I have watched Quentin Tarantino promote and explain his new movie Inglourious Basterds, with clips, on two talk shows now. This will not propel me to rush to the nearest Cineplex to save my movie-loving soul and see it. I might watch it, or parts of it, on TV some night years hence. I’m in no hurry.

One of the clips shows a clean cut kraut in spotless uniform kneeling meekly before Jewish Resistance leader Brad Pitt. From a tunnel in this wooded setting enters one of Pitt’s men, in a sleeveless undershirt, carrying a baseball bat, resembling a Brooklyn street kid from the 1940s. Only instead of hitting a baseball, he takes aim at the Nazi’s head and swings for the fences.

This brought to mind a conversation from a Woody Allen film, in which Woody says something to the effect that Nazis aren’t funny and it’s okay to take a baseball bat to them. It would be just like Tarantino, movie maven that he is, who also acts in and writes the movies he directs, to pull this bit of dialogue from a friendly bar scene and take it to another level, so to speak, and turn it into pornographic violence. This is what Q.T. does best: twist things like that. He calls it homage, or maybe hommage.

What Q.T. doesn’t quite understand is that, in a flash before bat meets brain, we imagine ourselves as the victim. So no matter what evil the character has done or represents, we suffer the blow in our imagination.

What I will never forgive Q.T. for, unless he asks for it, is Pulp Fiction, which unfortunately was nominated for seven Oscars in 1995 and won Best Screenplay. This gave money and clout to the terrible adolescent, propelling him to make even more awful movies like Kill Bill.

What kind of damage did Pulp Fiction do to do American cinema? Well, it spawned a whole host of hit man films designed to derange and destroy the middle class. In Grosse Pointe Blank, for example, John Cusack plays a hit man, in coat and tie, who returns to his high school reunion. He’s just like Bob, Ted, or Larry, except that Martin Blank is a freelance assassin. Whereas Ted might carry golf clubs in his car trunk, Marton packs the right weapon for the job. And, guess what, Martin has emotional problems; he begins to develop a conscience and sees a shrink. Isn’t life a beach.

With his genius I.Q. and arrested development, Q.T. burrows into the American psyche, looking for weak joints, creaking foundations. Or maybe, worse, he just does what he loves best and it turns out this way. The middle class had lost its panache, became dysfunctional and wimpy, with mom and dad bed hopping and son and sis doing drugs and cheating in school. Their crimes were petty crimes. Maybe, comedically, they pulled a heist to make ends meet. But there was a line they did not cross.

Tarantino, with his nose to the streets of L.A. and taste for the lurid in filmmaking, saw his opening. So he helped the middle class cross over that line. Not explicitly in Pulp Fiction, where the buddy hit team is low life. But he made the killers socially attractive, dressed them up, and invited us, the middle class, to enjoy the ride with them.

He took the dead weight out of real hit men like mob underboss Sammy (The Bull) Gravano, who expressed his favorites among opera and wine, and sat them at our table for two hours, just like Woody Allen and friends discussing love and life in a New York bar. Author Gay Talese, who interviewed and wrote about a number of mob hit men, called them “very boring people.”

If you compare the buddy banter in Pulp Fiction to Training Day, for example, you notice the difference immediately. One is adolescent drivel about cheeseburgers; the other is man talk about honor and betrayal. If you compare Kill Bill with any of the great samurai films, Rebellion, say, or When The Last Sword is Drawn, well, you might weep or swear never to see another Tarantino film.

Q.T.’s films are not necessarily boring. It’s just that they don’t say much of anything satisfying to a reasonably well-grounded adult. They are soul dead. They unfold before your eyes with creative camera work and narrative quirks and pop culture references and homage to film genres near and far—in his own destructive way—and porn violence leavened by humor—traits that have become the trademark of a Tarantino film. The man has said as much himself in explaining his films. “It’s a Tarantino film,” he says in answer to honest, adult questions about his duplicitous, or merely demented, pictures.

On the Charlie Rose show, talking up Inglourious Basterds, the perfect film fanboy revealed that he drove all over L.A. to watch his movie open in this theater and than one, asking audience members what they thought. Imagine the angst! What if he can’t pay off Brad Pitt’s $20 million salary! Will he ever work in this town again?!

Not to worry. America is with you, baby! As of this writing, Basterds is tops at the box office. Q. T. went on to say that he didn’t expect to be making movies by the time he hits age 60. At that ripe age, when he will be a senior citizen by definition, he expects to take up writing full time. He is now 46. This means that in 2023, if we are lucky, Quentin Tarantino will have passed into the legend and lore of Hollywood—long may it live—while we wait for the next clever fanboy to come up with a new strategy to mis-entertain us.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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