Friday, August 1, 2008

An Incredulous Asshole Sees Inglorious Bastards

This is a review of the original 1978 Inglorious Bastards. 
For my review of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, click here

After a recent critique of the Quentin Tarantino mystique the prospect of seeing a new print of the original Inglorious Bastards at the FABULOUS New Beverly Cinema before Quentin's larcenous fingers molested it for general audiences was too good to pass up.

Right from the opening credits you can see why Tarantino wants to steal this movie as his own - a simpler red and blue variation on the paint-splattered main titles of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly featuring a lot of what's to come in the film: explosions and guys flying through the air.

Don't be surprised if Quentin copies it. Also, copy and paste that sentence in your mind after every detail of this review.

To be fair, the co-option has already happened. The movie is available on a new special edition DVD because of renewed interest from just one man. It was at the New Beverly because this important man is interested. The guy I saw this movie with probably wouldn't have gone if this important man wasn't going to remake this film, thereby bestowing importance.

The pleasant surprise was that unlike my podcast co-host's probable conjecture that the original would be a "cool shitty movie," Bastards is really a fun b-movie knockoff of The Dirty Dozen rather than a quasi-incompetent piece of dreck that only videohounds can find value in. A knockoff made ten years after the fact still only makes a remake of a knockoff that much more unnecessary, especially when the original knockoff worked.

What does a Dirty Dozen knockoff entail? Only the concept of felonious soldiers during World War II being gathered for a mission. Bastards has the confidence to make that the second half of the story and tell the story of the group's escape from custody in the first, which also gives something new and different to the circumstances of said mission. Dozen begins with Lee Marvin giving the soldiers their mission right at the start.

There also aren't a dozen prisoners in Bastards. Yet as the tagline announces, "What the Dirty Dozen did, they do dirtier!" That kind of copy makes me salivate for the idea of World War II x-ploitation, which remains (as far as I know) undiscovered country beyond Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS and all subsequent Nazisploition.

Tarantino's version of Inglorious Bastards will no doubt be a lot more exploitative. The oasis of Eurobabes featured on the poster does provide a ton of momentary boobage and topless gunplay but the rest is relatively restrained. The language and innuendo used by the "bastards" isn't much worse than the Dozens'. There's a lot of war-movie death (guys being tossed around by explosions) with less than a handful of bloody squibs. There's actually far more action than Dirty Dozen and a lot of it is imaginatively staged, thanks to Italian director Enzo G. Castellari's roving neo-realistic camera.

It's almost a classy picture! The difference is that instead of a dozen stars playing rogues on a mission you only have five, and Fred Williamson is the biggest name among them.

Incidentally, he and Enzo were at the theater to do some Q+A and he hasn't aged a day! It just so happened to be Enzo's birthday as well, and the whole audience sang to him!

Williamson and the other "bastards" are superb. In the Tarantino vernacular, they're a good crew for a "hang out" movie. When they're not fighting, they shoot the shit with various degrees of machismo. There's a horndog, a sensitive guy, a leader, a pickpocket who can pull anything out of his coat, and Fred. They gel. There's authentic interaction. You care.

This adds another layer of absurdity to the remake. A Dirty Dozen type movie like Bastards lives or dies by the cast. That's why Tarantino was considering Stallone and Schwarzenneger and the like, ten years ago. He's not remaking Dirty Dozen, so he doesn't even need to come up with 12 actors. Is he trying to preemptively excuse his lack of originality by officially remaking a knockoff so that people will see his version as a patented Tarantino re-discovery/re-imagining, rather than a mere Dirty Dozen knock-off? I think so, given that the very next day my filmgoing companion was describing the original to others as "the type of movie only Tarantino would know about" (emphasis added.) There is a bedrock rule in the Quentin personality cult that obscurity excuses plagiarism.

The setting of World War II is incidental. It could be in Iraq. It probably should. Which brings up one last salient point I already bitched about in the podcast: Tarantino has never been to war and only knows war from war movies. Not to say that all WWII movies are accurate, but it makes a tremendous difference when your cast and crew have actually experienced the war in their lifetimes. Hence the transition between WWII movies and Vietnam movies. American public education has failed us so miserably that Full Metal Jacket and Saving Private Ryan essentially are our history lessons, which works to the benefit of every WWII and historical movie ever made.

Hollywood today is anti-military and the few movies depicting our current conflicts reflect this, so WWII movies exist now only as last refuge for any "war movie" story dealing in heroism. Given that a Dirty Dozen WWII is the anti-heroism exception to the formula, it could still work in the Middle East, but Quentin and audiences without family in the armed forces only know the Mesopotamian conflicts from Michael Moore and....well, Three Kings, actually a fine film with an informed understanding of the Gulf War circa 1991. And a story of anti-heroism at that! Thankfully it had the luck to be made before 2001, with George Clooney of all peeps.

Inglorious Bastards is a fun movie. See it now before Quentin takes all the fun out of it.

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