Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
Subscribe: Get 6 Issues For £15
Get Empire magazine today and save money!
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Basterds Blog

Posted on Sunday May 31, 2009, 19:23 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Basterds Blog

Now that the dust has settled, I feel I must write what they used to call a spirited defence of Inglourious Basterds, a film that generated a lot of column inches out of Cannes but didn't actually appear to have been 'reviewed' in any great depth by anybody*. The verdicts varied greatly; some liked it, some did not, but in every case the yardstick seemed to be the same: was it the new Pulp Fiction? (Answer: No.) It seems to me that we are somewhat losing the plot in terms of film criticism; the internet has shrunk our minds and memories so much that we can no longer take anything in at all sensibly. Of all the reviews I read of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, not one mentioned the fact that it contained visual echoes of Element Of Crime, his over-stylised debut, and its follow-up Europa. Not so surprising, you might say, but significant since Von Trier rejected that style of filmmaking with Dogme, and has only gone back to it with his most tortured and personal film yet. And with Taking Woodstock, the consensus was “Ang Lee's worst film”, a glib despatch that neglects to take on any of Lee's personal investments into account, or at least address his interest in a period of history that the US has not only taken for granted but romanticised out of all proportion.

I feel this way about Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and the reception it received at a festival which is surely meant to be celebration, or an indulgence, of the auteur, rather than a third-rate shooting range in which deeply average journalists jockey to get the most Google-able opinion online first. Amongst all the comments about Tarantino rewriting history, I have yet to read a single mention of the scene in which Zoller meets Shosanna: she is putting up the marquee lettering for L'Enfer by Henri-Georges Clouzot: a film that was, actually quite famously, never made. This is not the real world, then, and if any audience would notice it, you'd think it would be the Croisette set. As for the end (which I won't spoil), you'd have to be pretty thick to mistake it for history proper, and even if you are, well, you're beyond hope, and I'd rather you saw Basterds and felt the raw thrill of righteous bloody revenge than see U-571 and feel like you'd taken a Disney O-level in WW2.

When the lights came up after Inglourious Basterds I honestly felt two things, the first being enormous relief. You probably think we like to buddy up to directors at Empire, and it's a fair point to ask whether the access we get comes at a price (I'll declare my interest now: I spent two days on the set of Inglourious Basterds back in December). But it cuts both ways: if the movie is bad, there is no amount of faking it; the readers sense it and, worst of all, we have to face the filmmakers. And after Basterds, I had to face ALL of them, ten interviews in all, plus feedback to two producers and several studio people. Happily, I really, genuinely loved it, and that was the other thing I felt: satisfaction. The best reaction I saw was from a French woman I'd never met before in my life: after the repeat screening on Sunday, usually filled with non-journalists and therefore much, much more like a normal screening, she just looked at me with a big smile and shrugged, “Crazy fun!”

Basterds, for me, really delivered a story with twists, turns and fascinating characters – even though I'd already read the script, and none of it should have surprised me. But what has irked me most over the the last two weeks or so is that Tarantino is only ever given credit/the blame for his scripts, and what Basterds proves beyond doubt is his ability to bring his characters to life. The opening scene didn't quite sing to me on the page, but it simply dazzles on the screen: Christoph Waltz brings a subtlety to the movie that was there all along, but blows it up to astonishing degrees. Denis Menochet is equally brilliant in this sequence as the French farmer being investigated for hiding a Jewish family on his premises. Though it's really just a kind of prologue, it sets the tone for this arch, tense and knowing film, before snapping shut with a Scorsesean flourish of violence.

From here, the less said the better, other than the scene shifts to Paris, where the Jewish survivor Shosanna is working in a cinema that is going to be used by Goebbels for the premiere of his new movie. And though certain details might fly over the heads of the vast majority of people who'll see Inglourius Basterds, this is where I feel the film departs from Tarantino's usual pulp-fun path and heads down some interesting avenues. For one, I like the fact that Shosanna is withdrawn, mean and kind of unlikeable (as Bowie says for her on the soundtrack “You wouldn't believe what I've been through”). I also like Tarantino's decision to use Goebbels as the ideological centrepiece of the movie, since it makes the movie much deeper than it appears to be. Paradoxically, this is more about pulp fiction than Pulp Fiction, as where the latter dealt with the archetypes – the pulp – of pulp fiction, Inglourious Basterds deals with the context – the fiction itself. Although Death Proof played similarly intelligent games with genre (I know that film is flawed, but I stand by my positive review of it and I'll be happy to engage with any counter-argument that doesn't simply amount to “it was shit”), Basterds really connects with the idea of cinema, how it works and what it delivers, but this time it really hit me on a gut level as well as an intellectual level. I really can't wait to see it again, but more than that I can't wait for people to see it for the film it really is.

For the record, I was happy with the running time, and the music is gorgeous too, and while I was re-watching Pulp Fiction yesterday I wondered how many of the so-called critics who thought Basterds wasn't a patch on it had seen it lately, with its digressions and talk, digressions and talk, and promise of (but actually very little) violence. I know that Tarantino brought some of this backlash on himself by deliberately putting himself in the pressure cooker, but I think we owe it to ourselves to take our egos out of the equation when we see a movie for the first time and just concentrate on what is actually there.

Journalists and moviegoers alike, we are not studio executives (heaven forbid we should be so damned), and we should not trust or respect any filmmaker that listens to us as if we are. Because, sometimes, one, two or even all of us are wrong, and isn't tolerance of the artist a sign of healthy society anyway? I heard quite a lot of comments from intelligent people that troubled me in Cannes, comments that aligned them with commerce rather than culture. Wasn't it Hermann Goring who said, “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”? Inglourious Basterds, for me, is an intoxicating and liberating what-if scenario. And in this scenario, culture draws its gun first...

* Roger Ebert is saving his review for release, as he explains here...

Login or register to comment.

Comments

1 Sgt_Hilko
Posted on Tuesday June 2, 2009, 16:30
Superb article! I genuinely cannot wait. As a massive fan of Death Proof, I no longer listen to negative reviews of Tarantinos work anyway.

2 slowhands107
Posted on Tuesday June 2, 2009, 17:43
Really amazing article. Need I say more. Maybe, but i won't.

3 punchdrunk
Posted on Tuesday June 2, 2009, 19:41
Post-Cannes-Traumatic stress disorder right Damo? :p
I think you, Chris and Sam should set up a support group to recover, justdon't invite that guy from IMDB from the Videoblodisode who complained about "Inglorious Basterds" or their may be blood spilt!

Of course your right on many of the issues raised here (including 'Deathproof' great cinema experience) , I try to be greatful to the errors and weakness of my peers as it allows me to see my positive traits and commitment by comparrison, that's within the field of Art, however the same could be applied for reviewing or any endeavour.

Film criticism is not Dead... it's just often done badly.

4 Withnail
Posted on Tuesday June 2, 2009, 22:38
Actually I thought the IGN guy's comments on the film were quite well reasoned, especially next to Bradshaw's drivel in The Guardian!
But yes, a brilliant article Damo, to be sure.

5 Chris Hewitt
Posted on Wednesday June 3, 2009, 00:31
Bravo!

6 Ambition
Posted on Sunday September 6, 2009, 00:15
Here Here! Well said.

7 separkin
Posted on Sunday September 6, 2009, 20:06
I loved Inglourious Basterds- from start to finish it was pure Tarantino, and I'd actually forgotten just how well he can make dialogue a form of action in its own right. How does anyone criticise a film including that scene in La Louisiane? Great article :)

8 BobM70
Posted on Monday September 7, 2009, 17:39
A Glourious return to form for cinema's prime Basterd!
His absolute best since Pulp Fiction.
I even reckon the banana chinned could be up for best director during Oscartime. It's been a while since I've seen a film this well directed.
Who would have thought that after the wankjob that death proof proved to be.
Cheerio!

9 seventhrib
Posted on Monday October 4, 2010, 00:41
I know this is old as hell now, but I wanted to mention on here how great this is. I've read this article a lot of times, and it really is the most ridiculously correct and laudable bunch of words I've ever seen. Congrats.

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (440)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Final report: The Kid With A Bike, Le Havre, Michael, Walk Away Renee, The Murder, Oslo 31 August
By Damon Wise

This Must Be The Place
By Damon Wise

The Artist
By Damon Wise

Drive
By Damon Wise

Cannes Videblogisode #9
By Amar Vijay

Cannes Videblogisode #8
By Amar Vijay

Cannes Videblogisode #7
By Amar Vijay

Cannes In Pictures: Volume 6
By Amar Vijay

Cannes Videblogisode #6
By Amar Vijay

The Skin I Live In
By Damon Wise


RECENT COMMENTS

Drive
"So it's more of an 80s homage? Judging by the title, as well as the theme, I thought this would be a"  Manfrendshensindshen
Read comment

Cannes Videblogisode #6
"Good 'un!"  Manfrendshensindshen
Read comment

Cannes Videblogisode #8
"I live my life like I'm in a Carry On film, Megan."  Chris Hewitt
Read comment

Cannes Videblogisode #8
"My bra just fell off LOL amazing Carry On film vibe there. Have to say though, Chris is scarier when"  megank13
Read comment

Cannes In Pictures: Volume 6
"★good★ look love--- w w w - jordansforking - c o m   qeedsss
Read comment

Melancholia
"More on this will follow in the magazine later; I met Lars after the banning and heard his views on "  Damon_Wise
Read comment

Cannes Videblogisode #6
"Heh hee hee hee. So, Chris, twitter profile pic now, right?"  Ethanial
Read comment

Cannes Videblogisode #4
"Is that the young Mike Cimino playing "Neil LaBute?"  Manfrendshensindshen
Read comment

Cannes In Pictures: Volume 4
"Fair point usually but in that dress I think we should make an exception for Cheryl"  ErnestWilde
Read comment

Cannes Videblogisode #4
"Aha. Sam informs me that he had to cross the line as his original shooting angle would have ended up"  Chris Hewitt
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Cannes 2011: Tree Of Life: First Reaction
13 comments

Cannes Videblogisode #2
8 comments

Cannes Videblogisode #5
7 comments

Cannes Videblogisode #4
5 comments

Cannes Videblogisode #6
3 comments

Cannes In Pictures: Volume 4
3 comments

Cannes 2011: The Tree Of Life
2 comments

Cannes Videblogisode #1
2 comments

Melancholia
2 comments

Cannes Videblogisode #8
2 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (167)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Future Of Film: There Will Be Another Indie Golden Age
Independent producers are growing from micro-budgets to something a lot bigger

Empire's Epic Interstellar Subscribers' Cover
The countdown begins to Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece

The Future Of Film: Your Favourite Movie WIll Be Crowdfunded
Click here to donate

The Empire Podcast #128: Interviews With Sir Roger Moore And George MacKay
Plus we say goodbye to Richard Kiel and the British Expendables are assembled...

Shut Up, World! Gary Busey Is Talking!
Strap yourselves in and meet a true Hollywood original.

Classic Feature: Gods Among Us - Paul Newman
A cat so cool he makes Steve McQueen look geeky.

The Boxtrolls Interviews: The Cast And Crew On Laika's Latest
Sir Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning and more talk stop-motion

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)