Monthly Archives: August 2009

On Scalping [+ postscript]

It seems significant that a good many defenders of Inglourious Basterds that I’ve been reading happily buy into the popular myth that scalping is basically something that indigenous Americans did, full stop.  It seems that we non-indigenous Americans are still in almost complete denial about our own heritage of genocide in North and South America, which came much closer to succeeding than even the Nazi efforts with the Jews did — an estimated 70 million victims. I assume that some of the indigenous Americans who are still around must be aware of this obscene misrepresentation, but why should we care what they think?

Anyway, here’s some useful information gleaned from the Internet:


Scalping: Fact & Fantasy

—By Philip Martin

Stereotypes are absorbed from popular literature, folklore, and misinformation. For instance, many children (and adults) incorrectly believe that fierce native warriors were universally fond of scalping early white settlers and soldiers. In fact, when it came to the bizarre practice of scalping, Europeans were the ones who encouraged and carried out much of the scalping that went on in the history of white/native relations in America.… Read more »

Some Afterthoughts about Tarantino

I’m waiting for any of the enthusiasts for Inglourious Basterds to come up with some guidance about what grown-up things this movie has to say to us about World War 2 or the Holocaust — or maybe just what it has to say about other movies with the same subject matter. Or, if they think that what Tarantino is saying is adolescent but still deserving of our respect and attention, what that teenage intelligence consists of. Or implies. Or inspires. Or contributes to our culture.

For me, assuming that it’s a message worth heeding or even an experience worth having is a little bit like assuming that Lars von Trier is closer to Sergei Eisenstein than to P.T. Barnum, as many of my colleagues also seem to believe — a genuine film theorist and not just a consummate con-artist who knows how to work the press.

I’ll concede that when Tarantino recently (and plausibly) faulted Truffaut’s The Last Metro as a film about the French Occupation that should have been a comedy, that qualified, at least for me, as a grown-up observation, and one that made sense to me. I just don’t see any comparable observations in his movie.

Part of the assumption of his defenders seems to be that no subject is so sacrosanct that it can’t be met with an adolescent snicker — including, say, the Holocaust or, closer to the present, 9/11.… Read more »

Recommended Reading: VINCENTE MINNELLI: THE ART OF ENTERTAINMENT

VINCENTE MINNELLI: THE ART OF ENTERTAINMENT, edited by Joe McElhaney, Detroit: Wayne State University Place, 2009, 458 pp.

In spite of my disappointment that Mademoiselle — Minnelli’s extraordinary centerpiece in The Story of Three Loves and surely one of his greatest films — gets virtually ignored here, this is a terrific critical collection, so I’m very grateful to Girish Shambu’s blog for calling my attention to it. Among the many treasures to be found here are what appears to be the very best French criticism about Minnelli, expertly translated by Bill Krohn, Jean-Pierre Coursodon, and Brian O’Keefe, including Raymond Bellour (on Brigadoon), Serge Daney (separate pieces on The Pirate and The Cobweb as they each appear on French TV), Jean Douchet (separate pieces on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Two Weeks in Another Town), Emmanuel Burdeau (who also has two pieces), and Jean-Loup Bourget. There are also sturdy contributions by, among others, Krohn himself, Scott Bukatman, Thomas Elsaesser, Adrian Martin, James Naremore, Dana Polan, Robin Wood, and two essays apiece by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, David A. Gerstner, and the editor, Joe McElhaney.

Back in the mid-1980s, I published a survey about Minnelli’s work on video, titled (I believe) “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” which I seem to have misplaced — something I’m mentioning now only because I’ve often thought that this particular phrase from William Butler Yeats perfectly describes Minnelli’s auteurist thematics.… Read more »

Recommended Reading: Daniel Mendelsohn on the New Tarantino

Recommended Reading: “When Jews Attack” by Daniel Mendelsohn, a two-page spread in the August 24 & 31 issue of Newsweek, begins to help me account for what I find so deeply offensive as well as profoundly stupid about Inglourious Basterds [sic sic -- or maybe I should say, sic, sic, sic]. A film that didn’t even entertain me past its opening sequence, and that profoundly bored me during the endlessly protracted build-up to a cellar shoot-out, it also gave me the sort of malaise that made me wonder periodically what it was (and is) about the film that seems morally akin to Holocaust denial, even though it proudly claims to be the opposite of that. It’s more than just the blindness to history that leaks out of every pore in this production (even when it’s being most attentive to period details) or the infantile lust for revenge that’s so obnoxious. When Mendelsohn asks, “Do you really want audiences cheering for a revenge that turns Jews into Nazis, that makes Jews into `sickening’ perpetrators?”, he zeroes in on what’s so vile about this gleeful celebration of savagery. He also clarifies the ugly meaning of Tarantino’s final scene when he points out that Nazis carved Stars of David into the chests of rabbis before killing them — a fact I either hadn’t known before or had somehow managed to suppress.… Read more »

My Favorite Films of the 1930s

For a special section devoted to the 1930s, the Spanish magazine Miradas de Cine, conducting a poll for its 89th issue, asked me to select my 15 favorite films of that decade and also to pick five that I thought were overrated. Here are my choices (listed chronologically):

favoritas:

Laughter (d’Arrast) • City Lights (Chaplin) • M (Lang) • La nuit du carrefour (Renoir) • Ivan (Dovzhenko) • Otona no miru ehon – Umarete wa mita keredo (Ozu) • Love Me Tonight (Mamoulian) • Scarface (Hawks) • Trouble in Paradise (Lubitsch) • Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (Milestone) • L’Atalante (Vigo) • Judge Priest (Ford) • King Kong (Cooper & Schoedsack) • Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey) • Zangiku monogatari (Mizoguchi)

sobrevaloradas:

The Front Page (Milestone) • 42nd Street (Bacon) • Swing Time (Stevens) • Bringing Up Baby (Hawks) • Ninotchka (Lubitsch) [8/11/09]… Read more »

Racist Shorthand in the U.S.

An extraordinary piece of chicanery by Kelefa Sanneh entitled “Discriminating Tastes” heads off  the Talk of the Town section in the current (August 10 & 17) issue of The New Yorker. The subject is the alleged “reverse racism” or “anti-white” bias of President Obama, as kicked off by his controversial offhand remark last month that a policeman who arrested a man in his own home “acted stupidly”. This was later described by Fox News‘s terminally stupid Glenn Beck as a revealing exposure of Obama’s “deep-seated hatred for white people.”

Not even once in this article does Sanneh bother to mention or even acknowledge the fact that Beck and so many other commentators are so eager to suppress and/or obfuscate — that Obama is half-white. As far as this article (and, it would appear, an alarming amount of other American punditry) is concerned, Obama is simply and unambiguously (and irrevocably) “a black President,” not someone who was born to a white mother and a black father. So in other words, according to this peculiar argument, Obama harbors a “deep-seated hatred” not only for his late mother but for half of himself — although this latter portion of the equation is almost never brought up.… Read more »

Pynchon on the Beach

My review of Thomas Pynchon’s lamentable Inherent Vice, for Slate (August 3, 2009). Much less lamentable — actually quite good in spots — is Pynchon’s more recent Bleeding Edge, which I prefer to everything of his since Vineland. But even more lamentable, in my opinion, is Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Inherent Vice, which even after a second viewing strikes me on most counts as his worst film to date. (I’d been hoping for something more transformative, such as Norman Mailer’s superb film adaptation of his own worst novel, Tough Guys Don’t Dance.) Despite a few glancing virtues (e.g., Josh Brolin’s Nixonesque performance) and the (so far) unsubstantiated enthusiasm of many of my smarter colleagues, Anderson’s film strikes me as being just as cynical as its source and infused with the same sort of misplaced would-be nostalgia for the counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s, pitched to a generation that didn’t experience it, as Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. [Postscript, January 27, 2015: The first semiplausible defense of the film that I've read can be found here.]  — J.R.

Read more »

 

“In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there … or … if you were there, then you … or, wait, is it …” Once again, for his seventh novel, Inherent Vice, it sounds as if the author has furnished his own jacket copy, exploiting the doper humor that’s often been part of his signature.