Film Reviews

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS

By • Sep 2nd, 2009 •

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about what’s become of our film industry. The comparison is to a country that’s lost its middle class, and now only has the very rich, and the poor. Hollywood, of course, is the very rich, forsaking little meaningful films and concentrating its money on the big event blockbusters. While the Independents, who are everywhere, are the hobbled poor, thousands of them descending on the ubiquitous film festivals that dot the map of the U.S. I SELL THE DEAD is an example of the struggling Indie – a wonderful off-Hollywood idea, a good script, convincing performances, and its financial seams are showing throughout. Still highly recommended, but it’s a prime example of the Indie Poor.

What was Hollywood for so many decades is now acknowledged as pretty much gone. Which is one of the comforting, luscious things about INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. It’s a Hollywood film. It feels like it, smells like it, looks like it. And its Stars dazzle us. Of course, it also replicates Hollywood, and a number of other countries’ best film output, and that is a bridge too far for some. But I’m fine with it this time, very glad to be in Hollywood again, if only for a few moments.

Perhaps it’s out of being a compulsive list-maker, but I have many more categories each year than the typical ‘Best Of’s’ and ‘Worst Of’s’. One of them is “Worst Film Titles”.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS falls into that category for me (along with THREE MONKEYS and THE SOLOIST). I like Tarantino’s alteration of the spelling of ‘bastards,’ but otherwise I feel that, in the manner of Sergio Leone, the title denigrates a much loftier work of art. I remember, when DUCK YOU SUCKER was about to come out, that Rod Steiger and almost everyone else with a voice Leone could hear, begged him to change the stupid title, but the maestro kept it. And DYS was the most intelligent dialectic on the meanings of revolution since VIVA ZAPATA, undercut by the expectations generated by its foolish moniker. Leone, like Chaplin throughout his career, was moving into more and more serious subject matter, but I guess he just wouldn’t take chance of losing his faithful audience.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS borrows the title (minus the “THE” and the “A”) from a 1979 Italian DIRTY DOZEN type film, which has been released on DVD by Severin. While the earlier film (it can’t be called the original, since the two films have nothing substantial in common) has its moments, it’s a poorly edited, acted, and directed thing on the whole, and the most intriguing aspect of the DVD release is the videotaped meeting between its director and Tarantino.

However, it has been my experience that poor titles generally lead to poor box office, and since, happily, that hasn’t happened in this case, perhaps I’m wrong. But I don’t think so – I think the film’s success is due to the casting, the PR, and Tarantino’s great skill as a screenwriter/director. Certainly the title made it abundantly clear that audiences weren’t getting another VALKYRIE, a serious film about Hitler’s Germany, and so maybe that was a good thing. But for me, the best thing about the title are its initials: IB, as in IB Technicolor, for the film has the saturated Technicolor look – one of its many virtues – looking like the glorious films of old.

The film begins with titles over a version of Dimitri Tiomkin’s “The Green Leaves of Summer,” which was the theme music from John Wayne’s 1960 THE ALAMO, and for those who recognize it, the foreshadowing of a’last stand’ hangs over the proceedings. One naturally assumes it’s going to be for the American Jews. What a set-up.

The rest of the music is culled from Tarantino’s hotbed of treasured previous scores – even David Bowie’s theme song from Paul Schrader’s 1982 remake of CAT PEOPLE. This cue accompanies the only sequence in the film I disliked – a montage of Ms. Laurent getting dolled up for her demise as Act three draws near.

The cast luxuriates in wonderful dialogue and creative direction. Christophe Walz, in particular, has a downtown strutter’s ball as Colonel Hans Landa, the theatrical, formidable Jew-hunting Nazi. Walz was born to inhabit Tarantino’s juicy, open-to-improv formula for suspense. Brad Pitt, as the leader of the Jewish Nazi-hunters/scalpers, is confident and fun, though in a smaller, less showy role. I’ve heard that the film was trimmed down from the length Tarantino desired. If this is true, I would assume the DVD will restore some of the Pitt & Company material, which feels truncated, and also some of the Mike Meyers/Rod Taylor (as Winston Churchill) scene, which feels not only truncated, but oddly edited due to being truncated.

Unafraid of gore, Tarantino treats it aesthetically. And finally, it isn’t so much an action film, or a thriller, or a revisionist period piece, as it is a reflexive film about Cinema. In that regard, I felt only one element was wanting – a depiction of Leni Riefenstahl. She would have been great getting her just desserts at that grand premiere in the third act along with her Nazi buddies. Then again, being the athletic girl she was, she just might have scaled the walls and made it to safety, like climbing Pitz Palu, about which much is made in the film.

IB is the second Jews-Killing-Nazis film in the past year (DEFIANCE being the other), and as it’s meant to be a cathartic experience, the history-altering narrative, while taking some getting used to, made perfect sense to me. Are some, I wonder, comparing it with the spin of the fanatics who claim there never was a holocaust? Tarantino’s movie seems an entirely benign form of distortion compared with that faction’s mind-bogglingly poison rhetoric, and he only asks that we believe in his dream of vengeance for two hours and thirty-three minutes.

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