Monday, August 31, 2009

Inglorious Boredom

I’m going to say this for the record: I was all up Quentin Tarantino’s ass in the early ‘90s. I loved Reservoir Dogs, the only movie of Tarantino’s that, to me, still holds up. I was pretty wowed by Pulp Fiction as well, though the luster wore off quickly, especially after I saw American Boy. The argument has been made for the last few years among anyone stupid enough to care: is Tarantino the master of the derivative or is he simply engaging in the time honored tradition of homage? Regardless of which camp you fall into, the best that can really be said about Mr. Tarantino is that he is a great hack, schooled in cinema history and adept at recycling better movies than he could hope to produce.

I have no objection to this. The world needs great hacks (if you’ll pardon the contradiction) just as it needs true visionaries. I have no concerns about the so-called anxiety of influence. Everything is up for grabs and available for use. The Master and Margarita, my favorite book, could not have existed without all the incarnations of the Faust tale. The Secret Chiefs 3, one of the only bands working that matters to me, is an outfit that wears its influences on its sleeve. The shadows of R.D. Burman, Nino Rota and younameit are evident from the depths of the Chiefs’ complex recordings. And they never made it a secret, either. To me, this incorporation of influence is a beautiful thing, when done well. What Tarantino has submitted to the world with his most recent film, Inglorious Bastards, is an example of how not to prop up your cherished betters.

Tarantino wanted to make a World War II movie with a dash of Spaghetti Western, much the way the Kill Bill series mashed up kung fu films and Sergio Leone. Had the results resembled the violent and fun Kill Bill 1 instead of the tedious and disappointing final act of Kill Bill 2, then Inglorious Bastards would be the rollicking, bloody good time the previews make it out to be. But alas, the film is a tedious effort with a few kick ass moments that can’t save the whole, flabby mess. There are some who disagree, citing the ambitious center of the film, which has little, if anything, to do with the titular group of Jewish-American soldiers who scalp Nazis on the command of Brad Pitt’s cartoonish cracker. No, Tarantino reaches higher, trying to cobble together a movie about movies, the way they were used for propaganda by the Nazis (both real and imagined), and the way they are understood by a certain segment of society informed by dominant cultural… oh, who gives a fuck?

For quite a while, people have been praising Tarantino for his dialogue. This might have been true once. Reservoir Dogs was mostly talking, as were many of the best bits of Pulp Fiction. But, sadly, the dialogue that strangled the conclusion of Kill Bill runs amok in Inglorious Bastards, for no reason other than to delay things or interject some loose strand in a film drowning in them. Q.T. stretches the shit out of every scene, inserting sentence after elegantly phrased sentence into the mouths of actors who are dressed to kill yet rarely do. There are Nazis galore, a good ten Americans who talk a bit about killing them, and a few foppish Brits who come along for the unthrilling ride. Mostly they chat. Occasionally they slay. Largely they bore.

Look: if Tarantino wants to dissect and repackage the beloved films of his youth– spent, famously, working in a video store– then more power to him. Instead of merely “borrowing” their music and a few of their surface aesthetics, he might spend more time considering what made them great, or, at the very least, enjoyable. But no, Tarantino prefers to think of himself as a writer, not of scripts or of stories, but of moments, all of them beset by verbosity. How to link these moments? Well, worry not, Q. will find a way, however tenuous. And the result will be over two hours. Pity; I’d definitely prefer 90 minutes (hell, I’d settle for 75) of action centered on a loose, ridiculous plot then a lurchingly paced 153 minute “action” film that substitutes action for ponderous bullshit. Call me crazy.