Inglourious Basterds, the upcoming Quentin Tarantino World-War II action flick, has fanboys foaming at the mouth with anticipation. Some of this comes naturally from Tarantino’s following, but some of this may be coming from the relief that we’re transitioning away from those serious Oscar-baiting Nazi/WWII movies towards more amusing summer movie fare.
Clearly, Basterds is a different kind of movie than, say, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Take a look at the trailer:
Tarantino is the modern king of exploitation films, and this one is no exception. And part of what gives this trailer that lurid, exploitative feel (besides Brad Pitt’s crazy monologue) is its liberal usage of swastikas. After all, it’s a powerful, offensive, and evocative symbol that communicates a lot of ideas very quickly.
Perfect for a Tarantino Nazi movie trailer, right? But how about all of those “other” World War II movies? Can we use the frequency of swastikas (and other exploitative elements) in movie trailers as some sort of proxy for the degree that a film is Nazi-sploitative or not?
With that in mind, let’s investigate the Swastika-per-Minute (SPM) Rates for the trailers for Basterds as well as some major 2008 World-War II themed movie releases after the jump. Achtung! Schnell!
The trailer again (admit it, you probably wanted to watch it again anyway):
SPM Rate: 10 swastikas over 1:43 = 5.83 Swastikas Per Minute
Hitler: At the very end, Hitler pounds the table and shouts “Nein! Nein! Nein!” while dressed in a cape. Spectacular.
Other Exploitative Elements: The motorcade of sleek cars. Admit it: you wouldn’t mind having one of those Mercedes convertibles in your garage. Oh, and the lurid violence.
This Norweigan Nazi zombie film caused a stir at Sundance last year:
SPM Rate: Only 1 Swastika over 2:30 = 0.4 Swastikas Per Minute. Surprisingly low for a Nazi zombie movie, right? But this is clearly a highly exploitative movie, and it comes from:
Hitler: He’s in the trailer via archival footage, which counts for something, but it has far less of a visceral impact than seeing Hitler in the Basterds trailer.
Other Exploitative Elements: Sex, blood, gore, and zombies. The Nazis are practically just the added bonus on top of the standard horror
Now we’re moving into the “Oscar Bait” category. Defiance was only nominated for Best Score, but the studio was clearly setting it up to compete for the major awards.
SPM Rate: 0 swastikas over 2:04 = 0 Swastikas Per Minute! Exploitation free? Not quite. The trailer still has:
Hitler: his image doesn’t appear, but the shouting voice at the beginning is unmistakable.
Other Exploitative Elements: The Wehrmacht’s Iron Cross makes an appearance on a tank towards the end of the trailer. It’s not the same as a swastika, but pretty close.
In all seriousness, did anybody see this?
SPM Rate: 0 swastikas over 2:29 = 0 Swastikas Per Minute. Not surprising, given that this movie is set in the postwar period.
Hitler: Not in the trailer, but I assume that the twist ending of this movie is that Kate Winslet’s character actually tried to assassinate Der Fuhrer, so we probably see him on screen then.
Other Exploitative Elements: One woman yells “Nazi” to accuse Winslet’s character of being such, but more importantly, there’s that unmistakable barbed wire, which we all know is the universal symbol for the Holocaust. Speaking of barbed wire…
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Concentration camp movie with a kid? That’s some shameless Oscar Baiting.
SPM Rate: 3 swastikas in 2:14 = 1.34 Swastikas Per Minute. This is slightly deceptive since all 3 swastikas appeared at the very beginning of the trailer. Plus, the light-hearted music at the outset is rather atypical for movies with swastikas in the trailer.
Hitler: none, but at 1:26 there’s a seriously intimidating Nazi in shiny shiny leather.
Other Exploitative Elements: Let’s see…there’s the barbed wire, and we know what that means…what else? Oh, right. The main character is A FREAKING KID IN A FREAKING CONCENTRATION CAMP.
Brian Singer’s historical action/drama was going for more prestige and less exploitation, but…
SPM Rate: 85 swastikas over 1:55 seconds = 44.35 Swastikas Per Minute. It’s through the roof. Those endless rows of tall vertical flags is really what did it, but even if you don’t include those scenes, this trailer still packs in more swastikas than an Illinois Nazi rally.
Hitler: No Hitler in the trailer, though he does show up in the film itself.
Other Exploitative Elements: All those soldiers running and standing in formation. The planes turning on the tarmac in formation. Where have I seen all of this before?
Which of these trailers best embodies the spirit of exploitation via Nazi symbolism, specifically, the swastika? Valkyrie wins the SPM count handily, and though that’s clearly not the only factor to be considered (Hitler’s appearance in the Basterds trailer goes a long way), the overwhelming fascist imagery in the Valkyrie trailer makes it more Nazi-sploitative than even Basterds.
A final note: I’m not necessarily saying that Nazi-sploitation is a bad thing (at least not in this context; the historical Nazi Exploitation subgenre is a different story altogether). Filmmakers exploit our visceral reactions to Nazis, and the swastika in particular, because it’s an effective way to hold an audience’s attention. I could see arguments that Nazi-sploitation in movies is over-used, perverts real history, and perhaps even promotes fascism in some subconscious way, so make like a Panzer tank and blitzkrieg me in the comments.