What was that old Laurie Anderson line? "Oh boy, I said, right again?" I've been feeling like that quite a bit recently, as I've skirmished with various Quentin Tarantino fans around the web. My thesis on Tarantino, as you may recall, was that his aesthetic of torture and vigilantism might have primed us to accept the torture regime of Dick Cheney - confirmation of that idea came quickly, in various right-wing blogs applauding the film's politics (a typical line: "Tarantino has a message for everyone . . . enhanced interrogation works.") Meanwhile the Atlantic Monthly fretted over what the movie's sadistic, empowered Jews might mean for the Palestinians. Quentin apparently has something for everyone.
Most Tarantino fans, of course, just kept happily watching the torture and munching their popcorn. But some have been actually irritated by anyone pointing out that what they were doing was a bit like sliding into a red-velvet seat next to the Führer at the premiere of Triumph of the Will (excerpt below) and telling themselves, "Hey, it's only a movie!"
Because after all, it was only a movie, wasn't it? (That's what Leni Reifenstahl always said!)
No one's been angrier, however, than the eponymous Angry White Guy in Chicago, blogger Don Hall (above left), who has been tangling with me, in a rather discombobulated fashion, here.
Hall's "arguments," such as they were, ran along the following lines:
"I believe that Great Art asks questions that can be interpreted a variety of ways and I see Leftist interpretations of "Basterds" as valid as Rightwing views [sic]. That's why I love Tarantino."
Uh-huh. Now I'm not making that up, that's really what he wrote. Great Art. Shakespeare. Rembrandt. Quentin Tarantino. Yesssssss. Sensing a strong streak of inner stupid in Hall, I pressed on, and got huge geysers of idiocy for my pains:
You compare Tarantino's work to a recognized Nazi Propagandist yet won't admit you are then placing it upon the same cultural and political pedestal. You say it isn't "art" because we're all of a different generation than you - what're you - 70? Because I'm 43 and I think the man is a filmic genius. (Just btw, I'm only a few years older than Hall, and perhaps the only really interesting thing about Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino's seeming identification with Riefenstahl!]
Now I couldn't follow that last bit, either, but there was more wackiness to come - and things took a turn for the worse once I began to look around his site. Because, of course, if someone declares that he can perceive Quentin Tarantino is "Great Art" than you're kind of curious about what else he might think is "Great Art."
This search was not edifying. Immediately I came upon Hall's review of a Chicago production of Under Milk Wood, in which he compared the Dylan Thomas classic to the "oozey, drippy unending sweetness of Hummel figurines and commemorative plates." Hall went on to apparently try to ape one of the twentieth century's greatest poets thus:
Anger Angryson and the Devil Vet saunter,
like two patrons of the Arts, the Theatrical Arts,
with their words and actions and motivations, costumes,
sets made of wood and rope and paint,
curtains, stools, steps and craft,
into the Storefront Theater, eager for an evening out.
The Actors, filled with Joy, Nerves, Sweat, and the Fulfillment
of a House Sold Out
take the stage slowly and with method, like
Cats or Slow Birds on the Prowl for Sustenance
and Begin the Play That is Not a Play
but a long series of behaviors described
and lists of details and metaphors and poetic statements.
Uh - what? Here's a stretch of Under Milk Wood, that I guess Hall imagines he is parodying:
You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.
Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.
And you alone can hear
the invisible starfall, the darkest-before-dawn minutely dewgrazed stir
of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark,
Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover,
the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.
Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional
salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row,
it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall,
the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.
Pretty wonderful, huh. James Joyce might have had a quarrel with it, but I don't.
So okay, Don Hall doesn't have an ear for poetry, or a hand for it, either (to him, the play's "beautiful language" is like being "beaten in the face with a thesaurus"). But he also doesn't seem to have a brain: "Baby, this shit is like staring at a beautiful Hummel figurine for 90 minutes," he insists, even though almost nothing in Under Milk Wood is sentimental or cloying in any way. Then again, he also seems to imagine that Dylan Thomas is Irish! Obviously he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a theatre, and I hope no one's wasting press tickets on him.
But back to Tarantino. See the problem for Hall's "Tarantino is Art" argument is that in his Dylan Thomas review, he reveals that he doesn't know art from a hole in the ground. This seemed to me pertinent, so I brought it up, and that's when things got really interesting:
Given that you have no more credential than I, you can stuff [that] up your lofty ass . . . why not just own up to the fact that your argument about "Basterds" is merely one of an effete poo-pooing the poor taste of a filmmaker [you despise] rather than all of your nonsense political right wing-sponsored horseshit?
I can just as easily make the claim that you are put off by Tarantino and love the nuance of Thomas because Thomas satisfies your Deadly Theatrical notions of what art should be rather than what art is, you aging queen.
Again, yesssss. Readers of this blog no doubt remember that one of my secondary points about Quentin Tarantino is that his fans tend to be homophobic. And what was that line from Laurie Anderson? "Oh boy, right again!"