31 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds Redux - The Grace Paley Connection

I return briefly to Inglourious Basterds to illustrate further the genius that permeates even the smallest details of Tarantino's work.

There's an insignificant scene showcasing Tarantino's literary prowess:
Brigdet Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger):  There have been two recent developments regarding Operation Kino. One, the venue has been changed from the Ritz to a much smaller venue.
Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt):   Enormous changes at the last minute? That's not very "Germatic."

It's a malapropism line played for laughs, but buried within is a reference to Jewish-American short story writer Grace Paley (who recently died) and her famous book, Enormous Changes At The Last Minute, hence the added meaning of not being very "Germatic." Ha-ha!
Brilliant stuff, Quentin.   

29 August 2009

Review of Inglourious Basterds

Fans of Quentin Tarantino have come to expect one thing from his films:  the unexpected.  The ear-slashing, the Gimp, a raged Robert De Niro, all of Kill Bill, have become staples of the Tarantino ouevre, and of current cinema as we know it, and as future generations will remember it.  

Inglourious Basterds delivers the unexpected in droves.  The film's marketing suggested a Kill Bill-esque 'Jewish-Americans mercilessly slaughtering Nazis' bloodbath, instead, Tarantino gave us a deeply cerebral picture smattered with bursts of relatively mild violence.

With his wordy script and the eye-opening performance of "Jew-Hunter" Christoph Waltz, Tarantino shrewdly captured the true terror of the Nazis.  It wasn't the cattle-car deportation to death camps -- horrible as they were -- but rather the corruptibility of otherwise good people, of the ever-present fear of being found out, whether you were hiding Jews, sympathetic to Jews, a partisan, a spy, or a Jew.  The Jew-Hunter's subtle innuendos, probing questions, suspicious gestures, and discomforting good humour would drive even the stoutest resistance fighter to his breaking point wondering, "How much does he know?" and "How do I escape this man?"

Inglourious Basterds is a fantasy.  In a reality where the majority of the literature, fiction and nonfiction, portrays the Jewish people, helpless and crippled, enduring unimaginable horror from the hyper-aggressive Juggernaut of the Third Reich, Tarantino imagines an alternative where the victims not only have a voice, but a baseball bat as it were, as a vehicle of vengence.

It has become marvelously clear that Tarantino's capacity for innovative storytelling has eclipsed the standard 2-3 hour feature film format (ahem, Kill Bill). Basterds clocked in at 153 minutes, and yet the film felt like it breezed by, with multiple plotlines and asides that begged for proper exposition.  Tarantino has entered the realm of eminent Polish auteur, Krzysztof Kieślowski, who required multiple films (10 to be exact for the appropriately titled Dekalog) to fully express his vision.

With Tarantino you never know what to expect, except this:  he'll keep on keeping on with films that make our palms sweat, our heads shake, and our mouths go, "Oh!"

15 August 2009

Patron Saint of Cinema - St. Quentin Tarantino

The evening was moving along swimmingly: South American wine, richly prepared surf-and-turf cuisine, surfeit of bon mots. Just settling into our respective digestifs, the dinner party suddenly careened off a cliff hovering above the River Hades.

Someone had unwittingly committed the grievous garrulous sin that will certainly ruin any social gathering wherein participants aren't intimately acquainted: initiating a discussion on the merits of Quentin Tarantino. It matters little if that first remark is favourable, the mere mention of his Latinate name will spark a wildfire in a docile conversational stream.

I had to straddle the index finger and thumb of my right hand upon my forehead and cheekbone as I anticipated the tremendous headache I would momentarily suffer in my eye. When the requisite irrationally reasoned criticism was inadvisedly and recklessly announced, my eyes were already closed in full-throttled paroxysm.

"Can we talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?" I groused, "Or maybe the pros and cons of abortion if you prefer?" This was not my attempt at inappropriate humour. This was my plea to maintain some semblance of sanity. I'd rather delve into the fiery quicksand of those aforementioned issues than writhe in the indignity of having to defend the merits of this generation's greatest cineaste, the current patron saint of cinema.

Coming Attraction: The Found Generation will elucidate why St. Quentin Tarantino is a
monstre sacré. Also, a review of Inglourious Basterds, which looks to be the ultimate Jewish revenge fantasy film.

04 August 2009

The Power of Erotica

The school bus ride home serves as the modern day watering hole for adolescent children in America, the fertile ground where rumour, tall tales, and urban mythology are excitedly dispensed and skeptically believed. Here, a particular kind of teenage subversive wisdom converges from an an equal balance of naïveté and precociousness. The ride to school is too depressed, the schoolyard is an unsafe panopticon, and friendships in time become too inculcated. Only on the bus ride home can an outsider looking for troubled attention find a ready audience.

I must admit at first my interest in erotica was purely prurient. The hormonal 13 year old raged on unapologetically. Upon hearing that such a thing existed, from the resident troublemaker on my 8th grade bus, I became obsessed with experiencing it for myself. Jeff had a strong weaselly quality about him, so I scoffed when he told me about a salacious story involving a brother and a sister he had downloaded off an IRC the night before. When he promised he'd bring me, and three other skeptics, copies the next day we prepared ourselves to cut him down when he wouldn't deliver, but deep down, I think we all wanted for Jeff's lurid claim to be true.

Amazingly, the old boy came through. And the next day he had four fresh copies of the filthiest 10 pages I'd ever read. The shock to my system was substantial. Of course I was aware of pornography, I'd even stolen a few peeks here and there, but I had never imagined that someone would be perverted enough to verbalise carnal knowledge. In many ways, it was a revelation.

I began to insatiably scour endless networks, IRCs, and BBSs, for my own special kind of contraband. And indeed it was contraband. When some of my hidden stories were unearthed underneath my mattress, a confrontation ended with a stern warning for such a mutually embarrassing discovery to never repeat itself. This slight deterrence was just a speed bump in my burgeoning sexual education. In just a few weeks, I learned more about the physical enaction of love from these lust filled tales than any porno or health class.

In my post-adolescence my fascination gradually waned. I had essentially abandoned erotica for the last decade until recently when I decided to read
Delta of Venus: Erotica by Anaïs Nin. Thinking my sordid history precluded me from any sort of affectation, I was shocked to find myself blushing at Nin's graphic yet beautiful descriptions. I couldn't understand the source of my uneasiness. After all, we are bombarded by sexual imagery on a daily basis to the point of complete desensitisation. Yet here I was needing to turn up the AC whilst reading a book!

What had happened to me? Had I grown soft in my dotage? Was I pulling a Wordsworth and turning - gasp - conservative? Impossible, an explanation simply required some intensive pondering. Slowly I realized the strength of Nin's writing was her poetic characterisations. She forces you to invest in the narrative and care about its outcome, and when the more kinky elements are introduced it results in a visceral reaction.

Nin's work reminded me of the cosmic joys of emotional and physical attraction, of the awesome potential of the libido, and of the humbling power women and men exert over each other.

One final impression: sure glad I wasn't part of a carpool growing up.