More observations about Basterds
Posted by Hedwig on August 26, 2009
*Chap. 1: at first, the switch from French to English proposed by Landa seems a cheap trick from the director, to avoid more subtitles. I didn’t wonder about Landa’s motivation, because I assumed it to be artificial. However, as it turns out in the crescendo towards the end, Landa did have a very specific motivation for the switch, indeed, and it was no QT ploy.
*Chap. 2: After the western opening, we now move to farce. I love how there are nested stories here. There’s what really happened: that the soldier betrayed his fellows to save his life, and was let go accordingly. There’s the story Aldo Raine feeds him: that they let him escape to strike fear into the hearts of the nazis. And then there’s the story that Hitler, after hearing (the fake) story #2, orders the soldier to tell: that he daringly escapes. Thus the coward becomes a hero – all it takes is two propagandistic spins. In fact, propaganda really is (one of) the continuing thread(s) through this movie: from Chap. 1, wherein Landa references the portrayal of Jews as rats, all the way to the end.
Also in chapter 2: the delightful introduction of Hugo Stiglitz (complete with explanatory voice-over)… which unfortunately doesn’t lead to anything later on. I think Til Schweiger is the most threatening of the Basterds (putting Eli Roth’s “Bear Jew” to shame), and I’d loved to see more of him. However, the cut from the first scene with the Basterds to “nein nein nein nein nein nein NEIN!” is pretty brilliant.
*Chap. 3: I think this is the weakest chapter, and the one most transparantly used to set up the ending. Don’t get me wrong: I like Melanie Laurent just fine in this part, but in the beginning of the chapter she isn’t given much to do besides rebuffing Fredrick Zoller and looking glamorous smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of red wine in a bistro, an icon of Frenchness. I also found the business with Goebbels a little tiring – and that insert of him fucking his translator was a mighty cheap joke, the only real misstep in the film as far as I’m concerned.
Then again, there is a great conversation with Landa, and while it’s not as suspenseful as the one in the opening scene, nor as entertaining as the one in the café, it has some great touches: Landa really plays with her, ordering her a glass of milk, smilingly but firmly telling her to wait for the cream with her strudel (followed by amazingly icky shots of said cream), announcing another question before “forgetting” about it…
*Chap. 4: Operation Kino! The opening scene here is again farce, with Rod Taylor immediately recognizable as Churchill (not quite as stereotypical an image as Hitler, but close), and a grating performance by Mike Myers that almost ruins the scene… but it is redeemed by Lt. Archie Hicox giving a lecture on UFA, and Goubbels’ aspirations to be David O. Selznick. Then follow what’s seen by some as the weakest part of the movie: the half-hour scene in the cellar bar. It’s a scene that takes its time, definitely, but everything in it is essential. The detail I love most is the Gestapo officer who suddenly appears: like in a Leone film, nothing here exists until it enters the frame.
Think about it. During the introduction of “the Good” in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, how does he sneak up to the three guys surrounding “the Ugly”? The terrain is bare, you can see for miles. But Clint Eastwood simply doesn’t exist until the camera calls him into existence. Likewise, the Gestapo officer is not necessarily hiding: it’s just that nobody notices him until the camera does.
*Chap. 5: seriously, how hilarious is Brad Pitt’s mangled Italian (or should I say Eye-tahlian)? The funniest part is that he doesn’t even realize how bad it is, and that he’s been made as soon as he opens his mouth (if not earlier). This chapter, though, truly belongs to Landa: watch how he’s honey-sweet to Bridget von Hammersmark, watch how he orders her -politely, of course- to indulge Tarantino’s foot fetish in a perverted version of Cinderella, watch how he flips and reveals the rage simmering below… then calmly, deliberately, and without any hesitation negotiates an exit for himself.
I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention the “giant face” of the title, but truth be told, I don’t have much to say. It’s interesting that the largely anonymous people who are killed in the blaze are the same ones who earlier were applauding and laughing at the sight of Fredrick Zoller mowing down countless anonymous “enemies”. If you get only one level more meta, we’d be getting killed in some gruesome way. The power of cinema, indeed: by the way, was I the only one who was most upset seeing all that nitrate film going up in flames, wondering what great old movies were in that pile? It’s like with In the Name of the Rose, where the fire in the library was much more disturbing to me than the deaths of all those monks.
Admittedly, the giant face did look impressive: once the screen goes up in smoke, the smoke becomes the screen.
Feel free to share your observations below!