Not being a proper film buff, I can’t claim to know all the films and genres referred to in Tarantino’s most recent film “Inglorious Basterds”. But despite the enjoyment film buffs likely get from all the nods and allusions tucked within the film–a film even a dummy like me can see is about the power of film–I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t an element of self-sabotage going on here.
To cite just one instance (something that won’t be a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it), Tarantino follows a very tense, emotional opening scene with a 70s exploitation trope, including lurid on-screen text and a voiceover introducing characters’ background information. It pulls you from the film, refuses you the comfort of sympathizing with the characters, and forces your attention on the film itself, technique replacing content.
This is of course a common criticism of Tarantino–that his movies are too show-off-y–and there are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to resort to such self-awareness or self-reference within a narrative. It puts the film itself on a level of critique, for instance, which can have practical consequences, like multivalent dialogue between director and viewer. But some of the elements of “Inglorious Basterds” are so jarring, that I began to wonder if they weren’t in some way safety valves which, by refusing to let the viewer engage on a purely emotional level, were actually there first and foremost to protect Tarantino himself from his own feelings.
Critiquing a filmmaker as tricky and self-aware and ironic as Tarantino puts one at an immediate disadvantage–it’s extremely easy to become an apologist, and resort to structural and functional explanations for every decision the director has made. But for Tarantino himself, who is clearly as giddily taken up with violence as he is interested in exposing and critiquing our and his own fascination thereof, it seems like the story may be more psychologically complicated than that.
Is there, amid all the winks, nods and allusions, an auteur afraid to admit that his subject has never really been film itself, but the characters he sculpts so beautifully before undermining with clever disctraction?