Another quick note here on Tarantino’s new film.
Yesterday (in conversations here with Charles Reece, with a number of interlocutors on Shadowplay and through email, with a friend) I somehow argued myself toward an interpretation of Inglourious Basterds that gets past the Frank-Miller-death-obsession that powers much of the film, and overpowered my senses at the cinema.
What I came up with is this:
[in response to my friend Angela’s claims for the movie’s ability to dramatize extreme ideological hatred in action, at the intersubjective level]
Agreed–that’s the kind of thing that can be taken either way, and perhaps I’m doing the film an injustice, Starship Troopers-style…
There’s no doubt that World War Two, both as a military and a MEDIA event, lies at the absolute bedrock of contemporary western political consciousness… I’ve got no problem with movies about movies–and you could argue that movies about World War Two movies provide the auteur with an opportunity to dynamite the (ultra-damaging) hegemonic Western metanarrative at its source.
The real question everyone should be asking about Inglourious Basterds–or about any other film that engages with media and military conflict during the 20th century–is: “Can this film destroy the motherfuckin’ History Channel?”
If you think about the Pitt character’s growing love affair with swastika-branding as a statement about America’s subsequent proclivity for doing the same thing to anyone that gets in its way, you’ve got a strong political critique on your hands. One that strikes at the heart of the country’s self-image makeover, much of which really did occur in the films (and superhero comics) made by Hollywood while the war raged on… The fact is that the Nazis came as a godsend to American ideologues–and the worst political elements in the country have been living off of the Third Reich ever since.
Does Tarantino understand that? Maybe, maybe not… But his film does allow us to think about this issue in unusually visceral ways, so I guess that’s a good thing.
On the other hand, you have the expected fanboy defense of the film (the one that turned my stomach at the theatre–and turned me so stridently against it). As usual, the most intelligent iteration of this interpretation (anathema to me) is provided by Kirbyist/Millerist supreme Geoff Klock.
A sample from Klock’s post:
I [Geoff Klock] would like to answer a question of yours [Slate‘s Dana Stevens].
“But Tarantino’s signature nastiness and his juvenile delight in shocking the audience undercut the movie’s larger purpose. Which is what, again? Watching someone get beaten to death with a baseball bat, or having a swastika carved into their flesh in tight closeup, is sickening whether the victim is a Nazi or not. In the scenes where the bloodthirsty Basterds (one of whom is played by Eli Roth, the director of the ultra-sadistic Hostel movies and a friend of Tarantino’s) perpetrate these exploits, are we supposed to be cheering them on? Is the best way to work through the atrocities of the 20th century really to dream up ironically apt punishments for the long-dead torturers?”