I’ve just seen Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and maybe it has to do with the fact that I haven’t seen an actual movie in a real movie theatre for far too long (Our one Nantucket theatre, the Starlight – formerly the Gaslight – has long been known by locals as “The Flashlight” for its primitive technology and general ineptitude); maybe it has to do with my unabashed love for Tarantino’s movies (Yes, I loved both parts of Kill Bill, though for purposes of full disclosure and credibility, I have to say that I was bored silly by his half of Grindhouse); but I thought the new one was just great. I love it. I’m still in a kind of cineaste’s swoon from it.
It was everything you expect a Tarantino film to be – over the top, movie-besotted, violent, hilariously funny, full of brilliant dialog with a lethal subtext and jammed with amazing actors you either never knew, had long forgotten about or totally written off.
But this film has a few things you might not expect – real emotional power and some almost psychotic imagery that will stay with you for a long, long time. The image of Shosanna Dreyfus’s big screen face – on the clip she cut into the Nazi propaganda film the entire High Command is watching at her theatre -- consumed by flame from the volatile nitrate film that her lover has just ignited, laughing, cackling, howling her pleasure as the men directly and indirectly responsible for the murder of he family are burned alive … it’s memorable. I’ll remember it. I’ll also remember Melanie Laurent, who plays the part, along with Michel Fassbender who does an impeccable Sean Connery as an undercover OSS agent and then dazzles us with his perfect German … and of course Christoph Waltz who basically steals the move as the fascinating, hilarious, malignant, two (or is it three) faced Nazi “Jew Hunter.”
Where did Tarantino find these people?
And how did he get such sublime performances from Brad Pitt (Whom I had basically written off after the snore-fest of Benjamin Button) and Diane Kruger, who’s most famous for being the eye-candy in the contrived and tedious National Treasure films?
Who knows? That’s just what he does. He did it for Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown; he did it for David Carradine and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill. Most famously, he did it for John Travolta, in the career reviving Pulp Fiction.
The way he does it here has to do with a very disciplined approach to plot. That’s right – the plot makes sense. All the threads tie together, and if they don’t conform to actual history, even if the film is more of a wish-fulfillment alternate-universe dream than a realistic document, so what? It works. There are plot points based in details of cultural differences between Germany and England, that you can almost hear Tarantino jumping up and down howling with victorious glee when he found out about them (anybody would – they’re narrative gold). But the way he leverages those details, drawing out a scene -- like a ninth inning duel, with man after man loading the bases as the almost unendurable tension builds, finally shattered by a game winning home run – is spectacular, invigorating, masterful …and just plain extravagant movie theatre entertainment.
Tarantino has been working on this film for decades and it shows. Every scene lights up like a fireworks display, but leads into the next assault like an artillery barrage. The final convulsive climax delivers everything you hoped for and more. Parts of the movie recalls the horrific shoot-out of Reservoir Dogs and the superimposed visual exposition of Pulp Fiction, along with its excruciatingly tense un-spooling conversations at the brink of violence. But this movie is all its own, delirious and delightful, appalling and absurd and audacious.
This movie makes it clear: not so much that Tarantino is back, but that he never left, that he was and remains one of our greatest filmmakers, a video-store movie-fan who transcends his magpie, film-geek obsessions and melts his influences into an alloy that remains stubbornly original, crazily eccentric, and spectacularly, stubbornly fun.
You sit there thinking – how did anyone let him make this nutty movie? After the by-the-numbers, explosions-on-demand, heartless soulless summer of G.I. Joe and Transfomers, you watch this bloody violent film, this furious maniacal love letter to movies and movie-making, you can only feel grateful.You know it as you watch, despite all the mercenary, mediocre evidence to the contrary: movies are alive.
And Quentin Tarantino is making them.