07 January 2013

Not Seeing Ideas When They are All Around and Within and Not Even the Most Important Thing

My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. - D. H. Lawrence.

A chap said to me that movies have to be about ideas.


I thought about the film I referenced in my last post, Elevator to the Gallows (1958). The scenes of Jeanne Moreau walking the streets of Paris at night with the strains of Miles Davis in the background. Was this a barren wasteland bereft of ideas? Or was this an example of cinema at its most beautiful with the perfection of mood?

Imagine dismissing the cello because it has no ideas. Imagine ignoring a scenic vista because it makes no intellectual argument. Imagine turning ones back on the ethereal beauty of Cocteau's La belle et la bĂȘte (1946) because it lacked a significant argument.

Intellectuals are right to seek new truths and strong statements in works of philosophy in novels and even in theater. But to disregard a film that is all about evoking emotion and touching our deeper self is to deny one of the great powers of art.

Hmmm watching a film as one reads a book with no spatial sense no angles but no effort to imagine. And to not feel? Quelle tristesse!

The movie in question was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009). Of all the movies to assert has no ideas! A movie in which the director/writer makes a a revenge fantasy in order to promote a greater point -- as Jelani Cobb of the New Yorker put it -- "a larger point about the universal nature of heroism."

I offer this from David Bordwell co-proprietitor of the website Observations on Film Art: "nearly every scene is an interrogation. This entails that someone in authority (Landa, Aldo, Hitler, the Germans who question Archie’s accent in the tavern, Zoller) is trying to pry information out of someone else. Intimidation through interrogation gives every scene an urgent shape. Now Tarantino’s digressions (three daughters, rats and squirrels, a card game, the correct pronunciation of Italian) don’t read as self-indulgence, but rather as feints in a confidence game...." And this: "There is cinema that asks you to empathize with its characters. Then there is cinema that aims to thrill you with a cascade of vivid moments. There is How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Citizen Kane (1941). I think that Tarantino’s films mostly tilt to the vivid-moment pole, seeking to win us through their immediate verve, the way film noir and the musical and the action movie often do."

Tarantino is a fearless and manic film maker whose Pulp Fiction was not only one of the few bright spots of 90's cinema but set important trends in stylized post modern story telling. He subsequently lost his way with the overkill (no pun intended) of the Kill Bill films but the verve was back and then some with Inglourious Basterds. While not quite as poetic his latest -- Django Unchained -- is another fulfillment of a promise to make modern classics.

Of course there are ideas in Inglorious Basterds (not that we need them). Plenty. Questions are asked about our perceptions and uses of history and the audacious notion of re-writing it for artistic purposes. Ahh and revenge fulfillment as is also carried on in Django. Instead of robbing the hangman as Hitler did we see him blown to bits; just as Django blows away so many overseers. There is a visceral satisfaction there for those of us who've lived through endless renderings of the brutality of slavery and the holocaust. A curative. There are even moral questions and perforce intellectual ones asked by both films.

Tarantino's films are rich stews in dialogue tension action character and bravura style. It was said best in a comment left by Tudor Queen after my Django post -- he is sui generis.

As Camus said: "an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself." Meanwhile we watch Tarantino. C'est Magnifique!

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