Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quentin Tarantino and Inglorious Basterds: Jesse's Top 8 Random Thoughts


As a filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino is an ideal textbook case for study and analysis. First of all, his filmography is small enough that you could probably watch the whole thing in a weekend or so... Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction on Friday night, Jackie Brown and the Kill Bills on Saturday, and Death Proof on Sunday, before seeing Inglorious Basterds at a matinee on Sunday night. Presumably, you could spend the rest of the following week pondering his development as an auteur: his transition from indie to high-profile figure, his gradual escalation of self-proclaimed "masterpieces," and the growing exposure he’s earned over the course of his career. Second, he’s got a lot of personality, and he wears his influences on his sleeve. This means you can track his themes, comment on the specific innovations he’s brought to his raw material, and relentlessly periodize him as a postmodern director.

I thought of a lot of stuff to talk about, and I made a few attempts to tie it into a neat little essay... but they all sucked. So I'm going to rebel against my own habits and just put down my thoughts as a list.

Some thoughts on Inglorious Basterds, and Quentin Tarantino in general:

  1. QT seems to have become a guy who considers every subsequent movie his "masterwork." How can you not love a guy like that?

  2. QT finds his strengths – smart dialog, explosive violence, and an unpredictable sense of suspense and resolution – and uses them to the utmost in Inglorious Basterds.

  3. Watching Inglorious Basterds, we realize that Tarantino wasn’t making the best use of dialog in his previous films... stylish, inane conversation was just a setpiece in Pulp Fiction, whereas it becomes an instrumental storytelling device in Inglorious Basterds.

  4. In fact, the “veiled interrogation” scenes that make up much of Inglorious Basterds (the immaculate first scene, the verbal confrontations between Aldo and the Nazis, the conversation in the bar) are perhaps the most striking, streamlined use Tarantino’s ever found for his particular directorial strengths.

  5. For all Tarantino’s reference and derivation, he's got something very unique going for him: he knows how to bring a chaotic discontinuity to a storyline. It’s super-effective at keeping the audience alert and slightly off-balance. This is Tarantino's own touch, not present in any of the kung fu or exploitation that he’s so keen on quoting.

  6. Brad Pitt and Tarantino – semi-serious artists who are at their best when they’re adamantly irreverent – definitely belong together.

  7. In terms of visual style, Inglorious Basterds strikes a balance between the outlandish primary-colored hypervisuality of Pulp Fiction / Kill Bill, and the tight-fisted minimalism of Reservoir Dogs. He ends up finding the same palatable middle ground that worked so nicely in Jackie Brown.

  8. Inglorious Basterds isn’t the apex of a career ("his masterpiece")... no more than Kill Bill, and probably even less so. Rather, it’s a clear instance of a director allowing his strengths to mature, and continuing to pursue his own personal filmmaking vision in the face of whatever critical controversy he’s created.

Obviously, I thought it was a great film. It made me thirsty to see where else Tarantino can take his filmmaking talent.

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