Tarantino’s sound and fury

September 25, 2009

ALEX FU and Jeff Guarrera's letter challenging Joe Allen's review of Inglourious Basterds deserves a response.

I won't be using the dismissive and condescending tone Fu and Guarrera took toward Joe Allen. But I do think it's worth clearing up some of the confusion they displayed about how socialists view topics such as torture, war crimes and the Second World War.

It's no secret that Inglourious Basterds director Quentin Tarantino is the king of over-the-top violence, from the cringe-inducing torture scene in Reservoir Dogs, to the stalking and mutilation of women in Death Proof, to the scalpings in Inglourious Basterds.

Tarantino revels in creating graphic onscreen brutality, and for him, that's the point of his movies, regardless of what the characters are doing or the situation they're in. It doesn't really matter to him--it's all about acting out a fantasy about how much blood, broken bones and bruises he can put onscreen. The fact that Tarantino this time has picked Jewish soldiers in the U.S. Army to mete out torture and war crimes doesn't make it something worth celebrating, as Fu and Guarrera seem to think.

As Joe points out in his review, the extremity of the brutality committed by Tarantino's Basterds left him wondering who the "heroes" were supposed to be. For pointing this out, Fu and Guarrera accuse Allen of "liberal pacifism."

I guess Joe and I aren't hip enough to cheer Quentin Tarantino's version of Jewish "resistance"--in the person of actor-filmmaker Eli Roth, the despicable creator of the Hostel torture movies, bashing in heads with a baseball bat or carving swastikas in people's heads. If you want to celebrate extreme on-screen violence, that's one thing--but don't pretend to hold it up as a story about fighting Nazis.

With Basterds, Tarantino celebrates his favorite war movies, like The Big Red One and The Dirty Dozen, and takes their shoot-'em-up, kill-'em-all sensibility several steps further with scalpings, mutilations and bigger and fierier explosions.

But there are a number of war films that depict violence with the horror that it deserves.

Rent a copy of Come and See about a 14-year-old Russian partisan fighting the German invasion if you're interested in a story about fighting the Nazis--although you'll find the violence isn't "fun" like Tarantino's. Even Sam Fuller, who directed The Big Red One in 1980 and actually fought in the Second World War, made Fixed Bayonets in 1951, a chilling portrayal of the Korean War.

In fact, several of the movies that were made closer to the actual war--Lewis Milestone's 1945 Walk in the Sun, for instance--depicted the horrors of war and its effects on the soldiers who fought in them more realistically. This makes sense, since these soldiers and their families were likely sitting in the theaters.

Having an encyclopedic knowledge of war movies and spaghetti Westerns doesn't mean that Tarantino has anything new or useful to offer to the long, tedious list of movies on the Second World War--and he has less to offer viewers who want to see the Nazis beaten, no matter how many clever film in-jokes he makes.

As Joe writes, "The Second World War made the U.S. the dominant world power, and as the myth goes, the benevolent defender of freedom-loving people around the world." Inglourious Basterds is just another movie to back up this myth.

Since Fu and Guarrera's letter confuses this point, readers who actually want to know what socialists say about the U.S. role in the Second World War should check out "World War II: The Good War?" by Ashley Smith, from the International Socialist Review. And take a look at Joe Allen's "American war crime in the 'good war'" at SocialistWorker.org.
Elizabeth Schulte, Chicago

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