On ‘Inglorious Basterds’, its reviews and its reviewers

Paresh Chandra

Author: Ubaldo Martinez from United States
A fun, engrossing, beautifully crafted piece of nonsense, the likes of which we hadn’t seen in a long, long time. The silliness of the story is marvellously camouflaged with great dialogue and some superb performances….What is already one of Tarantino’s trademarks is his sure step along the most immediately recognizable bits of pop culture. He’s clearly not a cultured man but a pop expert, king in a world where people get their news from TV, don’t read, other than magazines and comics, etc. That’s how it happens, to be in the right place at the right time. For better or worse these are Tarantino times.

Author: borromeot from United States
Very entertaining, that’s for sure. Great little moments “inspired” by other movies. “The Guns Of Navarone”, “Operation Crossbow” and a myriad of 70’s B exploitation Italian movies. Tarantino is certainly clever and knows how to use the camera but then, I have to say it, nothing. The childish “divertimento” dressed in smart ass dialog remains there. The entertainment value is, perhaps, the most one should expect from a movie but it seems a damn shame that such a talent should be put at the service of something so one dimensional.

Author: namashi_1 from India
Quentin Tarantino is according to me, the finest Filmmaker of this generation. and if there’s any doubt in you about that fact, watch ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and you’ll understand what I am talking about…This film is a work of fiction, over here Hitler is brutally killed. The biggest plus point of this film is that ‘The Basterds’ win, ‘The Audience’ win. Over here, our revenge-full heroes bash up the baddies brutally, leaving us satisfied.
Source: IMDB

Jonathan Swift (on infectivity of satire) in ‘A Tale of a Tub’
…there is not, through all Nature, another so callous and insensible a Member as the World’s Posterior, whether you apply to it the Toe or the Birch.

On whom is the joke? Nazis being the ultimate bad guys of history, any film that is based around World War II is usually ‘figured out’ with black and white categories rather uncharacteristic of criticism/theory these days. In Tarantino’s film the Nazis are portrayed unequivocally as comic, stupid, and inhuman. The only exception is Landa, who is comic, clever and inhuman. Since the film is named after them, it can be assumed that ‘The Basterds’ are the ‘heroes.’

It is the ill luck of all good parody that most mistake it for what it parodies. What happens in the film? The US plays saviour again. This is, in fact, a retelling of the origins of Saviour US. The first time it took what has now become its most characteristic avatar, was in World War II. The tale of how the US entered the War, or of how US citizens kept flying in to fight in battles even when the US had not officially entered, has been told way to many times to keep track. The same happens this time – here Saviour US also manages to keep its politically correct ‘multicultural’ identity; the Basterds are black-haired Jews (the anachronism is a nice indication of how the past is retold in terms that suit the present). So, these American heroes go into Nazi occupied territory and ostensibly ‘scare the shit out of’ the Nazis.

All the Nazi big-shots are going to attend the first screening of a film (made especially on Hitler’s orders) about a Nazi sniper who killed over a hundred Allied soldiers all alone. The film is to raise the spirits of the Nazi troops. The Basterds, with some help from ‘Command,’ plan to burn down the theatre in which the film is being screened. The theatre is owned by a French Jew (Shosanna) who is undercover and whose parents were killed by Landa (the Jew Hunter). The film is being screened here because Shosanna is the crush of the German sniper-hero, who persuades those in charge to screen the movie in her theatre. Shosanna too, with her black boyfriend, hatches a plot to kill the Nazi leadership.

This assumption that the Basterds are the protagonists is punctured easily by observation of the amount of actual screen time they get. This aside, their plan, and each improvisation they make fails. The original plan fails because an American disguised as a German officer is caught because of his accent, the improvisations because of Landa’s detective work. Landa kills Bridget (the German actress who was in the plan with the Americans) and arrests Aldo (Brad Pitt), the leader of the Basterds. Landa, gives Aldo a choice – either Aldo gets for him, from the American state, a house in Hawaii and lots of money to go with it, in which case Landa would let the plan proceed, or Landa would arrest the remaining Basterds who are at this point in the theatre, plotting. Aldo agrees, the American state agrees, the plan is allowed to go on. However, neither Landa nor Aldo have taken Shoshanna into account, and it is she who locks the doors and sets the theatre on fire. It was her plan that actually worked.

That they were unable to get hold of Hitler must have really pissed the Saviours off. They tried to make up by getting Saddam (in addition to many, many others). With Hitler, his distinction automatically implied that the Americans were on the side of right. By the time Saddam came along, everybody knew that the Americans were decidedly on the side of right, and so the former was automatically all wrong. This movie offers a Freudian wish-fulfilment to the Saviour’s consciousness. The Americans in the theatre, make sure that they shoot Hitler (who would have died in any case), and as many other Nazis as possible (who would have died in any case as well). Of course, unlike the wish fulfilments of the culture industry, this one is not subliminal. In being only too manifest, it signifies that it is not the latent thought underlying the film. As often in Tarantino movies, art’s subject is art itself. He offers us that, which is offered to us by many American war movies, and many more ‘Westerns,’ but the tonality of the offer is markedly different. The matter of fact way in which heroism is posited in the original genres, makes the message too obvious to question. In Tarantino’s parody, the comical side of that heroism is shown to us. Because of the change of tone, one is allowed space to think, and question, and reject.

The Nazis die because of Shoshanna, and Aldo lives because of Landa. Of course, the Americans don’t know about Shoshanna, so for them Landa was also responsible for the end of the Nazi leadership, and the War in Europe. Typically, Aldo, the drawling American must have the last word, and so carves the Swastika on Landa’s forehead before the latter gets his rewards from the American government. It’s a very solid last word, as last words go, and Aldo is able to regain his lost cockiness. Usually, however, it is an icing on the cake after the hero wins (“Hasta la vista, baby!”). This time, its only virtue is that it’s funny and seems like a grand thing to do. But it has nothing grand to back it up. Of course, then it makes one wonder if there is anything really grand about any of these gestures. Viewers often recognise pop culture references in Tarantino movies but don’t see what these do. By parodying them Tarantino’s reveals the lie of a lot of pop culture, and manages to do it even as he seems to be placed inside it.

While talking of this film, it occurs to me, that the transition from talking about it in relation to politics, in the narrow sense, to talking about it as a film, is quite smooth. It could, of course, be that these are my private preoccupations that allow this seemingly smooth transition. But I would argue that this is not a matter of idiosyncratic hermeneutics, but is the reflection of an important quality of the film. In parodying earlier films, Tarantino is taking on the meta-narrative of American imperialism, and the sugar-coated justifications for a US led unipolar world, that Hollywood has fed, and continues to feed the world on. In his famous essay, ‘The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’, Jameson argued: 1) with postmodernism the distinction between pop culture and high art begins to vanish, and 2) the link between art and the market becomes more direct than ever. This, however, does not imply that Adorno’s observations about pop culture cease to be relevant. They are as relevant as ever – pop culture continues to lie. A work that takes on pop culture takes on the lie. When Conrad had parodied the adventure novel, and put forth an extremely powerful critique of colonialism, he was still producing ‘high art’ (there were times when he failed, and it became impossible to extricate his work from the larger mass of adventure novels). Tarantino manages to be indisputably popular and yet deconstructs popular myths that constitute the biggest confidence tricks.

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