Monday, 17 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds (18)

***Spoiler Warning***

The arrival of a new Tarantino film is always a big deal, although in my opinion undeservedly so. Let’s get one thing clear: I have little respect for Tarantino. Talk about American new-wave/Auteur revival cinema as much as you like, but in my opinion there is nothing admirable about blatant plagiarism. And Tarantino is a man who likes to plagiarise. Watch Kill Bill (2003/2004) and Lady Snowblood (1973) back to back and the similarities are so apparent that you may be forgiven for thinking they are one and the same. Actually that wouldn’t be entirely true. Killing William, aside from its blatant unoriginality, also demonstrates a complete lack of depth, a trait which has become distinguishable in every Tarantino script to date (not including True Romance (1994) on account of being handled by a far superior director).

However, I put aside my previous grievances with Quentin and went into Inglourious Basterds (or IB as you kids will undoubtedly call it) with an open mind. And the verdict? Not bad. Admittedly, I spent the months prior to release waxing lyrical about the insensitivity with which Tarantino would broach the horrors of war and the gung-ho demeanour of the teaser did nothing to assuage my fears.

Yet whilst his ignorance of history is made abundantly clear throughout, he is at least mature enough to tackle the subject with a reasonable degree of sensitivity. The opening scene in particular is rather daring in its solemnity, though it fails to build the tension required of such a set piece. Not that this is surprising; Tarantino’s films have become as recognisable for their emotional vapidity as their gratuitous violence and lengthy dialogue.

The problem with IB is that it contains little of the former and far too much of the latter. For a film marketed on excessive action one cannot help but feel slightly cheated, whilst QT becomes so self indulgent with his own voice that the running time far outstays its welcome with a meandering, uninspired script. Whereas the characters of Pulp Fiction (1994) exist in a hyper-real world of verbal superfluity, IB is content with a type of mundane conversation so devoid of any poetic nuances that actors literally say what they mean – and take an awfully long time to say it.

Not that this is in any way the fault of the cast who have a far greater time in their roles than the script should allow; even Brad Pitt does a semi reasonable job with a character far removed from his usual smug self. In fact, one may even say that the script is really IBs biggest downfall. Visually, Tarantino has made his finest film to date, with a rich, saturated palette evoking the vibrant mise en scene of 60’s Hollywood and it is therefore rather unfortunate that his writing ability was not as sophisticated.

In many ways, QT increasingly embodies the desperate commercial artist clamouring for past glories. It may be unfair to set Pulp Fiction as the recurring benchmark, but it is a comparison which the director himself seems intent on inviting as he strives endlessly to recreate that success. If pastiche is classified by Frederick Jameson as a series of empty signifiers, then QT is indeed a pastiche, only now of himself. A decade ago his pop cultural, Baudillard-baiting simulacra may have been the postmodernist’s pornography, but his failure to change has now left him looking woefully inept.

As he employs the redundant use of chapters, stories within stories within stories a la Jacques the Fatalist and musical anachronisms, it becomes apparent that all these gimmicks are in place for one reason only; to hide the tedium underneath.

Oh, and killing Hitler is fucking ridiculous.


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