“Inglourious Basterds” – Revenge Porn as Comfort Food? [warning: spoilers ahead]

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Finally saw this flick last night. Know I’m a bit behind and it’s probably “old-hat” to everyone reading this that has seen it already – but I’m not sure how to feel about this thing.

Eli Roth calls it “kosher porn” in and interview with the L.A. Times.

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I’ve got nothing against porn. Not at all.

But – I felt this movie was a missed opportunity in the worst way. Tarantino – in his need to shock us to attention – gives us something rollicking, boisterous, and rowdy – when I really wanted him to give me something mesmerizing and TRULY CHALLENGING.

The film begins with a stunning opener – a scene of such quiet, terrifying restraint – so artfully executed – that I actually felt betrayed as the final reel of the film entire unspooled. The main villain, Col. Landa, delicately questions a French farmer – harboring a family of Jews under his home’s floorboards – about where this family in question might have disappeared to. The farmer and Col. Landa sit above the hidden, frightened family, smoking their pipes and playing a tautly orchestrated game of psychological poker. By the scene’s end – Col. Landa has so charismatically, menacingly convinced the farmer that he must give up the Jews’ hiding place in order to save his daughters – threatened quietly by the Nazi soldiers just outside the farmhouse – that I expected the film couldn’t possibly match up to the cinematic bravura of this first 10 minutes.

But Tarantino kept teasing me. One daughter escapes the subsequent massacre and ends up running a movie theater somewhere in Paris. This movie theater ends up being selected to screen a Nazi propaganda film and the Third Reich’s top-of-the-top will be there: Hitler, Goebbles, etc. This young woman also comes face-to-face with the same Col. Landa who killed her family in another wonderfully composed scene of cat-and-mouse. Sitting in an elite room of the restaurant, Col. Landa discusses whether or not this young woman can possibly run the theater’s projector instead of the black man she has employed for this task. Surely, he doesn’t want to leave the Third Reich’s big night in the hands of a Negro. The scene – once again – ratchets up the apprehension. Does her recognize her? Will she evade discovery?

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And then the plot thickens. This young woman decides to plot the Third Reich’s demise by burning down the theater while the film screens – taking Hitler and Goebbles with it.

This all proved to be immensely engaging and powerfully kinetic.

Well…

The thing is there’s another movie going on while all this is unfolding.

There’s the broadly sketched Dirty Dozen re-imagining with Brad Pitt talking in his wickedly farcical Tennessee drawl and Eli Roth joyously bashing in the skulls of unsympathetic Nazis while Ennio Morricone’s score thunders throughout the picturesque French landscape as this ferociously patriotic band of Jewish-American militants plot to kill the Third Reich’s top brass at the afore mentioned screening of a propaganda film by blowing up the movie theater.

Kirsten and I agreed that there were two films going on here. The problem is I’m invested in one and couldn’t give two shits about the other. And the one I couldn’t give two shits about is the one that wins in the end.

The Dirty Dozen re-imagining is broadly sketched – while the intricately drawn tale of the escaped Jewish woman is more a finely etched portrait.

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Both have value. If this is an examination of the revenge film – what a great opportunity was missed here. Two VERY DIFFERENT scenarios of getting back at the reviled Nazis. Two very different attacks of the same desperate need for retribution. One painfully cathartic. The other a cartoonish escapade. I wanted these two visions to battle EACH OTHER more. The Dirty Dozen re-imagining drawn in colors of the 70’s grindhouse flick. The Escaped Jewish Woman revenge ploy drawn in colors of something akin to “SOPHIE’S CHOICE.” Two radically different ways to reset history.

Do we burn Hitler and his henchmen poetically with the highly flammable nitrate film to which he has committed to celluloid so many horrid propaganda films?

Or – do we have the “Bear Jew” callously and forcefully machine gun his face in before heroically detonating the dynamite strapped to his legs?

In this film – Tarantino gives us both. And does each one a disservice.

Neither film is truly given the attention it deserves. We care about the woman because we know her and have followed her in her plight.

We don’t know any of the Basterds – except that they’re angry, militant Jews and their leader is part Apache and – therefore – requires that the men in his service each bring him 100 Nazi scalps. And – yes – we see this group of Jews scalping a Nazi or two rather frankly on screen. And I can certainly appreciate how this might give many Jews a cathartic hard-on.

But we don’t get to know these guys beyond their brutal treatment of the enemy and their American swagger.

It’s for this reason that the movie may not ultimately work for me.

When the movie takes a severe left turn and does a major historical revision – Eli Roth guns down Hitler gruesomely in the face while the movie theater burns around them – I did have a knee-jerk reaction of repulsion.

This – I thought for a moment – is truly irresponsible. This historical inaccuracy has gone too far. Just to get off an audience – Tarantino has slapped this grindhouse ending on the film to make us feel better about the whole thing. Everything countless millions suffered through during one of the most terrifying, certainly one of the most public atrocities mankind has ever inflicted and endured is being exploited for a pornographic display of cool violence and pyrotechnics.

If “SCHINDLER’S LIST” was somewhat simplistic comfort food for the Holocaust by examining the kernel of hope that could be found in the rubble (the film is at times so beautifully rendered – at times a tad trite) – then “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” is comfort food by giving us a technicolor, cinema-scope daydream of kicking the shit out of these atrocities’ main architect.

Despite “SCHINDLER’S LIST” shortcomings – it ultimately works because it COMMITS to what it wants to say and invests us in the people and scenarios that are going to say it to us.

“INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS” seems to want it both ways. It wants to provoke thought AND get our rocks off.

Tarantino should have COMMITTED to “kosher porn” or COMMITTED to intricate WWII drama – or even COMMITTED to having the two films battle each other for supremacy. And maybe there’s an interminably long director’s cut waiting to find life on DVD that might even solve some of these problems.

But as I came down from my righteous indignation – I realized that it wasn’t the historical irresponsibility I was reacting to. It wasn’t the moral irresponsibility I was reacting to.

It was the dramatic irresponsibility I was reacting to. There were moments I was in the hands of a grand magician watching a stunning slight-of-hand. But then the magician got bored and decided to try another trick. We hadn’t finished the first one.

He hadn’t found my card yet. No matter – he’s off the find a rabbit in a hat now.

I still want my card. Get me my card back before I care about your damn rabbit.

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~ by saturdaysinthedark on November 28, 2009.

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