Or, where the hell did the Australians come from?
Back in 1977, a film about the Allied invasion of Europe came out. The title was “A Bridge too Far.” I have no recollection about how the movie fared at the box office. By all accounts it should have done exceptionally well. It was directed by Richard Attenborough and had an all-star cast: James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Gene Hackman, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and Maximilian Schell. The film tells the story of the failure of Operation Market Garden during the Second World War: an attempt on the part of the Allies to push into German territory by taking a series of bridges in the Netherlands. Based on a true story, the film received its name from British Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, who noticed that Allied troops were over-extending themselves and informed Field Marshal Montgomery that the he thought the operation was going “a bridge too far.”
The film came to mind last week after my wife and I saw Quentin Tarantino’s latest film “Django Unchanined,” staring Jamie Foxx and Christoph Walz. The notion of “going too far” is probably one of the better ways to describe how Quentin Tarantino makes his movies. Although one could refer to his use of offensive language and graphic violence, my notion of too far refers specifically to the point in which someone says “Huh! WTF? No, I don’t buy this crap? This is goddamn stupid!”
Because our likes and dislikes are most likely tied to our politics, values, ethics, tastes, fetishes and what we consider to be ourselves, I think that praising, attacking, describing, criticizing or being disgusted or outraged by a Tarantino film may what the director is after. The man is after a response, any old kind of response, anything to block out the banal sense of whatever we adhere to as normal and boring. Because of this, watching one of his films is like an invitation to one of those adolescent, heavy-metal vomit parties in which everyone drinks and smokes until they puke and pass out: it is all part of the ride. It is fun maybe once or twice in your life, but when you wake up face down on a dirty cement floor wondering where your clothes are, you reassess. I write all this after spending the better part of a day trying to get the damn movie out of my head, the same way I would a monstrous hangover.
It might have been easier and safer had I taken the Spike Lee approach to Tarantino and refused to see the film on moral grounds. Lee set off a small controversy by saying that he wouldn’t see “Django Unchained” because “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western.” He also apparently added that Tarantino was “disrespectful” to his ancestors and claimed that “there is something wrong with” him for his overuse of “the n-word” in his films.
Although it is hard to be convincing if you haven’t seen the movie, if you don’t like a particular style, why go? I came to a similar conclusion, albeit for different reasons. My only surprise was that Lee didn’t mention the video-game type violence that splatters across the silver screen. It is hard to come out of the multiplex and not feel as if you’ve been in the middle of a shootout. The whole aesthetics of violence has become much more disturbing to me than I’d like to contemplate. It didn’t used to bother me that much. Like most of the people my age, I grew up in this country watching films like the “Godfather,” “Dirty Harry,” and the Blacksploitation films of the 1970s. It was easy to have a high tolerance for cinematographic violence in those shows because those who got whacked seemed to deserve it.
However, it was Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” that first put me into contact with my own limits, and how flexible they were. The scene was when Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, slashes the kidnapped policeman’s face with a straight razor and eventually cuts off his ear. I am not sure if it was the torture or the fact that he did it while he listened to one of my favorite songs (Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You”). All I recall was the policeman’s face covered with blood, and Madsen holding the ear, speaking into it, and asking, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” My limits, however, proved to be forever moving. By the time that Uma Thurman killed off the Crazy 88 in “Kill Bill, part two,” I was already over it, desensitized to the ocean of blood that was spilled on the dance floor of the Japanese nightclub.
To be continued…
Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy.