Friday, January 4, 2013

Offense Unchained

I guess I don't have a Mandingo in this Django fight.

Like many other 2012 films, I've just been unable to fully connect with the material and how it is presented.

But, I liked Django Unchained. I mostly had a good time with it. I'd see it again, but it's never going to be a favorite that I repeatedly return to or think of often.

It seems that you guys mostly want to talk about three things:

1) The "KKK" scene.

I do side with those who think this was funny. The moment when the man rides away because these other guys have been ribbing him about his wife's work on the masks is just a nice little touch.

What I'm not sure any of you mentioned (though maybe Jeff did in his first post) is how nice the payoff is on the bouncing tooth gag. In what has to be a nod to The Paleface, Scultz's dentist's wagon is a real delight. I smiled each time I saw that tooth bounce in the first parts of the film.

2) The finale.

It wasn't too long ago that I watched Bava's Roy Colt and Winchester Jack. I'll remind everyone that this is my only experience with genuine spaghetti westerns. But generalizing from that specific movie, it seems like spaghetti westerns are absolutely gonzo nuts. After the capture of Django by Stephen and the Candie henchmen, it felt like Tarantino went full on spaghetti.

The end particularly reminded me of Bava's film because of the gleeful use of dynamite. The horse dance and the dream-like fairy tale feeling also felt like a heaping pile of spaghetti. There are crazy moments prior to this finale, but I think that this is the primary place where QT stops being serious, really lets out his inner fanboy, and works some spaghetti-style exploitation magic.

But, spaghetti westerns are the anti-message pictures. Hollywood got all serious with its Westerns in the 70s. Italy got silly. Tarantino's mash-up of these two major 70s Western strands never quite ties together in a satisfying way.

Maybe the point of this final act is to show how movie magic is stronger than historical fact. Maybe. I can't help but think that it would be a stronger film if it ended with Django neutered and then tortured to death. Or maybe a montage of the next five years of his life broken down in a work camp before he dies alone under a fallen rock. Instead, Tarantino gives us an uneven mix of satire and social conscience picture.

In the end, he chooses to go full spaghetti in an attempt to please the audience (primarily himself). In doing so, he undercuts the power of some of the more horrific moments by giving the audience an easy out.

3) The movie causing offense.

I think that Brandon is too callous in turning on his friend here.

The use of the word 'nigger' 1,000+ times (whatever, I didn't count) is enough to cause offense.

To try to get at this from another angle: It'd be like a movie about Willowbrook in which every other sentence included the word 'retard'. I've heard persons medically diagnosed as being mentally retarded describing others as "retards." That doesn't mean I can write a spaghetti western about 'retards' being 'retards' on horses because some 'retards' have a sense of humor about being 'retards' or are inconsistent in their relationships to others, using language that would be hurtful if directed at them. Now, exchange the word 'retard' above with the word 'nigger' and you have Django.

I don't think that's okay.

The Vandal guys argued that we need more slavery movies. Sure. I guess. But, what about more movies about slaveholders and KKK activities? Why not realistic portrayals of these realities? They are complicated historical realities. I'm sure the word 'nigger' was used loud and often.

I've heard black men describing other black men as "niggers." I've seen Chris Rock acts on TV.

This word "nigger" was once a common descriptive term, akin to a medical diagnosis. Saying, "That man's a nigger" was like saying, "That man's black." That doesn't mean it's an okay descriptive word today. But, Tarantino seems to be very comfortable with the word (in a playful context). I'm not so sure that it's continued use is beneficial to anyone. At one point, it meant "black." At another time, it meant "inferior sub-human." What does it mean today? And why does Tarantino make it sound so fun?

I'm sympathetic to Tarantino's use of historical realism within a highly stylized western revenge fantasy. But, I can see how others might dismiss Tarantino's "realism" as an excuse to use one of his favorite words.

Beyond the word 'nigger', there's clearly offense in the depiction of violence. For a moment there, I really thought we were going to get an onscreen practical effects castration. But prior to that, we'd already had a bloodbath, emotional violence, both calculated and casual killings from our heroes, a man killing another man with his bare hands, and a man being ripped apart by dogs. The most giddy glee is present at the end, but it's also there in almost every other moment of violence. Tarantino loves pretend violence. And he wants others to love it, too.

Maybe the offense lies elsewhere. I haven't been reading anything about the film besides what you guys have written and linked to.

Finally, I leave y'all with something special.

An exhibit of the guns of Django Unchained:

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