Video Event of the Week: Could Universal's DVD and Blu-ray of Taking Woodstock, director Ang Lee's slightly sardonic take on the 1969 rock festival where sex was invented, possibly make the cut? Might Warner Home Video's discs of The Hangover, the what-happened-in-Vegas? slapstick hoot about the world's most calamitous bachelor bash, conceivably get the nod? Or could Shout! Factory's DVD of 2009 New York Yankees: The Official World Series Film by any chance be The One?
All worthy, to be sure, and I'll have something to say about The Hangover (and possibly that Yankees flick) next week, but for my money it's got to be Universal's two-disc special edition DVD of Quentin Tarrantino's as good as the hype revisionist WWII epic Inglourious Basterds.
As noted here back in August, I had a couple of problems with IB going in. For one thing, much as I admire Tarantino, there's a part of me irked by the fact that most of his films, even the really good ones, are essentially genre riffs -- meditations on obscure and (frankly) crappy B-pictures he liked in his youth. It's the old story; some auteurs proceed immediately from film school (in Tarantino's case, the video store he worked at) to directing without ever having gone through life. In the case of Inglourious Basterds, this seemed likely to be particularly egregious. A loose remake of an Italian 70s war/action flick of no distinction whatsoever, it seemed to have been conceived as an unholy shtup between The Dirty Dozen, Hogan's Heroes, To Be or Not to Be and the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Harrison Ford looks around and says "Nazis -- I hate those guys." Which is to say: bullshit. And Holocaust-trivializing bullshit at that.
That said, the film itself turned out to be such a deliriously over-the-top piece of virtuoso movie-making that I found myself willing, to my complete surprise I might add, to overlook the fact that all of the above is nonetheless true, up to and including the preposterous revisionist ending where the Jews not only defeat the Third Reich, but blow it up into flaming Wagnerian "Twilight of the Gods" pieces. Frankly, IB hooked me from its opening scene, which is, as it happens, one of the most remarkable set-pieces in recent film history. Essentially, it's just two guys -- a sinister Nazi officer (played, beyond brilliantly, by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz) and a French peasant -- talking for about fifteen minutes inside a cramped farmhouse. You can't imagine a less potentially cinematic setup, and yet -- through a combintion of great writing and quietly inventive camera movement -- Tarantino invests it with such a palpable aura of agonizing menace that you can barely move in your seat. Even more surprising, he keeps upping the ante as the film continues; it may be more episodic than it needs to be, and there a couple of sequences that the director seems to be enjoying too much to end when, dramatically, they probably should, but by the grand finale you're convinced you've just witnessed something really, really special. Even if some if it is, also, quite infuriatingly adolescent.
Here's a brief clip which will (one hopes) give you a vague idea of IBs overall tone. It's from another not quite as wonderful interrogation scene, but I don't mind since Brad Pitt -- in the Lee Marvin role, essentially -- is a total hoot.
Universal's transfer of IB is spectacular (by which mean, gloriously faithful to the 70s-ish color schemes Tarantino favors here), and there are a plethora (as they say in Three Amigos) of bonus features, including the de rigeur deleted scenes and multiple trailers. The most interesting, however -- by which I mean the only ones you're likely to look at twice -- are the complete Nation's Pride, the fake Nazi propaganda film within the film, and a very funny fake making-of doc about it. There's also a charming conversation with hero of my youth Rod Taylor, who shows up in a brief cameo as Winston Churchill.
Bottom line: You can -- and immediately should -- order the two-disc special edition of Inglorious Basterds over here.
Okay -- and now because things will doubtless be a bit quiet around here till Monday, here's a fun and hopefully relevant little project for us all:
Disreputable Genre Flick That's Nonetheless A Guilty Pleasure You Think Tarantino Should Remake!!!
And my (mostly) top of my head Top Five is:
5. Among the Living (Stuart Heisler, 1941)
Albert Dekker, in a dual role, comes home to his ancestral mansion to find that his twin brother, who supposedly died in a fire when he was ten, is not only still alive but murdering people in the surrounding countryside. Possibly the creepiest proto-noir cheapie of them all, and Tarantino could have a field day casting the parts originally played by Susan Hayward and Frances Farmer.
4. Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (William Beaudine, 1952)
I have no doubt Tarantino's a Dean and Jerry fan, but I'll bet if he was going to do a characteristically iconoclastic tribute to a 50s comedy, he'd probably base it on this one featuring Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, history's greatest Martin and Lewis knock-offs. My god, think how meta that would be.
3. The Mask (Julian Roffman, 1961)
Black magic, a a crazy serial killer, a barely disquised LSD parable, and a vision of a journey through Hell -- in 3D. Plus it's one of the great gimmick films -- you have to don the 3D glasses every time one of the possessed protagonists intones "Put the mask on -- now!" Sounds like a Tarantino movie to me.
2. Queen of Blood (Curtis Harrington, 1966)
One of many B-pic influences on the original Ridley Scott Alien, only in this one the monster brought aboard the spaceship is the most seductive yet repellent vampiress in screen history. We already know Tarantino likes bloodsuckers (see: From Dusk Till Dawn) -- can you imagine what he'd do with a green one?
And the numero uno genre piece that really needs to be resurrected with the Tarantino touch, no question about it, is --
1. The Maze (William Cameron Menzies, 1953)
More 3D, but this time it's bizarre nocturnal goings-on at a remote Gothic castle in the Scottish moors. With the most incredible ending in horror history: The Lord of the Manor, i.e. the not glimpsed until the end protagonist necessitating all the secrecy, is actually -- Spoiler Alert! -- a giant mutant frog who has be taken for a swim in a lily pond every night away from the prying eyes of the superstitious locals. Hey Quentin -- what are you waiting for?
Alrighty then -- what would your choices be?