www.bangitout.com Jordan Hiller's 25 Most Essential Jewish FIlms continues with the latest Tarentino flick
#12 Inglourious Basterds
When the elderly orthodox couple in front of me on the ticket line for Quentin Tarantino’s latest was asked what movie they were interested in seeing, I experienced a moment of depraved glee. The man – white shirt, black pants, white beard, big black velvet yarmulke, placid face straight off a Rebbi card – was compelled to answer the box office attendant, “Two for Inglourious Basterds, please.” Hence the first hint that Tarantino’s so called “Jewish Revenge Fantasy” had awakened something extraordinary in a people. Yes, the theatre filled up with a diverse crowd, plenty of young folks simply looking for a wicked starburst of entertainment, but there was also a remarkably unconventional Jewish presence. Groups of older, possibly European immigrants who surely passed on Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Modern orthodox couples with their teenage and adolescent children who likely did not organize similar family outings to Kill Bill Volumes I and II. It was evident that Inglourious Basterds had achieved religio-cultural requirement status among many Jews, like Schindler’s List did when it came out in 1993. Jews were being drawn to it like moths to a flame.
It seems from the buzz emanating from Jewish enclaves that Basterds has been unofficially deemed an important film (“Did you see it yet?”), whether as an educational endeavor (exemplified by the chaperoning of children way too young for the content), a potential source of pride, a necessary cathartic release, or quite possibly just another one of our many chukim. And it accomplished all this, I contend, with audiences never fully realizing what the film was essentially supposed to be about or the filmmaker’s intention.
Whether art can transform into something it was not originally meant to be based on the beholder’s perspective leads us to the obvious follow-up question: Does Inglourious Basterds live up to a people’s widely varying and arguably irrational expectations? Is it the fulfillment of a holy commandment that some are hoping for it to be?
First things first: Inglourious Basterds is not a Holocaust movie. Those attending a screening looking for a ghetto uprising or craving some second hand suffering will leave disappointed and bewildered. The movie, if anything concrete, is about free and courageous Jews killing Nazis (here pronounced Gnat-Zees). Some of those Jews operate brazenly, with maelstrom caliber force under the command of a Tennessee born Lieutenant named Aldo Raine and played with a measure of flare by Brad Pitt. Other Jews plot vengeance from secretive positions and work alone. By the final credits and after an occasionally dragging two and a half hours, many, many Nazis die. By dagger, by fire, by machine gun, by dynamite, and by baseball bat, many Nazis die, and a healthy number of them via Jewish initiative. If that equation amounts to something educational or pride-worthy or therapeutic or some newly imagined halachic imperative, well, Quentin Tarantino has provided an evening for us to celebrate as a community . But I got the feeling that shock, confusion, and even disgust greeted the misinformed Jewish patrons itching for rapture. Maybe that is the lesson. Death and killing sickens us all, no matter who is on the receiving end.
Second things second. Quentin Tarantino is not Steven Spielberg or Roman Polanski. He is not a Jew on a mission, aiming to erect a monument to the six million. There were no bitter tears shed in the editing room over the damn tragedy of it all. No memories or ghosts of butchered grandparents to whom he could dedicate the film.
For as long as Mr. Tarantino has been in the movie business, his purpose as a writer, actor, producer, and director has been single-minded, and this purpose drips and oozes from every frame he has ever shot. Mr. Tarantino exists to show the movie-going world that he is the dopest, coolest, freshest, sharpest, wittiest, edgiest, fucking gnarliest badass ever to hurtle into the biz. And his typical formula for accomplishing this lofty goal is to hijack a well established genre or revered method of cinematic storytelling and then flip it, supercharge it, and catapult it over the top.
And the insane thing is, eighty percent of young filmmakers approach their careers with an identical objective, but guess what? Since 1992, QT has pretty much lived up to his hype. Who over the past fifteen years has been more consistently brilliant, daring, and innovative? The heirs to Tarantino’s next-big-thing throne have remained either unproven or been proven frauds.
M. Night Shyamalan made a nice run but fell apart. Darren Aronofsky stumbled for a few years before recently getting back on track. Bryan Singer more or less sold out. Chris Nolan has potential but needs to keep it going another five years to validate consideration. Tarantino is still the maverick’s maverick with the typewriter and the lens, and Inglorious Basterds represents just another manically entertaining, sometimes overindulgent, but utterly impressive effort. It’s grand and stylized and the script sparkles, however, it does not seek to represent a Jewish agenda. Tarantino doesn’t have that in him.
When the old Jewish woman sitting next to me in the theatre began griping to her husband about the depictions of violence in the film, I experienced a wave of bitter frustration. As the Jewish soldiers took their blades to the scalps of their Nazi victims and proceeded to slice flesh from skull, the woman groaned, “What is he doing?” It was clearly not what she expected. I even thought perhaps the “he” in her protest was Mr. Tarantino as if to say, “How dare he ruin this important film for us with such boorishness?”
The unconventional Jewish presence, perhaps rarely venturing out to the movies, came looking for a Holocaust movie (and actually got one for the first ten minutes as Col. Hans Landa a.k.a The Jew Hunter – played smartly by Austrian actor Christolph Waltz – waxes poetic on the similarities between Jews and rats before gunning down a Jewish family hidden under a farmer’s floorboards), but after that, Inglourious Basterds is vintage Tarantino. No education, pride, or therapy to be reasonably found. Just a wildly talented director exposing himself.
The only message Mr. Tarantino had for the Jewish audience which mistakenly wandered in expecting saving grace: Welcome to my world! Buckle up! If you want, grab a gun, cuz we’re gonna be killing some Gnat-Zees!!!!!!