Inglourious Basterds

Wednesday, December 16, 2009
TakenHow can you not like a Quentin Tarantino film? (I find it difficult, and that he and I share birthdays has very little to do with it, I assure you.)

Starring Brad Pitt, Inglourious Basterds is what the DVD case for this film calls a "revenge fantasy." I'd drink to that, but I'd prefer to call it "alternative history" given that it knowingly deviates from history.

Science fiction/fantasy/mystery/romance author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, mentions Inglourious Basterds in her commentary, "The Crumbling Monolith," at Baen's Universe. In her commentary, Rusch offers a critique of the current state of culture, high-brow vs low-brow, but more specifically of the entertainment industry, noting that it "can no longer manipulate the conversation." Says Rusch:

Lest you think social media has only a negative effect, let me point out that as I type this, Inglourious Basterds is beating all the predictions. The movie got a terrible release date. (In the old days, August was where the studio sent awful movies to die — because, conventional wisdom said, no one went to the movies in August.) The movie's reviews were mixed at best. (Some reviewers actively loathed the film.)

But word of mouth on this film is tremendous. Word of mouth or, I should say, word of tweet. The numbers trended upwards on this film from the first show to the last on its opening weekend. Despite the bad press and the bad release date, viewers are finding this movie and telling friends about it. The same thing happened with District 9.

I'm already hearing rumbling from studio suits that they have to find a way to "control" Twitter. They need to "dominate" the social media sites. And the studios will try to change the paradigm, but it won't work. They'd be better off releasing more movies with less fanfare, spending less per movie on production costs, and letting the bad films sink while the good films swim.

I don't know the reason for any "active loath[ing]" of this movie, unless it has to do with its deviation from history. (You should read Rusch's commentary, if you haven't already.) If that's the case, then follow along and repeat after me:

"It's only a movie."

And, lest you missed it earlier, "alternative history" is very much a valid genre. Harry Turtledove, science fiction writer, did the same with the American Civil War in his book, How Few Remain, as well as with World War II in his book, Hitler's War. Author Robert Conroy did the same with his novel, 1862, its premise being, "What if England had joined America's Civil War — on the side of the Confederacy?"

Let's repeat that refrain once more, shall we?

"It's only a movie."

Now, perhaps some will think that this is a denial of history, rather like Communist Russia was wont to do. Consider, however, that that is rather taking things a bit too far. Fiction, when it deviates from history, remains fiction. Men, when they deny history, replace fact with fiction. It's hardly a subtle difference. Further, to write (and to enjoy, I might add) good "alternative history" requires a knowledge of the actual history that has been changed in the fiction narrative. So, it can be argued that "alternative history" must always give a nod to the actual history from which it gains its inspiration. It is therefore the very antithesis of denial.

One last time with the refrain:

"It's only a movie." (And it's about damned time a plot against . . . . Well, perhaps I shouldn't go there. There may be some in the audience who haven't seen the movie, and I'd hate to be a spoiler.)

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