Quentin Tarantino's saturated colors in his new work, "Inglourious Basterds," illustrate his concern with make-believe. Which is why when a steamed up friend called to say he is an "Anti-Semitic" jerk, the audience at the Academy of Motion Pictures's screening she attended speechless in dismay, I knew that despite my being beach-side and remote from its NY premiere and other press openings, I needed to see it toute suite. "I can't wait to hear what someone like you thinks of it," she said. Someone like me being a noted child of Holocaust survivors who often writes about films on or related to the subject.
I am late to the table on Tarantino's epic fable, but I take him at his word when he says this is a spaghetti Western with WWII iconography. If anything, the movie is an equal opportunity offender, being neither about the Holocaust, nor about Jews. It is about the color red. Tarantino's red is hot like Valentino's red, deeply satisfying and passionate, which makes it cool. From Diane Kruger's lipstick and nail lacquer, to Melanie Laurent's dress for Goebbel's movie premiere, to Nazi banners and heads as they are being scalped, this red is as thrilling as seeing cartoon Jews enacting violence to cartoon Nazis. For anyone who has grown up with the image of Jews as hapless victims, despite the historical record of ghetto uprisings and other acts of resistance, the punishment enacted by Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine, painfully carving out swastikas in the forehead of his Nazi survivors to permanently brand them seems fanciful and reasonable. So marked, they must always remember while others never forget. In the movie in my brain about what happens next in America's Nantucket for his charismatic SS Colonel Hans Landa, -- well, unlike most real life Nazis (read: murderous Anti-Semites), he's got some 'splainin' to do.
And as red is subject, the subtext is language. (Note the title's deliberate misspelling.) Brad Pitt's Anglo-Italian is as funny as his Tennessee drawl, giving him away just as a German's accent cannot be placed causing a barroom bloodbath. Revealing a gift for comedy, Pitt gets bigger laughs as his character is clueless about how much his sound betrays. On a more serious note, early on when the multi-lingual Landa sniffs out Jews from under the floorboards of the farmer's house in the movie's chapter 1, their ignorance of English helps his firing squad with easy extermination. What might Tarantino be saying about language, verbal and visual? Daring to play fast and loose with WWII pop -- even kitsch -- images, for me he suggests the dearth of issues they are really speaking about, or merely covering up. What I have to come to terms with regarding Quentin Tarantino is how much I want to hold onto history, even with fictions where I am required to let it go.
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