Friday, October 02, 2009

On The Jewish Question

A must view. Four speakers (film critics and Jewish scholars) debate Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and the controversy over its portrayal of Jews.

Mark Baker, director of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, gives one of the most insightful readings of the film I've heard yet. One of his key points is that the Nazi audience which enjoys Zoller killing Allies in Nation's Pride is akin to us enjoying the basterds killing Nazis in Tarantino's flick. Even Shosanna occupies her own bell tower (the projection booth) from where she launches her attack. But I disagree with Baker that this is a point of criticism (Baker argues it leads to an 'anything goes' morality merely dependent on which viewpoint we take). I would argue the parallels are a mark of the film's fundamentalist and violent honesty. They make the revenge fantasy (a complex mix of ethics and enjoyment) even more problematic, but without ever lapsing into a cheap moral relativism.

Jewish studies lecturer Nathan Wolski also delivers a fascinating contextualisation, placing Basterds within the history of Jewish absurdism, revenge and the rewriting of history.

The two film critics though are hugely disappointing. Adrian Martin, who is usually an eloquent and insightful critic, lapses into a quite repulsive and condescending dismissal of Tarantino as an 'adolescent moraliser'. He gleefully discards the director's invocation of enjoyment, catharsis/ritual and ethics as somehow contradictory and hypocritical, while refusing to engage in any of the complexities this raises. To Tarantino's claim that revenge doesn't always end up the way you want, Martin counters that it must do because Tarantino made the film (which not only ignores all the ways Tarantino problematises the revenge fantasy but also the way he lets the characters guide the film rather than crowd pleasing plot points). At the end of the speech, Martin engages in his own bit of adolescent moralising: "The topic of this seminar asks can Hollywood rewrite history...But I think the question should be how does Hollywood rewrite history and why." Huh.

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Blogger Paul Martin said...

That's a fascinating 80 or so minutes of analysis of Tarantino's film and perhaps reflects how seriously intellectuals and others are considering it. The Jewish perspective is quite fascinating, particularly as the different speakers take different views.

I was also disappointed by Martin's address. The first three speakers all seemed to like at least parts of the film but couldn't fully embrace it for reasons that are either intellectual or moral (fair enough, I say). But I most identified with Wolfski's view, who did draw fascinating parallels with Jewish history, and seemed to just go with the fun of the film.

11:52 PM  

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