CALIFORNIA UEBER ALLES: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’

A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

“The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.”

George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”

Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation will believe that Hitler was assassinated. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, they will believe that the Jews overcame the Nazis. They will not know that around six million Jews – not to mention gays and political dissidents – were funneled into factories of death, where they were stripped, shorn, shot, gassed, shoved into ovens, burned.

No Jews are incinerated in Inglourious Basterds (2009), Tarantino’s most malevolent travesty and perhaps the most ethically reprehensible motion picture ever made. Nazis are incinerated. Machine-gunned and set aflame. In a cinema. In Vichy France. In 1944. By a band of Jewish-American soldiers and French resistance fighters.

What, precisely, was Tarantino hoping to accomplish by this fusillade of historical revisionism? Is this nothing more than a puerile time-machine fantasy? To deprive Hitler of the right to be killed by his own hand?

Tarantino’s own remarks belie this interpretation: “The power of the cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich. I get a kick out of that!”

When the Nazis are cremated in the cinema, then, Tarantino is cinematically cremating the memory of their dominion. The burning cinema is the central metaphor of the film. It is a self-reflexive metaphor.

Predictably, few Americans seem to have a problem with this dehistoricization and rehistoricization of the Holocaust. After all, America is a country without much of a history of its own. Most of us are afflicted with historical amnesia. To demonstrate my point, let me adduce a personal example. I posted the first sentence of this review on Facebook last year: “Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation will believe that Hitler was assassinated.”

I received this in response (the grammatical mistakes have been retained for the sake of authenticity): “Aint it grand though!”

If this is what most Americans believe, then we are lost. The entire culture is lost.

What no one seems to recognize is that the film is an insult both to those who survived the Holocaust and to those who died in it.

The destruction of history is politically dangerous. It is also a form of ethical rape, especially when that history is fraught with so much hideousness, so much carnage, so much death, so much sorrow. To the supporters of the film, let me ask:

Do you honestly think that survivors of the Shoah would approve of this film?

Though Tarantino may claim that his film revolts against the Third Reich, it does nothing of the sort. Inglorious Basterds does not combat fascism. By liquidating history, it allies itself with fascism. It is a film that uses the same totalitarian methods as the Nazi propagandists, despite Tarantino’s misguided intentions.

Holocaust revisionists such as Ingrid Rimland (and so many others) would applaud what Tarantino has done in this film. After all, he has created a film in which the Nazis lose, the Jews win, and the Holocaust never takes place. Is that not what the fascist “historians” have been saying all along?

Permit me to make a few remarks about Tarantino’s method of presentation.

No one has described Tarantino better than the brilliant English novelist and critic Will Self. The filmmaker is a “pasticheur and an artistic fraud,” Self writes. Indeed he is all of that and much worse. Nearly every image in Tarantino’s cinema is derivative or evocative of something else. The climax of Death Proof (2007) – in which a misogynist is surrounded by a ring of femmes fatales and pummeled into unconsciousness – blatantly and uninventively reconstitutes a formally identical moment in Russ Meyer‘s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Another scene in Death Proof - in which the female leads are surreptitiously photographed – repeats one of Dario Argento‘s lavish set-pieces in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969). Even the same Ennio Morricone music is deployed.

In Inglorious Basterds there are references to many films, such as Revolver (1973), another film scored by Morricone, and Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943). Curiously, none of these allusions add to the film. Tarantino merely showcases the cultural references. He seems incapable of communicating himself cinematically except by way of derivations from other works of cinema. He does not create. He does not originate. He does not imagine. He does not conceive. He ventriloquizes.

I could not help but feel a certain depression after viewing this abominable film. I recalled that in the 1990s Tarantino was given carte blanche – the whitest of white cards – from critics for his use of racist language. Here we have a work not of anti-Semitism, but of anti-Judaism.

How is it that Michael Haneke‘s elegantly chilling The White Ribbon (2009), a film that casts a dark light on some of the conditions that led to National Socialism, is largely unseen and this atrocity is surrounded by a cavalcade of approval?

Inglourious Basterds is slime.

Dr. Joseph Suglia, The Greatest Author in the World

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