This video essay by Michael Tucker is part of a substantial series of YouTube-published pieces called “Lessons from the Screenplay” which, predictably, focuses on the way a story is crafted and dialogue is presented, rather than the cinematography, editing, or mise-en-scene within a given piece. This installment focuses on one of the greatest scenes in all of 21st century cinema—the opening fifteen minutes of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, wherein SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) confronts Perrier La Padite (Denis Menochet), a French dairy farmer who is hiding Jews from occupying Nazi forces. Tucker examines this scene from a strictly textual point of view—rather than look at how the sequence is shot and edited in such a way that it lingers on Menochet’s sweaty, petrified face and Waltz’s calm, almost friendly one, for example, he focuses on how the screenplay proceeds and how it builds on fundamental elements of tension and suspense. Tension and suspense, he explains, occur when instability and uncertainty—and very high stakes—are introduced into a previously stable situation. He examines how the La Padite family’s life is subtly shown to be stable and peaceful, and contrasts that with Col. Landa’s threatening, faux-polite intimidation tactics. He also explains the difference between tension—a diffuse sensation of stress—and suspense, which presents to the audience a number of troubling possibilities which induce anxiety.
This video essay might stick a bit to the “basic” side in its analysis, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s clearly aimed at a beginner audience, one not as well-versed in the particular building blocks of a screenplay as film students might be. I think that’s actually a strength of this piece—it has a good sense of what audience it’s looking for, and tailors its level of sophistication specifically to that perspective. It’s very ambitious, or totally impossible, for a video essay to comprehensively cover every detail in a scene at every level of sophistication. It’s far better to tailor your video’s approach, and crucially, to have a certain sort of viewer in mind. This degree of focus is also seen in Tucker’s exclusion of any analysis of details not relevant to the Basterds screenplay. Rather than overwhelm and confuse the viewer by noting every subtle cinematic tactic used to ramp up the anxiety in this scene, he limits his voiceover analysis to elements from the screenplay, but still shows various other elements—like the stressfully building musical score—at times that make the viewer aware of how they contribute to the scene. Combined with a high level of polish in the production of the video, all these choices create a slick and confident video essay, even without a film-scholar level of sophistication.