Ol' Dirty Basterds


inglourious-basterdsDisney should have taken the four billion they paid for Marvel and bought Tarantino instead. Why? Inglourious Basterds is the only movie that I've seen that has had a director in something like the last five years. What's more, it's just about the only movie I've seen that has had a writer (who also happens to be the director, but what you gonna do?). It also has a movie star. And a supporting star. To say Inglourious Basterds is good would be like saying water is wet. It is so, so much more than that.

Tarantino is not sitting on his laurels. He is not only pushing himself, he is pushing audio/visual storytelling. Forget cinema, the movies, whatever you want to call it. He's doing things in Inglourious Basterds that will affect YouTube and video games and novels and comic books and plays. He trumped The Sopranos' last two seasons, that's how high he was aiming. And he did it without making it either a history lesson or a plate of spinach. Not to say that it was a perfect movie. Far from it; though tight and smart, there are loose threads everywhere. He is a director/writer who gloriously colors outside the lines. The first bold move: the rewrite of history.

Spielberg is a student and a visualist. His Saving Private Ryan was a case history. But, except for the insane opening, it lacked the frenzy of even five seconds of Inglorious Basterds. And the focus. Spielberg was mince meat in the face of Brad Pitt and his bastards.

The fact is, sometimes the magnitude of events is such that we can only truly understand it through art. Tolstoy knew this. Were there real Rostovs? I don't think so. Did Napoleon do everything he had him do? Maybe, maybe not. But the stuff of history, when imagined TRULY, can tell us more. Picasso said [warning pretentiousness ahead], "Art is the lie that tells the truth." And by imagining a war, Tarantino tells us things about life. For one, he doesn't fake accents. To find an effective antagonist, he had to find an actor who spoke French, English, German, and Italian. Not just speak them, act in them. And he did.

His historical personages hew to their real (or mythic) realities. Hitler's Berchtegsgarden hideaway is more real, and more scary, than the real one. Imagination makes the real more real.

Witness Mike Myers's turn as a British general. And Churchill. Astonishing, comic and real at the same time. Our slavish obedience to reality is a crutch for weak art. But that is another topic. Thankfully Tarantino's daring doesn't stop there.

He has boldly lobbed a grenade into the gut of the short attention span world all the critics are lamenting. The twenty-some-minute set piece that opens the film is as deliberate and slow and tense as Rohmer or Hitchcock.

But again, this movie has no higher purpose (neither did John Ford's nor Lubitsch nor Hawkes nor Delmar Davies nor...nor...) Tarantino's smart enough to know that you need a video-game-worthy hook to bring 'em in. Then, like the greatest of the past, you slip in the art. Not to get artsy fartsy brownie points. To move people. So, again, he rewrites history, but not stupidly. It is all plausible. [In fact, this is a trick many serious modern historians use, speculative or counter-factual history, but we need not go into that.]

How did he do it? Well, besides talent, which is ineffable, he had a producer to back him up. And he had fun. He is the most impulsive filmmaker working on the planet today. And he delivers. Fun? Too much fun. Scary. Yes. Big themes? Oh yeah. The gore quotient? Well, EC Comics in the early '50s was doing as much or more.

Big, splendid, artistic, messy, fun. Film is back. At least in the person of one filmmaker and one movie. I cannot get it out of my head. Or my heart. - Ken Krimstein


Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.