September 4, 2009

Tarantino problems

Jonathan Rosenbaum, from his blog:
Since many people have been asking me to elaborate on why I think Inglourious Basterds is akin to Holocaust denial, I’ll try to explain what I mean as succinctly as possible, by paraphrasing Roland Barthes: anything that makes Fascism unreal is wrong. (He was speaking about Pasolini ’s Salo, but I think one can also say that anything that makes Nazism unreal is wrong.) For me, Inglourious Basterds makes the Holocaust harder, not easier to grasp as a historical reality. Insofar as it becomes a movie convention — by which I mean a reality derived only from other movies — it loses its historical reality.
Ed Holland in The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino (Part 2), at The House Next Door:
[Hans] Landa's tone is so reasonable, his point-to-point argumentation so strictly logical, that by the time he's come to his conclusion we actually understand why he considers the Jews to be vermin. It's disturbing, and Landa's offhand equation of Jews and rats earns the same nervous gasps that a Nazi major later gets by suggesting the unexpected resonances between African slaves and King Kong. But we get what he's saying, and we sense that the farmer perhaps grudgingly understands as well: as even he has to admit, he'd never greet a rat with a saucer of milk, and no amount of logic about the similarities between rats and the more respected squirrels will convince him otherwise ... It's a horrifying scene because it presents Landa as such a logical monster and, as Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) will later say about his protégé Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), a "strangely persuasive monster."
Jason Bellamy in The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino (Part 2):
Tarantino's Nazis are something that Nazis are almost never allowed to be in American movies: intelligent. Landa is an opportunistic devil without a conscience, to be sure, but will we see a smarter character this year? I doubt it. Fucker is almost clairvoyant, and beyond that he's ballsy ... Then there's Major Dieter Hellstrom (August Diehl) who displays his intelligence three ways ... Also not to be overlooked is Fredrick Zoller, who isn't the mindless killing machine his war heroics have us conditioned to believe he must be.
Ed Holland in The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino (Part 2):
The Nazi officer who's killed in the film's second chapter says that he won a medal for bravery, while the Bear Jew asks him if he got it for "killing Jews," an attempt to simplify this guy before beating him to death ... This is even truer in the scene with Wilhelm (Alexander Fehling), the new father out celebrating his baby's birth. His showdown with Aldo over the tradeoff of the actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is heartbreaking ... It's an odd scene, one where the Nazi suddenly becomes the sympathetic protagonist, the guy we're rooting for.
Funny -- I never thought the Nazis were sympathetic protagonists worth rooting for, that they had their exploits simplified unfairly (and what could "bravery" mean in this context?), or saw Landa's reasoning in that speech about rats to be "logical". For the record, then, both Bellamy and Holland liked Inglourious Basterds. Rosenbaum disliked it. I think the problem with Inglourious Basterds -- the moral problem, not its failure as entertainment (the film's excruciating third and fourth chapters, its Naked Gun-like trivialising of figures like Hitler and Goebbels, its glib use of WWII as material for self-infatuated meta-comment about cinema, to give three examples of that) -- is that Tarantino is unable to write villains who are not also fascinating, entertaining, cool. That wasn't a problem before. Every character in Reservoir Dogs was a villain -- or, in one case, an undercover cop posing as a villain -- but they were derived from movie villains and had a clear unreality. Ditto Travolta's, Jackson's and Rhames's characters in Pulp Fiction. In both films, a criminal world was humanised and made entertaining. I suspect he has always found the humanised and complex killer more interesting than the victim. But the problem is that the Nazis are a different order of movie villain.

This is Tarantino talking about Hans Landa in the September 2009 Sight and Sound:
He sets himself up as such a great detective that you don't want him to disappoint you. You want him to be as good as you think he is.
You heard that right. "You" -- we, the audience -- want to watch a Nazi who's so good at sniffing out Jews that he's earned the nickname "Jew hunter" succeed.

Rosenbaum also dug out this illuminating quote -- Tarantino on the relationship between historical trauma and cinematic spectacle, from a Rolling Stone interview:

Q: Has 9/11 or the war on terror had any impact on you personally or creatively?
A: 9/11 didn’t affect me, because there’s, like, a Hong Kong movie that came out called Purple Storm and it’s fantastic, a great action movie. And they work in a whole big thing in the plot that they blow up a giant skyscraper. It was done before 9/11, but the shot almost is a semiduplicate shot of 9/11. I actually enjoyed inviting people over to watch the movie and not telling them about it. I shocked the shit out of them … I was almost thrilled by that naughty aspect of it. It made it all the more exciting.