Inglourious Basterds

Hans der Sieger (Hans The Victor)
Hans der Sieger (Hans The Victor)

So let us say a few words about that silly movie „Inglourious Basterds”.
( Polish version of this text here )

Actually, as a matter of fact in the film there are only two scenes worthy of a film with class. The first, from which the whole saga begins and the scene in a tavern, now known as the “scene of playing cards.” All the rest is actually junk, which probably is not worth to be written about, but since this movie, as classified under the genre “action”, is to give us some entertainment, so let us entertain ourselves (at its expense though…).

And so the first scene shows us a family of French farmers, Christians (we see the cross on the wall), who hide a Jewish family of five people, named Dreyfus. The SS are coming, led by SS-Standartenfűhrer Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz). The scene, at least to some extent, reflects the atmosphere of “hunting for Jews” by the meticulous Nazis, as well as the atmosphere of blackmail against persons hiding such fugitives. We assume that the scene is deliberately dramatized and overdone, but such is the character of the movie-industry (for example  it is extremely unlikely that the Germans, having found Jews hiding in someone’s house, shot them straight away with machine-guns in that house while the hosts looked on…). There is one jarring in this scene: a monologue by the SS-Mann comparing Jews to rats (by way of a kind similar to that in the German film “Der ewige Jude” ), but in such a way as to show these “rats” as living in a hostile environment because people are quite wrongly prejudiced against them. In this gentle way the old myth is reinvigorated that if there were hostilities between the Jews and the nations among whom they lived for centuries, it was only and exclusively the fault of the latter, who themselves have really not known why they could not tolerate Jews. The  Jews themselves however are always only victims of someone else’s collective guilt …

But let us move on:

Hiding under the floor, the Jews are shot from above, through the floorboards, and about 18-19 years old Shossanna Dreyfus escapes (of course after Landa intentionally abandons to shoot her…). This is the starting point for all future action, and actually for a number of actions throughout the film. Shossanna, after having fled to Paris, will take her mass- revenge on the Nazi. Landa will continue to be the “soul” of action and the best actor of this movie, outclassing others, including Brad Pitt. Lieutenant Aldo Raine (that is Brad Pitt) is simultaneously mobilizing a group of 8 American Jews for a special task in France.

And here is where the whole problem with this film, which became literally a gutter-trash, compared to which the “Leper” by Mniszkówna grows almost to a novel worthy of Nobel Prize in Literature …

Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) says to his team that their only job is to kill the Nazis. “We will be cruel to the Germans” – he declares. No, not just to the Nazis, as it turns out, but to”everyone in the Nazi uniform” as such “do not have humanity in themselves.” This noble task is to be performed by “disemboweling and dismembering” (all quotes verbatim from the movie). Aldo Raine does not stop there. He issues an order to each of the eight to bring him “one hundred Nazi scalps” and adds that he will scrupulously require those scalps.

And so, in the second sequence, the film tells us what all the action will be. It was at that time the scriptwriter depreciated and botched the whole scenario. He botched it so completely, that even the excellent acting by Christoph Waltz was not able to turn the trash into a masterpiece. The fact we have to admit here is, that the scenario helped Waltz as Standartenfűhrer Landa. Landa is, as a matter of fact, the only colorful and complex character throughout the film. The rest of the roles have been treated very schematically, almost “copied” from other, equally dismal roles from cinema’s earlier years.

The action, therefore, goes two ways: Shossanna Dreyfus, the young Jewish woman who survived the execution, now manages her own cinema in Paris (inherited, how else, the easiest way for the scriptwriter, after all ..), hiding from the Nazis as a native Frenchwoman, and plans her vengeance (by the way: how many movies have we watched already, where the hero “inherits” something at a convenient time, so that the action could go forth?).

At the same time, on the “parallel track” the Nazis are being dealt with in a concrete way, performed by Aldo Raine’ai his infamous eight. These nine Jews in France, scare Hitler almost to death in Berlin. We “learn” that Hitler was so childishly superstitious, that he actually identified one of these Jews as the mythical Golem. Explanation here: The Golem (גולם) in the Jewish mythology, is a character made of crude matter, and can become dangerous. According to one legend, in Prague in the time of Rudolf II (sixteenth century) there was persecution of Jews. So Rabbi Loew created  Golem out of clay on the bank of The Vltava river, blowing life into it through rituals and recitations in Hebrew.
Golem was killing the goyim, and to the extent that the frightened emperor begged the rabbi to annihilate Golem. This he did in exchange for a promise to leave the Jews alone. More about Golem here

So Hitler is raging during a meeting with his generals, while at the same time posing for a huge portrait (when did Hitler pose for a portrait during a military conference, eh?) He requires a proof that the terror-spreading Jew in France is not a Golem, so that he can be killed along with his companions. He announces hysterically (and is cinematography of this kind at all familiar with any other Hitler than hysterical?) that he will hang them on the Eiffel Tower, and then throw them to the sewer for rats to eat them (that is also authentic “sample” of the scenario –  true genius, is it not?).

Proud of their achievement: Roth and Pitt after cutting a swastika on a POWs forehead
Proud of their achievement: Roth and Pitt after cutting a swastika on a POW's forehead

Meanwhile, the “inglorious bastards” slay and scalp Germans at will. They get joint and strenghened at some point by another “bastard”, a certain Hugo Stiglitz, who alone slaughtered 13 Gestapo-officers. And that “Golem” is a Jew named Danny Donowitz, known as the “Bear Jew” (actor Eli Roth), whom we see in an almost clinical fury of bashing  German prisoners of war to death with a baseball-bat. In this he specializes. Aldo Raine on his part likes to cut swastikas on their foreheads with a huge knife. Then the scene of scalping continues to follow.

Conversations are also worthy of such a “work of art”. For example, Aldo wants a prisoner, a certain sergeant Rachtmann, to tell him where the German positions are, “If you ever want to eat your sauerkraut-sandwich again” (novelty cuisine a la Hollywood …) and “So you remove your Wiener-Schnitzel-licking-finger and show on the map what I want to know “, because otherwise he will be bashed to death with a baseball bat, as it finally happens. It seems to be such a sort of Jewish war-humor, that’s what it is …

Shossanna Dreyfus, now the owner of a cinema in Paris, meets a Wehrmacht-soldier named Frederick Zoller there (should probably be Friedrich Zoller). He, of course, instantly has a crush on her – how could a German war-hero resist charms of a German-hating Jewess? Zoller is indeed “ein Held”, because he alone as a sniper shot more than 200 American soldiers. For this reason Joseph Goebbels personally supervises the production of a movie based on Zoller’s exploits, giving it a title “Nation’s Pride” (could one not think of a better title in Hollywood?). And because Zoller is keen on Shossanna, so Goebbels is persuaded to hold the premiere of the movie (which of course is meant to be a political “major event” for the German film industry and for the III Reich)  in her cinema. In this way Goebbels falls into a trap… And with him Adolf Hitler, “the fatty Hermann” and almost the entire OKW that is the entire high command of the German armed forces… They all are going to fall victims of vengeance by a young Jewish woman.  She is being helped by the “bastards”, who pretend to be Italian filmemakers. And by one British film-critic, drafted into a special military unit and sent to Paris by Churchill himself… 

And so both „threads” of the movie: the one of Shossanna’s and Brad Pitt’s and his bastards, are intertwined into one “rope”. The formal “pleating” of those two threads took place during the scene of “playing cards” which was already mentioned at the beginning and which took place in a tavern 27 kilometers from Paris.  The German actress von Hammersmark, that “Mata Hari”, serves as a “contact” for the bastards and for that British critic turned special-task-officer. Some complications arise: a few drunken German soldiers in the tavern are celebrating a birth of a child to one of them. And as if it was not enough, an SS-Mann appears suddenly after the British agent’s German pronunciation rises suspicions in him. The rising tension reaches its zenith, when the SS-Mann, the Brit and Hugo Stiglitz (the one who slew those 13 Gestapo-men) point their guns at… each other’s testicles… Everything ends in a total shooting which killed almost everyone (including the barman) with the exception of Aldo-Pitt and von Hammersmark.

To sum up: one „mash” (or „peas with cabbage” as a Polish idiom would have it), an unimaginable scribblery, one can laugh indeed (at the „creators” and producers of this trash… as well as at actors who agreed to appear in it – well, perhaps with the exception of Waltz because he presented himself relatively well against the background of the whole mediocrity of script and acting…). But in regards to Waltz or rather the Standartenfűhrer Landa played by him: that clever guy nosed out the whole conspiracy, arrested the participants and strangled von Hammersmark (that is that “Mata Hari” working for the British) with his own hands. Landa arranged the whole affair so, that he left two of the bastards still sitting in the cinema with their explosives tied to their legs (from whom did the Hollywood folk learn this sort of “method”: from Osama bin Laden?). He had lieutenant Aldo Raine and yet another “bastard” seated at a desk, at which he himself also took a seat. The clever SS-Mann, knowing (it was already after the Allied landing in Normandy) that the war was coming to an end and that the end of the III Reich was near, decided to play vabanque:

So, how is it going to be?
So, how is it going to be?

he placed a phone on the desk. And announced that it would be sufficient for him just to make a call and the whole „Action ‘Cinema’” would get jeopardized as he would get the two remaining „basterds” arrested. But… if Raine gets him in touch with the American high command and if they guarantee his safety, then he will allow the execution of the III Reich’s bosses in the cinema and will offer his own “conditional surrender”. Conditional, because in exchange he wanted US citizenship and a property on one of US islands. Additionally he demanded a handsome pay, a Congressional Medal of Honor for his merits in a swift ending of the war and thereby saving countless lives. The scheme succeeded and an agreement was made.

Therefore Shossanna’s revenge (after she was already shot by Friedrich) succeeds. The generals, admirals and with them almost the entire OKW, Hitler, Goebbels, Bormann, not expecting anything, roar with laughter over each “Yank” shot dead by Zoller in the movie shown to them. Ovations and applause seem to have no end. Particularly Hitler’s insane laughter erupts every now and again, as if he was watching Laurel and Hardy… And it was in their mirth that the spectators were completely surprised by Shossanna’s revenge, brought into effect by her Negro lover… With the whole cinema on fire, the Nazis are killed both by fire and bullets (when Donowitz-Roth, along with his buddy shoot at them,
disfiguring  Hitler’s face), and from the screen, from a pre-recorded film, Shossanna’s face looks at them while her voice chases them: “My name is Shossanna Dreyfus. And this is the face of Jewish vengeance” (we request a prize for the “creators” of the movie – award for the “Total Trash of the Year”. Or perhaps The Golden Palm or Oscar straight away?).

 But it’s not over yet. We still have to know how the saga of the „bastards” and Hans Lande ends. According to the agreement Landa has with the US military command is such, that he has to take his captives to the American front line. There he has to voluntarily become their prisoner together with his driver. Alas, the bastards kill this second German as soon as they get their weapons back from Landa. They also scalp the dead man immediately. And Landa himself  gets a swastika cut on his forehead by Raine, who considers this particular swastika to be his greatest masterpiece. And so the movie ends.

Actually, the entire movie is such a bottomless kitsch in which one really does not even know why the whole thing was given its title “Inglorious basterds”. After all, there were more heroes than these nine (and at one point ten) men. Maybe it was simply that their exploits were to be particularly stressed? Or perhaps all the other plots were invented simply as a background on which to show a few Jews slaughtering, shooting and scalping Germans and having their brains bashed out with a baseball bat?

Standartenfűhrer’s Triumph
"Standartenfűhrer’s Triumph"

Anyway, quite unexpectedly, the highest praise for a role in the movie went neither to Brad Pitt for his „sauerkraut-sandwich” nor to Eli Roth for his “sporty” treatment of Rachtmann’s skull as a baseball, but to Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. And since his role is by far the most interesting one, I even intended to give my commentary here the title “Standartenfűhrer’s Triumph”. That triumph was a bit dimmed by that cutting of swastika on his forehead in the last scene, but it must be admitted, that for such a bandit, the penalty he got, was ridiculously small… And in addition he had to receive one of the highest US medals, a huge retirement payout and a large real estate property in America. It looks even like a kind of a “conquest”, does it not? Coupled with Waltz’s acting (one critic even wrote: “Waltz delivers the best supporting performance of the year, playing a bad dude in ways that make you want to love him“), outclassing, without any exception, all his colleagues including Brad Pitt, it gives a rather unexpected result as for a movie of which one can safely say that it is a work of Jewish production… This actor had already received a number of awards for his role in the movie…

Therefore one can laugh indeed. Also at critics who, as if on command, are now singing praises of this kitschy mixture of graphomania and glorification of violence. Of course one can also damn it as emphatically as possible – also for the same graphomania and glorification of violence… Who crows with delight over the “Basterds” today? Well, these are often the same people who barely 5 years ago were almost choking with indignation over “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson… And what exactly was it that made them so indignant then? Well, the excess of violence… Known to us is even at least one Catholic journalist who then called that movie a “Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade”… (how will he call the “Basterds” today, eh?). However at least it can be said about the “Passion” that Gibson wanted to re-create the execution by crucifixion. And he did so on the basis of historical descriptions of such executions and on the basis of archeological findings, supporting the use of various tools. Some of the critics argued that the main message of the death of Christ was either blurred or even completely lost by the show of bloody scenes. Others argued that it was not lost at all, or even that it was emphatically stressed. Which is a completely normal difference of opinion.

Well, and what is the „main message” of the „Inglourious Basterds”? Maybe something like: “be an anti-Semite an you will get your brains bashed out with a baseball bat”? Or perhaps there is no message at all, one simply wanted to create a kind of entertainment mixed with a dose of horror?

So why actually is Quentin Tarantino’s movie receiving all the praise from critics, who often behave as if someone gave them a wink to start recitations? Neither the script deserves it nor montage of film, scenography, nor acting (except for Waltz of course). The music is not bad, but alone it would not justify all those dithyrambs. Who knows whether those critics who express themselves with such devotion about Tarantino’s work, do not resemble those Nazi fat cats from the movie who, in the cinema in Paris, were loudly voicing their admiration for the movie “Stolz der Nation” just shortly before their own final disaster. There might be some more “bastards” sired by cinematography of a particular sort and a „disaster” will come to the critics themselves after it will become clear to everyone which sort of bungles they praise. Loss of prestige after such shameful behaviour will be a real disaster for them – let us hope then that it is going to be as swift and unexpected as that one in the movie, that gives rise to their loud admiration.

In terms of presentation of violence, this movie is below the level of many other films, even the famous “Jud Suss” , that is that particular Nazi production, which at one time was given huge publicity, and which is still  considered among many to be a particularly infamous movie… In that Nazi movie there is, as a matter of fact, only on scene of violence comparable to those in “Inglourious Basterds”. This is the final scene in which the Jew Oppenheimer is publicly hanged. But the hanging is shown from a distance, not in a close-up. Therefore all details of a close-up, like bulging eyes or tongue pushed outside by a rope tightening on the neck, are missing. There is simply nothing of those things so characteristic for the scenes in the “Basterds” or even in many other contemporary movies. In this way it is not just a difference between particular movies like the “Basterds” or “Jud Sűss” (both of which are infamous for this writer), but a difference between whole generations within cinematography. In the past the film industry was not so intoxicated with violence and its presentation as it is today. Currently there is a kind of exhilaration by violence. Hence there are movies, no longer even based on the recognized literature, like Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel “Jud Sűss”, but on graphomanic scribbling, full of violence and it’s glorification, just as if the authors assumed that the more there is face-bashing, slitting of throats, shooting and smashing skulls, the better the movie…

In the „Basterds” there is also another, fictional, movie featured, and namely the German movie that was supposed to become that “event” with its premiere in Shossanna’s cinema. In that fictional movie the scene was also supposed to be covered with corpses, through Friedrich Zoller’s actions and Dr Goebbels’ invention. This was the “Nation’s Pride” or “Stolz der Nation”. The German title is then seen on a poster. There is no error in that title. But in the Third Reich, instead the term “nation” one would most likely use “Volk” as it is German, while “nation” comes from Latin. One has to know that the Third Reich was one of the few countries in modern history, which successfully forced many foreign-language words out of use. So if such a movie was made, it would probably have the title “Stolz des Volkes”. But it of course did not exist, hence Hitler could not convulse with laughter in the cinema. In general, the German film-industry was not geared to show too much killing. The Nazis could kill in reality, but the image of war in movies was relatively mild in this regard when it came to films showing WW2. The relatively most violent German movie from that period, watched by this writer, was “Heimkehr” (“Return” or “Home-Coming”) made in 1941 (directed by Gustav Ucicky), in which these brutal scenes were the scenes of brutal persecution of the German minority in Poland by Polish authorities. But these scenes are anyway very mild compared to what our contemporary cinematography has sometimes to “offer”. There are some rare killings shown in another movie “U-Boote westwärts!”  (“U-Boats westwards!”) (also from 1941), in which even admiral Dőnitz appeared personally as a “guest star” in the final scene…

More of the dead can be seen in those movies which relate to the military conflicts of past eras, such as “Der Groβe Kőnig” (“The Great King”) from the year 1942, on the Seven Years War and the Prussian king Frederick The Great (shown at the beginning is the battle lost by Frederick at Kunersdorf) or “Kolberg” (a color movie made in 1944, premiere on 30 January 1945) on the defense of the city of Kolberg (Polish: “Kołobrzeg”) in Pomerania against Napoleon’s army in 1807.

Of course, quite apart from the different nature of all the above mentioned movies, “Inglourious Basterds” could not really be even compared to “The Great Kong” or “Kolberg” as it is such a wretched trash…
Small-scale errors were also not avoided. For example the error occurs whenever the word “Kino” (“cinema”) is used by the German characters. True, there is such a word in German. In the Third Reich however purely German terms “Lichtspiel” and sometimes “Lichtspieltheater” were preferred…

Another error is made in the scene, where the actress Hammersmark calls Hans Landa a “colonel” (“Oberst”), when everyone in Nazi Germany knew that in the SS this rank was known as „Standartenfűhrer” (could the German co-producers not inform the Jewish Hollywooders accordingly?). That “colonel” drags behind Landa throughout the movie, God knows why…

And how are the well-known Nazi characters presented? „Hitler” is not at all similar to himself, just the hair combed to the left and a mustache, that’s all. So much for any “similarity”. And his face was purposely made to look more demonic than it really was. “Goebbels” looks in the movie like… almost anyone you want, except for Goebbels…
Even “der dicke Hermann” or Marshall “Hermann Gőring” appears (without saying anything however). It was only very rightly so that when he was shown, an inscription with his name and an arrow pointing at him appeared as well. Otherwise one would not guess that it was supposed to be him… Reviews mention even “Bormann” in the movie, but we were unable to locate anyone with Bormann’s appearance there… We also caught a glimpse of characters, who, if their physiognomies were chosen better, could be “Runstedt” and „Dőnitz” (or perhaps it was not “Runstedt” but “Keitel”?). In this massive collection of the top Nazi figures in Shossanna’s cinema the lack of one of them is almost striking: “Heinrich Himmler”. And so “Bormann” was (apparently) there and “Himmler” was not? It is especially surprising that it was Himmler who was the most ominous figure in the III Reich in regards to Jews. How was it then possible to forget about him and not to smash his bespectacled face with a hail of bullets as well? (oh, those “shortcomings”!).

In total, the movie gives an embarassing impression of a „comic” book with weak content, but with a dose of killing. What to think about such “works”?

from a blood-stained baseball bat hangs a white, crumpled and blood-stained military cap of a West Point graduate...
"from a blood-stained baseball bat hangs a white, crumpled and blood-stained military cap of a West Point graduate..."

Let us try to imagine the American historical relations with their own Natives (the “Indians”). Let us assume for a moment that a movie is made, let us call it “Apache Basterds” (with an “Indian” director and screenplay, “Indian” actors and so on) depicting actions by nine Native volunteers, who with knives and baseball bats sow terror among the American police, sheriffs, FBI and US Army. Imagine a poster advertising the movie, similar to the posters of “Inglourious Basterds”: from a blood-stained baseball bat hangs a white, crumpled and blood-stained military cap of a West Point graduate… Film critics (especially those with “Indian” roots) are running mad with delight and rapture and write profusely about the director’s “triumphant return” and then go on praising the screenplay and actors’ performance. The movie is nominated to various awards and even in New York a “bombastic” premiere (similar to the premiere of Tarantino’s movie in Berlin) is organized, attended by aces of the American and international cultural “cream”.
Are we able to imagine a movie “Basterds of Palestine” featuring a group of Palestinian militants treating various Mossad officers and soldiers of the Israeli army in a “Roth-like” and “Pitt-like” fashion (also with those knives and baseball bats…) or at least cutting David Stars on their foreheads? Or at least an “Arabic Brad Pitt” saying with “humor” to a scared Israeli „so that you take out your kosher-food-licking-finger and show on the map what I want to know”. What would film critics say to all of this?
As for me personally, Tarantino’s movie gave me the idea of an entirely new scenario “Drei Kameraden im Einsatz”. After all, why not to go further (without however all that deviated inclination to get inebriated with killings…).

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