Basterds and Rambo

Quote #1:

Inglourious Basterds reeks of arrogance and sadism and indifference to the value of human life.

It’s a movie in which brutal death happens every which way, and by this I mean stupidly, callously, carelessly, plentifully. I began to hate it early on for the way it takes almost every character down (including ones Tarantino appears to favor) with utter indifference. Kill this one, kill that one…this is too much fun! Especially since we’re doing it to the Germans, who did what they did to the Jews. Shoot ’em, beat ’em, burn ’em, strangle ’em, roast ’em….yeah!

I hated it, in short, because it doesn’t give those German pigs a fair shake. I hated it because it has the same attitude about those damn Nazis that the damn Nazis and the other anti-Semites had about the Jews in the lead-up to the attempted implementation of the Final Solution.”

Quote #2:

“Maybe it was because I’ve been watching nothing but festival movies for the past week and a half, but it’s so relentlessly blunt, so absurdly violent in a ’70s exploitation vein, so visceral and depraved and elbow-deep in jungle blood & guts that I loved it.

Every time a head got sliced or blown off, I laughed or let go with a big “yawww!” So did the mostly-male audience which applauded at the end. Everyone had a great time. I felt relaxed with these guys…bonded.”

Two friends arguing about the morality behind the latest film from Quentin Tarantino? No, it’s schizo-blogger Jeffrey Wells arguing with himself about when wanton violence is good and when it’s bad.

The first quote is Mr. Wells faking moral umbrage over Inglourious Basterds and the second is from his January ’08 love letter to Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, which Wells mightily enjoyed along with all the popcorn munching gorillas he normally seems to detest so much.

So, what changed in the 20 months between the two posts?

Wells elaborates a bit further on Basterds when he talks about the countenance of one of the Basterds’ German victims:

“…what speaks louder is (a) Sammel’s expression, which is clearly that of a man of intelligence and perception, (b) his eyes in particular, which have a settled quality that indicates a certain regular-Joe decency, and (c) his refusal to give Pitt information about nearby German troops that would lead to their deaths if he spilled.

Isn’t this is what men of honor and bravery do in wartime — i.e., refuse to help the enemy kill their fellow soldiers, even if it means their own death?”

By contrast he describes Brad Pitt’s character as one “who does everything but twirl his moustache as he contemplates the delicious prospect of seeing blood and brain matter emerge from Rachtman’s head.”

Wells then responds to the ensuing violence: “This is one of the most disgusting violent scenes I’ve ever sat through in my entire life. Morally disgusting, I mean.”

This is the same guy who went “Yawwww!” at Sylvester Stallone cutting Burmese in half with a .50 caliber machinegun.

What’s funny is it never occurs to him that maybe Tarantino is aiming for a little moral ambiguity in his picture – the very kind that was utterly lacking in Rambo, which went out of its way to make you feel good watching the good guy killing the bad guys in the most violent ways possible. Tarantino essentially says the same thing in an interview to BFI.org:

“Now, where I bring in, to me, some resonance to the piece is… Look, I’m not changing what the Basterds are doing at all. But there’s my portrayal of the German sergeant. He’s not a cringing coward. He’s very brave. He’s actually heroic if you consider his point of view on the subject. So I’m not making it easy for you. And I never make it easy in this movie. You can enjoy what the Basterds are doing, and I set it up for you to enjoy it. But I don’t make it that easy.”

And here’s Wells’ response to the Tarantino quote:

“Don’t believe that ‘not making it easy’ stuff. The movie makes it clear that Tarantino is down with the Basterds and their indiscriminate killings. He’s not trying to make it hard for anyone. It’s served up like fast food. He’s saying ‘this is cool, this is rad…can you dig it, chickie-poo?’ “

Let’s assume for a minute that Tarantino is baldly lying about his motives. Wells’ argument is still full of more shit than an outhouse in Slumdog Millionaire. Even fans of Rambo would agree that the killings in the movie are “served up like fast food,” but in Wellsworld, Stallone gets a “Yawwww” while Tarantino is “morally disgusting.”

There’s another more likely reason for Wells’ reaction: he wants Tarantino to get over the grindhouse wankery and get back to making Pulp Fictions and Jackie Browns. In the original Basterds piece, he writes about the first time he saw the film:

“I began hating Inglourious Basterds for the boredom (which is to say the repetition and the banality of making a movie about a cruddy ’70s exploitation movie and self-consciously smirking about this movie-ness from start to finish) and the acting (which is mostly wink-wink “bad” in a kind of ’70s grindhouse way)…”

He goes on to say:

“Tarantino has stuck his finger up his ass and given it a good sniff and smelled lilacs and gardenias so many times that he’s lost his mind…Inglourious Basterds is proof that QT has gone batshit crazy in the sense that he cares about nothing except his own backyard toys. He’s gone creatively nuts in the same way that James Joyce, in the view of some, crawled too far into his own anus and headspace when he wrote Finnegans Wake. (With no apostrophe between “n” and “s.”) All I know is that this is a truly empty and diseased film about absolutely nothing except the tip of that digit.”

What’s really bugging him here is the sense, shared by many, that Tarantino hasn’t lived up to the potential he showed in his films up through Jackie Brown and that Kill Bill and Death Proof were just film-geek wank-offs. Film lovers are beginning to wake up to the fact that maybe, just maybe, Tarantino isn’t the guy they thought he was when they crowned him the Godard of his generation at Sundance.

They might have a point. Stripped of the phony moral outrage, this is a perfectly reasonable argument and Wells should’ve stuck to it. Instead, he rides off on his moral high horse and he contradicts himself. You see, getting in touch with his (constantly repressed) inner gorilla through Rambo brought him a weird kind of post-coital bliss. As I picture Wells engaging in a damp group hug with his movie pals before they all retire to the local strip club, it’s tempting to argue that he had an easy time getting into violence directed at hordes of faceless Burmese yet found he couldn’t get his rocks off when it was directed at intelligent, decent, regular-Joe white people. I won’t go that far, but Wells would’ve enjoyed Inglourious Basterds much more if Tarantino hadn’t forced him to look into the eyes of his victims.

On top of his disappointment in later-career Tarantino, it turns out Wells really just prefers his mass killings to go off guilt free. There’s nothing wrong with that really, but spare us the bogus indignation please.

16 Responses to “Jeff Wells’ misplaced moral horror”

  1. Maybe Mr. Wells is suffering from the same virus that’s sweeping the nation regarding President Obama’s “death panels.” Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Sen. Grassley of Iowa, Newt Gingrich, ad infinitum, seem to be suffering from a newfound aversion — shall we call it flipflopitis? — to physician counseling regarding end-of-life decisions.

    I won’t defend Tarantino’s film without having seen it, but maybe — just maybe — Mr. Wells simply doesn’t appreciate, or maybe even understand, what the film is about. Or maybe he just has Quentin issues, some of which, at least, may be justified.

    Bottom line: Although people are free to change their minds, I’m suspicious of seeming inconsistencies such as this one.

  2. I don’t question Wells disliking IB…hell if I love it I’m going to have to jump through my own hoops to justify my own hatred of Rambo…but I really think he’s trumping up a phony moral argument when the real reasons for his disappointment are a lot more interesting.

    He’s not willing to take on Tarantino on cinematic grounds because he knows he’d be taken down in short order. Say what you want about Tarantino, he knows movies and he can talk them as fast as anyone.

    However, you can only argue against moral questions by using a blogger’s own words against him.

  3. Oh, sweet Jesus. I guess the apocalypse is really getting close…

  4. Hahaha…that is kinda entertaining to read, although I can extend a Wells a bit of sympathy by admitting that my own response to a particular film can vary depending on the point in my life in which I saw it and the head space that I was in. What bugs me (and makes the ensuing contrast quite funny) is the fact that Wells seems not only blithely ignorant of this dichotomy but incensed at Tarantino for making a movie that may indeed be what Wells himself didn’t want from Tarantino.

    Well who cares, Jeff? Who really cares? The day Tarantino or any director starts taking requests is the day the auteur theory gets buried six feet under.

    Next weekend I’ll make up my own mind about IB and who knows, maybe my opinion about it will vary wildly 20 months from now, but I hope I can be rational about it.

  5. I’m not a huge fan of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but Wells’ response makes him sound like an out of touch, uptight old fogey.

  6. If I recall Matthew, you had fun with Rambo so obviously your “meh” reaction to Basterds had more to do with the film itself and not the morality of it (or lack thereof). True enough?

  7. And more hypocritical for his original high praise for the script.

    Dude is just lookin’ for hits. His LEGO rant was epic in its fail.

  8. I liked the one where he complained about commenters going off on their own thing instead of using his pearls of wisdom as anal beads.

  9. WTF? That’s all I have to say about it.

    Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Sen. Grassley of Iowa, Newt Gingrich, ad infinitum, seem to be suffering from a newfound aversion — shall we call it flipflopitis? — to physician counseling regarding end-of-life decisions.

    Flipflopitis, lol. That needs to be added to the medical dictionaries. :p

  10. Is it related to Foot in Mouth disease?

  11. Oh that was priceless. And nobody complained…

  12. Yeah, I loved RAMBO, it’s just ridiculous over the top fun.

    BASTERDS is just overlong and unfocused. The opening scene is brilliant though, but the great moments are divided by long, rambling stretches of…nothing.

  13. I’ve long suspected that Iowa Senator Grassley Knoll was the second shooter.

  14. Wow, zing. That is some shrewd and piercing analysis, Craig Kennedy.

    I haven’t seen the film yet of course, but I did read the script and I think you’re dead right, both about Tarantino’s intent (seriously. Why lie???) and Wells’ ridiculous hypocrisy.

    Also, teehee. Damp hug. Brilliant.

  15. Jeffrey Wells is an arrogant piece of shit.

    I wish I were a waiter in L.A. so I could piss in his drink.

    http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2010/07/for_the_birds.php

  16. Luckily he lives in NY now and was just visiting LA.

Leave a Reply


Tiny Subscribe to Comments





  • LiC on Twitter

  • Archives

All material copyright 2007-2012 by Craig Kennedy unless otherwise stated