Posts Tagged ‘Lincoln’

jamie-foxx-as-django-in-django-unchained

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

 

Spielberg’s Lincoln and the Resilience of Historic Myths
By Ruth Hull

Think about the word “history” — his story. History is always told by the victors. Victors have the money and power to acquire spin doctors to come up with created history so these winners will sound so good that they are unrecognizable.

Some popular myths (as in not true):

  • Lady Godiva’s ride (sorry),
  • Columbus discovering America,
  • Washington’s cherry tree confession,
  • Betsy Ross sewing the first flag (though she was a successful businesswoman and flag maker),
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address being written on the back of a paper bag,
  • Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation being written to free the slaves,
  • John Wilkes Booth as a crazed lone assassin,
  • Lee Harvey Oswald as a lone crazed assassin,
  • Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
  • The killings of Osama Bin Laden by Bush and Obama (in different years), and
  • Obama as a Socialist Muslim (when in fact he is a Christian and an extreme capitalist).

Some even cooler myths that I had never heard can be found at: Debunked Myths about the U.S. Presidents.

With Thanksgiving approaching, some people want to re-create the early days of the early settlers.

Remember Plymouth, a place where the Pilgrims did not land on a rock. There is a commemorative rock there now. Jamestown was founded first.

In Jamestown, one of the more interesting dishes was human beings. Yes, check out Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” Many of us were descended from cannibals. Now, while known cannibals like the Jamestown settlers were white, there are no documented instances of non-white cannibalistic societies. Such non-white societies are myths. So maybe a white Thanksgiving isn’t a good idea if you want to keep your body parts.

If you wish to eat like the Pilgrims, make sure you use your fingers. Howard Zinn calls Thanksgiving, “the celebration of the friendly dinner that came before the genocide.” So, in keeping with tradition, have dinner with your neighbors and then slaughter them.

The Lincoln movie by Spielberg also played into historical myths. Sometimes myths are fun. In the case of Lincoln, they were very entertaining. It’s easy to get lost in these myths and some believers are willing to fight against anyone trying to provide them with facts. Though Lincoln scared the South into seceding, he was at best a reluctant abolitionist, preferring an intact Union to freeing even one slave. Occasionally, he would say something to appease abolitionists and then go back to statements expressing his belief in inequality of the races. His letter to Horace Greeley is consistent with this as were his statements in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Emancipation Proclamation, which could have freed slaves in the Union territories but specifically did not free even one slave in the Union. The Proclamation was designed to demoralize the South, against which the Union was fighting while giving the appearance that it actually stood for something. Lincoln opposed interracial marriage. He spoke of deporting the Blacks to Africa and he supported fugitive slave laws. An African-American scholar named Leone Bennett, Jr., wrote a book in 2007 calling Lincoln a racist and documenting his claims directly from Lincoln’s speeches. Mr. Bennett ignored the myth-writers and therefore stirred up a lot of anger among whites who insisted their white President freed the slaves single-handedly. The book is called, “Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” Regardless of your feelings about Mr. Bennett, Lincoln’s own words in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and elsewhere show he did not consider himself an abolitionist. While we may wish Lincoln had been a stronger opponent of slavery, we are stuck with the facts as they were. It is hard to think our leaders were so ignorant that they didn’t get that even debating before ending slavery was itself an abomination.

In the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, this is one of the most repeated of Lincoln’s statements. Here in the sixth debate, he is quoting his anti-abolitionist position to prove his consistency on this point.

“After reading I added these words: ‘Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any great length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of slavery or the black race, and this is the whole of it; any thing that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastical arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so. I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together on the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.'” (source)

The Lincoln movie does have a certain amount of charm. The favorite part for Israel’s Likud Party is undoubtedly towards the end. Why would an 1865 Abraham Lincoln be reminiscing about wanting to take off to Israel? The Israeli plug was silly at best. Robert Lincoln refuted the false historical claim that his father was Jewish. The timing of the movie’s opening to coincide with the attack on Gaza was likely something Spielberg didn’t expect, but those in the Israeli leadership, who met with Spielberg, before the filming started, did have choices and they chose to massacre children on the opening weekend.

The movie also diminished the contributions of African-Americans and women in getting the 13th Amendment adopted, making it look as if the Amendment was a gratuity granted to them. In Lincoln, the physical handing of the 13th Amendment document to the African-American love interest of Thaddeus Stevens symbolizes the idea that it was a gift handed down from the Whites as opposed to something the Blacks inherently deserved.

Embellishing to build up our leaders as role models is sometimes considered useful, but not when the admission of teens to college depends on their getting 5’s on their Advanced Placement U.S. History exams. Fortunately for this year’s AP students, there is half a year to dispel the myths of this movie and get top scores. The best prep for that particular AP exam is Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.

Now, while the Spielberg movie mixed myths with history, it left out Lincoln’s opposition to corporate rule and also the special holiday he gave America: Thanksgiving.

Lincoln was theoretically (though this could be another myth) inspired by editorials and letters written by Sarah Josepha Hale, the New England editor of Godey’s Book, to create the occasion. In 1863, after the Battle of Gettysburg, he declared the National Thanksgiving Holiday.

So have a Happy Thanksgiving. If you want to see a movie over the holiday weekend, a good choice is the final chapter in the Twilight series. Breaking Dawn, Part 2, may well turn out to be the best anti-war movie of the year. See it and you will find out why.

Ruth Hull is the chairman of a liberal Democratic organization that is working to move the country towards its true base, the people. She has organized major human rights events and worked with some of the most liberal leaders in America. Her career has included work as a criminal defense attorney, a licensed private investigator, an educator and a writer.