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Inglorious Basterds

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    lawless

    I also just watched Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds over the weekend. I wouldn’t bother to mention it here, but it’s the first movie I’ve ever watched that reminded me of the way Kurosawa constructed his movies. If I meant it reminded me of a Kurosawa movie, then I’d have to include Sergio Leone’s ripoff of Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, which despite being an unauthorize remake is a masterpiece in itself.

    Don’t mistake me. I’m not saying it’s a perfect movie or that Tarantino’s a perfect director — the only other work of his I’ve seen is the season finale of the first season of the TV show Alias, which he directed and guest starred in. I had the impression that Tarantino was an indulgent director whose movies were mainly pastiches and homages to those forebears in the industry he admires.

    But while the tone of the movie was inconsistent, and some parts didn’t work for me, or verged on overlong (remind you of anyone?), it had the attention to detail, the use of visuals to create mood and help convey the story, the bursts of extreme violence and brutality, and the combination of strong storytelling with a story with meaning and social and philosophical content that marks some or all (depending on which factor we’re talking about) Kurosawa films. The soundtrack also reminded me of the soundtrack from Yojimgo, and Tarantino wrote the script, something else that makes this like a Kurosawa project.

    So there you are. At least on the basis of this movie, I see Quentin Tarantino as the director who comes the closest to being a successor to Kurosawa. I’m a little surprised, though not shocked, to have this revelation.

    If any of you have seen Inglorious Basterds or other Tarantino films, what do you think? I seem to remember Vili saying that he’s not a big Tarantino fan. If I wanted to watch other Tarantino movies, which ones would you recommend?

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    Ugetsu

    I disliked Inglorious Basterds when I was it first time, but oddly enough it grew on me the more I thought about it. I think when I watched it I couldn’t let the history nerd inside me go away, so I was outraged at the liberties he took with reality, but of course that is entirely the wrong way to see the film.

    I’ve very mixed feelings about Tarantino. Some parts of his films, especially Pulp Fiction, are among my all time favourite scenes ever. But his refusal to grow up and see life outside of cinema really irritates me. I once thought that his cinema nerd persona was a cover for a much more intelligent and insightful person. But now I’m not so sure.

    I can’t recall where I read it, but I think Tarantino has referenced Kurosawa very favourably in interviews, but I don’t think he listed Kurosawa films in his favourites list, although I think he does include Fistful of Dollars. The thing is, I think he quite deliberately only likes second or third hand references. While other film makers love to reference ‘the greats’, he loves to riff off the riffs, so to speak. So he prefers de Palma to Hitchcock, Leone to Kurosawa, and so on. I think this is quite deliberate, and in a way refreshing that he doesn’t feel the need to pretend he loves film makers he really doesn’t know much about, but feels he has to talk about to be taken seriously (as I suspect a huge number of those voting in the Sight and Sound poll do).

    I think there is definitely a Kurosawa feel to much of Tarantino’s work, in the sense that he is one of the very few film makers who truly understand how to integrate camera movements with editing without using gimmicks in order to heighten the impact of what we are seeing (and this particularly applies to action scenes). I’m really sick of films which use shakey camera work and ultra fast editing to try to disguise the film makers lack of skill, of for that matter those film makers who insist on showing violence directly rather than making us feel the impact through their control of the material in the way Kurosawa did. An example of where Tarantino succeeded in this is the famous scene of the ear getting sliced off in Reservoir Dogs – everything thinks he shows the ear getting sliced off, but he actually doesn’t! The scene is so well done that we think we’ve seen something horrible, when we actually just see the aftermath.

    I don’t actually think though that Tarantino is a real successor to Kurosawa. If any film maker does, I think its Coppola, and maybe to a lesser extent Scorsese. I think Tarantino completely lacks the breadth of vision of Kurosawa. He has the technique, but none of the heart.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you decry Tarantino’s “refusal to grow up and see life outside of cinema.” Can you explain that?

    I can understand your reaction to the fractured history. Perhaps as a consumer of manga, at least one of which is an alternate history of Tokugawa era Japan, and a creator and consumer of fanfiction, some of which are set in alternate universes or present an alternate history, it was easier for me to accept. Even so, I did some digging online afterward in order to figure out what parts were historically plausible and which parts weren’t.

    I knew, though, that there was no squadron dedicated to assassinating Nazis the way Roane’s squadron did in the movie, nor was there any serious attempt that I know of on the part of the Allies, as opposed to people within the Third Reich, to assassinate Hitler or any of the other top Nazi officials. In fact, one of the two points about which I had a hard time suspending disbelief was that what the Nazis were doing to the Jews was so well-known that it would have filtered that far down in the military or that if it had, anyone would have cared that much about it. (The other point I had a hard time with was that Shoshonna’s employment of and romance with a black man wouldn’t make her a social outcast and her cinema a target for boycotts and hate crimes.) As far as I know, the evidence is to the contrary.

    IDK, I think it is only honest for him to list the directors whose works he grew up viewing as first run movies. That would never have been true for Hitchcock and Kurosawa. Yet his moviemaking, as you note, is more like Kurosawa than those intermediary directors like Leone and De Palma, who of the four of them I’m not that familiar with. Leone may have been restrained in his use of violence, but the effect you describe of making the audience believe they’ve seen an ear sliced off when they’ve only seen the result of it not only originated with Kurosawa but seems more like him than like the intermediate figures like Leone who Tarantino sees as his direct influences. Also, I have to believe that he’s seen enough movies to know that Kurosawa is the one who pioneered the techniques he’s using. Whether or not he acknowledges him as the source of these techniques is irrelevant, and even if he had originally gotten them from someone like Leone, Kurosawa is still the original source.

    I think there is definitely a Kurosawa feel to much of Tarantino’s work, in the sense that he is one of the very few film makers who truly understand how to integrate camera movements with editing without using gimmicks in order to heighten the impact of what we are seeing (and this particularly applies to action scenes). I’m really sick of films which use shakey camera work and ultra fast editing to try to disguise the film makers lack of skill, of for that matter those film makers who insist on showing violence directly rather than making us feel the impact through their control of the material in the way Kurosawa did.

    This is exactly what I was getting at. I know that later on Kurosawa came to rue making the technical breakthroughs he made in Yojimbo and Sanjuro (and, to a certain extent, the battle scenes in Seven Samurai and the ending of Throne of Blood) because they helped pave the way for the all-action, all-blood all the time movies we see today. But people like Tarantino use these techniques artisitically, using the camera and editing to achieve effects artistically rather than through some mindless use of CGI to create special effects that are mere spectacle.

    I’m not sure what your criteria are for being a successor to Kurosawa. What I meant by it was filmmaking in a style reminiscent of Kurosawa, not necessarily an adherence to the same vision — in terms of message or topic of concern, at least — as Kurosawa or equaling the breadth and depth of his work. That said, The Last Temptation of Christ is the only Scorcese movie I’ve seen, and I would probably classify it as an outlier among his movies from what I’ve read about them. If anything, that movie struck me as influenced by a weird amalgam of Fellini and Bergman.

    Similarly, the only Coppola movies I’ve seen were The Godfather and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the latter of which, while not the worst movie ever, was (mostly) an overwrought wet mess. The Godfather was an excellent, well-made film, but it struck me as a good, solid Hollywood film made from a pulp novel, not a revelation or something out of the ordinary. It was not, imo, a work of genius, nor did it take huge risks other than potentially the shock value of the horse in the bed and the partial nudity. While I think he’s far more creative and visionary than the merely competent like Spielberg, I think Coppola is overrated as a director. Speilberg’s movies, while less creative and visionary and made with more head and less heart, are more consistent and controlled.

    On the basis of Inglorious Basterds, at least, I would disagree with you that Tarantino is all technique and no heart. I found it very emotionally engaging.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to when you decry Tarantino’s “refusal to grow up and see life outside of cinema.” Can you explain that?

    I think my basic point is that for all their brilliance, I thought that his early films were really just very clever pastiches, and that he would over time start making ‘real’ films – about real things and real people. But he has quite unapologetically continued making tributes to his favourite films, which is fine, I just wish that someone with his skill would try something different.

    I can understand your reaction to the fractured history. Perhaps as a consumer of manga, at least one of which is an alternate history of Tokugawa era Japan, and a creator and consumer of fanfiction, some of which are set in alternate universes or present an alternate history, it was easier for me to accept. Even so, I did some digging online afterward in order to figure out what parts were historically plausible and which parts weren’t.

    I’m afraid I can’t find the quotes right now, but my understanding about Inglorious Basterds is that Tarantino said that he was not actually making a film about WWII. He was in fact making a film tribute to his favourite WWII films. In other words, the entire film was a riff on war films, with no pretence about it being about the war. It was similar to Kill Bill, which was a pastiche tribute to his favourite Asian action films. I know you can’t always take what he says in public literally, but it does seem plausible to me that his entire approach to film making is to watch other films and ignore ‘reality’ (without getting into a philosophical discussion on what constitutes reality). In its own way I think this is quite admirable in its purity, but I do think its an approach with rapidly diminishing returns (despite that, I am really looking forward to his new Django Unchained).

    Similarly, the only Coppola movies I’ve seen were The Godfather and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the latter of which, while not the worst movie ever, was (mostly) an overwrought wet mess. The Godfather was an excellent, well-made film, but it struck me as a good, solid Hollywood film made from a pulp novel, not a revelation or something out of the ordinary. It was not, imo, a work of genius, nor did it take huge risks other than potentially the shock value of the horse in the bed and the partial nudity. While I think he’s far more creative and visionary than the merely competent like Spielberg, I think Coppola is overrated as a director. Speilberg’s movies, while less creative and visionary and made with more head and less heart, are more consistent and controlled.

    First off, you need to see some Scorsese films! Taxi Driver and Goodfellas are imo mindlblowingly great films. I do think his use of flowing camerawork and editing owes much to Kurosawa, but I’m not technically competent enough to do a good comparison. As for Coppola, I think Godfathers I and II owe a great deal to The Bad Sleep Well (Coppola has acknowledged it as a major influence). Apocalypse Now is one of the great Hollywood films in my opinion, it blew my mind as a teenager when I first saw it and still has immense power. Unfortunately, his personal finances were always a mess so most of his films were from scripts given to him by the studios. The reason I mentioned Coppola as a successor is not just his style which clearly owes much to Kurosawa’s contemporary films, but in the ambition of his films. Coppola always thought big – in intellectual ambition and scale of his films. In this way I think he and Kurosawa were soulmates, they saw the potential of cinema as an artform and went all out to do what they could with it.

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    Vili Maunula

    I haven’t seen a whole Tarantino film since the 1997 Jackie Brown. At that point, I just gave up on him, seeing as I quite strongly disliked all the films that I had seen from him by then. And based on what I have read, none of his later projects have looked like something that I would like, either.

    Although I actually saw about a half of the first Kill Bill, only to confirm that Tarantino still wasn’t for me.

    My view of Tarantino is pretty much what Ugetsu wrote: he just seems to have a lot of style but no real substance. And the substance that is there, as Ugetsu pointed out, has mainly to do with other films. Which is an interesting idea, but the kind of films that he references aren’t really the kind that speak to me, and as a result his take on them doesn’t resonate with me, either. Additionally, his style isn’t really something that I enjoy watching.

    Having said that, I hugely respect the guy. I still keep an eye on him and watch many of his interviews. He is an interesting person with some interesting ideas. Here, by the way, is his top 10 for Sight & Sound.

    And I am of course planning to sit through Django Unchained when it comes out. As I have mentioned before, the original Django holds a special place in my heart, so perhaps this time around I’ll be understanding Tarantino’s language better.

    And Django itself is of course kind of part of the Yojimbo mythos. So, gotta see it for that as well!

    Anyway, based on my memory of the Tarantino films that I have seen, I wouldn’t necessarily link him with Kurosawa, but as it’s been more than 10 years since I last saw an entire Tarantino film, I don’t think that I can really argue either way.

    I will also have to be boring and once again say that I agree with Ugetsu (this is becoming a habit, I know): from the directors mentioned here, and from the contemporary directors that I can think off the top of my head, Coppola is probably closest to Kurosawa, at least when he gets to shoot his own project. His last two films, Youth Without Youth and Tetro are among my favourite films from recent years. Actually, having written that I just remembered that there is an even more recent film called Twixt that I haven’t seen yet. I need to check if it has become available.

    But there is much in Youth Without Youth and Tetro that, to me, seem to resonate with what Kurosawa was doing when he turned 70. I’m not saying that you should pick up Coppola’s late films expecting to see Kagemusha or Ran, but they do have similar retrospection, honesty and themes that Kurosawa was exploring towards the end of his career. The mood in these films is also quite similar to Kurosawa’s late films.

    But a word of warning: neither Youth Without Youth nor Tetro are exactly universally praised. As I said, I really like them, but most people don’t seem to.

    Finally, I also second the need for everyone to watch Scorsese films. I don’t like all of them, but he is good.

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    lawless

    I guess this is more of a response to Ugetsu’s comment than Vili’s. I didn’t recognize anything in Inglorious Basterds as being derivative of WWII movies, although I’ll admit I probably haven’t watched a lot of them, nor did it feel like a pastiche of such movies.

    The reason I mentioned Coppola as a successor is not just his style which clearly owes much to Kurosawa’s contemporary films, but in the ambition of his films. Coppola always thought big – in intellectual ambition and scale of his films. In this way I think he and Kurosawa were soulmates, they saw the potential of cinema as an artform and went all out to do what they could with it.

    On the basis of my own admittedly limited experience, I don’t see Coppola as showing the same kind of ambition as Kurosawa or as seeing the potential of cinema as an art form. I can kind of see the going all out to do what he could with it, but from my standpoint, his record is much more mixed on that score than Kurosawa’s. While The Godfather is a great Hollywood movie, it’s still not as good, imo, as the best of Kurosawa. I wouldn’t even put it on my list of my 20 favorite movies. It may not even be in the top 50. On the other hand, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is, imo, worse than just about anything of Kurosawa’s I’ve seen, including The Idiot.

    While Apocalypse Now is a widely well-regarded movie, I just can’t bring myself to watch it. I very rarely watch war movies (I’m even more didactic about not watching romantic tragedies that aren’t based on Shakespeare), and what I know of the plot of Apocalypse Now strikes me as overly intense and bordering on the incredible. (And yes, I’m aware that it’s an adaptation of Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness.)

    I also don’t see the connection between Coppola’s films and Kurosawa’s contemporary ones, but I haven’t seen all of Kurosawa’s contemporaries. Most notably, I have yet to see Record of a Living Being, The Bad Sleep Well, or High and Low.

    As for his more recent films, I think I read an interview he gave just before Youth Without Youth came out, but Tetro doesn’t ring a bell.

    As for Scorsese, I’m sure watching his films would be rewarding. However, there are many films I have more interest in seeing that I have yet to see, so I can’t make any promises in that regard. While the subjects of his films are not completely devoid of interest to me, they are not ones that I find all that compelling.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: On the basis of my own admittedly limited experience, I don’t see Coppola as showing the same kind of ambition as Kurosawa or as seeing the potential of cinema as an art form. I can kind of see the going all out to do what he could with it, but from my standpoint, his record is much more mixed on that score than Kurosawa’s.

    Actually, I think it is exactly the ambition that Coppola shares with Kurosawa. Both directors like to reach a little further than they perhaps can handle. They challenge themselves. As a result, the works of both filmmakers have many rough edges, but also moments of absolute brilliance. Always in a single film, sometimes in a single scene.

    I would totally agree though that Kurosawa managed this game a little better. Coppola has sometimes been a little too much out of his (or anyone’s!) league. But maybe that’s why I love him so.

    Anyway, I totally understand why someone wouldn’t be interested in Coppola, or Scorsese for that matter. It’s like me and Tarantino, I suppose.

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