Every (reservoir) dog has its day

28 Dec

Just for the record, I decided not to dignify Tarantino movies with my time even before it was cool. When I saw his first film, Reservoir Dogs, in 1992, I found loathsome his depiction of torture as something that could be entertaining and titillating. At the time, the U.S. was funding wars in El Salvador and Angola, among other places, and providing training in counterinsurgency and bankrolling torturers and human rights abusers. I went on to work at an NGO in New Jersey that had a psychological center for survivors of torture (which, by the way, could not sustain funding to keep its doors open). The role of creators of popular culture as apologists for torture is always troubling, and Tarantino’s concept of fun softened up an audience that would be apathetic in the face of torture, extraordinary rendition, disappearances, cluster bombs, phosphorus bombing, all sanctioned after 9/11 as long as we were dealing with “bad guys.” I decided then and there never to spend precious hours of my short life indulging Tarantino’s fantasies or lining his wallet. It is no surprise that he has gone on to see dollar signs in slavery. His whole shtick has always been to make a profit off of the trivialization of human suffering and making killing a fetishistic amusement. Torture and slavery are neither excuses for fun nor backdrops for dramas whose purpose is to sugar-coat violence to make money.

There are so many valuable and thoughtful films to be seen in the world, and we rarely get the chance because of the saturation of our local cinemas with American commercial films made or distributed by major corporations. Some bold independent films we have access to, like the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side, that depict the realities of how torture degrades the torturers even as it degrades the tortured. Others come from directors and countries we seldom hear of and have little access to, despite the greater availability of film through the Internet, whether through streaming, downloading, or the international marketplace in DVDs.

This is also not to say I am against genre films, or even “spaghetti westerns.” Once upon a Time in the West is one classic, disturbing film of depth moral complexity, and there are others.

Life is short. If you want to see how great filmmakers portray the human condition in all its ugliness as well as its beauty, avoid cheap titillation and violence porn, don’t be seduced by flashy technique, and look for works by serious filmmakers with something insightful to say and unforgettable images to depict.

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