Posts Tagged ‘Django Unchained’

Shit gets real…

 

 

Critic Armond White has no love for Sam Jackson or Django Unchained.

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White’s original review of Django:

“Roles like Jules in Pulp Fiction, Ordell in Jackie Brown and now Stephen the ultimate Uncle Tom display Jackson’s patented shamelessness–his Nigger Jim flair. Jackson reverses the anger that 70s black militants felt toward the Uncle Tom figure into an actorly endorsement. He embodies the dangerous Negro stereotypes harbored by Tarantino and every Huck Finn wannabe.”

I, of course, disagree with that assessment.  And we have posted a few reviews of Django Unchained.  I think there’s a reason why the breaking the chains motif looks a lot like a Black Power salute…

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All the Oscar nominated films are shamelessly promoting themselves prior to the Academy Awards. Don’t know if Django can pull it off, but here’s some of our coverage on the film:

Django: Blowing the Pulp Out of Dixie

Django’s Vengeance: Responding to the Critics

Django Unchained (2012)

 

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Blowing the Pulp Out of Dixie

by KIM NICOLINI

By now, almost everyone who’s reading this has probably either seen Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and loved or hated it, or feels they don’t need to see it to reach a conclusion. It’s not the sort of film to inspire a mild response. Django Unchained is a blood-soaked and bullet-fueled Spaghetti Western love story that takes on the subject of American slavery by making room for black characters in popular genre films that have predominantly been the territory of whites. Making copious use of the N-word, striking a delicate balance between the use of racial stereotypes and their dismantling, and exploding with blood, humor, violence, and pulp, Tarantino’s latest provocation, a worthy successor to the alternate history of Inglorious Basterds, leaves audiences unsure what to make of it, even as they cheer for its black hero.

Shouldn’t they despise the film for being so irreverent about the subject of slavery, which Hollywood has usually treated with sanctimonious reverence? Or does the film’s cinematic violence (both literally and generically) explode racism and bring the horror of slavery into a new, more visceral cinematic experience of the brutality of America’s role in the slave trade? I’ve seen the movie three times since it was released in December, and I have to confess that I have definitely reached the latter conclusion. I have yet to become bored with the movie. Nor have I been convinced that it’s racist or reactionary as some critics have stated. Ultimately, I see Django Unchained as a triumph against cautious liberal cinema, the safe packaging of slavery into distancing tidy narratives, and the limits typically imposed on black roles in popular Hollywood cinema. Django Unchained gives the audience a black hero who rises not only out of the abomination of slavery but out of the constraints of cinema itself.

Tarantino’s film has no pretense of being a reverent piece of historical cinema or a classic slave emancipation tale. In fact, Tarantino’s tale of slave revenge and romantic love in America’s Antebellum South intentionally disrupts history, much like its predecessor Inglorious Basterds, and blows-up the Big House of cinematic reverence to allow a mass audience to confront slavery and the role of blacks in film, thereby shining much-needed light on a very dark side of American history.

With the gun-slinging Django riding through the landscape and taking down bad white guys (and they are BAD!) to save his love and avenge his abusers, the movie does on many levels play like a mash-up of the Blaxploitation film and Spaghetti Western. Certainly, the movie contains elements of both genres, but it is also so much more. The film could be called a “Spaghetti Southern” (as Tarantino refers to it in the January 2013 issue of American Cinematographer). It takes elements of the Spaghetti Western (which features an outsider in an alien, hostile environment) and relocates them to the American South. What could be more alien in the Antebellum South than a gun-toting free cowboy black man? And what could be more hostile to this improbable icon of liberty than the white men of the South? As in a classic Western narrative, a very clear line is drawn between the “good” (the avenging slave and the man who freed him) and “evil” (the plantation owners and slave overseers) forces at play in the film, and, despite what some of Django Unchained’s critics have said, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever about who we want to come out on top.

The black hero is Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is freed by a German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz in a performance as great as the one he delivers as the slick “Jew Hunter” in Inglorious Basterds). Once freed, Django learns the trade of bounty hunting as a student to Schultz and demonstrates his sharp-shooting abilities as he plucks off any number of bad white guys with clean precision, a skill set he will eventually employ to rescue his true love Broomhilda. Following a classic fairytale structure, Django and Schultz travel to the evil kingdom (a Southern Plantation known as Candie-Land) to rescue the damsel in distress (Django’s slave wife). Leonardo DiCaprio plays the evil king/plantation owner Calvin Candie who gets his rocks off pitting slaves against each other in a blood sport known as Mandigo fighting, in which black men literally fight to the death for the entertainment of whites. And Samuel L. Jackson tears up the screen with his over-the-top performance as Stephen – the Uncle Tom “House Nigger” who is glued to Calvin Candie’s side and proves to be one of the most diabolical characters ever put on screen.

Just summarizing the main actors in the film illustrates the big can of worms contained in Django Uncained. Besides the role of an Uncle Tom, the shocking display of Mandingo fighting and Tarantino’s use of pulp genres like the Western and the Romantic Fairytale to tell a tale of the most brutal institution in American history, we have to take into consideration the use of the N-word which flies as hard and fast as bullets in this movie. I’ve already used the word in referring to Stephen as the House Nigger, and that is only one of multitudes of times the word is fired during the three hours of the movie. Some critics (most notably Spike Lee) have taken issue with Tarantino’s use of the word. How can a white man use the word “nigger” in a film?

Well, if we want to talk about the historical record, a tale of slavery in the South and the racist and violent history of the American economy would be hard to tell without including the N-word, unless the screenplay were as whitewashed as the pristine monuments to white supremacy that Southern plantations were. But whitewashed is exactly what has largely been done to the subject of slavery in film, and it’s about time that someone pulls the white sheet off the face of the subject. Shockingly, because it’s played for laughs, Django Unchained even features a sequence in which members of a proto-Klu Klux Klan are forced to do just that — pull the white bags off their heads. Revealing the ugly and brutal truth of racism means disrupting reverent expectations of the subject by mixing it up with pulp cinema, and that means deploying the N-word in rapid fire as frequently as it was used in the time. To paraphrase renowned slavery scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. from an interview he conducted with Tarantino, to tell a tale of slavery and racism in America and not use the N-word would be to lie. So if we’re going to tell the truth about slavery and racism, the N-word must be spoken. Just to be absolutely clear, then, if I use the word in this essay, it is both because I am quoting the film and the historical treatment of blacks it refuses to whitewash.

Now that I’ve addressed the N-Word, let’s take a minute to think about what exactly Django Unchained is. The film opens in a dark Texas forest with a chain-gang of slaves. The black faces of the men merge with the dark forest, their white eyes glowing in the night. Two menacing white men on horses are leading the slaves to the market to be sold. This scene sets the stage for a traditional emancipation narrative. When Dr. Schultz arrives and frees Django, the camera closes in on Django’s bloody and brutalized ankle. Django’s entire foot and ankle fill the screen as Schultz removes the shackle and “unchains” Django. Django then shucks off his tattered blanket, bares his whip-scarred back and raises his arms in a gesture of freedom and vengeance (e.g. Black Power).

Certainly Django’s scarred and muscle-bound body could be seen as both a fetish object and a stereotype in this scene. This represents the traditional role of black men in film (when they’re not playing subservient emasculated “House Niggers” like Samuel Jackson’s Stephen). If Tarantino shows us this startling and unpleasant image, however, it is in order to set in motion a narrative that will undo racial stereotypes and cinematic expectations. He first creates the stereotypical scenario (the emancipated slave narrative), and then he dumps the black character into untraditional roles (the cowboy, the Western buddy, the chivalrous romantic hero).

Part of the reason Django Unchained succeeds in emancipating itself from the constraints of cautious liberal cinema and its safe historical distancing of the subject of slavery is by emancipating its main character from the trappings of traditional black roles in film. It undoes racial stereotypes by first exposing them and then either dismantling them by creating untraditional roles (Django) or blowing them up entirely (Stephen). Once Django shucks off that blanket and lifts his arms, he also shucks off the traditional emancipation story and everything that is expected from a “safe” film about slavery. Crucially, Django’s role isn’t so much to free the slaves as it is to free the image of the slave from the shackles of both the racism of classic Hollywood narratives and the political correctness of the post-Civil Rights Era.

Once Django Unchained leaves behind the traditional slave emancipation story, the story takes us through a variety of cinematic genres drenched with plenty of blood and humor as Django’s character develops and ultimately triumphs. Django Unchained uses popular pulp genres to take on the deadly serious subject of slavery and the bloody history of the American South. While some have criticized the film for turning the somber subject of slavery into pulp entertainment, the very fact that Django Unchained traffics in “low” stereotypes is what makes it effective. As we follow Django on his mission to save his wife through Tarantino’s network of pulp genres, not only do we grow to identify with Django, but we are able to share in his victory. Sure, guns are fired, walls are splattered with blood, jokes are made, and visceral violence plays before us, but through pulp, violence, and traditional popular narrative devices, Tarantino erases the cautious distance between the audience and his movie’s slave hero. We are able to feel, see and experience slavery without the desensitizing insulation of identity politics. This collapses the distance between the superficial safety of our times and the brutal reality of our history, making the horrors of the past more viscerally real than when they are neatly packaged in cautious historically accurate cinema.

To simply read Django Unchained as a slave revenge/blaxploitation/Western mash-up would short-change all the genre bending the film does to 1) effectively blow the fuck out of black roles in film and 2) make the audience identify with and cheer for the film’s black hero. When Django mounts one of his former captor’s horses and rides into a small Texas town with his emancipator Schultz, the film shifts gears, moving into the territory of the Spaghetti Western. We’ve seen this town before, its old wooden buildings and dirt-filled streets situated in the barren landscape between nowhere and nowhere else. White people walk out of buildings and stand on sidewalks shocked and outraged at the sight of Django riding on a horse alongside Schultz. One of the townspeople whispers, “Look! It’s a nigger on a horse!” When Schultz questions what their problem is, Django blatantly says, “They just ain’t used to seeing a nigger on a horse.”

The doubling of this line, first from the white woman and then from the black man is funny and the audience laughs, but it’s also damn true. Not only are the people in the town not used to seeing “a nigger on a horse,” but neither is the Hollywood audience. The Western is a white man’s genre, but Django rides his horse right through the genre when he rides into the town. This is partly how the film destabilizes white packaging of race in movies and in American history. When Schultz and Django force the town to accept the “nigger on the horse” because he is there as part of “legal business,” the audience also is being asked to accept him. And the audience does. All three times I saw the movie, everyone in the audience – black, white, old, young – cheered for this “nigger on a horse.”

It turns out that Schultz doesn’t just unshackle Django out of the goodness of his heart. Schultz purchases Django (and ultimately his freedom) because it is within his economic interest. Schultz is a bounty hunter, and he needs Django to identify three dirty, rotten overseers – the Brittle Brothers – for whom there is a large bounty on their heads. Django knows the Brittle brothers from his former plantation, because they are the men responsible for whipping him and his beloved wife Broomhilda. Schultz tells Django that he abhors the institution of slavery, but that even he will use it for his economic advantage. Since he “owns” Django, he insists that Django work for him to identify the men who have a large price tag on their heads. When Django asks what a bounty hunter does, Schultz explains that he’s “in the business of selling corpses.”

Coupling bounty hunting with slavery is brilliant. The pairing of these two businesses that trade in human lives underscores the business of violence in this country and the bloody legacy of the American economic landscape. Slavery was an atrocity, an abomination, a dehumanizing and brutal institution that was perceived as acceptable because it was good for “business.” It fueled one of the most successful economic enterprises in American history – cotton. Interestingly, Tarantino also shows how the race card can be thrown out the window, when it is within the economic interest of whites. Everything comes down to business. When Schultz realizes that Django is a perfect shot and that he would make an excellent business partner in the bounty hunting business, race becomes transparent between the two characters.

(more…)


  

Django’s Vengeance

Joe Giambrone

Tarantino strikes again to howls and a little hostility.  Django is at 88% with critics and 94% with audiences on the Tomatometer.  We know that Spike Lee refused to see the film at all, and so I was interested to see what the negative reviews were going to point out.

Obviously, the blood, the gory violence, but many are calling the film self-indulgent and too long.  On that point I disagree.  The film was about as long as it needed to be to resonate as an epic, a large scale western with social commentary on slavery.  Perhaps the extra time wasn’t spent in the expected ways, but running time alone is no excuse for a shoddy review.

One of the reviews that caught my attention was by Dana Stevens:

There’s something about [Tarantino's] directorial delectation in all these acts of racial violence that left me not just physically but morally queasy.”

That’s an interesting point.  Obviously the staging is effective.  To what end is debatable, but it’s certainly well executed and harrowing.  When dealing with something as unthinkably massive as centuries of atrocities against millions of people, and the racial psychosis, which accompanied it, I’m not sure that showing blood and violence is all that inappropriate.  It could be argued that no amount of red corn syrup can make up for the real history that is meant to be conveyed, however abstractly, through these unexpected genre motifs.

Another review by J.R. Jones said,

Like the earlier movie, in which Jewish-American soldiers assassinate Hitler, this one draws heavily on minority group revenge fantasy, the only difference being that the trick isn’t as impressive the second time around.

To which I would reply that the word “trick” is condescending.  And Django Unchained is a considerable improvement over Inglorious Basterds, which was less fun and less focused.  This American story may even be too close to home for some.  While it’s fine to beat up on Nazis, after so much conditioning over the decades, the idea of beating up on genteel white American males packs its own baggage here.  Racism is still alive and well, and thus racially-charged American films can be risky, not to mention “tricky” to pull off.

David Germain writes for the AP:

“Django Unchained” is Tarantino at his most puerile and least inventive, the premise offering little more than cold, nasty revenge and barrels of squishing, squirting blood.”

Germain didn’t notice the iconic, mythical imagery?  Scene after scene gives inventive twists in order to expose slavery to the modern viewer in ways that they haven’t seen before.  Tarantino, of course, is going to be Tarantino, and you can’t fault him for that.  You either appreciate a B-movie exploitation take on serious subjects, or you don’t.  As for the revenge narrative, on that I do agree with Germain.  It does confine the story to a set of expected outcomes, and it does lessen the impact of the ending somewhat.  That is the trouble with all genre pictures, and yet is one of the main reasons they keep getting made – audiences supposedly like consistency.

This is a revenge film, and that is pretty much made clear even by the title.  Is that sufficient reason to dismiss it?  As one would The Count of Monte Cristo?  Revenge is a strong motivator, but it is also a peg in the viewer’s mind on which to hang some weighty topics.  Django’s revenge isn’t purely personal, but racial, a response to great historical crimes.  Great historical crimes that have not been avenged or rectified in the real world, for the most part.  Right there is the topic simmering below the silver film grains.  A great wrong was done to an entire class of people, and they did not exact the kind of revenge dramatized through the person of Django.  Django is a fantasy, through and through, and was never meant to be anything else.  His existence is purely on an intellectual plane, the realm of conflicting historical narratives.

Does Django work as intended?  Perhaps 94% of the audience today thinks so.  I think so.  The narrative was immersive and the journey worth taking.  Was it perfect?  Of course not.  No movie is.  Was the violence gratuitous?  In places, yes.  In others it was uncharacteristically restrained and realistic.  Bullets do kill people.

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I was particularly piqued by some of the reviews by African American reviewers.  This is the meat of the issue, and I’ll quote a few opinions.

Tanya Steele wrote:

“In Tarantino’s imagination, he could accept slavery if he thought of it as black people fighting back under the gaze of a white male. This works for a culture that does not want to confront the evils and system of slavery. We want to believe that it wasn’t all that bad. That it was endurable, escapable, provided opportunities for heroics. Black people were slaves because we didn’t fight back. Django was a character created by a privileged white male.”

Seriously, that’s a stretch that just doesn’t work.  Django’s predicament arises from a plausible bounty hunter narrative.  Django is “under the gaze of a white male” to make this plot work.  It is the initial condition which allows the story to unfold. By story’s conclusion the white bounty hunter is not only dead, but Django is free and victorious.  His progression from slave to skilled assassin to free and clear hero comes in stages of development.  Tarantino is certainly not endorsing slavery, and his white bounty hunter character isn’t comfortable with the practice either.  It is this character who also grows and rejects the practice to such an extent that he would rather kill the plantation owner at the cost of his own life than to simply shake his hand.  These myopic, cherry picked complaints ignore the rest of the story.

Cecil Brown wrote in Counterpunch,

African American critic Wesley Morris hated it. He called it “unrelenting tastelessness — [...] exclamatory kitsch — on a subject as loaded, gruesome, and dishonorable as American slavery.”

Pretty damning stuff at first glance, but Wesley Morris actually gave the film 3.5/4 stars and also wrote,

I really like “Django Unchained,” but I didn’t like watching it amid the moronic laughter of some of his movie-geek fans. No filmmaker gives you as much as gleefully as [Tarantino] does. He’s 49 now, and there’s a new maturity in his style.

I can understand that Cecil Brown “hated” the film, but clearly Mr. Morris did not.

I’m quite sensitive to the perception of white money, white director, white screenwriter, black cinema.  Understandably this is a very prickly topic, and can be perceived in any number of ways.  Cecil Brown compares the plantation presented in the film to today’s Hollywood:

“What are the social conditions that would permit Django to be the big howling, empty nigger joke that it is? One of these social conditions, certainly, involves the relationship between black actors and Hollywood as a symbol of the plantation system. …The plantation is called CandieLand (Candyland) and is meant to refer to Hollywood itself as a producer of entertainment (Candy). Get it?”

Really?

As Hollywood did not exist during the timeframe of the film, I saw no references in the film itself to suggest that this is so.  Actual candy predates the motion picture system.  This is an assumption, and a bit of a leap onto a pretty thin branch.  It may be Tarantino’s style to infuse everything with references to Hollywood, but the plantation system during slave times?  Would Tarantino even think of this comparison?

That metaphor seems to originate with Ishmael Reed, who was admittedly biased against the film right from the opening credits.  Reed wrote:

“Tarantino’s fictional blacks apparently lack that part of the brain that makes one compassionate. While some blacks are being brutalized other blacks go about their business. In one scene, a black woman is being whipped while nearby a black woman is enjoying herself on a swing.”

Those particular characters are obviously there to make a point about the divide and conquer strategies employed during slavery to create different classes of slaves, the house slave vs. the field slave.  As such it would be more appropriate to examine in terms of class, and not race.  The house slave vs. field slave distinction is obviously not an invention of Tarantino’s, as Mr. Reed knows full well, but an expression of known historical phenomena with resonance and relevance today.  This is a highly-charged emotional topic, but it’s certainly not all concocted whole cloth by the director.  He is merely pointing his camera in that direction.

Reed then admonishes the film for what it isn’t.  It is not a story about a slave revolt.  That’s true.  It uses the genre cliché of a single man on an obsessive quest to save his lover.  This makes for a tighter plot and a more focused story.  It could have veered off in any number of directions, but this is the story.  A slave is freed, learns to become a bounty hunter, becomes a top-notch bounty hunter, a killer, and saves his wife from slavery.  How this particular narrative could earn so much ire, I still don’t understand.

We should be angry over slavery as well as racism.  But lashing out at those who are trying to shine a light on both?

Tarantino has not only looked at slavery unflinchingly, but taken it to new levels of abstraction for modern audiences to ponder over.  This is a very brave film that uses certain pathways into modern audience perceptions so as to bring home very real historical points, points which apply today.  The psychology at work is universal, and power disparity and the stripping of human rights goes on right now somewhere in the world.  Tarantino has used his own understanding and skills to craft a new take on an old subject, the way it most certainly wasn’t taught in high school.  For that alone he should be treated seriously and given some leeway, some fictional license to explore things on screen.  The alleged hidden racist agenda of the director is simply not supportable.  Filming a situation and endorsing a situation are two very different things.

Tarantino responded to some negative audience members at a preview screening:

“It’s a rough movie. As bad as some of the shit is in this film, a lot worse shit was going on. This is the nice version.”

I do support the film, and I consider it worthy of serious consideration.  Coincidentally, the NAACP has nominated the film in four different categories for its “Image Awards.”

“Despite a controversy over its use of the n-word, Tarantion’s film collected four nominations, one for best picture and others for Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington.” (Hollywood Reporter)

Joe Giambrone is a filmmaker and author of Hell of a Deal: A Supernatural Satire. He edits The Political Film Blog, which welcomes submissions. polfilmblog at gmail.

 

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Tarantino’s American Love Story

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

I went to see Django Unchained with a screenwriter friend yesterday, forgetting that it was Christmas week and the matinees would be crowded. I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the already legendary director Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I think the under-appreciated Jackie Brown is one of the best movies ever and most of his oeuvre is quite good, if over-the-top at times. Though other than Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction, I doubt I’ll watch any a second time. Django, however, is the best movie I’ve seen in years and will be part of film school AND American History curricula for years to come, as well. And I plan to see it at least once more on the big screen.

Tarantino’s script is superb; the acting excellent; the score beautiful; the cinematography stunning and the absolute horror of Slavery has never been addressed this well in film – even Roots never came as close. It’s the most important film so far on American Slavery.

Director Spike Lee says he won’t even see it, as it is “disrespectful to my ancestors.” I had to see it, as this makes four movies now that Spike Lee has disparaged publicly that I’ve found to be outstanding. He slammed Ali, mainly because it had a white Director; he went after Flags of Our Fathers because it didn’t have enough black actors in it – when Blacks were confined to kitchens in WWII’s Pacific Theater (he might as well have complained that there weren’t any depictions of women hitting the Iwo beaches) and he sneered at Pulp Fiction. While I find Lee’s Do the Right Thing to be one of the top 20 movies of all time, I can only conclude that Spike is either a woeful, jealous film critic or a racist. The only “disrespect” here is Lee attacking another Director’s work without even seeing it.

I won’t go much into the plot and all, as anyone can find tons written about that on-line. Suffice to say, the movie pulls no punches when it comes to the malevolence of Slavery (a couple brutal scenes are almost unwatchable); and, when it comes to depicting the acute division between field and house slaves, one can almost hear Malcolm X’s exceptional speech on the topic. Samuel L. Jackson’s head house slave “Stephen” is destined, as Jackson has said, to be “the most hated Negro in film.” (Jamie Foxx, who pulls off the very difficult title character role, has noted that one deleted Jackson scene would cement that notion, and likely would have garnered Jackson an Oscar.)

The almost unrecognizable Jackson, who gets to say his trademark “muthafucka” four times, says that when he watched the film in a theater full of African-Americans, they were shouting, laughing and crying the entire time, though it has to be excruciating for Black people to watch. (When I was growing up in inner city Flint, MI, some of my Black buddies and I would go to the Westerns at the neighborhood theater on Saturdays. Jimmy, Wally and Cleo would always root for the Indians – Native Genocide being the other great affront that America keeps its head firmly in the sand about.)

Lee and others have condemned the film for violence and use of the N-word. Ahem; how could anyone faithfully depict what was really going on back then sans either? Sure, the violence is rampant on a Rambo scale, yet it has a Tom & Jerry, buckets of cherry juice aspect to it. And, the N-word is used so often that it just blends into the scenery, a la Lenny Bruce.

It is fiction, after all. But, if had watched Django and then back-to-back, the overrated, clownish, allegedly true-to-life Lincoln, I would end up howling at every one of Lincoln’s pompous pronouncements.

The performances of the entire ensemble are also magnificent. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I’ve never liked in any movie, should get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Calvin Candie, the vile owner of Candieland plantation, who has a side business staging gladiatorial fights between slaves. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen DiCaprio where I didn’t see Leonardo DiCaprio; the first time he melts completely into his character. Christopher Waltz is outstanding as Dr. King Shultz, Django’s ally, a German immigrant bounty hunter who is completely perplexed by white and Black society’s shock at simply seeing a Black man on a horse – and boy can Foxx handle a horse. Kerry Washington is first-rate as slave Broomhilda, Django’s wife and the object of Shultz and Django’s liberation quest. And, as I noted, Jamie Foxx is outstanding in the lead role; one of the all-time pulp fiction heros. The Grammy-winning Foxx even wrote a song in the usual excellent Tarantino soundtrack.

Lesser characters are skillfully portrayed by a plethora of Hollywood stars: Don Johnson is very good as a plantation owner; Walton Goggins has a fine turn as one of Candieland’s brutal enforcers. Others – Laura Cayouette is excellent as DiCaprio’s creepy, incestuous sister; Bruce Dern, James Russo and Tarantino, himself, have cameos. As does Jonah Hill, in a hilarious proto-KKK scene that could have been lifted from Blazing Saddles. Even the original Django, Franco Nero, has a short scene in a bar. Scores of Black actors/actresses take on what had to be painful, harrowing roles as slaves.

Lincoln will win all the Academy Awards (and Daniel Day Lewis is Oscar-worthy superb in the title role). After all, the Academy is known for not being cutting edge – and Django is as edgy as it gets. The Academy picked the fluff of An American in Paris over great The Best Years of Our Lives; Chariots of Fire over Reds; The Greatest Show on Earth over The Quiet Man; Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan; Jackie Brown didn’t even get nominated the year Titanic won and the top Documentary of all time, Fahrenheit 911, which had a box office larger than four of the Academy’s five top movie nominees combined, didn’t even get the Documentary nod after getting Cannes’ Palme D’or and many other awards as top movie!

I recommend all adults, hopefully including Spike Lee, see this film – in the theater. Definitely leave the kids at home. Just as the Spaghetti Westerns it pays homage to debunked the familiar Hollywood Western myths, this movie yanks America’s head out of that comfortable sand. In its way, it blasts away at the wall of denial around Slavery like (Lone Watie) Chief Dan George’s unforgettable speeches on the injustices suffered by Native Americans in The Outlaw Josey Wales does for that denial.

 

In the end, the movie is a love story: a retelling of the original Broomhilda myth with Django playing as, Shultz in a takes-one-to-know-one moment notes, a real-life Siegfried who rescues his love; a story of a man’s undying love for his wife.

MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He can be reached at pahtoo at aol.com

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Lengthy podcast interview here.

Script Magazine notes that John Ford played a Klansman in Birth of a Nation.  Tarantino had this to say:

“…he put on the Klan uniform. He got on the horse. He rode hard to black subjugation. As I’m writing this — and he rode hard, and I’m sure the Klan hood was moving all over his head as he was riding and he was riding blind — I’m thinking, wow. That probably was the case. How come no one’s ever thought of that before? Five years later, I’m writing the scene and all of a sudden it comes out.

One of my American Western heroes is not John Ford, obviously. To say the least, I hate him. Forget about faceless Indians he killed like zombies. It really is people like that that kept alive this idea of Anglo-Saxon humanity compared to everybody else’s humanity — and the idea that that’s hogwash is a very new idea in relative terms. And you can see it in the cinema in the ’30s and ’40s — it’s still there. And even in the ’50s.”

Prison industrial complex compared to slavery…