Welcome back once again to TOP 10 SHOTS, our weekly space to catch up and gaze at the visual splendor that goes in service of narrative, or at times non-narrative, cinema. My humble apologies for not having anything to give you for the past two weeks. It seems that my laziness has caught up with me and I simply can't afford to indulge it any longer. So I'm back in full force with a weekly tackling of compelling cinema of the purest form. Visual cinema is quite possibly the most compelling, with dialogue at best only to be used as a propeller for the plot, and the plot to be used only as propeller for the visuals.
However, if I'm to be perfectly honest, it took me a rather long while to arrive at the film I'd be focusing on this week. It's not so easy as picking a film and running with it. Even the best can prove not to be treasure troves of visual wonder. So can very well be said of "Full Metal Jacket", Stanley Kubrick's Vietnam war film. Powerfully disturbing and brutally clinical in all the best Kubrick ways, it nonetheless isn't so visually compelled. I did have thoughts of going through "Men in Black 3"s cinematographer to take a look at "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", but that's a film made entertaining through feat of editing. Single shots have little to offer.
So I decided to continue ringing with the Memorial Day war-flick theme, trying rather desperately to drum up something worthy of dissection. And seeing as I liked where I was going with "Full Metal Jacket", searching for something that isn't exactly the most glorified view of war, I ended up going with something similarly ironic by landing on Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds". Perfect for Memorial Day, certainly not, but seeing as I haven't had the pleasure of seeing "Apocalypse Now" or "The Thin Red Line" yet this may very well be the best I can drum up. It's not cop out, either. As with any Tarantino film, there's a lot of fascinating things going on, and regular D.P. Robert Richardson takes quite luscious advantage of that. So with no further ado, let's get to it.
10. Coiling Tension with Suspicion
Tarantino's had a tendency to want to flip-flop around with whatever film he wants to be making, which changes up on numerous occasions throughout "Inglourious Basterds". The third chapter of the film, "A German Night in Paris", does take on this wonky sort of non-romance that dials down the tension to almost a point of ignorance. That goes away with a gunshot of moment as Hans Landa suddenly enters the frame, the camera drifting up from Shosanna to him. No other man in this shot is given face, and are all instead men in uniforms, presiding high over Shosanna, with her as this play doll. Landa is the only one she's concerned with, and her the only one who interests him. The tension is coiled from zero to max in perfect manner.
9. The Bar's in the Globe
I am quite sad to say that there aren't more images from the Bastards-centric chapters of the film than the two on this list. Tarantino does find numerous ways of creating tension in Chapter 4, "Operation Kino", but mostly through the long endurance of time and carefully casual dialogue between characters, only for it to topple on an unspoken gesture. The shot that comes to the fore from the mass happens to come before the tension is dialed up at all. It is, in fact, just an awkward introductory shot for Michael Fassbender's character. We see him entering the show pretty far from front of screen, quite literally, and we do later see him approach. But the shot of him standing right beside the globe insinuates this rather worldly traveler who's being brought for the most important mission. In the simplest of shots, this comes across quite wonderfully.
8. Break in the Floorboards
The subjugation of Jews is handled quite carefully in "Inglourious Basterds" from the very introduction. Landa goes about a talk comparing Jews to rats, all the while Shosanna and her family hide beneath the floorboards. This shot of slight tension, as well as playful impressionism, is also one of simple, but effective foreshadowing. The perspective we enter the film with is that Nazis are evil and Jews are hated, but Tarantino is eager to pry open those restrictive boundaries (floorboards) to shed a little truth. He is perhaps the only filmmaker who dares claim that despite the horrible things they do, Nazis are also people. The floorboards go both ways. They see narrowly at Nazis as Nazis see narrowly at them. Landa is trying to find the distinction.
7. French Roots
Again from Chapter One, "Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France", this is damn close to being the very first shot of the film, and it is naturally broken up between other shots. For all intents and purposes it is all one shot, which starts out with the farmer chopping his axe deep into a tree stump. The implication we get is paralleling man and tree, that this is one of who have established France as home, and it's being invaded, so they must dig deeper to plant their roots firm. That says all that needs to be said about Monsieur Lapadite, but the shot goes on, showing him rather clearly in the sun, with his daughters in the house's shade. He is about as noble a figure as this film has, and this shot is brilliant for showing that all.
6. Tarantino's Self-Cinematic Wink
The premier and official shot to signify Aldo Raine, and indeed the Bastards as a group. Tarantino takes great advantage of the use of cinema in his film, which signifies a certain investment that he has in what's going on. You can't say that he makes films for no reason (No, we're not counting "Death Proof" as a full film). Thus when we're dealing with the reference of cinema, looking straight at the camera should never be ignored. So is the case with this shot, brought up whenever Raine splits open a skull with a swastika mark. In some ways it's Tarantino's wink back at himself, but it's quite interesting that we're in the position of their victims. It's quite a literal representation of cinema, imprinting on you so they may never be erased.
5. Another Piece of Stone
Not truly at a significant venue in the film, barely making its way to the front of a montage sequence, but it is a recurring image towards the close of the film. Shosanna's choice of place in shooting her "film" for the Nazis she's planning to burn is as important as any setting in a film. This is our look behind the scenes of their movie, shot powerfully from below to give all the more daring a look to her prejudiced glare. The walls on both sides of her are harshly lit as she is, and we see just how cold she has become. In her attempts to end the tyranny of the Nazi party, she too has given up something of herself. She has grown stony and cold.
4. Lady on the Edge
Okay, this isn't at all one shot. In fact, it's four shots faded together, but they are too damn similar you may as well forget that. Opening us into our final act with "Cat People" ringing us in is this shot of Shosanna, gorgeous as ever and almost completely overtaken by Nazi red. She's getting in deep with them, perhaps too deep to keep up that thin barrier, here represented by a window. As we press ever forward towards her, we see precisely where she is on the delicious eve of her revenge. Dead set on making her mark, she is nonetheless already drenched in Nazi blood. Hers isn't a place of glory, but of understanding. Murder is the only thing that can pay for murder.
3. I Can Think Like a Rat
It's a shame there isn't a shot that captures everything that is Hans Landa in this movie, since Landa excels so brilliantly from Christoph Waltz's performance and the character written on the page. As much as Shosanna is an essential to the film, Landa is not at all a supporting character. As a matter of fact, he may indeed be the protagonist of the show. Here is a man who is willing to search every crevice in search of truth, going so deep and dingy as joining up with the Nazi party. This shot is a literal realization of that, as well as opening upon the fairy tale landscape of the film. Right there, we see a girl running off in the light, and him still laying in the darkness. We see he's not done with her. This is just setting us out upon the world we will inhabit and come to realize is a nasty place, all the way through.
2. How Sweet La Creme
An odd choice for the list, if there is any at all to be found here. Of course this is one of many a shot very much like it, and this is a generalized assessment, but even this shot in particular shows just how fascinated Tarantino is with such a small thing. He has a certain obsession with the creme, just like Landa is so finicky about it. This shot may simply exist for the sake of existing and have me in for the fact that it's there, but it's quite the signifier of the Nazi party in general, better than symbol or a statement or an act. It is their obsession over things that truly, deeply, do not matter. The sweet textures of the creme show how sweet their preference is for their "master race". Such a love for something to make you so sick.
1. The Destruction of Cinema
The last ultimate shot of the film before a festival of chaos, carnage, and death ensues and takes its fury out upon every remaining soul not already moved out of the multiplex. This, like the shot of the creme, is one of enhanced precision, focused relentlessly on every spindle of the cigarette. Marcel, Shosanna's sweet French-African lover, tosses the fateful cigarette towards the nitrate film collection, quite literally blowing the film up in fury and chaos. The way it flows so smoothly and effortlessly, with the smoke billowing everlastingly around it, is amongst the last cinematic flourish this film has to offer. So gorgeous, simple, and powerful a shot, it simply has to be this one to top it all.
So, what do you think of my picks, and what are yours? Comment below! Yes, the next one will be on time this Friday!
HINT FOR NEXT WEEK'S (TENTATIVE) FILM: Have some now. Save some for later.