Inglourious Basterds: What You Didn’t See

So I’ve been reading the script (downloadable here) to the film Inglourious Basterds. And it’s pretty over-the-top insane.

Not that you wouldn’t expect that from a movie that’s (a) by Quentin Tarantino, (b) about Jews, and (c) borderline sadophiliac in its embrace of violence. But there are some moments, excised from the final film, that tell the story as…well, as a much different story.

inglourious basterds

In this scene, Donny Donowitz, the “Bear Jew,” has just bought himself a baseball bat. (Proprietor: “You gettin’ your little brother a present before you ship out?” Donny: “No.” Stony silence, as they both realize its significance.) Donny then pays a visit to a tiny little old Jewish lady in an apartment building who invites him in for tea:

Donny: Mrs. Himmelstein, do you have any loved ones over in Europe who you’re concerned for?
Mrs. Himmelstein: What compels you, young man, to ask a stranger such a personal question?
Donny: Because I’m going to Europe. And I’m gonna make it right.
Mrs. Himmelstein: And just how do you intend to do that, Joshua?

He holds up his [baseball] bat.

Donny: With this.
Mrs. Himmelstein: And what exactly do you intend to do with that toy?
Donny: I’m gonna beat every Nazi I find to death with it….I’m going through the neighborhood. If you have any loved ones in Europe, whose safety you fear for, I’d like you to write their name on my bat.

I’d assume that part of the reason this scene was cut is because the scene that introduces the Basterds unit — post-battle, where the soldiers are interrogating Nazi prisoners and collecting scalps — flows with such brutal elegance. But also, the scenes that feature the Brookline Jewish community would probably take the movie away from being the squarely violent war film that Tarantino intended to make and cast it more as a Holocaust-era character piece.

In Jordana Horn’s excellent interview with Tarantino, both acknowledge (correctly, I think) that Basterds wasn’t a Holocaust film. But, when looking at Tarantino’s original visions for the film — some reports suggest that his original script, which clocked in at over 270 pages and 5 1/2 hours of shooting time — the final product could have been any of several types of film.

(One final note: Ostensibly, Tarantino’s original concept was to make the film entirely about Shoshana, the Jewish girl whose family was killed in front of her, in which she makes a list of Nazis responsible and extracts vengeance. That apparently turned into his last film, Kill Bill. I do wish Basterds was more like Kill Bill in its embrace of the hero — nearly all the Jews die, and all the women die in particularly horrific circumstances — but I understand how both women’s deaths were called for by the storytelling ethic. Which doesn’t make their portrayal any less anti-woman.)

Crossposted to MyJewishLearning

Filed under Arts & Culture, Film

3 Responses to “Inglourious Basterds: What You Didn’t See”

  1. The film is tagged as a series of short films, and the first of them is a classic (think Anne Frank) ‘Jewish family in hiding from Nazis who are rounding up the Jews’ tale. It felt like a holocaust film to me. Then the cowboys showed up and all of a sudden it was the ok corral. And then I realized that it was a holocaust-y western shaft gangster film or something. I spoke with a German reporter two weeks ago who told me about the films reception in Germany. What did they think? They LOVED it — finally it showed the Jews for who they really are — vengeful, militant and cruel. Context is everything.

    Daniel Brenner · September 23rd, 2009 at 10:04 pm
  2. A number of feminist bloggers have argued the movie is very pro-feminist. I’m skeptical (or perhaps more accurately, I think giving Tarantino too many feminist points sets the bar too low for what constitutes feminist), but I haven’t seen the movie yet. The gist of the argument is that the Landa character takes that character in every romantic comedy – the one who would be a creepy stalker if he did those things in real life, but is supposed to be our lovable underdog – and shows him for the asshole he really is.

    em · September 24th, 2009 at 2:34 am
  3. Sorry. Not Landa. Zoller.

    em · September 24th, 2009 at 2:35 am

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