February 25, 2010

The Lost Art of Inglourious Basterds

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Munk One

Munk One

The recent Upper Playground × Inglourious Basterds poster collaboration inspired me to finally watch Quentin Tarantino’s latest masterpiece (six months late is forever sooner than never).

All images via Arrested Motion (full-size images available, since my web-optimized crops don’t do the artwork justice).

ib-choe-oriol

L: David Choe; R: Estevan Oriol

Like most of my postmodern peers, I’m predisposed to like anything that Quentin Tarantino has a hand in (I actually genuinely like Jackie Brown) and it was largely a foregone conclusion that I would enjoy his fifth feature-length film. Even so, I would say that Basterds is somewhat unique, not just as Tarantino’s take on a war flick—homage-y, genre-agnostic and immanently quotable—but even within his oeuvre: the film relies heavily on the absolute moral compass dictated by historical hindsight, operating within a framework of unambiguous good guys and bad guys. This isn’t the clusterfuck of Reservoir Dogs or, say, Vietnam: the eponymous team of Americans is fighting goddamn Nazis, a.k.a. evil in its purest form.

NB: Spoilers ahead.

L: Alex Pardee; R: Rene Almanza

L: Alex Pardee; R: Rene Almanza

With history on his side, Tarantino can afford to instill the Basterds with a measured, weirdly heroic, sadism: the American boys sent to terrorize enemy forces in Nazi-occupied France can do no wrong. Scalping, clubbing, scarring, it’s all good—it’s nothing compared to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Basterds is relatively tame for the auteur who made his name by transcending senseless violence by depicting it for what it is: nasty, brutish and short. Seasoned film viewers have certainly seen worse.

But Tarantino is (and arguably never was) going for shock value, and graphic violence is but one of his calling cards: he’s at his best when he’s spins tension out of talk, typically between arch-enemies (knowing or otherwise), over milk, strudel, whiskey or fashionable pumps (T has always had a bit of a foot fetish). Tarantino further demonstrates his mastery of dialogue with the clever but unforced play on language: if English is the lingua franca, America is the punchline—cheap shots, perhaps, but all in good fun.

L: Sam Flores; R: Grotexk

L: Sam Flores; R: Grotesk

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