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Quentin Tarantino sure is an unpredictable bastard, isn't he? The Promethean video geek brain buzzing away in his massive forehead is continually charged, seeking new ways to delight and confound fans and critics. His latest is both a bare-knuckled spin on war flick tropes, while not really a war movie at all, instead a giddily transgressive rumination on the nature of art. It's also a star vehicle dominated by ensemble performances, a violent action picture that's light on action; a satire that plays like horror.
In fact it's so many things at once it's got us kind of flustered.
Jeff Meyers: Calling Inglourious Basterds a rumination on the nature of art may be giving QT more credit than he deserves. I think everything he encounters is filtered through a film geek sensibility. There's no context or even subtext to his film, just the ultimate fanboy spooging his fetishes all over the screen. Which isn't to say he doesn't do it brilliantly. He does. But when I look at any Tarantino film I see an obsessive's love of film for film's sake. It reminds me of Orson Welles' quote about how being a director is like having the world's largest train set. QT likes to twist the tracks into insane loops, demolition the buildings and run down the little plastic townsfolk, while naming the train stations after his favorite filmmakers.
Corey Hall: Quentin gets slagged off for his lowbrow tastes, but here he pays tribute to great German silent film directors like G.W. Pabst, who many of his fans have never heard of. He's like a wonky film studies professor and the only world that's real for him is the movies. One of the Basterds is a film critic, the plot involves a propaganda piece and the last act is set in a movie theater; it's like he's trying the Nazis for their aesthetic crimes.
Meyers: Or imaging himself as the ultimate Nazi executioner, which is a bit grandiose if you think about it. The Allies couldn't do it, but QT can. Of course, it's hard to make any pretense to art when you have the director of Hostel machine-gunning apart Hitler's face. Still, the homage to Metropolis, with Shoshanna's image projected on billows of smoke, was just brilliant.
Hall: You know he's finally got villains who are totally morally indefensible, and he makes the violence against them almost sickening. It's like he's saying: You hate the Nazis? Well watch their brains splatter, watch them bleed and ooze and like it. You can't really be anti-violence when almost every scene depends on it, or at least the threat of it.
Meyers: And why can't filmmakers make interesting Jewish characters in a Holocaust film? Whether it's Schindler's List or The Reader or Inglourious Basterds, it's always the Nazis who get the plum parts. Waltz is amazing but, damn, if you're going to give the Tribe two and half hours of ass-kicking wish-fulfillment can't you at least come up with an interesting Jew?
Yes, Corey Hall and Jeff Meyers have come to blows. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.