Monday, 8 February 2010


Although Quentin Tarantino’s bubble burst long ago, the gasbag continues to deflate - crashing and burning, spectacularly, like the cinematic Hindenberg – throughout the pointlessly extravagant runtime of his latest wistfully eccentric, over-hyped offering, Inglourious Basterds. With each new project, it becomes clearer that self-confessed video geek Tarantino is actually just a frustrated short-film director stuck making features.

The chaptered structure of Inglourious Basterds, and most of Tarantino’s previous films, betrays a creative sensibility that’s better suited to episodic television than big screen epics. While it’s patently true that Tarantino writes engaging, highly quotable, and often quite fascinating dialogues and monologues, the impact of his work lies in lengthy but wholly self-contained ‘scenes’ or suspenseful comedy–drama sequences, not in coherent narrative structures which may hold viewers’ attention for more than two hours. A typical Tarantino film is composed entirely of witty ‘moments’, surprising incidents, and a scattering of clever 'plot' twists. Genuinely compelling storytelling, at feature–length, is not really Tarantino’s forte. Genre in-jokes, and gushingly enthusiastic sub-cultural referencing of numerous foreign or obscure movies, is what he does best.    

Inglourious Basterds is billed as a WW2 ‘western’ and has Brad Pitt leading a team of Jewish American soldiers in guerrilla warfare against German troops, behind enemy lines in occupied France. Unlike the recent batch of, largely respectful, films (including Flame & Citron, Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, Edward Zwick’s Defiance, Rønning and Sandberg’s Max Manus: Man Of War, and the adventuresome Female Agents), concerning European heroes of the Resistance movement, Tarantino’s contribution to this unanticipated cycle of retro pictures is hardly a themed biopic or even a thrilling wartime actioner (reminiscent of secret mission movies like Dirty Dozen, Guns Of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, etc).

Tarantino might well claim to be inspired by Sergio Leone, for the stylised - yet rarely stylish - presentation of various talky confrontations and violent conflicts staged for Inglourious Basterds. However, there are times when the shadow of Mel Brooks falls over exposition or characterisation. Seemingly encouraged by Tarantino to reach for a bathetic extreme, German TV actor Christoph Waltz valiantly overdoes his ‘jolly Nazi’ act in a satirical role that comes dangerously close to stupid farce, undermining his character’s supposedly fearsome reputation as ‘the Jew hunter’.

Burning down a cinema while Adolf Hitler and the assembled German high command watch a new product of Nazi propaganda sounds like appealingly dark humour about the fate of the Third Reich, but its actual effect as the vengeful climax of Inglourious Basterds is just another thoughtless irreverence. Tellingly, the film-within-a-film, Nation’s Pride, the tale of a German sniper who’s become a war hero, is granted more rhetorical significance, being accounted in greater detail, than the routinely grisly scalping exploits of the ‘basterds’ themselves.

As for the ‘alternative world’ (and, therefore, borderline sci-fi) scenario of Tarantino’s wannabe opus, there’s far superior and less bombastic entertainment found in Danny Bilson’s unpretentious B-movie, Zone Troopers (1985), which sees a group of GI Joes discover a crashed UFO in Italy, and team up with a surviving alien to fight the Nazis. Zone Troopers even has a memorable scene where one American soldier punches the Fuhrer! It’s lively honest fun, and simply better filmmaking than Tarantino’s horribly conceited effort.

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