Afterthoughts about Tarantino." And Tony Dayoub responds.

 

 

Updates, 28/8: "Laird Jimenez, Thomas Swenson and staffers at Seattle's famous Scarecrow Video have put together a list of movie references and influences they have found," notes Jim Emerson - and it's quite a list, do go see it - before presenting another roundup of his own: "Because Inglourious Basterds provides so much to talk about and to interpret, I thought I'd put together some fascinating observations (some of which I wish I'd made myself; some of which I think are off-base, but nevertheless revealing of something about the film) and set them bouncing off one another to get your own analytical juices flowing, starting with QT's (and others') takes on the nature of the world in which it unreels."

Via Simon Rothöhler at Cargo, brace yourself for a Pajamas Media entry from John Rosenthal: "Inglourious Basterds: A German Fantasy, Not a 'Jewish' One."

"Is Robert Richardson (born August 27, 1955) the greatest cinematographer working today?" asks C Jerry Kutner at Bright Lights After Dark.

 

 

Updates, 29/8: "Those who are dismissing and/or embracing this as a propaganda film akin to Riefenstahl's are on the right track," writes Joseph "Jon" Lanthier. "The ending is a grand set-piece of wish-fulfillment, to be sure, but not for Jews - for young cinephiles who not only wish that actual wars could resolve themselves climactically like the conflicts in pictures, but films about actual wars as well." The entry is, in part, a response to Jonathan Rosenbaum's most recent entry (see above) and, in turn, Jonathan responds to "Jon" at Bright Lights After Dark - where C Jerry Kutner not only reminds us that "Entire movie genres have been based on the mythologization of history - notably, the Western" but also considers "the ghostly black and white close-up of Mélanie Laurent as the French-Jewish heroine, Shosanna, projected amidst the smoke and flames of the film's climactic chapter, 'Revenge of the Giant Face.'"

At Stop Smiling, Michael Joshua Rowin argues that "Basterds, while no masterpiece, manages to get at something more than its creator's too often frivolously exercised visual intelligence and esoteric preoccupations."

 

Update, 31/8: Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss Tarantino - at length - at the House Next Door.

 

 

Updates, 2/9: Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard carry on conversing.

"As you would expect from a film that is also an espionage picture and a detective movie, it's shot through with identity games, interrogations, role-playing and people or situations that are not what they appear to be..." Jim Emerson goes long.

 

Updates, 4/9: "Inglourious Basterds crams into a punishingly short 153 minutes nearly every family, genus and species of narrative possible in the order of World War II films." Terrific piece from Chris Stangl on the film's structure (among other things).

"[O]ne of the best pieces I've read on the film as myth was published 33 years ago in Rolling Stone: Greil Marcus's article on Nazi-hunting thrillers, 'Götterdämmerung after Thirty-One Years,' collected in The Dustbin of History." Max Goldberg: "Marcus's essay cannot be read either for or against Inglourious Basterds, but there are several passages which might enrich the conversation."

"I don't believe Tarantino wants to line his audiences up with Hitler but of course this is one of the risks of treating history as fantasy," warns Michael Wood in the London Review of Books.

Basterds is a comedy, first and foremost, argues Brandon Colvin at Out 1.

 

Responses

3 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • Michael Guillen

    Tarantino’s bringing his talking tour to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco tomorrow evening.

  • John

    You might want to add to your list a very intelligent reading of the movie on Pandalous:
    http://www.pandalous.com/topic/inglourious_basterds

  • Rosie

    I think these film reviewers take themselves and their subjects too seriously. Tarantino is an absolute genius. Whilst there may be a fine line between genius and insanity, I think Tarantino is just very good at using controversy to create humor and entertainment. Whilst his films may appear to be nothing more than a gore-fest, I think they tap into the transgressive instincts deep down in all of us and I’m brave enough to say that I enjoy it.

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