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Quentin Tarantino's movies revisited: Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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In anticipation of Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, released on 14th August, we're revisiting all of his previous films.

Following our recap of Death Proof, we're taking a closer look at his revisionist World War II black comedy, Inglourious Basterds.

What’s the story of Inglourious Basterds?

Nazi-occupied France, 1944. The invading forces of Adolf Hitler have led to ruthless persecution of the Jewish people and the Allied forces appear to be at their wits' end.

That is until a group of renegade American soldiers are parachuted in behind enemy lines to give Hitler a taste of his own medicine. Headed by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), they're known as the 'Basterds' and quickly gain a reputation for killing and and scalping Nazis.

At the same time, massacre survivor Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) has become the owner of a provincial French cinema. When she's informed that the Nazi high command plan to use the venue to promote their latest propaganda film, centering on crack Nazi sniper Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), she senses an opportunity to avenge her family and change the course of the war.

This multi-stranded black comedy reworks the outcome of World War II as it explores how Shoshanna and the Basterds cross paths with a number of memorable individuals, on both sides of the Allied/Axis divide. These include ruthless Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), known as the 'Jew Hunter', suave Brit Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and German movie star Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) who has turned against her own country to aid the resistance.


How did Inglourious Basterds get made?

Throughout the course of his six movies, writer-director Quentin Tarantino relished in his ability to shock and provoke, all the while indulging in his near-fetishistic love of pulp B-movie cinema.

Critical reaction and box office had varied: Reservoir Dogs, his calling card movie, announced the arrival of a significant new talent in 1992, and 1994's Pulp Fiction singlehandedly paved the way for an entire generation of maverick film-makers seeking their own voice. Jackie Brown followed in 1997, and was considered Tarantino's most contemplative and mature movie to date.


Come the two Kill Bill movies in 2003 and 2004, plus the later Death Proof in 2007, many believed Tarantino to have fallen victim to his own indulgences. It seemed that, increasingly, those without an awareness of Tarantino's frames of reference were destined to find these nothing more than cold, sleazy exercises in style with nothing to say.

However, none of his films had so far touched upon the fabric of living, breathing, actual history. Enter Inglourious Basterds, which demonstrated one of Tarantino's most audacious experiments to date: a cinematic opportunity to enact a Jewish revenge fantasy on dictator Adolf Hitler. The movie would rewrite the course of history and give audiences a cathartic opportunity to see violence perpetrated on one of the most notorious figures of the 20th century.

As is often the case with this director, there's a deliberately hazy dividing line between gratification and morality when such chaos plays out – as we cheer the sadistic purge of the Nazi hordes, are we not ourselves falling victim to what they were guilty of?

The question remains a tricky one to answer. After all, Tarantino had gathered a reputation for exacting extreme violence on his make-believe characters, so it was perhaps inevitable he would craft his first intersection point between reality and fantasy. When the opportunity to play around with the tropes of 'grindhouse' cinema a la Death Proof wore thin, the spectre of real-life Holocaust horror offered a kind of sandpit in which he could play – to typically controversial effect.



As always, Tarantino's synthesis of real-life historical context and anachronistic pop culture creates a giddy, surreal atmosphere. Inglourious Basterds, intended partly as a homage to classic WWII buddy movies like The Dirty Dozen, unashamedly applies the operatic stylistics of the Spaghetti Western genre to one of the most sobering periods in human history. Yet as we know, sobriety is rarely a word associated with this director's work.

"I'm going to find a place that actually resembles, in one way or another, the Spanish locales they had in spaghetti westerns – a no man's land," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "With U.S. soldiers and French peasants and the French resistance and German occupation troops, it was kind of a no man's land. That will really be my spaghetti Western but with World War II iconography. But the thing is, I won't be period specific about the movie. I'm not just gonna play a lot of Édith Piaf and Andrews Sisters. I can have rap, and I can do whatever I want. It's about filling in the viscera."

Tarantino in fact spent a decade writing and refining the screenplay, deriving the headline-grabbing title from 1978 war movie The Inglourious Basterds, directed by Enzo G. Castellari. Having delayed the project owing to concerns over its scope and ambition, Tarantino went on to produce the Kill Bill movies before later returning to the Basterds script to make revisions, using his Pulp Fiction screenplay as a length and style guide.

At this stage, the central conceit involved escaped prisoners of war who decide to help the Allied forces. He then delayed production again in 2005 at the same time his planned kung-fu Mandarin project hit the skids. Tarantino instead decided to make Death Proof before eventually finalising Basterds and getting production underway.

Immediately, Tarantino's ambition presented a problem: his brilliant creation Hans Landa was surely so singular, so complex that no actor could portray him. A suave, charismatic Nazi with a mind like a bear trap, Landa is one of those inescapably Tarantino creations that are both appalling and appealing in equal measure. And to boot, the character was a polyglot who spoke at least four languages. Who could possibly play him?

After circling Leonardo DiCaprio, Tarantino eventually cast Christoph Waltz who had spent decades labouring away in schlocky German and Austrian cinema and television. It was a masterstroke: Waltz's delightful presence pervades the movie and his seamless ability to skip between different languages wrong-foots both the film's characters and the audience in equal measure.

It's hardly surprising that the film's rivetingly suspenseful opening sequence, in which Landa interrogates French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) about the location of Jews on his property, is cited by Tarantino as the "favourite thing he has ever written". Waltz slides into the role of the slippery, intelligent Landa so brilliantly that one truly wonders if anyone else could have played the role, and Tarantino's use of Ennio Morricone's thunderous track 'The Verdict' seamlessly establishes his desire to riff on Spaghetti Western conventions.



Principal photography began in October 2008 in Germany, with Tarantino having enlisted Brad Pitt as the drawling Aldo Raine. Simon Pegg was originally cast as Archie Hicox but had to drop out due to scheduling difficulties – he was replaced by Michael Fassbender who had originally read for the role of Landa. Diane Kruger replaced Tarantino's original choice of Natassja Kinski for the role of Bridget von Hammersmark – some controversy was caused when it was revealed Tarantino's hands were the ones strangling Bridget during her death scene.

Having supported his gory grindhouse Hostel movies, Tarantino cast director Eli Roth in the role of the baseball bat-wielding Donny aka 'The Bear Jew' – intriguingly, this role was originally set to go to Adam Sandler. Roth also directed the film-within-the-film known as Nation's Pride, ironically the ultimate source of Hitler's downfall.



Austin Powers actor Mike Myers, an avowed fan of Tarantino's, was also cast in a sly cameo role as Hickox's superior officer. In the same scene, famed Australian actor Rod Taylor (best known for 1960's The Time Machine) made what was to be his last screen appearance as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

At this point, Tarantino was still in collaboration with soon-to-be-disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and his Miramax label. In order to position the movie for awards contention at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where Tarantino appearances are traditional, the movie's production schedule was accelerated, before he later re-edited the movie after its Cannes debut.


What music is on the Inglourious Basterds soundtrack?

Tarantino had originally tapped the aforementioned Ennio Morricone to compose the Inglourious Basterds score, but he was unavailable. (He would later compose the director's The Hateful Eight.)

Instead, the film-maker resorted to his usual tactic of mixing up a host of pre-existing orchestral score and pop tracks, juxtaposing the intentionally anachronistic music with the period setting to heighten the sense of tension, humour and shock.

As mentioned, Tarantino uses Morricone to fantastic effect in the opening chapter, 'Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France'. And an additional seven Morricone cues were scattered throughout the movie, further emphasising the cowboy stylistics of Aldo Raine and his assorted renegades – highlights include 'The Surrender' from 1967 Western film La Resa Dei Conti (aka The Big Gundown).



Tarantino takes great relish in mixing up the likes of Lalo Schifrin's score for Kelly's Heroes, another story of gung-ho World War II bravado, with the masterful 'Cat People' by David Bowie. The latter injects a note of anticipatory menace and tension to Shoshanna's plans to obliterate the assorted Nazis in her cinema, just one of the examples of Tarantino's ability to create alchemical magic from music and image.



We return to Morricone and his piece 'Rabbia E Tarantella' (from the little-known 1974 Italian movie Allonsanfan), during the movie's closing scene and credits. The track's contradictory mixture of jaunty propulsion and low-end piano is both amusing and unsettling, accompanying the horrifying yet undeniably satisfying moment where the devious Landa eventually falls foul of Raine, causing the latter to utter, "This may be my masterpiece".


What are some quotes from Inglourious Basterds?

Aldo Raine: "Each and every man under my command owes me 100 Nazi scalps."

Hans Landa: "Now, if one were to determine what attribute the German people share with a beast, it would be the cunning and the predatory instinct of a hawk. But if one were to determine what attributes the Jews share with a beast, it would be that of the rat."

Aldo Raine: "Bonjorno."

Archie Hickox: "Well if this is it, old boy, you won't mind if I got out speaking the King's."

Stieglitz: "Say auf wiedersehn to your Nazi balls."

Hans Landa: "That's a bingo!"



How was Inglourious Basterds received?

Released in August 2009, Inglourious Basterds generated the sort of divisive reaction that greets many a Tarantino movie. Several critics hailed it as Tarantino's finest and most narratively creative work in several years, including Variety's Todd McCarthy: "By turns surprising, nutty, windy, audacious and a bit caught up in its own cleverness, the picture is a completely distinctive piece of American pop art with a strong Euro flavour that's new for the director."

By contrast, The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw offered a derisory one-star review, lambasting the film and proclaiming, "It fails as conventional war movie, as genre spoof, as trash and as pulp."

Even so, the controversy didn't do any harm: the movie's box office takings were substantially higher than that of predecessor Death Proof. In fact, with global takings of $321 million, it became Tarantino's highest-grossing movie to date, rivalled only by the earlier Pulp Fiction ($213 million) and overtaken by the later Django Unchained ($425 million).

The movie was prominent during the 2010 Oscars season, winning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor award for Waltz and catapulting him into the Hollywood spotlight. (He had already won Best Actor at Cannes and a Golden Globe.) Waltz's win, which led to him fervently thanking Tarantino from the podium, was the film's only victory out of eight nominations, which included Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

After several years floundering around with insular grindhouse projects, it appeared Tarantino was once again storming the barricades in his usual abrasive style.


What movie did Tarantino make next?

From the enemy lines of World War II to the race-riven landscape of pre-Civil War era America, Tarantino next embarked on slave story cum Blaxploitation movie Django Unchained. Stay tuned to the Cineworld blog for our breakdown.


Click here to book your tickets for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
, opening on 14th August, and tweet us @Cineworld with your favourite Tarantino moments.