Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

March 5, 2010

Christoph Waltz's Phony Nazi Cartoon Doesn't Deserve an Oscar

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:37 am

I’m sure he’ll win, because the members o the Academy are, for the most part, so ignorant of history (as attested to by giving the Oscar nomination to the loathsome production of The Reader last year). But that’s not the point.

The point is that everybody is hailing Waltz’ performance as if he had created a super, super sophisticated SS character–sophistication we’re supposed to be in awe of, a new kind of intellectual-friendly Nazi. But in fact this sophistication is about as convincing as Snidely Whiplash. It is only excusable if you can believe (and I’d like to believe) Tarantino (whose work I often admire) was mocking the Hollywood SS cliche. But if so I don’t think that’s why Waltz got the nomination. I think he got it because the Oscar voters in their ignorance bought its bogusness as if it were something real.

What’s worse is that it plays into one of the oldest, most misbegotten myths about the genocidal SS (they were in charge of the Final Solution): that they were somehow an elite, intellectual corps of esthetes compared with the other, more crude Nazis. We’re almost encouraged to admire him by the movie, he’s so (supposedly) charismatic and deeply complex and clever.

Please. I’m sure he’s a fantastic actor. I can’t blame him for doing a good job with the part that was written for him, but the part is a lame ahistorcal farce. The SS were crude, bloody mass murderers, not sophisticated esthetes. The Oscar voters seem to be imprisoned by some Hollywood version of the Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to confronting Nazi evil. Thus the nomination of the repellent Reader and now Waltz. They want to make absolute evil something they can understand and accept–relate to–through their impoverished vocabulary of film cliches. Sorry, evil of this magnitude cannot be contained or explained by such stunted impostures.

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17 Comments »

  1. Sometimes cliches are accurate.

    I used to think the Nazi concentration camp guards were all just brutal bullies, and like most bullies – cowards. Then I read in great detail how the Waffen-SS Division Totenkopf was formed from camp guards and regularly rotated people back through the camp system to rest or recover from wounds. The Totenkopf performed very well for years on the eastern front – so not cowards. It would be comforting to think they were just bullies, not real men. Evil doesn’t always cooperate.

    I used to think the whole dressed up image if the Gestapo / SS was just a Hollywood invention to make them more intimidating. Then my unit caught several Special Republican Guard officers in Kuwait City in ’91. Unlike the typical pathetic Iraqi peasant soldier, they wore pressed out dress uniforms modeled after those of their fascist forefathers. Had to see it to believe it – the Gestapo with a tan. (As soon as the war was over, the Kuwaitis hauled them away for a war-crimes trial.)

    Comment by Old Soldier — March 5, 2010 @ 10:40 am | Reply

  2. “A new kind of intellectual-friendly Nazi”? It’s not like Waltz is reading the New York Review of Books and before ordering an entire Jewish family slaughtered in the first scene in the movie. I understand why people cringe at “Das Boot” or “Hogan’s Heroes” when Nazis are either humanized or ridiculed (and thus rendered harmless) but I don’t agree with you about Waltz’s performance at all. He IS portrayed as a mass murderer who hates Jews; he also is a very good at questioning people. If anything, his (and the other Nazis’) aesthetic taste in German film is ridiculed by Tarantino in the scene in the restaurant in France. I think you’re making a quantum leap from watching Waltz’s snake-like ability to talk with people to believing that he’s being portrayed as some sort of cultural ubermensch.

    Comment by bobmagic — March 5, 2010 @ 11:36 am | Reply

  3. Please excluse my typo. My second sentence should read: “It’s not like Waltz is reading the New York Review of Books before ordering an entire Jewish family slaughtered in the first scene in the movie.

    Comment by bobmagic — March 5, 2010 @ 11:39 am | Reply

  4. Think about Conrad Veidt, the brilliant star of “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, an active anti-Nazi, who identified himself as a Jew on Nazi forms, as an act of protest and conscience. After marrying a Jewish woman in 1933, Mr. Veidt emigrated with her to England and then made his living playing Nazis in films, most memorably as Major Strasser in “Casablanca”. What was courage then is a cartoon now.

    Comment by charlie finch — March 5, 2010 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

  5. The whole movie is an ahistorcal farce. Probably why I still haven’t seen in. Regardless, the Oscars have their own standards and agenda. After all, “The Hurt Locker”, also Oscar nominated, is more entertainment than real as well. The scene where the NCO defuses the bomb while not wearing the kevlar suit would not have happened. He would have been relieved for trying it. Never trust Hollywood to get history right. They do entertainment not education.

    Comment by James S. — March 5, 2010 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

  6. If you don’t like a left wing twist on history, don’t see Hollywood movies. Simple.

    Comment by Banjo — March 5, 2010 @ 6:53 pm | Reply

  7. “The SS were crude, bloody mass murderers, not sophisticated esthetes.”

    All of them?

    Reinhard Heydrich, the bloodiest of all the Nazi war criminals, architect of the Holocaust, was the son of a composer/conductor and music professor, and a known aficionado of the arts and literature.

    The *broader* point, which Ron manages to miss is thet Germany itself was not some sea of uncultured thuggish barbarians, a Sudan or Zimbabwe, but one of the most advanced and cultured societies on earth: *and yet* was still capable of such ghastly crimes. The Nazi empire didn’t achieve its “successes” by being mouthbreathing knuckledraggers. One reason Hitler used the SS to crush the SA in 1934 was because the thugs and street brawlers had outlived their usefulness to a party which was now in power.

    I’m sure Ron would love to pretend that the world divides neatly into “smart people Good, dumb people violent and Bad,” but it isn’t the case at all. People can be both intelligent and evil, which is what makes them the most dangerous of all.

    This is precisely why Hans Landa is so chillingly horrifying.

    Comment by Bohemond — March 6, 2010 @ 6:57 am | Reply

  8. Ron says he “admires” some of Tarantino’s work. I don’t. His nihilistic aestheticization of violence has created hosts of mini Nazis in suburban bedrooms now playing “World of Warcraft”. What an easy, cheap trip to turn violence into theater: there is no difference between Tarantino and the “Saw” movies. Barack Obama is justified in using drone strikes to kill our evil enemies. He is also a war criminal for killing people by remote control from a couch in Florida. Such is our age, an age of heroes trained by Tarantino: Al Qaeda also watches his films.

    Comment by charlie finch — March 6, 2010 @ 8:19 am | Reply

  9. Don’t know squat about movies or the trollops and junkies in them.
    Charlie Finch #8 says all that needs saying.
    Anything else just gives them encouragement.

    Comment by pelaut — March 7, 2010 @ 5:45 am | Reply

  10. there is a current fascination with nazis, just as there is a bewildering support of evil, vis a vis the most foul, odious despots and dictators. i suppose there must be something in most human souls that craves an expression of evil through fascism.

    american democracy was something unique in all the world. it never was the world, sadly. and now it’s over.

    Comment by Judy, NYC — March 7, 2010 @ 8:51 am | Reply

  11. Finally, an issue about which you and I agree. The enemies of humanity must never be glamorized. And we must never forget their identifying characteristics or re-define their behavior–never.

    Comment by ahem — March 7, 2010 @ 1:54 pm | Reply

  12. 11. ahem:

    Finally, an issue about which you and I agree. The enemies of humanity must never be glamorized. And we must never forget their identifying characteristics or re-define their behavior–never.

    Tell that to all the people wearing Che Guevara T-shirts.
    The Great Divide is over just exactly who the “enemies of humanity” are. And the re-definition of their behavior goes on continuously.

    Comment by Tcobb — March 7, 2010 @ 10:05 pm | Reply

  13. 58 never looked so good as Kathryn Bigelow did last night. She is remembered VERY fondly here in the New York art world, where she started out as an artist in the prestigious Whitney Independent Study Program in the early 1970s. It’s hard to believe that even Ron, who sometimes floats a bit two high in the mental cosmos, didn’t get a stirring below the equator when Kathryn held his statuette.

    Comment by charlie finch — March 8, 2010 @ 7:49 am | Reply

  14. The *broader* point, which Ron manages to miss is thet Germany itself was not some sea of uncultured thuggish barbarians, a Sudan or Zimbabwe, but one of the most advanced and cultured societies on earth: *and yet* was still capable of such ghastly crimes. The Nazi empire didn’t achieve its “successes” by being mouthbreathing knuckledraggers. One reason Hitler used the SS to crush the SA in 1934 was because the thugs and street brawlers had outlived their usefulness to a party which was now in power.

    I’m sure Ron would love to pretend that the world divides neatly into “smart people Good, dumb people violent and Bad,” but it isn’t the case at all. People can be both intelligent and evil, which is what makes them the most dangerous of all.

    Culture does not equal good, and by the same token a lack of culture does not automatically make one bad. You can be as intelligent and cultured and urbane as you like and still be an evil piece of $#!+. Hans Landa is, if anything, representative of the Nazis’ moral-aesthetic arrogance and refusal to self-criticize: “Our culture isn’t degenerate. We can do no wrong.”

    Col. Landa is urbane and charming when he wants to be, but there’s an obvious arrogant undertone running through everything he says and does; it’s hard to imagine anyone who would be fool enough, given what we see of Landa and what we know of him, to jump to the conclusion that we are supposed to like him. In Ron’s terminology, the “sophisticated aesthete” is a thin shell covering the “crude, bloody mass murderer” underneath; what Landa and, by extension, the other Nazi “aesthetes” want to be is a poor disguise for what they really are. Christoph Waltz manages to bring that across with sterling clarity.

    Comment by Jake Was Here — March 9, 2010 @ 6:47 am | Reply

  15. To argue that the Nazis are ‘glamorized’ in this movie is absurd. Whatever ‘glamor’ these characters have is of their own construction, and it is a pathetically thin veneer over the bloody truth. The Nazis’ true nature, in the end, could not be hidden, however sophisticated and cultured they may have thought themselves.

    Comment by Jake Was Here — March 9, 2010 @ 6:53 am | Reply

  16. Maybe Ron could get a film deal for his nuke tome with Bigelow

    Comment by charlie finch — March 9, 2010 @ 11:40 am | Reply

  17. I would say that by the time Hollywood became old enough to recognize itself as a part of history, real world-style, it also recognized that it was the bearer of an alternate history of its own creation. There were some pretty interesting books about that, for example We’re In the Money: Depression America and Its Films, by Andrew Bergman.

    Tarantino is aware of that, and probably is mocking the cliche. The Academy voters, god only knows. But absolute evil like the Nazis–not that there’s much to compare to them–won’t be described in either way. Cliches or even satire on the cliches. It takes a whole other vocabulary, not easily arrived at.

    Comment by Fred Mecklenburg — March 9, 2010 @ 11:45 pm | Reply


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