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A USER'S GUIDE

Quentin Tarantino's 'Basterds' is a glorious mash-up

To appreciate the director's World War II flick starring Brad Pitt, a knowledge of Sergio Leone, Ernst Lubitsch, Leni Riefenstahl and G.W. Pabst doesn't hurt.

August 16, 2009|Glenn Whipp

Joining Goebbels at that lunch is Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent). First seen in the film's opening chapter, Shosanna now owns a cinema in Paris. One night, as she's changing the titles on the marquee, she meets Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl), a war hero turned movie star, beating Audie Murphy to the punch.

Safe to say, theirs is the first-ever movie meet-cute where the topic at hand is a debate over the filmmaking merits of Leni Riefenstahl and Max Linder.

The French-born Linder was a star of European silent film, nearly Chaplin's equal as a comedian. Riefenstahl began as the superwoman of German mountain climbing movies, but is best known for directing history's most famous propaganda film, "Triumph of the Will."

"Basterds" shows more than a passing interest in moviemaking in the Third Reich, with Goebbels, its leader, seen aspiring to be like Hollywood producing icon David O. Selznick.

"Riefenstahl and Goebbels despised each other," Tarantino says. "He was in charge of every single person in the German film industry with the sole exception of her."

"We shot on the same stages that Goebbels used during the war," Tarantino adds. "It felt weird, but cool, too, with the way we were rewriting history."

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CHAPTER 4

Film commando receives blue ribbon in Pabst

Tarantino has often said that if he wasn't making movies, he'd be writing about them. In "Basterds," he goes so far as to write one into the mission. Described in the script as a "young George Sanders type," Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) is a British commando (not to mention a self-professed expert on the subtext of German director G.W. Pabst), very loosely modeled on writer Graham Greene.

"It's a little bit of a gimmick, but it makes sense," Tarantino says. "As an expert on German cinema, this guy could sell himself at a Nazi film event."

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CHAPTER 5

Saboteurs and 'Sabotage'

The movie's three main protagonists come together at the premiere of "Nation's Pride," the propaganda movie starring Zoller. Shosanna sees the event, held at her theater, as a chance to exact revenge and comes up with a plan straight out of Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 thriller, "Sabotage."

"I learned from that movie that 35- millimeter nitrate film can be a powerful weapon," Tarantino says. "I've always wanted to use that idea."

One of the key lines of "Basterds," spoken by Pitt, is: "I think this just might be my masterpiece."

Is the actor voicing thoughts of his director?

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone asks about that," Tarantino says, laughing. "Well, what can I say? No one has ever accused me of lacking confidence."

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calendar@latimes.com

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