Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Inglourious History - The German Response

I have a confession to make: I have not yet seen Inglourious Basterds. This may not, in and of itself, be a bad thing. Except that I am now writing a follow-up to my last post on the film.

At first I was worried that Tarantino doing a nominally historical film would be a dangerous thing, blurring the line between fact and fiction in a way that a film like Kill Bill - with its Texas sword fights and anime flashback - could not. The completely over-the-top ambush of the Nazi leadership, seen in the trailer below, seemed to lay my fears to rest: at last, we could sit back and enjoy the show, knowing that this had very little to do with any actual history.

But now the New York Magazine's Vulture blog reports that the film has received an overwhelmingly positive response from German critics. One of them wrote:

This isn't camp, it isn't pulp — you miss the point using such categories with Tarantino — but rather a vision never before seen in the nearly exhausted world of cinematic images.... It took 65 years for a film-maker, instead of bringing Germany's evil 20th century history to life once more to have people shudder and bow before it, to simply dream around it. And to mow all the pigs down. Catharsis! Oxygen! Wonderful retro-futuristic insanity of the imagination!

Perhaps. But if the film is "retro-futuristic insanity," can it really exercise the daemons of Germany's Nazi past? Doesn't "Germany's evil 20th century history" need to first be brought to life, if it is be finally slain?

Some might contend that expecting a cathartic release from the nightmare of Germany's Nazi past is asking far too much of this film; instead, we should be expecting nothing more than a sort of World War II Rambo. Fair enough - except that the German critics think they see more, a film in meaningful dialogue with history.

Yes, I realize that any invocation of the Nazis is, necessarily, historical in some way; but it seems to me that the relationship between a film like Tarantino's and the actual events of history is complex, at best. That so many German critics are raving about the film suggests to me either (a) that they all have great insight, successfully navigating this complex relationship or (b) some of them are missing the point. And that's a tragic, even scary, thing, when we're dealing with the legacy of something as appalling as the Third Reich.

Special thanks to Santiago Ramos for bringing this Vulture blog post to my attention.
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