Country music and Broadway tend to have very little in common: Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 musical and Reba McEntire’s lauded star turn in Annie Get Your Gun are perhaps the highest profile crossovers between the two disparate worlds in recent memory—not counting Randy Travis’s gay panic when confronted with Adam Lambert’s WTF cover of “Ring of Fire” on American Idol. Enter Kentucky native Laura Bell Bundy, whose film credits include “That girl who grows up to be Bonnie Hunt in Jumanji” but who is better known for her stage work, having played Amber in Hairspray and having originated the role of Elle Woods in the Legally Blonde musical. If Bundy learned anything from her years on stage, it’s how to make an entrance, because her debut single and video, “Giddy on Up,” are hands-down the most fascinating opening salvos to come out of Nashville in years. Granted, “fascinating” doesn’t necessarily equate to “good,” but Bundy actually wants her audience to have a strong opinion, and that’s a risk worth talking about. Which brings the conversation to this:
Grindhouse (#1–10 of 4)
JASON BELLAMY: Well, Ed, after a few days off we’re ready to move into decidedly fresh territory, because now Inglourious Basterds has entered the conversation, and it has done so with a bullet, or a baseball bat, or something. I have seen the film twice now and I’m ready to proclaim it the most thrilling picture of the year thus far (and, just so you know, that’s a carefully chosen adjective). But what does that really mean? Pretty much nothing. So, with another tip of the cap to My Tarantino Problem, and Yours, the April 2007 give-and-take between Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich, let’s dive into the deep end once more.
At the end of Tarantino’s World War II (revenge) fantasy, Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine looks straight into the camera and says: “I think this might just be my masterpiece.” He’s referring, of course, to a freshly carved swastika, but I wonder if—like so many characters before—Aldo might just be speaking for the filmmaker behind the camera and behind that carefully chosen line. And so, Ed, I ask you: Is Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece?
JASON BELLAMY: Ed, I am daunted. Let’s get that out of the way. This is the last subject I ever expected us to cover—Quentin Tarantino. What a thoroughly thankless assignment! It’s not that there isn’t anything to say about the oeuvre of this 46-year-old filmmaker. Hardly. Since 1992, when his Reservoir Dogs became an indie sensation, Tarantino has inspired as much chatter as one encounters in his tongue-powered films. Diehard film fans from both sides of the aisle have dissected his influence and influences. They’ve celebrated his distinctive style or ridiculed it. They’ve called him the greatest filmmaker of his generation or a plagiarist, and sometimes both at the same time. They have suggested he is a heroic preservationist of film history, a filmmaking Indiana Jones, or they have suggested he is film history’s archenemy, a Nazi-esque figure using others’ masterpieces as kindling for his bonfires. I could go on. Tarantino’s films may be original, brilliant, witty, exhilarating, hilarious, childish, nauseating, offensive, brazen, pathetically derivative, or some combination of the above, but they are always something. Everyone, it seems, is somehow affected by Tarantino. Everyone, it seems, has a take on Tarantino.
Against this wall of noise, what are two more opinions worth? Ed, we’ve never gone into one of these discussions with the attitude of creating the preeminent analysis of the subject in question (neither of us is that arrogant), but in this case I’m not sure we can even hope to produce the most illuminating two-person debate of Tarantino to appear at this blog. As longtime readers of The House Next Door already know, Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich set the bar extremely high with the transcription of their live QT debate in April 2007 that they called My Tarantino Problem, and Yours. It was that piece, incidentally, that made me leap at the chance to bring our conversations series here to the House. I’ve read it start to finish at least a half-dozen times, and it never ceases to engage me. And thus it’s that piece that made me think that Tarantino wasn’t a topic worth our time. Save for bringing to the table QT’s seventh—depending on how you count—major directorial effort, Inglorious Basterds, which as of beginning this discussion we haven’t seen, what more is there to say?
Yet, at the urging of our editor, here we are. I’m excited as usual, but, yes, I am daunted. I’d like to think that our conversation can tread lightly on some of those oh-so-familiar Tarantino battlegrounds in an attempt to find some mostly unexplored terrain, but, as simple as that sounds, I am doubtful. I am reminded that at the heart of every Tarantino discussion is a debate over Tarantino’s depth, or lack thereof. And so I wonder: What if in trying to look beyond the surface of Tarantino’s controversial reputation we find that there’s nothing more there? Could it be that the most compelling element of Tarantino’s filmmaking has become our inability to collectively define it?
When Patrick Troughton’s Father Brennan runs afoul of the Devil in The Omen (1976), he seeks refuge in his Church and gets impaled by a supernaturally dislodged iron spire. This iconic bit of gruesomeness (one of several in Richard Donner’s glumly earnest yet oddly enduring Exorcist retread) gets replayed in Hot Fuzz, except this time, the victim isn’t neatly perforated but rudely crushed. And then he flails around for a bit with a giant piece of stone where his head, neck and upper body should be, like an Easter Island statue whose features have weathered away. The scene serves as a neat encapsulation of Hot Fuzz’s basic comic strategy: the reupholstering of pop detritus into something even tackier.
The film is an inventory of movie and music references as relentless and explicit as Grindhouse, its city-cop-goes-country plotline, which sees a London policeman transferred to a sleepy hamlet rocked by a series of murders most foul, is merely a pretense for the team behind 2004’s similarly pitched (if more focused) Shaun of the Dead—writer-director Edgar Wright and his cowriter and star, Simon Pegg—to revel in their proudly dubious taste. And while it might sound like heresy to suggest it, Hot Fuzz is quite simply a more enjoyable (and less grueling) experience than Grindhouse. Its trashy affections come unencumbered by sky-scraping pretensions. Put simply, the two films demonstrate the difference between being tipsy on your own cleverness and irretrievably shitfaced.