d. Quentin Tarantino / 2009 / USA-Germany / 153 mins
Viewed at: Odeon – Leicester Square (London, UK)
You know what? I’ve held off doing this write up because it was going to link to a pair of articles I was preparing for Suite101 about the sheer, walking, talking, unoriginality-monster that is Quentin Tarantino.
I had intended to give a brief overview of some of the films he had ripped-off these past couple of decades, but then I reached a point where I had read so many of these pissy little articles – on both sides of the homage vs. theft divide – that not only did I not want to read any more, I sure as hell didn’t want to write one (let alone two!) Aside from driving me to distraction, reading all of these pro- and anti-Tarantino articles also made me realise that I am truly neither for nor agin the man, or his films.
I mean, there is no doubting that Reservoir Dogs is enjoyable for what it is (a taut, low-budget, wise-ass action thriller), even in light of the FACT that Tarantino pilfered it all and sundry from the final act of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire. Having covered the Reservoir Dogs debate, my article was going to move on to Pulp Fiction, for which I had written that Tarantino had ‘learned to hide his influences better’.
And post-Reservoir Dogs, I think Tarantino has done precisely that, finding a way to balance his cinematic obsessions with severe bouts of visual and intellectual kleptomania – with the vital exception of Kill Bill, a cinematic abomination that I will get to another day! Sure, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Death Proof each borrow elements from here and there, but taken as a whole, they are by no means case studies in pure, unadulterated cinematic theft, although I still draw the line at the H-word. Besides, surely the fact that each of his films are tagged prominently with statements like ‘A Film by Quentin Tarantino’ is a shit-stirring affectation, rather than the heretical utterance many proclaim it to be.
Which brings us to Inglourious Basterds. Peter Bradshaw gave it one star in The Guardian, but Chris Hewitt gave it five in Empire: who to believe? Well, they’re both wrong, to be honest. By no means the terrible film I had imagined, this is certainly Tarantino’s best since Jackie Brown, but then again, that’s not really saying much.
One thing is certain: slowly but surely, Tarantino seems to be developing into a (very) vaguely capable screenwriter. Back when he worked in a video store, all the poor guy had going for him was the ability to write excellent dialogue. In order to get by, he borrowed a few plot elements and stole a couple of cool shots. Soon he realised that if he just wrote a crappy screenplay and chopped it to pieces, no one would be able to tell the difference anyway. Flash forward ten years or so, and our hero can almost string a story together. Sure, there’s still big holes and his narrative flair is almost non-existent, but he’s at least figured out how to use dialogue to build narrative tension within an individual scene. And I challenge you to find a scene in a recent Hollywood film, that is as expertly executed as the opening gambit of Inglourious Basterds, when the dastardly Colonel Hans Landa (a character sublimely inhabited by Christoph Waltz) interrogates a French dairy farmer with typically Tarantinoesque results.
That said, perhaps one of the finest moments in this film comes when Tarantino shows an audience of Nazi dignitaries, including the big cheese himself, yukking it up as they watch a dramatized account of a sniper killing literally hundreds of soldiers, one after the other. I had to wonder how many people recognized the irony – no doubt intentional – of laughing at the cartoonish Nazi’s as the blood letting continues on the screen, whilst sitting in a picture theatre watch in a film by Quentin Fucking Tarantino.
A few minor notes to end on. Firstly, I know it was supposedly Tarantino at his epoch-mashing best, but the scene cut to Bowie was woeful, and the whole chapter-heading thing is laaaaaaaaaame, leading to an over-reliance on episodic structure that encourages the assumption that you are a rubbish screenwriter. Similarly, if you aren’t ingenious enough to do away with the captions that tell the audience exactly what they are watching and when and where it took place, DO NOT immediately follow one with an unannounced flashback sequence. It will either confuse or confound your audience and it makes a fool out of you, and your editor.