2 (of a thing) no longer in its pure or original form; debased : a bastard Darwinism.
If there is one of the many things that urks me about the mainstream’s influence on high art, it is the refusal to accept the artist’s neverending attempt at redefining themselves.
It happens in all genres: acting, music, theater, dance, film, art. Of course commercialism and capitalism has its place in the art world and the business of show; it is the audience who, after all, supports all of these endeavors even if they are not entertained. With the advent of the internet and all the legalities of intellectual property, artists are not only starving to survive but struggling to keep what is theirs. Is innovation on its last leg?
At the risk of sounding less avant-garde and more cliché, I have to say that Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors of film and certainly one of the most influential (or as it were, inspiring) writers in my life. One of the most common complaints (usually from pretentious film addicts overwrought with cinema trivia the like of baseball fans obsessed with team/player stats) is that Quentin profits off of the ideas of others. It couldn’t be closer to the truth.
Are we not, as artists, inspired by life and the work of other artists. Do we not go to school to study the history of our respective art? To learn about what has been done before us and to get a glimpse of what the future may or may not look like? It is no wonder then that art forms have evolved in their own right, spawned primarily due to their predecessors. White people stole soul and rhythm and blues and turned it into Doo-Wop, something that was prominent in predominantly black neighborhood corners for years until someone was inspired to put it on the radio for the right ears to listen. This happens in dance a lot, especially with cultural forms and traditions being molded into inspirations for different movement motifs. It happens on television: the spin-offs and the living room sitcoms. It happens with art: how many times have you seen a painting that reminded you of Van Gogh or Degas or Pollack? Certainly film can’t be spared.
Hence the “genius” of Tarantino. He is a story teller. He didn’t study at the most prestigious schools (he actually dropped out of high school). He was one of the aforementioned pretentious film obsessed geeks who worked in a video store and thought that he wanted to be a movie star but knew better that his talents lay in regurgitating the great films that have inspired him. He is a storyteller and a mastermind in manipulating old art onto new canvas.
I wish I could say there was a favorite film of his. Most people debate over Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the first his highly acclaimed debut, the second the most popular and awarded film to date. The latter was much more entertaining to me for its style, the quality of acting, the pace, the surprises, the amazing dialog, the great camera work…But all of his films are so different even though they contain the same elements. You can look at a film and know that it’s Quentin Tarantino. Or is it?
I had the enormous pleasure of seeing Inglourious Basterds this weekend and I was blown away. Per usual, I didn’t do a lot of research or reading into what the film was about. Whether or not it was based on a true story, who was in it, why it was written…All I knew was that it was QT, it was a WWII film (one of my favorite film subjects no matter the genre), and Brad Pitt was in it. Also, I knew, like Quentin has the habit of doing, that he was way over schedule and over budget, so the release date got pushed back. But that is to be expected.
From beginning to end I was having anxiety attacks left and right. The build up of tension using so many different devices, the slow and steady exposition of the characters and plot, the gripping use of music, the authenticity of the period and the socioeconomic (and political) environment, and of course…the matter-of-fact and witty dialog. Every piece was in place. It was cleaner than I expected with a lot less action, but the action scenes were well worth the wait and so incredibly intricate, I held my breath.
What Quentin does here, frankly, is mind fuck you. You think you know what’s going to happen, and perhaps you do, but just when the culmination is on the tip of the screen, he cuts to another scene, another story, and you’re left ready to implode. But it is a good thing, because you are constantly reminded that everything comes together in the end, like most of his stories, and everyone is a part of everything.
I can honestly say, I’ve always hated the expression “You’ll be at the edge of your seat” but I literally was. I started to feel uncomfortable as if Quentin was sitting down behind me and laughing hysterically at my sweet pain of pent up anticipation.
I left the theatre exhausted, satiated, tired, ecstatic, needing a cigarette REAL bad…It was all the inspiration I needed to get back to the pen and paper.
I was proud that QT had fallen into this new place of his own. There was a pronounced juxtaposition of originality and copying, but it seemed as though he had a personal connection to the content of the story, almost as if he were trying too hard to make it his own.
Sure enough, after only a little bit of research, I found that there is a film entitled Inglorious Bastards (notice the correct spelling) that also centers on vigilante soldiers chasing after Nazis. Also, supposedly, the film was inspired by the spaghetti western style. Whatever that means.
I don’t watch too many films that were made before I was born although I do know that the 70s was a great time for innovative filmmaking. I don’t spare myself from the big MGM musicals and of course anything involving Bob Fosse or Gene Kelly, but I am such a Modernist that I’m always thinking ahead. Besides, it’s so sad watching old movies sometimes, the world just doesn’t accept the artistry of films past anymore.
I respect Q to the umpteenth degree. He is passionate about film and has no qualms with ripping the best parts of cinema history out of the past and shoving them into his own work for the naive like me to see, experience and enjoy. It is no surprise that most of his inspiration comes from a period of high satire and exploitation, this is what he is doing here, seemingly he is building caricaturizations of the film industry as it stands today. Kill Bill was a marvelous interpretation of Lady Snowblood, a Japanese film from the 70s, and there I saw a complete obsession and fascination with a particular film. I guess it’s time to pull out the original Inglorious Bastards and see how much he bit off of that.
I worry when my favorite artists try doing something new, especially in the music department. It is not that I don’t want them to grow and try new things, I understand completely, but when you have a formula that works, that adheres to your aesthetic and your audience enjoys, it is wise to stay on that path and not veer off on another course. But that is the curse of the artist (one of many): that Narcissistic self-satisfaction versus feeding the beasts that keep your art alive. I think I’ve found my niche, and I know what people expect from me, but I have room to grow. Luckily.