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Interminable Basterds: Tarantino’s Inglourious Inability to Edit

According to an article in The Collider, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds will clock in at two hours and forty minutes, making it the longest film at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. If it truly was going to be a “Dirty Dozen type epic,” the way Tarantino has been claiming, then the length wouldn’t bother me. But we know that’s not how this is going to turn out. If we have learned anything from Tarantino’s last three outings, his ego seems to be preventing him from being able to edit his films, preferring to bask in his love for long stretches of dialogue and pastiche than to keep the audience’s interest piqued. From everything that’s been said about Inglourious Basterds, it appears to be one part self-referential passive filmmaking and one part ultra-gory on-screen violence and scalpings. Does that sound like the perfect way to spend one hundred and sixty minutes to you?

We know that Tarantino loves to shock. From the ear removal in Reservoir Dogs to the needle scene in Pulp Fiction to the eyeball-gouging in Kill Bill to the excruciating boredom in Death Proof, Tarantino films can be full of unpleasant violence. It’s never stunning or surprising violence, however. He builds up to the violence, slowly letting you realize what is about to happen, and then making sure you see the gruesomeness on the screen (Uma Thurman lies at foot level, you see the foot slowly enter the door, you see Uma with the knife, and instead of showing the man’s reaction, you get to watch Uma slice the man’s Achilles tendon in two. Thanks Quentin!). Certainly there’s a market for very violent films, but usually they last no longer than ninety minutes. After all, there’s only so much on-screen brutality most people can take, right? Not in Quentin’s mind. According to fellow gore fetishist and co-star of Inglourious Basterds, Eli Roth, describes with relish the type of violence we’ll see in this film to Larry Carroll of MTV.com:

“”There are a lot of scalpings,” Roth grinned wickedly. “He’s not going to skimp on the scalping, let me tell you. Quentin based what the Basterds do on what the Apache Indians did. They would do what’s known now as the Apache Resistance, where they would capture people and horribly mutilate them, scalp them, torture them, cut them up and leave one person alive. Then, [the survivor] would go back to the cavalry and describe what happened — and the psychological warfare got so strong that if the cavalry came across a bunch of Apache Indians, they would just take their guns and shoot themselves in the heads and shoot each other in the heads because of the horror of what had been described to them. … This is what the Jews are doing to the Nazis. We get these Nazis and we scalp them, and we beat them to death with a baseball bat.””

Okay, so the maker of Hostel is happy that this time the victims deserve it and the torturers are the heroes. That goes without saying. It also goes without saying that many folks would be excited by that description. Even as someone who prefers that on-screen torture have a point and not simply be used to be “cool,” I can say that Tarantino has filmed some incredibly cool violence. In Kill Bill Volume 1, the fight against the Crazy 88 is beautifully choreographed and masterfully shot, and the indoor slugfest in Volume 2 between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah is visceral and intense. So, it’s a war epic with a lot of atypical warriors engaging in cool fight scenes with violent results for the better part of one hundred and sixty minutes. Right?

Wrong. We know Tarantino better by now. He needs to try to stamp his “trademark Tarantino dialogue” all over this film. In Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, he struck a pretty happy medium between indulgence and character building. Kill Bill Volume 1 had about 10 minutes or so of superfluous “Tarantino dialogue.” Volume 2 had about 20 minutes of it. Death Proof had about 120 minutes of it– a campy homage to B-grade horror films, and it has one violent death scene and one 5-minute car chase. The rest was “trademark Tarantino dialogue.” As a result, it was one of the worst films of the past decade (no exaggeration)– boring, pretentious, self-referential, casually racist, and interminable. Phil Hoad at The Guardian had this to say about Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds script:

“Inglourious Basterds… contains plenty of rambling writing and fawning cine-geek homage. But for something that’s supposed to be a love letter to bristling, second world war men-on-a-mission capers, it’s weirdly passive – and a terrible star vehicle for Brad Pitt, who hardly sees any action. It gets caught up in a long plotline involving a film screening, almost as if Tarantino is turning in on his own obsessions. It feels self-referential, throughout, picking at the performance urge. There are allusions to French New Wave… Near the end, Pitt’s character comments: “I’m a slave to appearances.” It’s been a long time since Tarantino has written anything so candid.”

So a film that is one-half torture porn, one-half self-referential pastiche and rambling dialogue, and 100% Tarantino. Despite the eclectic cast, the interesting trailer (although Brad Pitt seems to be having a little too much fun with his hillbilly accent and stilted dialogue), and the draw that a new Tarantino flick has on a film buff who has enjoyed his past work– I maintain that Jackie Brown is his best work, and one of my favorite films of the 1990s– the run time of two hours and forty minutes should be enough to make even an honest Tarantino fan raise an eyebrow. Other filmmakers given big budgets to make sweeping epic films recently have stumbled in terms of editing: see David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and (sorry, everyone) Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. I hope that someday soon, big-name directors realize that just because their budget is large and their vision is epic, it doesn’t necessitate that a film must run over two and a half hours. While we in the audience want as much bang for our buck as possible, if we’re checking our watches, you have failed to properly engage us. More film is not necessarily more quality. I hope that Tarantino knows this and keeps us on the edge of our seats non-stop the entire run time. But I wouldn’t bet my scalp on it.

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~ by russellhainline on April 29, 2009.

5 Responses to “Interminable Basterds: Tarantino’s Inglourious Inability to Edit”

  1. I suggest that you watch the film before you criticize it. If there is one thing I can’t stand is when someone makes assumptions.

  2. […] Posts Interminable Basterds: Tarantino's Inglourious Inability to EditDistrict 9: Close Encounters of the Prawn KindThe Girlfriend Experience: Another Amateurish […]

  3. You know, before you critisize, you really should watch this movie. A lot of morons talk about Tarantino movies without watching them, don’t be one of them!
    P.S. It was the perfect way for me to spend one hundred and sixty minutes. His best movie after Pulp Fiction.

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