5th Tarantino Flick

“I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false, are often revealing.”

— SS Colonel Hans Landa

“As a member of the Jewish tribe, I thank you, motherfucker, because this movie is a fucking Jewish wet dream.”

— Laurence Bender

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Every review I’ve read of Tarantino’s latest, mainstream or blog, takes it much too literally. No matter what one thinks of the film, to see all these earnest Jewish critics stiltedly commenting (in good faith, mind) on the film’s good or bad representation of WWII or the Holocaust, as if it were a statement from a major public intellectual that forced a reevaluation of established history, is both funny and painful. Under the logic of the public sphere — what Tarantino is really ‘exploiting’ — they are obliged, whether they want to or not, to come up with some sort of moral response to a meta-farcical action-adventure flick written and directed by a gauche white guy raised by a TV/VCR combo. Even Denby, who’s too smart to be drawn in, stops his critique at just this level, using the director’s immaturity, his arrested adolescence and nihilistic form of cinephilia as an escape clause.

I was quoted here as calling Basterds the “morally weightiest” of Tarantino’s films, and while I did say that (not that exact construction of course) it was only because I couldn’t think of anything better. As in the other four, ‘something else’ does emerge from IB‘s genre mashups and citation games, which I’ll get to. In the course of which I hope to point out two things that are often said of Tarantino but aren’t true: that his films are mechanically entertaining conceptual exercises (that is, non-ideological), and, corollary to the first, that his aesthetic concerns are immature (that is, uninterested in ‘serious themes,’ out of touch with reality, etc.).

Comparing IB to other recent Jewish violent revenge fantasies (Munich and Defiance) as Goldberg does in the second link above (and Alex further comments on) is instructive only insofar as it helps us identify ‘the other’ genre the film employs along with the standard Tarantino palette of’60s and ’70s exploitation flicks. Its resemblances aren’t formal in this case but ideological. Munich and Defiance indulge in historical fantasies of Jewish action heroes meting out punishment to cowering fascists/terrorists and feeling kind of bad about it. Then in a classic ‘negation of the negation’ they frame the protagonists’ ‘awareness’ of their loss of humanity as still further evidence of their heroism and the sanctity of their mission. All of this is of course perfectly compatible with the fascist self-image. And ‘serious’ American action films. And the comic books on which they’re based.

Admitting all of this is the first step to understanding what IB is up to.

‘SPOILERS’

The last chapter ends the film with three formally and narratively connected moments of ‘catharsis.’ The climax as a whole is, as in all of Tarantino’s ‘big moments,’ the result of multiple characters and storylines (each generated from different combinations of genre tropes) violently colliding with one another.

The first occurs via the film-within-a-film, the Nazi propaganda Stolz der Nation, at the premier screening for the German High Command and their special guests. Frederick Zoller is the star, playing himself at a sniper battle where he fought off a 300-man attack by himself from a ‘bird’s nest’ position on top of a bell tower. As we watch the lame, repetitive action, Zoller’s face lit up to look like a confused Wilhelm Meister, we get reaction shots of the elite Nazi audience: Hitler congratulates Goebbels on a job well done, almost bringing tears to the man’s eyes. Shot of Zoller taking aim, shot of an enemy tumbling down some stairs or out a window, Zoller’s reaction, close up on Hitler laughing like a kid. Etc.

The second occurs after two of the ‘Basterds,’ Donny and Omar, bust into the theater and start massacring the audience with tommy guns. The actor playing Donny is Eli Roth, better known as the director of Hostel, and the real-life director of the propaganda film that his character interrupts. Here the shot-reverse-shot combination from Stolz der Nation is repeated, minus the audience reaction shot: Donny shooting, Nazis dying, Omar shooting, Nazis dying, Donny shooting, Hitler disintegrating, etc. Every cut back to Donny zooms in a little closer — where Zoller was made to look noble, at times even reluctant, Donny looks like a savage animal.

This is a fairly basic relativizing gesture, only unusual because we’re seeing it in a Tarantino movie. The revenge plot that in at least some version runs through every film is here given its clearest formal expression. ‘Evil’ comes first, its subject (Zoller) the pathetic dupe of an ideology that never actually manifests in the film (no one ever says why they’re a Nazi). All we get are its signs, huge swastikas everywhere, Hitler and Goebbels as cackling archvillains. This is the pure or ideological form of ideology, which can only appear as a ridiculous cartoon. The Basterds’ formally identical act of vengeance is carried out by Jewish ‘others’ who are at the same time American, authorized by the state and educated by American movies and pop culture (Donny kills his victims with a baseball bat). They are dupes themselves, purely reactive, and not ‘humanized’ by good acting the way Tarantino’s characters usually are. The structural position left open for us is that formerly occupied by the Nazi cartoon audience, which allows us the privilege of ironic self-awareness, free to interpret this scene as public service, critique, whatever, without fear of emotional manipulation.

All characters appearing so far serve for the invisible audience as ‘idiots supposed to believe,’ buffoons who, through being cinematized, are permitted to unironically and unapologetically live out the cinematic fantasies in which Tarantino has been educating us over the course of his career. They are his version of the film critic’s horny, nihilistic, video-game-addicted violent teenagers, the ‘impressionable audience’ both public moralism and irony require to function.

The third moment comes at the end. The Basterds would not have succeeded if Landa, who instantly saw through their scheme, hadn’t made a deal with the American leadership to stay quiet in exchange for full pardon and a hero’s welcome in the U.S. But, rather than let Landa get off scot-free, thus rewriting history in his own favor (the rightful privilege of victors), the Basterd’s hillbilly (non-Jewish) leader Aldo Raine writes the truth back in, so to speak, by carving a swastika into Landa’s forehead. This is what he does to all Nazis he lets live, giving them, as he puts it, “a uniform you can’t take off.”

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Where the Nazis and the Jewish Basterds are ideological dupes, Landa and Raine are not, and their showdown is verbal, far away from spectacular set-piece violence. Landa, thematically and visually linked to Sherlock Holmes (with his absurd Calabash pipe), plays the film’s plot like a chess master. That he’s every critic’s favorite character is not surprising. Raine, on the other hand, is a savage, part Apache even, whose M.O. includes the taking of Nazi scalps. He beats Landa not through Landa’s game of being smarter than the ideological rules by which others (think they) live, but by embodying his country’s exceptionalist ideology in spite of its arbitrariness. This is the film’s last surviving ethical ‘argument’: the Nazis aren’t Nazis because they’re evil, they’re evil because they’re Nazis. So Landa, despite his post-ideological pretenses, is just as much a Nazi as the rest. And we, who have been seduced by Landa (and, one might argue, Tarantino’s roster of amoral hitman heroes as a whole), are likewise punished, forced to take a side vis-a-vis our own compromised position as consumers of violent fascist fantasy. And as Raine scars Landa with this lesson Tarantino is also scarring us with it: after a disgusting close-up of the engraving accompanied by Landa’s screams, the final shot is from Landa’s POV, and the last line is Raine’s: “I think this just might be my masterpiece.” But this is not quite an ethical judgment, or at least not in any conventional sense, as I will attempt to show.

This thematically climactic moment is also the anticlimactic resolution of its emotionally central narrative thread, which takes place entirely behind the scenes of the war. Its cathartic moment — the fourth — contains the deaths of Shoshanna and Zoller, survived by their two warring films going up in flames. Shoshanna, a Gallic Jew hunted by Landa, owns the cinema where Stolz der Nation premiers. Zoller arranges the whole thing because he’s infatuated with her. Her revenge plot, which runs parallel to the military one, involves trapping the Nazis in the auditorium and setting the theater’s archives on fire, while a reel of herself taunting her victims replaces the finale of Goebbel’s film — in American English, of course. Having only seen this once, I’m not sure if it’s suggested that Hitler & Co. could have escaped the theater if the Basterds hadn’t intervened. At the very least, the outcome of the their plot (via Landa’s betrayal) renders Shoshanna’s superfluous (even if the auditorium wasn’t barred, the High Command would still have died). Superfluous but beautiful, and the film’s only real tragedy. The Americans rescue her plan from failure while her film, doubly as the ghostly image of her revenge and the setting and occasion for the depicted fantastical exercise in wish-fulfillment, redeems the war’s ugly and castrating imperfections.

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IB is then alternately a deconstruction of and apologia for the pleasures of propaganda, which the film presents as a fundamentally American genre, as American as killing Nazis. The transcendent moment of cinema-love that comes with the Revenge of the (Shoshanna’s) Giant Face (the title of the final chapter) burning up on the screen is an expression of art for art’s sake appropriate to cinema: a work of art is a propaganda piece for its official recognition as Art (a ‘masterpiece’), by asserting the arbitrariness of any distinction between it and non-Art. It’s often been commented that IB is an unexpectedly European film. Most of the film is not in English, and much of its pleasure and tension come from language issues, an area in which the Americans are completely out of their element. But (just like in Kill Bill) they still win.

If one were to reduce IB to a Jameson-style historical allegory (is this the only Tarantino film where it’s possible to do this?), it would look something like this: a fading (feminized, civilized) Europe preserves its cinema’s beauty by recording its self-destruction, acknowledging the arbitrariness of its fate, while a rising (masculine, half-savage) America appropriates power by disregarding the logical (‘ethical’) consequences of its own arbitrariness. IB thus authorizes itself to take that extra, illegal step beyond historical tragedy and aestheticized self-destruction typically glorified by European art film. The first by killing Hitler, and the second by refusing to accept the film’s ‘rightful’ tragic ending: the deaths of Zoller and Shoshanna and the escape of Landa. Here’s Tarantino:

“Now, when it came to writing this movie, naturally, I came across some of those roadblocks. And one of them was history itself. And I was more or less prepared to honor that. Until I came up actually against it. And I go, ‘no, I refuse!’. I’ve never done that before, and now is not the time to start. And what I mean by that is this, I just thought that my characters don’t know they’re part of history – history has not been written yet. They don’t know that there’s things that they can and can’t do. There’s no can and can’t, there’s only action and reaction.”

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The film is run through with the sense that only an American film can do this, can master narrative causality by becoming the first among its slaves: though no onscreen American character really drives the action in any significant sense until the very end, no event in IB is allowed to pass that isn’t authorized by the U.S.A. Therefore only America, as the sovereign of Hollywood cinema’s narrative logic (which has always been just as international in style as this film is), can exceed it, and deliver the audience its greatest possible pleasures. Cinematic pleasure is defined as American. Again, not because America is good, but because good is American. When other countries make a ‘fun’ or ‘crowd-pleasing’ film they can only do so in reference to American cinematic conventions. With IB, the ‘meaning’ of the Tarantinoverse is finally clear: the U.S. rules cinema, and the U.S. cannot die until cinema dies a second death.

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45 Responses to “5th Tarantino Flick”

  1. Patrick J. Mullins Says:

    the U.S. rules cinema, and the U.S. cannot die until cinema dies a second death.

    lol! that is better than what it is describing, ever if true.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Otherwise, GREAT POST! I was sure I could be quiet until this gem.

  2. traxus4420 Says:

    thanks again!

    i don’t know how you feel about tarantino in general, but this one is i think one of the better ones…there’s a long scene i don’t mention that takes place in a tavern that’s probably one of the best things he’s ever done, and one of the best scenes in any movie i’ve seen in a while.

  3. Patrick J. Mullins Says:

    You know what, I actually think I may go to see it, when I first read about the ‘film within a film’, I did think, yeah, these very clever techniques that weren’t ever executed so cleverly in the old days really are sometimes very riveting. This sounds much better than the other things, so no, I’m not a fan, although they’re enjoyable while you’re watching them, the intricacy. But this particular film-within-a-film does sound good. Whether or not I’ll find it as ‘evaporative’ as I do literally everything else I’ve seen by him, well…probably, but it does sound very clever, even if he’s not ready to commit career suicide, which would be just too, too Pasolini for this nerd. What’s good is your spoilers, you know perfectly well I’m too lazy to follow such complexity by myself. When I was reading your post, I literally thought ‘can he possibly have seen this only once?’ then you said had. Oh well, I guess there are some advantages to being lazy. Jack claims it’s helped him float through life rather nicely, and it seems to have. The only reason we have the paintings for the book is because I forced him to do them. He’d as soon just watch TV.

  4. Good post. I still would ask, “Why Nazis and the Holocaust, at all? And why are the Inglourious Basterds a group of Jews (even if led by a Gentile)?” I think Tarantino wanted to make this “fucking Jewish wet dream”. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Tarantino is any more conscious of the problems around Holocaust film than any other American director, and his attempt to solve those problems by turning the story into a fantasy about Jewish revenge demonstrates his complete misunderstanding of them. Morality has nothing to do with it. To ask, How can someone exploit the Holocaust like that? would be pointless, when the Holocaust has been exploited practically since it happened. But to think that Tarantino is doing something more complicated than fulfilling fantasy, just because he looks long and hard at the use of film as propaganda, seems to be to overstep the Nazi-killing in order to talk about the movies.

    In passing, you mention that people have called this a European film (presumably because most of the actors are European and speak at least two languages). I don’t know who made that claim, but when Europeans switch languages or dialects in film, they don’t spend five minutes reminding you that they’re doing it. Only an American filmmaker would do something like that.

  5. Patrick J. Mullins Says:

    but when Europeans switch languages or dialects in film, they don’t spend five minutes reminding you that they’re doing it. Only an American filmmaker would do something like that.

    Frightful of them. Does that mean that cinema and the U.S. are only in a Sclerotic Period, why they haven’t settled into quiet desperation and grieving without tears like Adorno?

  6. Thank you for this post

  7. I would put it more on historical causes, Patrick. Forgive me for being such a brutal positivist, but there’s no significant bilingualism in most of the U.S. (north of Colorado or East of Texas), which means it still has the cultural signification for us of a parlor trick.

  8. traxus4420 Says:

    patrick,

    i’m extremely lazy — it just takes different forms, is all.

    “evaporative” is a good word, for me chunks of pulp fiction and the idea of jackie brown are the only ones that really stick. i’m sure i’ll have forgotten the whole plot of IB by next year.

  9. traxus4420 Says:

    alex, thanks,

    i think

    1) the consciousness of american filmmakers is easily overrated – i just start out assuming they have no idea what they’re doing until they prove otherwise. tarantino especially is a terrible commenter on his own movies. there’s also a lot of pressure on american directors to at least act like idiot savants, americans hate public intellectuals, which has a lot to do with the above.

    and

    2) fantasy is always more complicated than ‘just fulfilling it,’ but the straightforward thing to do would have been to cast the most charismatic actors as jewish badasses, let them and their nazi nemeses dominate every scene, make them ‘psychologically realistic’ and cut out all the filler, which in fact takes up 75% of the movie.

    i think the movie IS about america and movies and only incidentally about jews, jewish desires, the holocaust, etc., and i think it would be really hard to support a different assertion using evidence from the film. nazi-killing IS the movies.

    most of the jews and all the big shot nazis are shallowly acted bit players. this is actually really unusual for tarantino, who is known for putting great performances in marginal roles.

    “I don’t know who made that claim”

    if you google ‘european film’ and ‘inglourious basterds’ you get a lot of results. the other common and more accurate argument is that it’s a ‘love letter’ to european cinema.

  10. traxus4420 Says:

    i don’t think he’s doing something the opposite of what you (alex) are saying he’s doing (in the sense of ‘critique’ or whatever), he’s replaying this alleged jewish fantasy on the meta-level of irony. i’m just trying to point out that when he does that he makes you see who owns which fantasies.

  11. traxus4420 Says:

    john — no, thank YOU for reading.

  12. I agree that the metacritique is going on, and I really think this is a very good post (your posts are always extremely thorough and well-thought); I wanted to push back on the Jewish aspect some, though. And yes, you’re right, this film is about Americans, but there’s a difference between this and the Dirty Dozen (its clear cinematic predecessor). I neither think that this is doing the straightforward ideological work of, say, a Munich, but it’s not completely outside of that genre, either.

    Also, I think I need to work on tone or something. I come off as caustic, when I’m really just trying to debate.

  13. Isn’t this movie mostly ‘about’ Palestine?

  14. I mean, sorry, I think that’s probably implicit in your reading of it -(ain’t seen it, probably never will). But this I think is interesting:

    Why not make Raine Jewish?

    You know, he just wasn’t… when I came up with the scenario of all of them together, he just wasn’t. You know, I don’t manipulate my characters in that way. It was very important to me that he was a hillbilly. Every outward appearance, you’d think he’d be a racist redneck. And in fact, he’s the opposite of that. He was probably fighting the Klan in the ‘30s before the war. The Nazis? Same thing. He’s a student of history, so he knows about the Apache resistance. His thing is that he openly chooses — he decides — I want Jewish soldiers in here, because I want it to be a holy war. I want them to bring what a gentile wouldn’t. Where he’s coming from is that the gentiles have the luxury of being soldiers. The Jewish-American soldiers have the duty of being warriors.

    It sounds a lot like a pomo paean to Christian Zionism, a pure Bush-Cheney movie.

  15. Thanks, kenoma. That was my point, by and large. I’m glad somebody agrees with me.

  16. traxus4420 Says:

    “I neither think that this is doing the straightforward ideological work of, say, a Munich, but it’s not completely outside of that genre, either.”

    i agree. it’s the ironic version, so, good if you’re disgusted by the hypocrisy of the ‘straightforward’ stuff where they’re morally conflicted about what they were going to do anyway, but you still want to play in the sandbox.

    but then, all the state signifiers are held by americans. the basterds are on the american side and most are culturally american. i didn’t notice any suggestion of a future jewish state or biblical prophecies or any of that, but more importantly the only strong jewish agency is shoshanna who dies a version of the femme fatale death.

    so, kenoma, i would say it’s not a zionist movie, but it is a bush-cheney movie — if bush and cheney were hipsters.

  17. traxus4420 Says:

    thanks for the interview link —

    “I want Jewish soldiers in here, because I want it to be a holy war. I want them to bring what a gentile wouldn’t. Where he’s coming from is that the gentiles have the luxury of being soldiers. The Jewish-American soldiers have the duty of being warriors.”

    this is tarantino’s TV video game fantasy. but the important thing is who is watching it, who is enjoying it, not who is doing it, who are just avatars.

    the most prominent judeo-christian reference in the film is raine’s habit of carving swastikas on nazi foreheads. it follows the mark of cain pretty exactly — given to those nazis who ‘repent’ (in this case help the allied side). it’s both curse and evidence of repentance. and then this is directed at the audience both times it’s used (we always get the nazi’s POV), and what closes the film.

  18. traxus4420 Says:

    and is, in effect, the final ‘revenge’ of the ‘dupes’ on the audience, hereby branded as sophisticated, unideological/self-interested hedonists who resemble hans landa more than any other character. with a swastika.

    all of which is packaged and framed by and for the u.s.a.

  19. traxus4420 Says:

    it’s like a property claim.

  20. Chuckie K Says:

    My fave review was in the junge Welt. Brief, bare bones. “Jews kill Nazis. Good”

  21. traxus4420 Says:

    hi chuckie — do you have a link to that? i just searched the site and all the reviews i found were soooo much longer than that. and auf deutsch!

  22. Mullins, I don’t know what’s more pathetic – you on the same thread where Kretinoma appears and people say things like ”Thanks Kenoma”, or you politely brushing off Childie’s Marxist overinterpretations (like that TERRIBLE thing about Americans having to explain irony while Europeans do it straightforwardly) which sounds like somebody asked you to swallow a really tiny dick. And I DID lift the comment moderation, you know.

    Traxus I think your analysis fails to tap into Tarantino’s greatest source of strength, which is his manic-obsessive affect. His films revolve around drives and passions, less around ideological issues. I’d be interested how those relate to whatever Marxist standpoint you’ve taken here.

  23. traxus4420 Says:

    dejan, don’t bring your imagined lovers/stalkers/whatevers’ quarrels to my blog please. i don’t have any interest in moderating them, so you’ll just be banned.

    where do i say americans have to explain irony?

    there are no more ideological issues than drives and passions.

  24. but when Europeans switch languages or dialects in film, they don’t spend five minutes reminding you that they’re doing it. Only an American filmmaker would do something like that.

    assuming the switching of languages is ironic, or in anycase a distancing device, then you’re saying Americans have to explain irony to their audiences while us sophisticated Europeans don’t have to, cause we been pissing in each other’s mouth much longer; you’re assuming a fairly elitist Eurotrash position in this regard, while I always liked Tarantino for retaining a particularly American flavor with his very corporeal, action-oriented cinema, in which kinetic energy and movement take the upper hand over all these ideological concerns

    in what sense do you deem drives and passions ideological issues

  25. traxus4420 Says:

    alex actually said that about languages — maybe you should read his comment again, it doesn’t sound like you’re responding to anything he was saying.

    since for lacan desire and the subject are only in language it seems like you’d be able to tell me about why passions and drives are ideological.

  26. why passions and drives are ideological.

    i haven’t even thought of lacan, i was thinking how tarantino’s movies stay in mind for the relentless affect they conjure (revenge in kill bill, violence in reservoir dogs, etc) rather than any content, or the position they take vis-a-vis ideology. i think it’s precisely on the level of ”pure spectacle” where they come to life, and although tarantino has been at the helm of ”PoMo ironizing” I don’t find his movies particularly original or funny in this sense, I remember them for the non-PoMo part, which is this relentlessness, the manic babble, the unforigiving emotion of it. since few european filmmakers if any get to this, tarantino may be right in claiming the position you ascribe to him in relation to propaganda or spectacle. whether this is subversive – i don’t know; i think the relentless affect is subversive, it doesn’t just or simply ironize codes and conventions, it eats them up and blows them apart by taking them to extremes. but i had a similar view of cohen’s bruno, whom i appreciated for stubborny turning his ass both to hetero and homo conventions, and putting everything in his voracious ass. whereas you felt he was about minstrelsy.

  27. Tarantino says it himself

    There’s no can and can’t, there’s only action and reaction.”

  28. traxus4420 Says:

    to rape the intentional fallacy one last time, tarantino also says this:

    “Where he’s coming from is that the gentiles have the luxury of being soldiers. The Jewish-American soldiers have the duty of being warriors.”

    there is nothing more pomo than ‘pure spectacle.’ and it’s from the “unforgiving emotion” part of IB (which most critics deny or pretend doesn’t exist — QT is so much about cleverness they don’t want to risk ‘not getting’ something) that i tried in the above post to extract its ideological content. those are the moments that break through the scare quotes. they’re when QT goes where respectable european filmmakers can’t or won’t, and why ppl think he’s stupid and immature.

  29. traxus4420 Says:

    and it’s not that euro filmmakers can’t make shockingly ‘stupid’ films — this is a funny piece by mark peranson which calls cannes 2009 he ‘stupidest cannes ever,’ and cites IB as one of the smartest movies there. irreversible, antichrist, and the like all get called stupid and nihilistic. but where QT’s ‘stupidity’ differs seems to be in its affirmational quality. his films are defiantly not negative; in them irony functions not to provide critical or negative distance but to emphasize the pleasure of what might otherwise be interpreted as critique. i actually read one critic who (retroactively) interpreted reservoir dogs as some sort of statement against film violence because it bears fewer QT trademarks.

  30. Buck Swash Says:

    but where QT’s ’stupidity’ differs seems to be in its affirmational quality. his films are defiantly not negative; in them irony functions not to provide critical or negative distance but to emphasize the pleasure of what might otherwise be interpreted as critique.

    Traxus, did you ever get around to William Gibson’s ‘Spook Country?’ This description of irony in this affirmational sense–that ended that I’ve never been able to shut up about. That’s sort of clumsy to shove Gibson and Tarantino together, but I haven’t had time to think up any others, and that book did pop into my mind upon reading your sentence here. I think it’s something very symptomatic in trendy culture right now, and I think that netierh does it work, nor does it even mean to work; that it dare NOT work seems to be the subtext. The whole idea of ‘affirmative irony’ is nauseating, and that is not just in the movies but in the genre things you named in the previous post’s comments, and cyberpunk in particular. There is some element of ‘sincerity’ that just won’t mix with irony, NO MATTER WHAT. And yet people try to do it all the time. I just don’t see how anyone can find such a combination anything but unsatisfying (but this is pretty rough, I haven’t got very far on thinking about this; but first time I’ve come across what I do think is one of the most unsettling parts of culture for some years now–‘sweet irony’ can’t really work except, I think, in very short nuggets, little doses. But I have noticed that some people do find it a legitimate style on a regular basis, and this seems pretty empty to me.

  31. Buck Swash Says:

    that ended=that ending. It’s an ending that makes the characters seem to have no existence or character at all, they don’t end tragicially, nor happily, but it’s a sort of ‘happy irony’ that is very unsatisfying and that is easy to find in much contemporary culture in all forms.

  32. again all this content you mention, from the Jewish stuff across misogyny to whatever other perverse content Tarantino’s interested in, is not what his movies are about, and I think Tarantino is on the level of a comic-book nerd when it comes to knowledge of pretty much ANYTHING, plus he knows that cultural theory nerds will spin stories out of his ”provocative” content; the movies are about the kinetic affect (Uma Thurman’s erotic fetishization of vengeance, for example), this excess they invest in scenes of violence, in choreography, in editing, and the cut-and-paste but extremely rhytmic soundtrack, all indicate this. This excess is the mark of authorship, just like passions in Almodovar. I don’t know how ”pure spectacle” is ideological by default – by some dialectic operation? – but I know that Tarantino wants to tell stories with kinetic images, and thusly liberate the very film form from the constraints of narrative plot and character. This was especially noticeable in DEATH PROOF, which is only formally a PoMo simulation experiment but much more an attempt to capture that action scene and stretch it in time, so that it becomes a kind of a Deleuzian time-image.

  33. […] a word about the film itself. While I rather liked American Stranger’s review of the film, but I have a rather different meta-take on the film. While there is, certainly, some interesting […]

  34. traxus4420 Says:

    ‘buck swash’ – i do think it’s possible for things to have the form of irony yet give off this tantalizing sense that they are only so ‘for us’ — this is what sontag was getting at with the essay on camp. sometimes tarantino slips into this mode, but it’s very fleeting.

    hyperstition might be the perfect example.

    i unfortunately never got around to spook country, it kept getting pushed down my list until vanishing completely. what you’re talking about with affirmative irony reminds me of some of chabert/worden’s hilarious posts on buffy the vampire slayer.

    especially this one:

    What is most disturbing in Buffy is the air of extreme self-satisfaction with this banality reheated in the microwave over and over and over, still amusing the ‘presence.’ This supreme contentment with the situation.

    and tarantino does this too, this is the function of the ‘wink,’ the direct address to the audience usually in the form of some overt bit of movie trivia, stunt casting, or indulgent bad joke.

  35. traxus4420 Says:

    an und fur sich — where’s your post?

  36. traxus4420 Says:

    dejan, all the things you’re talking about are textbook postmodernism. i tend to go with jameson’s analysis of its ideological underpinnings. to put it crudely my post is all about how IB’s ideology isn’t at the level of content but at the level of form.

  37. Buck Swash Says:

    i do think it’s possible for things to have the form of irony yet give off this tantalizing sense that they are only so ‘for us’ —

    That’s perfect, and the ‘microwave reheating’ in Buffy is another part of the same thing–that part focusses on the sustained version, which is something I just don’t know how to do. And what I’d add to the ‘for us’ is that it can also be easily reversed, split-second in fact, so that the ‘for us’ is then ‘suffered’ by the previous inflictor, both of the irony and the ‘satisfaction’, although this gets a little convoluted. It may not always have obvious irony in it too, and also the irony goes from being desirable to something that the previous ‘owner’ no longer wants, it becomes stressful due to the extreme of artificiality; he decides to be a ‘feelling human being’, and that’s even normal, but says something about the determination to keep the posturing. So that what it may reduce to is how MUCH irony must you have to feel as if you’re ‘thriving’ and ‘on top of things’. There’s a sleight-of-hand that becomes very visible when the irony wants to sustain itself to the point of being so weirdly ineffective, that other kinds of criteria as to how to judge apply–such things don’t even seem so much insulting or hurtful when they are overdone, they reveal themselves in the one way that is really deadly for the perpetrator of some of these kinds of states: they become ‘out of fashion’. That’s the only thing that kills them off sometimes, which is indeed poetic justice. And so it goes to a conclusion only after the subject is tested to see if he’ll go on further, to the point where his fulfillment comes only at the expense of a very obvious sacrifice, in which he agrees to an ‘official submission’. This certainly happens sometimes, but I’ve never been able to go that far, since it defeats my own interests totally. And that’s because once you’re in that state, you can give the impression that you could actually stop this posturing (I suppose it sometimes is even done, but not usually), but you certainly aren’t going to if you think there’s means of keeping it that way. All during this recent saga I went through, for example, the one thing I was able to pick up, but not understand the appeal, was how one got satisfaction from manipulating someone else if you were not known by name. But someone did–and still does do that, only in a weakened form. It probably is perceived as pain to give that sense of concealment plus power up, although it’s got to be unsatisfying on some level. My own posturing is not especially admirable that I was doing too, but it wasn’t fake (even if people said so, I’m really not that good at fictions, our friend is light-years beyond me, can turn them out one after another); but it wasn’t false because I couldn’t get any pleasure out of it if it were. So the final offer for anything at all came in the form of correspondence on Friday, which really only said ‘how much do you want this?’ and the reply, in two parts, progressed from not very much, to none at all.

  38. […] many interesting elements to their reading, I think they leave something out. While I rather liked American Stranger’s review of the film, I have a rather different understanding of the film coming from, following the work of Mullarkey, […]

  39. Obviously when you need some therapeutic work and need it fast, in investment in some sort of symbol is often needed, yes, this was right for me, but wow, what an odd thing to have to go through to change your fucking life from a living hell (lol)!

    To wit, REAL TRASH! That’s the end of Tarantino for me, he’s just graceless and tacky. Oh my fucking GOD this was awful. Shit!

    It bears discussing that people want to talk about whether to discuss this ideologically or not. I thought since all the cute folk were saying ‘we won’t in this case’, well, maybe I should. But oh fucking christ, I couldn’t even if I did do that! And even though Mlle. A. does do that for the movies and tv, I’m sure she could find little to get it up for on this one, since it really is all so obvioous. I can’t remember whether therefore the benefits are ‘diagetic’ or extra-diagetic”. I mean in the inside-my-liffe sort of thing this has as profit and benefit, but I’ll look it up after a nap, because this one will be fun to rip to pieces, including fucked-up NYTimes reviews with some critic oozing over Mr. Waltz, who is merely adequate. But what was the reason to analyze it non-ideologically? Because li’l Quentin, ubernerd is there ever was one, wanted one to? Isn’t he like some half-assed junkfood combo of Woody Allen, David Lunch, Ed Wood, and maybe Howard Hughes?

    But, one thing at least, that girl does make it worth it, Melanie Laurent should become a major star, beautiful as you note. Easily the most beautiful new actress I’ve seen in a movie in years. And she’s good, way too good for this. All of the performances are good, though she’s light-years beyond the rest, even though so beautiful looks better without makeup then with all that red in that cheap ‘music video’ to David Bowie.

    Well, on a lower level, there are a few good things in it, this is fun to write about. Just real JUNK!

    No offense, because maybe I’m just too old (I’m finding I’m frequently using that as a DEFENSE these days, perhaps inevitable when you found yourself the surprise star of a musical version of ‘Lolita!’ So, could be generational problems, but I can’t see a whole lot of even the clever intricacy and cinemacraft I’d hoped to take some pleasure in. If anything, Mlle. A. ought to come in and explain why this is worthy of an infinite ideological analysis, because as ART, forget it. No wonder he didn’t bastardize it as BasTURD, but rather basTERD, for his own nerdistry. Oh, i can’t even believe it, but Mlle. Laurent made it worthwhile.

    A toute l’heure.

  40. Buck Swash Says:

    Yeah, shouldn’t probably have been such a hatchet bitch, so should try to tone it down as directed by other bloggers if I can, but remembered Martin Amis in one of the novels, either ‘Success’ or ‘Money’ or one of those, talking about the use of words for movies. ‘Flick’ was supposed to be least posh, and ‘film’ usually the most ‘serious’ and sometimes pretentious, as it’s often said to be. I like ‘picture’ the best, although it’s not used that much, ‘movie’ is probably the most useful, but you are right to call what Tarantino makes a ‘FLICK’, and may have done that on purpose. Obviously, it can be called a ‘movie’, but calling it a ‘film’ does sound a little strange, although one can do it.

    –all the characters cartoonish except Shoshanna, so maybe he managed to get her to actually be a living character on purpose. That vulgar NYTimes review kept talking about how Waltz has the only presence that keeps you riveted, etc. But he’s ersatz, a combination of the ‘corrupt’ Nazi and the ‘courtly Jew’. But even skipping opera, theater, and ballet with Siegfried princes in them, Oskar Werner was much better at the latter. He’s handsome and charming, but even though the false charm is supposed to be extreme, he still doesn’t push it quite far enough; he comes across as buffoonish and never really sinister. This kind of ‘missed casting opportunity’ is like using Rupert Friend as ‘Cheri’, in which the look was not quite right, and so the character doesn’t really come to life all the way. Physically, Waltz would be fine if he were tall, and he’s not, he looks squat, so he doesn’t come across as a ‘sexy Nezi’. In fact Tarantino never romanticizes the Nazis at all, which would we the only interesting cinematic thing to do at this point.

    –The other femele lead is also first-rate, Diane Kruger as Fraulein Von Hammersmarck, also very pretty, though not the totally rarity that Ms. Laurent is, but she’s in the best scene. This is one of those scenes that makes you think of other movies, llke Visconti’s ‘The Damned’, and therefore you have this ‘irony’ that is therefore somewhat affirmative, and always puts QT’s film into the ‘flick’ category’. Aurally, the Nazi laughter in the basement tavern scene is the best moment in the whole film for me, it even goes beyond what it’s satirizing and has a brilliant sound, since one peal of Nazi laugh seems to proliferate one after the other. Really sharp scene there.

    –Brad Pitt much better than I would have expected, he’s the best of the men, I thought, and I’ve never paid any attention to him before. Because his kind of John Wayne hokiness is really what Tarantino is all about.

    –I didn’t get really much sense of Jews as anything in particujar even if they were referred to as ‘rats’, except seeing them hiding in the floor in the first scene. Maybe the farmer is a kind of real character, now that I think about it; that first scene isn’t bad either, maybe does come across as Nazi, but I don’t think Waltz has another scene that comes even close. But you don’t feel the ‘sinister Nazis’ when you see the Goebbels, the Hitler, the Borman, etc., at all, In the tavern scene, they just seem German, don’t they? Fraulein Von Hammersmarck is this sort of Lucy Tantamount type in ‘Point Counterpoint’, maybe, and same kind of slightly jaded actress.

    –I think ‘Pulp Fiction’ is probably the only one that works, just because it hadn’t been done before. So by the time of IB, you see Tarantino rotting on the screen. His kind of violence is always predictable, and was in both ‘Kill Bill ‘films. He even maybe tries to do ‘affirmative irony’ there; it looks fake and doesn’t really disturb you, you can just look away because you know WHEN to. It’s all predictable, I thought. And such concepts as Uma Thurman as QT’s ‘muse’ have always seemed a bit far-fetched. It’s just not quite like Ingmar Berman’s ladies. And there are scenes in ‘The Damned’ with Ingrid Thulin and Dirk Bogarde and others where you really get the Nazi sensation. The tavern scene almost seems to be based on the long beer hall scene in Visconti’s film, which is very episodic.

    But maybe I didn’t read your post closely enough, by the time of shooting up Hitler and the others at the end, I hadn’t expected he’d do something that ridiculous. But then, he’s not interested in any kind of subtlety. But it still just reminds me of Chuck Norris movies. I thought terrible use of music too, from Fur Elise and old French war songs, to Bowie and some others things that may come back. Instructive though, on what is still powerful enough to propagate itself. btw, the ‘film within a film’, which originally made me want to see this, isn’t especially effective–made me remember how much better ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ was in that way, even though I don’t really like that film much, nor much Woody Allen for that matter.

    As for final thought about this ‘affirmative irony’, even before the ‘for us only’ part comes the attitude that such irony is necessarily ‘what you want’. So it occurs to me that this sort of irony has found a way to sell itself without being something that is particularly satisfying even on some sort of visceral level. I think maybe it’s inevitable, though, but for that, you and Mlle. are better equipped to describe why such a posture would be what would be considered to be ‘cool’. I also think Mlle. would probably agree that Tarantino is a kind of thing that makes half-smart people think they’re smart if they ‘get it’. But all his movie references are really pretty coarse and blatant. Do think, however, that Ms. Laurent cannot be the same kind of ‘muse’ that Thurman was, she is way beyond Ms. Thurman and will surely now become a major actress, something like when Naomi Watts was able to go beyond David Lynch, whose ‘muse’ would seem to be, rather, Laura Dern. Of course, Jean-Pierre Leaud was a kind of ‘male muse’ of both Godard and Truffaut in the Antoine Doinel movies, that was pretty successful use of muse. Maybe the others too, and just a matter of taste, I’m not that interested in either Dern or Thurman. Okay, finally stop, really got going again.

  41. traxus4420 Says:

    man, that was hilarious – one of the better reviews by far —

    “what was the reason to analyze it non-ideologically? Because li’l Quentin, ubernerd is there ever was one, wanted one to?”

    i think that about sums it up. i mean i can’t think of any other reason not to.

    the germans and jews just seeming like folks — this is part of how T is reframing old propaganda to work as new ‘propaganda’…

    i did mean to call it a flick, though felt i had to segue into film later on. melanie laurent was indeed something great, and makes sense that her performance had nothing to do with what my post was about — she’s positioned kind of extraneously even though she’s a major character and in at least one sense the plot revolves around her.

    that’s great that you liked the nazi laugh — i think i probably just took it in stride. the music is as you say a bit of a step down from his other pictures, the references too, since he’s dealing with a set of films that might actually approach seriousness, about craft at least, and he’s more accustomed to dealing with trash (with the exception of sergio leone, who is seriously good). lovable trash, and i do love a lot of it, frequently more than what QT does with it, but stuff next to which his technique really is as good as godard.

    oh, and agreed about waltz and pitt.

  42. […] movie, then, is that it understands this, at least a structural level. To echo Traxus4420 – whose post at American Stranger you should read – the Nazis in this movie aren’t Nazis because they’re evil, but rather […]

  43. […] oppressed (as left-ish ’70s exploitation film was). More on IB as meta-propaganda at my old blog. A well-made opposing argument that takes the film’s moral relativism between Nazi, American […]

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