|Posted on September 9, 2009 at 10:37 AM|
I opened up the latest copy of Newsweek, which has been going downhill lately I should note due to their "restructuring" earlier this year, to the movie review section. I tend to like long-winded reviews as long as there's a point, and Daniel Mendelsohn is surely that. He always is well-written and I enjoy his reviews on occasion, although I have my preferences to others in terms of reviewers I tend to agree with more.
His latest review covered Inglourious Basterds, a film I gave high marks for due to it being simply well crafted and pure fun escapism. Mendelsohn doesn't quite agree with that, and for one, I have to say that his point is simply wrong. Yes, opinions can be wrong, and he very much is in one particular case. It's not his critique of our heroes of the film as bad as the Nazi's. That's a legitimate point which I noted myself (although I also bring up you still route for people in the film, just not the two extremes of Basterds versus Nazis). I won't go off on that tangent, however, as it deals with the whole idea of "history writing by the victors" and perspectives. Truth is, when it comes to war, nobody is really morally justified.
Mendelson feels that "..fantasies are even more misleading. To indulge them at the expense of the truth of history would be the most inglorious bastardization of all." In other words, because the film rewrites history to attend to its pure fantastical escapist nature, it's bad. This was his biggest complaint of the film as a whole and, I'm sorry, it's quite a stretch.
Fantasy is what films are great on, escapism with it doubly so. My Mendelson's reckoning, if he were a reviewer seeing Georges Méliès "A Trip to the Moon" at the turn of the century, it would be utterly awful due to the whole "space travel" thing being completely unrealistic and foolish before getting in his carriage to make way for the opium den.
Perhaps that's a stretch in my own right. Mendelson notes it's more the rewriting of history to create the fantasy, not the fantasy itself. So let me throw another at you: movies that deal with history at all. No movie has really accurate depicted a historical event perfectly, some are intentionally altered for various reasons ranging from the need to condense the story to simply add more drama.
Inglourious Basterds, though, doesn't try to sell itself off as a historical film from the beginning and the revision of history that I won't spoil here, is simply that: large. In reality, it's no different that many period-piece films that are supposed to be about real people and real events. This one just makes itself more noticeable. However, this movie is not about real people outside the few name drops for background fodder, nor is it about real events. It's entirely historical fiction: a tale that never happened during a time that actually did. Tarantino simply sees it through to the end. If you're going to start as a fantasy, have a middle as a fantasy...you might as well end on a fantasy as well with the biggest "what if?" scenario since Pyramids in "10,000 BC" and kilts in "Braveheart" (which weren't invented yet, not for another 300 years).
Is he concerned that people will see the movie and say "Oh...so that's what happened."? Let's give people credit, first of all. The fact that Inglourious Basterds notes itself as fantasy first and foremost will have people realizing it's all make-believe, unlike other films about history that rewrite it and don't note the changes in the footnotes. Those movies should be taken with a grain of salt, no matter how "accurate" the filmmakers say it is in terms of factual points. Inglourious Basterds is pure fantasy, therefore you don't need any salt, just sit and enjoy.
If you can't be susceptible to fantasy, which isn't always swords, elves and dragons, and simply "let go" with a film, then you're at a complete loss. Film is meant to let go of everything for a few hours. Some will stimulate intellectually, have you ponder issues and meanings. Others will have you on the edge of your seat, hiding from a killer or in the driver's seat as you get away from the police. And some are just there to say "Fuck you, Nazi" and blow their brains out in as visceral of a "letting go" scene you'll ever see on film (which is also why this film has become quite popular in Germany). Fantasy is film, and film is fantasy. To criticize it for being too fantastical on something as arbitrary as having to alter history when it's advertised as fantasy from the beginning is like criticizing a piece of candy for being too sugary after it advertises itself as being the sugariest candy in all of Willy Wonka's historically inaccurate factory.