Alphabetical Movie – Inglourious Basterds
I was at a panel about Tarantino films at CONvergence this weekend. Because the convention theme was Wonder Women, the panel was about Tarantino as a “feminist” filmmaker.
I’m not going to rehash the entire panel but the question of Tarantino as a feminist filmmaker is a complex one. Some of his films pass the Bechdel test but by no means all of them. Inglourious Basterds, for instance, does not.
Feminist filmmaking is about more than passing the Bechdel test, though. There are plenty of movies that pass the Bechdel test but are far from being feminist films. Plenty of films fail the test but are feminist films.
And what is a feminist film? Is it a film with strong female characters? Is it a film that is specifically about women? Is it a film that deals with topics that are of specific interest to women? I think that you might find you would get different answers depending on the person you asked.
It made the panel something of a moving target. Which of Tarantino’s women are the strongest? Is it the Bride? I mean she certainly kicks a whole ton of ass. Yet her motivation is almost entirely driven by her role as a mother.
Is it the two prominent women in Inglourious Basterds? One is an actress, the other a movie theatre owner (vintage Tarantino) and both are driving separate plots to kill Hitler. That makes them strong but both are also using their sexuality as a weapon, which is not something that typically happens with a man.
I happen to think that Tarantino’s strongest woman is probably Jackie Brown given that she is a character who is in complete command of her destiny. She consistently outsmarts every person around her and she does it with calm rationality.
As I observed on the panel, though, Tarantino is something of a boy playing with his action figures. He has thousands of movies playing out in his head and he seems to grab figures from those movies and mash them together in his scripts. He doesn’t seem to create female characters. He creates characters that need to be women because it serves the story he wants to tell.
Shosanna, for instance, needs to be a woman because if she was a man, Tarantino could not use David Bowie’s “Cat People” when she is getting glammed up (at least not in Nazi occupied France) and he clearly wanted to use “Cat People”. She also needs to be a woman because if she were a man, she would not attract the attention of a German war hero who would push to have his film debut in her theatre.
But really she is there because Tarantino wanted his protagonist to be someone who used a movie theatre to kill Hitler. If you know anything about Tarantino, you understand why that particular plot point is his own fantasy playing out on screen.
Shosanna could have been a man and that German War Hero could have been a closeted homosexual and Tarantino could have found a different way to use Bowie’s “Cat People.” His decision to make her a woman makes sense but I don’t think he sits down and thinks “I need a strong woman for this part.”
I think he sits down and thinks “this role has to have a woman in it because it doesn’t make sense that this character would be a man.”
That doesn’t make him a feminist. It does make him a pretty good story-teller.
Also, for the record, David Bowie’s “Cat People” rocks.