|by Rob Gonsalves
The last line of dialogue in Quentin Tarantino's script "Inglorious Bastards" — currently making the internet rounds via PDF — is "You know somethin Uitivich, I think this just might be my masterpiece." That's a pretty loaded sentence on which to end the 165-page World War II men-on-a-mission epic Tarantino has talked about for years. So is it true?
In some ways, Inglorious Bastards (infamously misspelled "Inglourious Basterds" on the title page in what we must assume is Tarantino's own scrawl) is quite different from anything else he's written. For one thing, there's a narrator. But not a first-person narrator like Alabama in True Romance or the Bride in Kill Bill. No, it's a "literary narrator," a God's-eye narrator of the sort we don't hear much any more in movies. But even this narrator only speaks up every so often. And the narrator does weird, arcane things, like directly addressing a character. Why does Tarantino do this? I don't know; maybe it was done in some obscure old WWII film Tarantino is referencing.
In other ways, it's typical Tarantino. If there's one thing this loquacious writer specializes in, it's sinister one-on-one exchanges between someone powerful and someone powerless. The powerful character, usually a killer, chatters on and on while the powerless character sits there drowning in sweat. Classic examples: Jules and Brett in Pulp Fiction; Walken and Hopper in True Romance. (The gambit goes back at least as far as the two violent shockers of 1971, Dirty Harry and A Clockwork Orange. Harry musing aloud whether he's out of bullets; Alex crooning "Singin' in the Rain" while stomping his victim and preparing to rape the guy's wife — proto-Tarantino, for sure.) Here, right at the start, we get fifteen pages mostly filled with dread-ridden talk between Col. Hans Landa, "the Jew Hunter," and Perrier LaPadite, a French farmer. Landa, who does most of the talking, suspects LaPadite is harboring Jews somewhere in his house. LaPadite tries to keep a poker face. It's sadomasochism as parlor chat.
From this encounter (from which a major character, the Jewish girl Shosanna, escapes), we move to another example of Tarantinoid dialogue: Lt. Aldo Raine (most likely QT's tribute to Aldo Ray, veteran of World War II and World War II films), addressing his men, the "Basterds." These all-Jewish soldiers have dedicated themselves to killing and scalping Nazis. We eventually get to know a few of them, like Sgt. Donny Donowitz, who brought a baseball bat with him to the war just to beat Nazis to death with it (perfect role for Adam Sandler, and seemingly written with him in mind). The buzz is that Brad Pitt might play Aldo, but I kept imagining George Clooney in a cross between his bad-ass From Dusk Till Dawn mode and his hick O Brother, Where Art Thou mode.
The script has speaking parts for Hitler and Churchill, and a German movie starlet, Bridget Von Hammersmark, working in cahoots with the British (I pictured Angelina Jolie), and Shosanna all grown up (Audrey Tautou?) and running a French movie theater obliged to screen German classics every week. Inglorious Bastards is a movie-movie, like all Tarantino films, obsessed with everything that's ever run through a projector, yet held together with that indefinable something that makes it Tarantino's own. It would seem to have little or nothing to do with 1978's Inglorious Bastards, from which Tarantino seems to have sampled merely the title, the men-on-a-mission device, and the French Underground device. Ultimately, everything leads to an apocalyptic finale inside the movie theater, where, one presumes, Tarantino has always dearly wanted to set an apocalyptic finale.
It's a great, goofy read and will probably make for high entertainment on movie screens in 2009 (or whenever it actually arrives). I did wish for a little more time with Aldo and a little less time with the British Lt. Hicox, who's working with the German starlet — though Hicox does figure in one of those classic Tarantino moments involving bullets fired where they'll do the least good. There are also any number of in-jokes, like Aldo posing as an Italian stuntman and being introduced as "Antonio Margheriti" (the Italo-schlock director behind such classics as Cannibal Apocalypse and Yor, the Hunter from the Future).
So is this, in fact, Tarantino's "masterpiece"? I don't think so, at least as written, and I doubt he thinks it is either. It's too much a B-movie (albeit skillfully plotted and highly charged) for that. It may be that whatever originality Tarantino could ever lay claim to left him when he ran out of Roger Avary scripts to cannibalize; certainly everything he's written since Pulp Fiction has been derivative one way or another. Then again, Kill Bill seemed like an overstuffed revengesploitation flick until we saw what Tarantino did with it.
Reviewing a script is a bit like reviewing the ingredients of a meal instead of the meal itself — and in this case, it's only one ingredient. We still haven't seen the actors, or the way Tarantino will shoot and edit it, or the way the whole crazy melange (in a way, this is Tarantino's ultimate revengesploitation flick, the Jews thirsting for Nazi blood) will click together. In short, all the intangibles that make the difference between a Kill Bill and a Death Proof. (Not a big fan of that one, sorry.) We'll have to wait and see whether this truly is QT's masterpiece. It just might not be. Or it just might be.
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originally posted: 07/13/08 15:47:27
last updated: 07/14/08 00:04:20