Thursday, August 27, 2009

"You owe me ten chick flicks for this one," I hissed at Christopher during the climactic and bloody final scene of "Inglorious Basterds." "No, you owe me a hundred films featuring women sitting cross-legged on the floor talking about their feelings, or getting makeovers and finding themselves."

Call me a humorless prude, a self-conscious politically correct bluestocking, but exploitative violence-porn just doesn't do it for me. I read an article by some rabbi in the Huffington Post which said that all Jews can now get their long-denied vicarious thrills from watching a Jewish commando pump Hitler full of lead (with a huge conflagration in the background and lots of panicked Nazis milling around, getting murdered in interesting ways.)

Not this Jew. I didn't find it a satisfying revenge fantasy; its only redeeming feature was that the orgy of violence was so sickeningly over-the-top that it made me recoil from the very idea of revenge altogether. (And if you want a good Jewish revenge movie, what about "Munich," written by my idol Tony Kushner, which tells the story of an elite group of Jewish commandos who carry out assassinations of anti-Semites all over Europe. It's not a perfect movie, but at least the characters have three dimensions, and they wrestle with moral complexity.)

Understand, I knew that Tarantino would be violent--he always is. I loved Pulp Fiction for its wit and the great performances by everyone, and for the way Tarantino played with the chronology. I loved The Sopranos--great writing, great acting, and I saw my own shadow in the character of Tony Soprano. The Wire was even better. I've eaten up all the Bourne movies with Matt Damon, who is the Hollywood star I would most like to have dinner with. I love films like "A History of Violence," with Viggo Mortensen (who gives Damon a run for his money in the most-want-to-have-dinner-with category.) I would recommend "The Hurt Locker" as the best movie I've seen yet about Iraq (second best would be "Stop-Loss.")

If violence is integral to the plot and the characters, if the story warrants it, okay, show blood. But using the Holocaust in order to have your own private sadism-fest is just a cheap trick.

(To be fair, I can't stand most movies about the Holocaust, including Schindler's List, which felt manipulative, and Life is Beautiful, which everyone else loved and I hated. I've seen two good movies about that time: both written by Germans. One was "Aimee and Jaguar," about a lesbian love affair between an undercover Jewish journalist and the wife of a Nazi officer. Fantastic. Everyone should rent it, but be prepared to have your heart shattered. The other was "The Reader," which, instead of just showing Nazis as cardboard monsters, wrestled with the much more difficult and complex question of Nazis and ex-Nazis as flawed, traumatized human beings.

I didn't like these movies better because they were "politically correct," I liked them better because they told stories with depth and heart and real stakes instead of gallons of fake red blood and gross special effects.

I do agree with Tarantino on one point though; movies are important. (And yes, I got the metaphor; by using film to burn down the movie theatre where the top brass of the Third Reich were all conveniently clustered, he was saying movies have the power to change the world and as artists we even have the license to rewrite history. Nice metaphor, but it takes more than a metaphor to make a story work.) Movies are our collective dream; they get under our skin and stay there; they show us to each other, they matter. So for God's sake, Quentin, make them with heart.


Anonymous said...

I walked out. I can't stand Tarantino. He's full of shit actually

Anonymous said...

i think you need a job as a movie critic. maybe your own TV show?! well-written!

Alison said...

God, wouldn't that be a wonderful gig? I wonder how one could go about getting it? We just saw Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg, about Gertrude Berg, the Jewish oprah of her day, who invented, wrote, produced and starred in the first television sitcom, and did a bunch of other impressive things as well.