Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Au Revoir, Shosanna
I saw Inglourious Basterds on Sunday night with my wife. It was my fourth viewing, her first. I had no idea what she would think of it. I was happy to be seeing it again, but it was kind of sad walking down the long hallway past all the larger-screened theaters and turning the corner to Cinema 5, the small theater that can’t have more than twelve rows in it, where movies are banished when they are nearing the end of their run and will soon disappear from circulation.
So, it was au revoir to the touchingly elegiac opening rendition of “Green Leaves of Summer” followed by – “Chapter One – Once upon a time… in Nazi-occupied France” – and the cut to that stunningly simple shot of the farm house, the farmer chopping wood, the girl hanging wash, the cows. Au revoir to that long scene inside the farm house, beautifully acted by Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa and Denis Menochet as Perrier. Au revoir to the meticulously orchestrated mounting tension of this scene and the farmer’s final surrender to emotion (watch the space under his eye quiver). The tragic climax comes inexorably. Shosanna runs. Landa lowers his pistol, Au revoir, Shosanna.
But this great scene is not the only masterful set piece. I almost prefer the scene in the tavern basement where a drunken celebration and an identity game turn into threatening suspicions and an abrupt bloodbath. And the lengthy Cinema Gamaar conflagration sequence, a sequence that includes the riveting confrontation between Landa and Frau Hammersmark, followed by parallel cuts to Landa’s deal to get all four and end the war, is amazingly conceived and edited.
I’ll miss a great cast of memorable characters so wonderfully portrayed by their performers: Shosanna Dreyfus and Bridget von Hammersmark, Major Archie Hicox and Herr Stürmbahnführer Hellstrom, Aldo Raine and Hugo Stiglitz, Private Fredrick Zoller and Corporal Wilhelm Wicki.
Au Revoir to stunning cinematography: the opening shot of the farm; the overhead shot following Shosanna, all in red, rising from her makeup table and going down the hallway; the shot of Shosanna and the Nazi flag reflected in the window; the shot of the pile of nitrate film behind the screen filled with a shot of a pile of empty rifle shells.
And I dig some of those memorable foreign language lines: Au revoir, Shosanna; Attendre le crème; Dann muss ich King Kong sein!.
So long for now to bold filmmaking that knits together sharp writing, superb acting, intelligent editing, and striking cinematography that fills the screen.
Au revoir, that is, to Inglourious Basterd’s time on the big screen. That’s the only place where a film has full life. We can look forward to it on DVD, but a DVD is the ghost of a movie, albeit a friendly ghost, a ghost that keeps you company and haunts you with the thrill of first viewing, but an insubstantial ghost nonetheless.
To me, it’s a big loss when a movie I love leaves the theater and disappears into the digital world. I am so thrilled by the big-screen experience that I try to see favorite movies as often as possible in the theater before they are sent off to DVD. I saw Inglourious Basterds four times at the movies. I saw There Will Be Blood only twice completely, but I slipped into the theater a couple of times to watch major chunks a third time. I saw War of the Worlds four times; The Thin Red Line three times.
The record-breaking run of Titanic took me back to the days when a movie like The Graduate or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could be found playing in a theater for years. I saw Titanic twice in Cape Cod theaters in December, 1997, and then once a month for four more months, for a total of six times, and it was still playing on the Cape in June. Yes, I know, Titanic has its shortcomings, but I wanted to experience the big-screen depiction of the sinking ship as often as possible before its full visual impact would be lost forever on video.
Of all the movies you’ve seen in theaters in the past twenty years, which ones have you seen the most frequently?
Oh, I forgot to tell you what my wife thought of Inglourious Basterds. “What did you think?” I asked tritely as we left the theater. “I enjoyed every minute of it,” she said.
(And a confession – I can’t wait to get my hands on the DVD!)