It’s amazing to me that some fellow Jews who were so indignant about Sophie’s Choice (by which I mean the Styron novel , arguably his best , and not the hollow Pakula movie) can give Tarantino a free ride on this one, presumably under the theory that this boy should be allowed to enjoy every last drop of his all-American fun, even at the expense of real-life Holocaust victims. As far as I’m concerned, whatever Tarantino’s actual or imagined politics might be, he’s become the cinematic equivalent of Sarah Palin, death-panel fantasies and all” — J. Rosenbaum
Few writers these days bother to think things through when they get fired up on the web, which is why it’s always better to wait to post until one’s had time to cool down. For example, I deleted the first five paragraphs of this post after being up half the night ranting away. Certain things make me see red, and one of them is phrases like “even at the expense of real-life Holocaust victims.” Just how, Mr. Rosenbaum, is a movie like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS at the “expense” of holocaust victims, unless of course you mean the Weinsteins? And what the hell is a death-panel fantasy? I probably have one myself, somewhere…Freud says I do anyway, and he’s Jewish so must know. And what does Rosenbaum mean by “giving Tarantino a free ride”? Is it up to Jewish critical consensus to set the fare? And does that mean one must be Jewish to write a Jewish character? Does it really, as Woody Guthrie once sang, take a worried man to sing a worried song? .
I bring up the film MARNIE in relation to this big brouhaha and the above poster, because I know certain signifiers bring up painful memories in people, regardless of connection or conceptional intent. In Hitchcock’s film, MARNIE, Tippi Hedren freaks every time she sees the color red, which Connery then uses to try and get to the root of her hysteria via all his crotch pocket Freud. I’d vote that this is the movie to compare BASTERDS too, not SCHINDLER’S LIST, because in the latter film, Spielberg uses red only once, to show a single girl’s coat (left)as she’s led to her death, a powerful statement in the Stanley Kramer tradition. QT on the other hand, uses red like Connery in MARNIE, like a finger in a wound, poking, poking! Hithcock’s obsessions were understood by him and all synchronized to his cinema, while Spielberg is unconscious of his own desires and how they manifest in icky ways. I can imagine Freud looming over Spielberg on the couch, the way Mark looms over Marnie: “So…What’s your fetishistic obsession with burying children in outhouses and crushed cars, getting them drunk and touching them with glowing fingers? Having zem pet long necked dinosaurs who then ‘sneeze’ in their face?!”
Being aware of things that predispose unconscious bias–and taking steps to remove said bias from your critique– is the mark of a good writer. Imagine Marnie as a NY Times film critic, being expected to deliver a non-biased opinion about Argento’s DEEP RED, for example. (“Worst movie ever!” she’d rant). But if Marnie realizes that Sean Connery is deliberately using red for the sole purpose of getting to the root of her hysteria, then what was once automated toreador commie flag waving for the American bull becomes therapeutic, or at the very least, modernist.
Let’s not forget that the USA is hardly a “clean” country when it comes to genocide. What makes us able to adopt moral postures is that when we were shipping Native Americans in packed cattle cars down to camps in the southern swamps to die en masse of starvation and fever, there were no AP news photographers, no UN observers and no CNN. No pictures = no guilt. No REAL guilt as in, let’s give Manhattan back to the Native Americans with our apologies and all move out into a well-lit refugee camp.. Basically, the USA is one of the few empires that “did genocide right,” as in all the way through to the end, with no horrific documentary footage of the slaughter to be played at trials, and the victim race being a people who do not breed well in captivity.
I think of WAG THE DOG here in the idea of “one picture of one bomb dropping through an air-shaft and America bought that war.” America will buy anything if it has a good image or key phrase that triggers our “this time it’s personal” response. Ultimately this is what Quentin seems to be addressing in his film: the way wars are fought and won by images, propaganda, troop gossip, the hearts and minds of those at home watching newsreels. What was it that got so many Jewish Americans ready to nuke Palestine on 9/11? Just a picture of Arab kids on a street corner cheering and burning a flag. One picture and America bought that war.
The worry that we will somehow “forget” about the holocaust if we dare even compare it for a moment to a media event stems from a misunderstanding of how powerful film is in our unconscious. The footage shot in the liberated camps during the fall of the Reich is what ensures the Holocaust happened and will continue to have happened. Failing to understand this will also make INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS wearing on the nerves, and will make Spielberg’s artificial sweeteners feel like a nice cozy escape womb.
But it is just those nerves which need to be worn away, and fast. The mission of the artist is not to flatter bourgeoisie “intelligence” but to find the spot they don’t want to be poked and then poke there until it doesn’t hurt anymore. This is what art should be, a ripping open of a wound festering from repression. When you deny the need to talk racist or act sexist, or issue threats, or humiliations, or commit the heinous act of smoking in the office, you create repressed desire, which is why MAD MEN is such a breath of fresh air, so to speak. Though I am sure there is a Rosenbaum somewhere, who is worried that kids are going to watch that show and start harassing their secretaries and smoking indoors again like it’s 1964.
Rather than as a war film, BASTERDS should be met as a meditation on artifice, cinema and power. The main scenes people don’t like in the film generally revolve around women: the protracted tavern scene with the movie star fending off drunken Germans; the projectionist dealing with the amorous German movie star. Their point is that real life under occupation–or as a woman–involves always living under threat. There is no cathartic respite, no “now we’re safe” moment when you’re a woman in a man’s world.
It’s so easy to reduce years of trauma to a few signifyin’ sound bytes in a cushioned place like NYC. When our big buildings fall, it’s the catastrophe of the century and we demand answers and that heads roll and that all the nations gather around and mourn with us. When we explode buildings in your country, on the other hand, it’s just “collateral damage” and you have no right to get snooty.
We weren’t prepared for Quentin’s sensitivity to the constant annoyances endured by attractive women saddled with unwanted male attention. We’d have been prepared for these scenes if they were written by Neil La Bute or David Mamet, because BASTERDS is just as much about sexism as it is about antisemitism. It is a movie that makes you uncomfortable and frustrated on purpose and, like the Coen’s best work, the mise en scene indicates the absence of a “perfect” narrator and becomes a kind of self-reflexive surrealism. Tarantino even includes a small clip from Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE (right) to let you know he’s intentionally trashing proper catharsis, intentionally doing what Hitchcock regretted more than any other directorial decision in his career, blowing up the boy on the bus, breaking the unwritten rule of war films not to change the course of actual history.
Tarantino earns his stripes upsetting the enthroned patriarchal “liberal”– how dare some film geek expose our lack of familiarity with the origins and meanings of the medium which we profess to be experts on!?!?! The only competition Tarantino has in his use of silent movie psychology, pre-pre-code old testament vengeance and amniotic incestuousness, is Guy Maddin and Lars Von Trier, so it’s interesting the ANTICHRIST is so linked with BASTERDS as far as knee-jerk hatred in the current press zeitgeist. The old guard critics are too busy manning the canon to realize their complicity in the banality of cinema as it exists today, how they are responsible for the the way “art” films bend and kowtow to the limited range of the bourgeoisie, banning all mentions of emperors and new clothes. Knowing as they do almost nothing about early cinema (silent movies are BORING, yo!) the average critic of today seems to have forgotten that the social mores they take as a given were fobbed onto them by a raving anti-semite named Joe Breen in 1934. When Tarantino or Von Trier come at them with ideas from the old testament of cinema, those on the new testament throne get indignant. Ultimately BASTERDS is the best film about Old Testament vengeance since DOGVILLE. If you don’t like to see Jews with guns, don’t go to the movies, or Israel for that matter, where hot chicks in fatigues and machine guns aboundeth!
Akin to patriotism, indignant moral outrage is the last refuge of a scoundrel, someone desperate to hide their true scared, shattered, splintered self behind a false persona of “completeness.” For example, IRREVERSIBLE. If you saw the film and now have traumatic associations with seeing Monica Belucci from behind in a red stairwell (above), then your opinion on all future movies with red stairwells and Monica Belluci together in them is suspect, unless, of course you are aware of this traumatic association and account for it in your writing. If you’ve ever been to therapy you know that if the therapist makes you mad, whatever they said is probably the truth, therefore, by extension, if a film causes riots and outrage, it’s probably right as well. Freud, for example, got really mad when Jung tried to expand on the unconscious’ role beyond Freud’s view of it as a kind basement storage for repressed memories and desires. So the man who once braved a booing, jeering audience to deliver the controversial theory of infantile sexuality, himself jeers the next guy’s theory. Similarly, Rosenbaum, once a champion of free expression, gets mad when Tarantino dares tamper with the boilerplate saga of “his” people, forgetting there’s no “except” in freedom of speech, even if you talk about Jews in WW2. When we say, “we humans” as writers, are we supposed to exclude Jews (if we’re not Jewish)? That’s a mighty slippery slope…