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Some Ramblings - Inglorious Basterds
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Inglorious Basterds

What a challenge it could be to remain rooted in a genre and yet try to transcend it? Every genre comes with own rules, limitations and scope and trying to transgress them for the sake for trivial conveniences, is merely setting oneself up for failure and ridicule. Try mixing suspense and fantasy, for example, by the way of taking a murder mystery and weaving a fantastic element around it. It is not that it couldn't be done (and they are great many successes to vouch for it - Angel Heart, Dark City etc), but one false step here or there would immediately reduce the movie to a mere caricature. Hitchcock's 'Rope' is a great example of a master of a particular genre attempting to redefine the rules of the game, not by flouting them outright, but by distilling the nature of the theme down to its essentials and adding his own spin/take to it. At it root, 'Rope' is a simple murder mystery about a couple of college friends killing one of their intellectually inferior mates in what they consider as a perfect crime, and trying to get away with it by simply out-smarting others in other to prove their intellectual superiority over others. The theme is a cakewalk for Hitchcock, who is known for his sharp eye and great ear for suspense, and he could had filmed it in any number of traditional suspenseful ways that he was quite adept at. Instead, he ups the ante for himself, sets the entire movie in a couple of rooms with the box carrying the dead body lying right in front of the frame under everyone's nose, and films the movie as one long continuous take, without the obvious cuts, reactions shots and the ominous background music - all absolute necessities for a suspense movie. What he essential does is film the movie as it were a stage play, and without losing the essence of what made a movie a movie; and the result, the box office verdict notwithstanding, was a rule-defying, genre-transcending, intelligent, suspenseful, dramatic conversational piece, that one could picture Alfred being mightily contended with his self indulgence. And only in moments like these can such exercises in self-serving be truly gratifying, both for the maker and the viewer.

Calling Tarantino's movies 'original' would seem as something that he would take great offence at, feel insulted even. For the amount of self/cross- references from both obvious and obscure movies in his works, he would almost expect his audience to find them them all, and pay tributes to the original. But his mastery doesn't just stop there. He takes the original, layers it with his own brand of dialogue-laden narrative, replete with the shock/gross factor and ultimately delivers something that is both borrowed and original at the same time (call it Dual Nature of Tarantino's particles). And when the 'Tarantino treatment' works, it works truly and splendidly ('Jackie Brown' and the 'Kill Bill' saga), and when it doesn't, it runs the risk of being too self-indulgent, too in love with its own words ('Death Proof'). The modus operandi remains the same in both the cases - take the original and turn it over its head. In 'Death Proof', the basic building blocks just weren't there to improve upon, but like in the Kill Bill' saga, when the base can be built upon a mix of vengeance and violence, set against loyalty and betrayal, with a bit martial arts thrown in for good measure, the end result cannot be anything but ecstatic and exhilarating. And just like the results, there is no 'in between' for Tarantino's craft. It is either truly groundbreaking or utterly shameless.

This time around when he sets his eyes on the favorite punching of WWII film makers, the Nazis, and mixes them with his most passionate obsession, the movies, his pièce de résistance practically writes itself. The rules of the game for WWII thrillers have already been written in the number of old classics such as 'Guns of Navarone', Where Eagles Dare', 'The Great Escape', 'The Passage', down to the recent searing epic 'Saving Private Ryan'. Most of them involve a mission, a group of men, a plan, a push towards the finale in thrilling increments, and the explosive climax. 'Inglorious Basterds' makes use of the same template, but changes the time and the manner when the thrills are rendered, and the explosive denouement is delivered; in that, Tarantino (again) borrows from Hitchcock's 'Rope' in the way of splitting the entire movie into 5 scenes (chapters), and gives each one its own rhythm, shock, humor and the inevitable burst of mayhem, that eventually adds up to a movie that is both historical and a fantasy at the same time. Not since Mel Brook's (in)famous 'Springtime for Hitler' musical in 'The Producers' has anyone attempted at rewriting history in such a brazen fashion, and yet pulled it off with such a great flair. One can almost picture Tarantino throwing the rules book out of the window and go on to create his own language, and his own grammar, to get his point across. And just as in 'Kill Bill', he employs every trick in the trade, that is both anachronistic (for that period) and out of place (references to Mexican standoffs, together with the legendary Ennio Morricone's sphaghetti-western score), stopping short at nothing, while bullbozing his away ahead. And this is vintage Tarantino (even though he is less than 10 movies old) that everyone wants to see and cheer. And it is indeed a point to cheer, when the film maker's act of self indulgence resonates with the audience. So, what next, Catholicism meets caper thriller?

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No Country for Old Men
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Sarkar (Hindi)
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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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