Quentin Tarantino’s fictional Shosanna Dreyfus in Inglourious Basterds wasn’t the first to substitute a film for showing to a Nazi military crowd. Though there were no luminaries in the audience, that honor probably goes to Nikola Radosevic, who recounts in The Tramp and the Dictator how he switched movies shown to a crowd of German soldiers in Yugoslavia, putting up Charles Chaplin’s lampoon of Hitler, The Great Dictator, instead of the expected fare.
That title, adapted from a Raymond Carver short story, should be the question at the heart of all discussions of Quentin Tarantino's new Inglourious Basterds. The movie sits at the intersections of film and our world, history and fantasy, and reality and myth. Yeah, it has unpleasant aspects (what Tarantino film does not), but that, too, is part of another of the crossroads at the heart of the film, the one between bad and good—or, to put it another way, between the human tendency to see what we do as fine and dandy and what the other does as evil.
Yesterday, a copy of the screenplay of Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, arrived in my mailbox, from Amazon.com. I read it today. I haven’t seen the movie yet (it opens in the US next Friday—and I will certainly be watching an early showing, popcorn on my lap), but I am ten times more interested in seeing what Tarantino does in filming his script than I was two days ago.
What follows is a presentation I will give at the Popular Culture Association annual meeting in New Orleans, LA this coming Wednesday:
"I don't see what the big deal is. Everybody steals from everybody; that's movies.” From Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996), that line comes just as homage to Reservoir Dogs commences. And it’s true, though the ‘if everybody does it, it must be OK’ logic is a little strained. It’s not the purpose of movies to be original, but to be entertaining. And to be entertaining, one must work with audience expectations, which means working with the successes of the past. Instead of creating something new, one must make the old new—itself an old piece of advice. ‘Make it new,’ ordered Ezra Pound, revitalize. That’s where art lies.