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"The best way to honor [Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman] is not with tasteful, funereal reverence but some real attempt to measure the dimensions of the stretch of history they occupied.
January 3, 2013 8:16 AM   Subscribe

In a lengthy back-and-forth discussion about Django Unchained, critics Steven Boone and Odie Henderson discuss the subtleties of Tarantino's racial commentary (as well, as, of course, the more blatant commentaries), their thoughts on Spike Lee's criticism of the film, and Tarantino's vast and nuanced range of inspirations. Elsewhere, Tarantino responds to a critic who called a plot point in Django "harebrained", and what ensues offers an interesting insight into how Tarantino thinks about his characters.
posted by Rory Marinich (169 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
haven't seen Django yet, but I had Mr. Tarantino pretty much written off by the time Kill Bill 2 was about half done. What an anticlimactic load of juvenile, pretentious indulgence!

But then I saw Inglorious Basterds and was forced to re-evaluate. It was as if Mr. Tarantino drew the same conclusion of the Kill Bills as I had, and had set out to make amends. Best Movie of 2009. Which isn't to say it was nice.

I can't wait for Django Unchained -- just got to get myself steeled up first.
posted by philip-random at 8:34 AM on January 3, 2013


Slate's Spoilers Special on Django Unchained has a really interesting discussion about slavery, casting, culture and Tarantino as well.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:35 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tarantino's response in the second link was pretty interesting. I still think the movie kind of sloughed off the rails when they went to Candyland and the pacing fell apart, but I respect the fact that a lot of the convoluted sluggishness was coming out of a deep consideration of Schultz's character.
posted by COBRA! at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


What an anticlimactic load of juvenile, pretentious indulgence!

Oh man oh man. Kill Bill 2 is a huge sprawling deconstruction of Kill Bill 1, it's phenomenal.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


A more critical take on Django Unchained from Jacobin magazine.
posted by jchgf at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have more conflicted feelings about Tarantino and his movies than about any other filmmaker I can think of. When he's good, he's terrific, and I've enjoyed the hell out of many of his movies. But he seems completely clueless about how actual human beings (as opposed to movie characters) work, and that's got to be a limiting factor in how successfully you can create art about human beings. Terry Gross was interviewing him recently and he said there were two types of violence in movies, the ugly kind that people don't like watching, perpetrated by the bad guys, and the kind people enjoy, revenge violence. Gross said that there were people who didn't react that way, and before she could elaborate he interrupted and said in a friendly but firm and unbelievably self-confident way "No, that's how everybody reacts. Everybody likes the second kind." I turned off the radio.

I'm planning to see Django, and I expect to enjoy it, but I don't think I'd enjoy dinner with Quentin.
posted by languagehat at 8:41 AM on January 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


How spoilery are the links in the FPP/are we planning for this thread to be? I'm intimately familiar with Tarantino and have done plenty of reading on Django, but it's been out for like a week so I haven't seen it yet.
posted by griphus at 8:42 AM on January 3, 2013


Elsewhere, Tarantino responds to a critic who called a plot point in Django "harebrained", and what ensues offers an interesting insight into how Tarantino thinks about his characters.

Should be obvious really, but that spoils the shit out of some scenes really better seen in film. Also, I dunno, maybe I'm a fan of underplayed and subtle* but TBH if the reviewer didn't get most of that from just watching the film I suspect they're a bit slow on the uptake.

* In Django!
posted by Artw at 8:42 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Whether you like his movies or not, at least Tarantino thinks and cares about what he's doing with them, unlike some other directors I won't name.
posted by Aquaman at 8:43 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


A great 3 patter interview here - actually the links off of that thread in general are top notch.
posted by Artw at 8:45 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Terry Gross' interview with Quentin Tarantino on 'Django Unchained'
posted by kliuless at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Tarantino's response in the second link was pretty interesting. I still think the movie kind of sloughed off the rails when they went to Candyland and the pacing fell apart, but I respect the fact that a lot of the convoluted sluggishness was coming out of a deep consideration of Schultz's character.

Indeed (on both counts). I am not sure why Ryan considers the plot point so harebrained; it seemed straightforward enough to me ([mild spoiler] "Yes, we will totally come back in five days with $12,000 for that one, but while I am here, as an aside, can I pick up this one for $300?"). It is a con, but I am not enough a student of scams to know the proper name.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very spoilery, don't read it, just see the movie
posted by MangyCarface at 8:48 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I dunno, maybe I'm a fan of underplayed and subtle* but TBH if the reviewer didn't get most of that from just watching the film I suspect they're a bit slow on the uptake.

The idea that anyone, especially a critic, would need that explained is really vexing. That particular plot point was actually explicitly explained, just a few minutes earlier in the film! And then referenced again at least one or two times later on. It's not even a question of grasping some subtlety of the film, but just listening to dialogue that's plainly stated.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:49 AM on January 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Jelani Cobb makes much the same point as that Jacobin piece in the New Yorker:
It is precisely because of the extant mythology of black subservience that these scenes pack such a cathartic payload. The film’s defenders are quick to point out that “Django” is not about history. But that’s almost like arguing that fiction is not reality—it isn’t, but the entire appeal of the former is its capacity to shed light on how we understand the latter. In my sixteen years of teaching African-American history, one sadly common theme has been the number of black students who shy away from courses dealing with slavery out of shame that slaves never fought back.

It seems almost pedantic to point out that slavery was nothing like this. The slaveholding class existed in a state of constant paranoia about slave rebellions, escapes, and a litany of more subtle attempts to undermine the institution. Nearly two hundred thousand black men, most of them former slaves, enlisted in the Union Army in order to accomplish en masse precisely what Django attempts to do alone: risk death in order to free those whom they loved. Tarantino’s attempt to craft a hero who stands apart from the other men—black and white—of his time is not a riff on history, it’s a riff on the mythology we’ve mistaken for history.
I haven't been able to see the movie yet but this is the only criticism of the film that seems to hold any real water.
posted by gerryblog at 8:50 AM on January 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


And Spike has made self-effacing comments similar to QT's in the past, saying that he's more of a pioneer in so-called black cinema rather than a Mozart or Coltrane-level virtuoso. But that shouldn't stop him from continuing to challenge and provoke with his best weapon--and it ain't Twitter.

Harsh burn! And really, someone SHOULD convince Lee that the best way to stick it to his nemesis is to make a really fucking good movie, because then we'd get a really fucking good Spike Lee movie and those are worth having.
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on January 3, 2013 [18 favorites]


Given the way that Tarantino has dealt with race and gender in his previous films, I'm seriously cringing at the plot synopsis of this one. It's hard to imagine it being anything short of horrific.

I appreciate his thoughtfulness in the interview, but he should extend that self criticism toward something more important than how big and convoluted the final action scene is.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:00 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are moments, however, when ironies cancel each other out, and we’re left with a stark truth—at its most basic, this is an instance in which a white director holds an obsequious black slave up for ridicule. The use of this character as a comic foil seems essentially disrespectful to the history of slavery.

The Cobb piece kind of lost me here because it's a major misreading of the Stephen character. Stephen's comical "house negro" portrayal is played for laughs because it's an act -- a persona that we see discarded in almost every scene where Stephen isn't in the presence of white company other than Candie. (The first time Stephen appears in the film, he's signing a check for the plantation -- nothing here indicates the comical, senile caricature we see later.) White people may be laughing at Stephen when he's doing his shtick, but they're the actual butt of the joke, not Stephen, who knows exactly what he's doing. This is the guy that actually runs Candieland, and that's why he's the true villain of the film. It's Candie, the posturer who pretends to sophistication and education he doesn't have, who's actually the figure of ridicule in the film.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:09 AM on January 3, 2013 [26 favorites]


Stagger Lee: “Given the way that Tarantino has dealt with race and gender in his previous films, I'm seriously cringing at the plot synopsis of this one. It's hard to imagine it being anything short of horrific.”

I mentioned this in a previous thread, but the somewhat conservative black jazz essayist Stanley Crouch makes a very good argument that Quentin Tarantino is the deepest filmic thinker about race in America today. Honestly, I was surprised by this thesis, but it's worth reading. It's a seventy-page piece in his book The Artificial White Man, but he also wrote a pretty good shorter piece for the LA Times called "Pulp Friction."

Like I say, I was surprised, but Crouch ultimately convinced me. And reading a number of Tarantino's interviews, I've been very impressed by the thought behind his convictions and how that plays out in his movies. Really, it's easy to see him as childish because he can be playful, but that's really just the surface of what he's doing, and it's unfair to judge him superficially.

As far as gender – yeah, I'm not sure, I haven't thought much about it. Offhand, I guess Kill Bill passes the Bechdel Test, but Django Unchained sure doesn't, and that was actually the only major criticism I have of it: it's implicitly misogynist in the sense that the very few women characters are so reduced to ideals and simple tropes that they may as well not exist. Especially Brunhilde, who could easily have been an actual person if he'd put some thought into it.

I should stress, however, that I liked Django Unchained a lot. There is not enough original thought about race in this country today, and I'm glad QT is out there making films like this.
posted by koeselitz at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Saw the "Django" trailer; it made me sick to my stomach. Exploitation isn't even the word. I'm truthfully glad Boone & Odienator found something to enjoy and think about, but I won't be seeing the movie.

My biggest takeaway from Boone & Odienator's discussion was a yen to see Spike Lee do a biopic of Frederick Douglass. I wonder how much press that would get.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2013


Stagger Lee: “I appreciate his thoughtfulness in the interview, but he should extend that self criticism toward something more important than how big and convoluted the final action scene is.”

As Artw mentioned, you should read the three-part interview vidur linked here. Quentin Tarantino there discusses the way he deals with race in his films, and does so very intelligently, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the Cobb piece was well-reasoned and I think mostly fair, but I can't its reading on Stephen misses that his character is MEANT to be squirmishly uncomfortable or if that was in fact the argument he was trying to make.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2013


I'll check that out Koeslitz, thanks.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2013


Currer Belfry: “Saw the 'Django' trailer; it made me sick to my stomach. Exploitation isn't even the word. I'm truthfully glad Boone & Odienator found something to enjoy and think about, but I won't be seeing the movie.”

Er – if you don't mind, could you say why it made you sick? I haven't heard that from many people, and I'm sort of trying to figure what it is that turns people off so much about it.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


somewhat conservative black jazz essayist Stanley Crouch

I wouldn't describe Crouch as somewhat conservative, I'd describe him as very conservative, and his readings of what are the important ways to think about race are of a piece with that conservatism.
posted by OmieWise at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can understand negative reactions to this film; I had the same reaction to Inglorious Basterds. As a Jewish person, I didn't really need to see the Holocaust recast as an alternative history revenge fantasy, and, because Tarantino has been so recklessly (if entertainingly) juvenile in the past, I assumed any moral ambiguity in the film was accidental on his part. And there was considerably ambiguity -- the fact that the final two Jewish heroes were functionally suicide bombers, the fact that certain shots of them machine-gunning the Nazis duplicated images from the Nazi propaganda film that had just played, except that at least the Nazi was killing other soldiers who were armed and attacking him, while our heroes were shooting up a theater filled with unarmed men and women (an image that has taken on an additional, horrific resonance in the wake of Arora). The fact that the first Nazi we see the Bear Jew beat to death actual is somewhat noble, and his death has moments of grisly luridness.

I now think that Tarantino has thrown himself into subversion and ambiguity with the same deranged intensity that he has brought to other elements of filmmaking in the past. And its hardly a surprise -- the grindhouse films he dearly loves, and the revisionist westerns, and the drive-in cheapos, often had unexpectedly subversive tales to tell, sometimes by the accident of incompetence, but sometimes because the filmmakers had peculiar obsessions or particular notions they wanted to explore, and as long as they packaged it cheaply with maximum gore and cleavage, they could say whatever they wanted. This seems to be precisely what Tarantino is doing just now. I mean, Django Unchained is functionally a superhero origins story -- how a former slave became an unstoppable force of justice. And it has all the pyrotechnics of an exploitation film, which will sell it to an audience that may not want to buy what he's selling.

And I can't say what he's selling to black audiences. Inglorious Basterds didn't feel intended for Jewish audiences, who were sometimes repelled by it (I was), and I can completely understand if black audiences aren't crazy about this one, although some black critics, like those linked in the FPP, seem taken with the film. No, I think what Tarantino is selling here is white complicity. As an audience member, we're supposed to root for Django and the white liberal Schulz. But every step of the way, Tarantino makes us complicit with the slaveholders, in part because we laugh at stuff that we're not supposed to (what Gawker calls the "Django moment"). We're not Shulz -- he's not even from America. We're every other white person in the film. We're the bumbling proto-KKK, so rushed and determined to be figures of power that we cannot even cut eye holes in hoods right. We're Don Johnson's Big Daddy, wrestling how to treat a black man whose obviously better than a slave but will never be as good as a white man (Big Daddy's dialogue on the subject feels like a dramatization of how much of America has responded to Obama's presidency, with its grandiose shadow puppet show about him being a secret Muslim or not really being American; there is just no way, for some white Americans, that a black man could ever be good enough to be president without it being rooted in a lie.)

This is a very complicated movie. I won't say it can't be criticized, and I am sure there is plenty of valid criticism to be offered. But it's also a startlingly sophisticated piece of filmmaking masquerading as popular entertainment, and Tarantino literally problematizes every single moment in the film, wrapping it all in layers of ambiguity that relentlessly draw out audience reactions that implicate the audience. It's really quite extraordinary. And the scene where Candie discusses the inherent servility of blacks while sawing through the skull of the man who raised three generations of his family has provided a most extraordinary satiric image of this sort of racism that pretends to be science, and I will think of it every time I see a FOX commenter bring up the Bell Curve or some imagined inherent criminal tendencies in African Americans.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:18 AM on January 3, 2013 [46 favorites]


The Cobb piece kind of lost me here because it's a major misreading of the Stephen character.

I haven't seen the movie, but I don't see how your reading of Stephen's character differs from Cobb's reading. Cobb isn't arguing that it was wrong of Tarantino to protray white slaveowners laughing at a black jester. He's saying it's wrong to set Stephen up as a foil to Django, for white audiences to laugh at. Stephen being the 'real villain' is exactly what Cobb is objecting to.
Oppression, almost by definition, is a set of circumstances that bring out the worst in most people. A response to slavery—even a cowardly, dishonorable one like what we witness with Stephen—highlights the depravity of the institution.
Whether or not Stephen was a 'sellout' or a shrewd operator is a red herring.
posted by muddgirl at 9:18 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I absolutely loved Django, and thought it's the best thing he's done in many years. He's matured and deepened as a writer and director, and there's nuance and purpose in both Basterds and Django that just wasn't present in stuff like Pulp Fiction where he was more of a giddy kid playing wantonly in movie trope sandboxes. Although the trappings are very spaghetti-western, I couldn't help but see Django primarily through the lens of blaxploitation film. The movie can function as Tarantino's attempt to reassert the legitimacy, power, and radical feelings of the best that blaxploitation was capable of - to bring the genre out of the ghetto (pun semi-intended) and make people remember why those movies were made and attended in the first place. And what better way than to start at the ground zero of black-white relations in America.

It's a genius move to explore such a loaded, hushed-reverence topic as slavery through the lens of blaxploitation and spaghetti-western tropes that explode the very idea of hushed reverence. Nothing interesting gets discussed about slavery when you can't shake people up and remind them that it's not a worshipful funeral, it's something still very much worth exploring and analyzing within the context of the present day and how we got where we are. This is why Django is a thematic twin to Basterds: this obsession with the worst and darkest parts of our historical psyches, how we respond to them, how we respond to hardcore violence against indefensible people - Hitler, vile plantation owners.

And it's the next level of these films that's the most interesting - the discomfort both Tarantino and the audience should be feeling about the revenge fantasy being enacted. Because the film also serves as a criticism of blaxploitation revenge fantasy, in all sorts of ways. (Spoiler alert) Arguably the most frightening character in the movie is black (Samuel L. Jackson.) You're also left to ponder that the 'good characters' in the film watched man being ripped to shreds by dogs, and I can't imagine what the moral calculus was for them but it was worth it to see a man killed in order for the lovers to be reunited. There are all sorts of conflicting messages in there - the train robber Django kills early on seemed to be living a peaceful life on a farm, and we see his kids run to their father as he is shot dead. We question the characters of both Schulz and Django.

The packed theater I saw the movie in was howling with laughter throughout, but I couldn't join them once Samuel L. Jackson's character got on screen - there was something so unnerving and twisted in the comedy there, and I think Tarantino intended for that character to make our laughs feel uncomfortable. To me the key scene was the bloody, awful mandingo fight - repurposing the spectacle and stylized blood the audience craves for something that feels like a gut punch. The movie changed completely after that scene. It's a movie in which everything - our examination of history, the way we view movies and pick heroes and villains - increasingly gets packed with moral greys. That's been one of his main efforts in both Basterds and Django, and he's succeeded wildly with the latter.
posted by naju at 9:20 AM on January 3, 2013 [17 favorites]


Given the way that Tarantino has dealt with race and gender in his previous films, I'm seriously cringing at the plot synopsis of this one. It's hard to imagine it being anything short of horrific.

This is pretty much how I was thinking before I saw Inglorious Basterds. But then an amazing thing happened. The movie made me forget about my concerns. It worked its magic. Yeah, it was absurdly violent and a-historic. But it was also a virulent examination of all manner of essential stuff as to the nature of the cinematic art itself, and the essential propaganda role in played in generating the very myths that came to define the greater culture's understanding of what actually happened in World War II.

So in tearing "historical accuracy" to shreds, Inglorious Basterds was actually getting us to think about where our sense of that "accuracy" actually came from.

And it was beautiful.
posted by philip-random at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2013 [15 favorites]


Saw the "Django" trailer; it made me sick to my stomach.

I had the same sort of reaction, where my first instinct was to be annoyed rather than elated at the prospect of Tarantino doing a slavery revenge film. The man is not known for his subtlety (though he is much more so than his critics give him credit for) and the potential for all sorts of awfullness seems high. Especially since I didn't like his last movie, Basterds.

Reading the Steven Boone and Odie Henderson discussion however, as well as frex Tim O'Neil's take on it have changed my mind. There is something interesting there.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:24 AM on January 3, 2013


for white audiences to laugh at. Stephen being the 'real villain' is exactly what Cobb is objecting to.

But being the "real villian" makes him not an object of mockery; rather one of extreme shrewdness. Stephen is a lot more dangerous than Candie.
posted by spaltavian at 9:28 AM on January 3, 2013


My last bit about Cobb's review:
The primary sin of “Django Unchained” is not the desire to create an alternative history. It’s in the idea that an enslaved black man willing to kill in order to protect those he loves could constitute one.
Ta-Nehisi Coates did a short series of excerpts from Fergus Bordewich's Bound For Canaan (unfortunately The Atlantic blogs are hard to seach, but some of them mention Bound for Canaan, and others are titled Slavery is a Love Song.) I don't think it's exactly fair to criticize any filmmaker for "making the wrong movie", which is sort of the heart of this review, but at the same time one important function of media reviews is to make the audience think about their own cultural myths and expectations. I would say further that it's not 'alternative history' to portray enslaved black men or black women as being willing to perpetrate violence to protect their loved ones.

But being the "real villian" makes him not an object of mockery

Cobb never claims that audiences are meant to mock Stephen - just that he is played to 'great comedic effect' and that, when Stephen is "in character", we are presented with an obsequious black slave that is a character to be ridiculed (again, not Stephen - the character Stephen is playing). But why should white audiences ridicule an obsequious black slave?
posted by muddgirl at 9:35 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not going to read this thread until I see this jam (soon hopefully!) but I just want to say that this is one of those movies I am 1000000% sure I'm going to love sight unseen. Not least because I was working on a script that was almost EXACTLY the same when I heard about it (slavery revenge movie where slave owners get killed) and just threw my hands up and went Nahhh nevermind this is going to do everything I might want to do.

My take on race issues and QT is that the racism his characters display makes everyone uncomfortable, but unearths deep veins of real emotion. He's not "allowed" to do it, and it's not "OK" for him to do it, but I'm glad he does. I think it makes his art way more interesting.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:39 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Terry Gross was interviewing him recently and he said there were two types of violence in movies, the ugly kind that people don't like watching, perpetrated by the bad guys, and the kind people enjoy, revenge violence. Gross said that there were people who didn't react that way, and before she could elaborate he interrupted and said in a friendly but firm and unbelievably self-confident way "No, that's how everybody reacts. Everybody likes the second kind." I turned off the radio.

I think this might be what sickens people about the trailer. There are, despite what Tarantino thinks, people (interesting people, even. even smart people who get all the deconstructionist arguments or the auteur arguments or who liked most of Deathproof) who don't enjoy revenge fantasies, writ large in glorious movie bombast. These people might well be sickened by the trailer.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:39 AM on January 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


OmieWise: “I wouldn't describe Crouch as somewhat conservative, I'd describe him as very conservative, and his readings of what are the important ways to think about race are of a piece with that conservatism.”

Well – he's conservative where jazz is concerned, and conservative socially in certain senses, but I don't think I'd call him conservative politically. As far as I can tell, he's never voted anything but democrat. Hence "somewhat conservative," which I confess was a bit vague.

I harbor some skepticism about his ways to think about jazz and race. Terry Teachout (of whom I am also skepical) makes the good point that Stanley Crouch doesn't seem to know much about how music actually works, and that that kind of disqualifies him in large degree from legitimate jazz criticism. And Crouch is, yes, particularly conservative about African-American culture – he loathes hip hop and rock music and makes no secret of it.

Still, I find his piece on Quentin Tarantino to be his best work. And frankly I find it very intriguing to read someone who is conservative like Crouch who approves so deeply of Tarantino and finds so much to like about his movies.
posted by koeselitz at 9:45 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think this movie said anything particularly interesting about race, except perhaps to people who are easy sells there.

Cut away the issue trolling and it had almost nothing else for me. Christoph Waltz did a good job. The interesting parts of Django and Walz's characters were cashed in for some meh revenge plot points. It just seemed pretty shallow, whereas Inglorious Basterds seemed more thoughtful and had this angle about film and propaganda that went beyond here's-your-Holocaust-revenge-story, and was just a better story and film.

I'm not going to judge it on how it did as an issue movie, but as an anything-else movie, I didn't think it had much to recommend it beyond Christoph Waltz being fun to watch.

TBH if the reviewer didn't get most of that from just watching the film I suspect they're a bit slow on the uptake.

The reviewer bows and scrapes but I think he is right. Tarantino admits the plot is basically harebrained, but that it comes from Schultz's character of wild schemes and control-freakishness. The reviewer thinks that Schultz's character, as shown, actually was actually very rational, reasonable, cautious as well so it's not really clear he would do so risky a plan. I mean, maybe in Tarantino's mind it's clearer, but if in the movie as shown you have characters doing dumb things inconsistent with their characters that seem more about moving the plot along that are then just kind of ignored later in the movie, it's not going to look like genius.
posted by fleacircus at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Has he ever made a film that was not a revenge fantasy? It's been a while since I've seen Jackie Brown or his piece in Four Rooms. IIRC His bit in four rooms was a retelling of a twilight zone episode but I don't remember if there was revenge involved.

All in all I'm glad he is no longer acting.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:52 AM on January 3, 2013


jchgf: A more critical take on Django Unchained from Jacobin magazine.”

That's the best critical takedown of this movie I've seen yet, and it does a very, very good job of articulating and explaining a lot of the things that made me uncomfortable about Django Unchained. Thanks for it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2013


(I especially appreciate the discussion of the homophobia contained in Django Unchained, which I'm shocked I didn't see on first viewing.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:04 AM on January 3, 2013


The fact that the first Nazi we see the Bear Jew beat to death actual is somewhat noble, and his death has moments of grisly luridness.

The scoring of that scene, I think, makes it very ambiguous in an interesting way. The Bear Jew walks out of the tunnel to the over-the-top heroic music, which completely cuts out once the gore starts. At that point, the camera pulls back to a birds'-eye shot of the officer being beaten to death.

The ambiguity arises depending on whether the music is heard from the point of view of the German officer, who hears the music in his head and imagines himself a hero for not giving up the location of his fellow soldiers, or from the point of view of the audience waiting for the Bear Jew to show up and get some righteous payback.

The sound cuts out because the officer gets clubbed — he's dead and the music can no longer help him play the hero in his mind. Or the sound cuts out because while revenge has been taken by the Americans, the senseless clubbing goes on and on and on. The movie spends some time building them up as heroes, but these guys are also gruesome thugs who revel in taking revenge well past any sensible point. Despite the avowed enemy being dead, the act of revenge continues in complete disregard for reality. Past a certain point, the director no longer offers the audience the usual, comfortable blanket of heroic music to soften the violence.

Either way, war makes mincemeat of the idea of heroism on either side. It's a tragic and brilliant bit of cinema, for the subtle use of sound and camera perspective.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2013 [16 favorites]


I can understand negative reactions to this film; I had the same reaction to Inglorious Basterds. As a Jewish person, I didn't really need to see the Holocaust recast as an alternative history revenge fantasy, and, because Tarantino has been so recklessly (if entertainingly) juvenile in the past, I assumed any moral ambiguity in the film was accidental on his part. And there was considerably ambiguity -- the fact that the final two Jewish heroes were functionally suicide bombers, the fact that certain shots of them machine-gunning the Nazis duplicated images from the Nazi propaganda film that had just played, except that at least the Nazi was killing other soldiers who were armed and attacking him, while our heroes were shooting up a theater filled with unarmed men and women (an image that has taken on an additional, horrific resonance in the wake of Arora). The fact that the first Nazi we see the Bear Jew beat to death actual is somewhat noble, and his death has moments of grisly luridness.

See, you lost me at the idea that there's ambiguity. It was noble and totally worth it for the heroes to die killing Hitler.

I loved the fact that somebody beat the shit out of the myth of the Noble Wehrmacht with a fucking baseball bat, because it's so poisonous -- that tendency buys into fascist heroic mythology as much as other aspects of Nazism, because it excuses sacrifice of the self to immoral state interests as high patriotism. It is merely difficult for us to swallow because this part of the mythology is one we embrace when we thank people for their service after they willingly enlist in the armed services during unjust wars. In this case it's worse, because the Nazis were so terrible, and we shouldn't excuse this sort of thing precisely because of the moral standard defined at Nuremberg.

Yeah, beat that shit up with a bat.

The scene actually reminds me of its devastating counterpart at the conclusion of Pan's Labyrinth when the Francoist captain also tries to assert his nobility, only to be rightly interrupted and told he will be erased -- that he does not get the privilege of the Fascist death-fetishist.
posted by mobunited at 10:06 AM on January 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


The ambiguity arises depending on whether the music is heard from the point of view of the German officer, who hears the music in his head and imagines himself a hero for not giving up the location of his fellow soldiers, or from the point of view of the audience waiting for the Bear Jew to show up and get some righteous payback.

The sound cuts out because the officer gets clubbed — he's dead and the music can no longer help him play the hero in his mind.


I think, right here at the end, you get it.
posted by mobunited at 10:07 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think both interpretations work rather well, and while yours is one I had not heard before, mobunited, and I find it intriguing, it is not the "correct" interpretation.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:09 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


mobunited: “I loved the fact that somebody beat the shit out of the myth of the Noble Wehrmacht with a fucking baseball bat, because it's so poisonous -- that tendency buys into fascist heroic mythology as much as other aspects of Nazism, because it excuses sacrifice of the self to immoral state interests as high patriotism. It is merely difficult for us to swallow because this part of the mythology is one we embrace when we thank people for their service after they willingly enlist in the armed services during unjust wars.”

You really think that the reason people find it hard to watch a human being beaten to death with a baseball bat is because they've embraced part of the fascist hero myth?
posted by koeselitz at 10:14 AM on January 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


All I heard was that the last HOUR sucked balls, it was way too long, and seriously who is even going to care about QT in twenty years? He's popular but I don't think he's going down in history.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:15 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


You really think that the reason people find it hard to watch a human being beaten to death with a baseball bat is because they've embraced part of the fascist hero myth?

Yes, because of the many beating, stabbings and shootings that pass without comment in many, many films, such as Kill Bill. I mean, we don't care about who the Bride kills, really, do we?
posted by mobunited at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think, right here at the end, you get it.

I'm not sure there is a right answer, it's perhaps just one way to look at it. But regardless of which side the audience empathizes with or roots for or whatever, I suspect that, at that moment, when the music cuts out, Tarantino might have more respect for the characters and scenes he creates than the comfortable, well-fed people sitting in the aisles watching the gore. And that, I think, will be what makes that film interesting twenty, thirty years down the road.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:16 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


My discomfort with the actions of the Basterds was acute, throughout the film, and made it very hard for me to consider them heroic in any sense. For me, the only nearly righteous person in the film is Shoshana, and even she succumbed to taking pleasure in the demise of her enemies at the end. The Basterds, meanwhile, evince an unholy glee in violence that makes me squirm. Yes, they are killing bad people; yes, they are on the good guys' side. But I kind of want them to get off my side, you know? Because they're having too much fun. And the fact that Tarantino was able to make me feel that is pretty impressive, and makes the film worthwhile for me.

As for Django-- well, it's hard to not root for him, because the miseries visited on him and his wife by the whole slave system are so very horrific. It's hard not to feel that he deserves some sort of revenge, and hard to say that the revenge he takes is not proportionate. Because he, unlike the American Basterds (and like Shoshana) is a direct victim of the horrors of those he revenges himself upon. There were definitely moments of discomfort in Django Unchained, but they weren't ratcheted up to the degree that they were in Inglourious Basterds.

It's possible that's because I'm Jewish, and not black, and I have very different relationships with the historical eras in question. But that's how it played out for me.
posted by nonasuch at 10:18 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ad hominem: "All in all I'm glad he is no longer acting."

I have some bad news for you. His bit in this one is horrible.

But I'll second everything naju said above. This movie was incredible, and I think at a minimum it will force some people who just went to see a bloody Tarantino flick examine their memories (even if it's not an accurate portrayal) of the history of this country.
posted by Big_B at 10:19 AM on January 3, 2013


Yes, because of the many beating, stabbings and shootings that pass without comment in many, many films, such as Kill Bill. I mean, we don't care about who the Bride kills, really, do we?

Because those people who were killed weren't people. They weren't showed to have personalities as faceless mooks, or had deliberately villainous ones as Bad Guys. Whereas many of the German characters in Basterds were deliberately humanized and given sympathetic qualities to make us feel conflicted.

As for Django-- well, it's hard to not root for him, because the miseries visited on him and his wife by the whole slave system are so very horrific.

I think that's partly because for all of their similarities, the two films are actually different. One of them is a deconstruction of films about the last Good War and fighting Bad Guys. The other is an homage to Spaghetti Westerns. Not to claim Django is supposed to just be pulpy and less deep, but I do think it's meant to be more morally straightforward.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


And that, I think, will be what makes that film interesting twenty, thirty years down the road.

HA!! You mean when people will be all.. "Quentin who? Ohh right he was that amateur who was briefly thought of as a legitimately amazing American film-maker who made those self-indulgently campy "provocative" bloated epics when he should've stuck to making bubble-gum heist movies."
posted by ReeMonster at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2013


ReeMonster: “... seriously who is even going to care about QT in twenty years? He's popular but I don't think he's going down in history.”

Er – people were actually saying the same thing twenty years ago when Pulp Fiction was an upset at Cannes. Like it or not, I think QT is pretty much set as far as being considered an "important" director.
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2013 [17 favorites]


But regardless of which side the audience empathizes with or roots for or whatever, I suspect that, at that moment, when the music cuts out, Tarantino might have more respect for the characters and scenes he creates than the comfortable, well-fed people sitting in the aisles watching the gore.

That also makes me think about the Germans watching their own gorefest later on in the film, when they are gunned down by the joyful IBs. This might be Tarantino's first metafilm.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Cobb: The slaveholding class existed in a state of constant paranoia about slave rebellions, escapes, and a litany of more subtle attempts to undermine the institution.

Has Cobb actually seen the movie? There are multiple, in-your-face references to exactly these things, from explicit conversations (e.g. Candie wondering aloud why the slaves don't simply rise up and kill the white folk) to important passing remarks (e.g. Candie sighing to Stephen about all the runaways they've been having recently).

Part of what's different about Django himself is that he has been fortuitously freed, which allows him to act directly in ways that others cannot. We see other characters rebel and run away, such as Hildy and the poor man with the dogs. By and large, we see them struck down for their reaches for freedom, because the whole point is that slavery was a sick, all-pervasive system.

Overall, there's no reason to buy the larger point that it's inherently problematic to show an exceptional hero rising out of a grim time. Elsewhere in this thread, people wish for a biopic of Frederick Douglass. It goes without saying that he was a highly remarkable person, intelligent and brave. It's not as if his own exceptional merit as a person was an insult to everyone else.

Cobb: Tarantino’s attempt to craft a hero who stands apart from the other men—black and white—of his time is not a riff on history, it’s a riff on the mythology we’ve mistaken for history.

Neither Tarantino nor the audience is stupid enough to mistake Django Unchained for a history lesson, or even a "riff on history." Tarantino obviously believes in the power of movies-as-movies to give us icons. Complaining that the movie is a riff on mythology is like complaining that paintings are often on flat surfaces.

Hell, even within Django Unchained itself, you have some great commentary on storytelling. There is the undercurrent of how Django himself appears to be "a Siegfried" rescuing his Brunhilde. He's a hero acting out his own myth. Django is just living his life and doing what he needs to do, but it is King Schultz who recognizes his similarity to older legends, and it is in this way that King Schultz begins to stand a little outside of the story. The torch gets passed from the mentor Schultz to the hero Django.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:26 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


ReeMonster: “... briefly thought of as a legitimately amazing American film-maker...”

Briefly? He's made eight movies over the past two decades, and everyone I know – even the ones who despise Quentin Tarantino – can name every single one of them. You may think he sucks, and I totally grok that point of view – there are times when I share the annoyance at the flash and stylishness over substance – but it really is kind of pointless to argue about whether he'll be taken seriously. His work is taught in film schools all over the world; his movies debut to much fanfare in European enclaves of art house and such. He is taken seriously. That is a fact that will not change. Maybe it'd be better to talk about whether you think he's worth taking seriously, and whether you think this latest movie of his is any good, and why.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 AM on January 3, 2013 [12 favorites]


HA!! You mean when people will be all.. "Quentin who? Ohh right he was that amateur who was briefly thought of as a legitimately amazing American film-maker who made those self-indulgently campy "provocative" bloated epics when he should've stuck to making bubble-gum heist movies."

You should search this very site for the big thread on Inglourious Basterds and read it. Maybe that will convince you that you (and I don't say this often, because I think it is used too often) do not have any idea what you are talking about here.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


All I heard was that the last HOUR sucked balls, it was way too long, and seriously who is even going to care about QT in twenty years? He's popular but I don't think he's going down in history.

Please share with us some more insights on this movie you have not seen.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2013 [21 favorites]


But every step of the way, Tarantino makes us complicit with the slaveholders, in part because we laugh at stuff that we're not supposed to (what Gawker calls the "Django moment"). We're not Shulz -- he's not even from America. We're every other white person in the film.

I don't agree with this at all. The idea that the audience would hold such racial allegiances is not believable. White Americans aren't going to identify with the slaveowners just because they're white Americans, and they're not going to not-identify with Schultz (or even Django) just because they're not white Americans. The slaveowners are intentionally Otherized as horrific, thoroughly mockable caricatures, whereas Schultz and Django are three-dimensional characters with relatable wants and needs. In the packed theater I saw it with, there wasn't a single time where anyone laughed on behalf of the slaveowners (or the other racist townspeople).

I'm also not sure what we're not supposed to be laughing at. We are laughing bitterly at how ridiculous white society was at the time, and at how stupid people claiming supremacy were.

Cobb: Oppression, almost by definition, is a set of circumstances that bring out the worst in most people. A response to slavery—even a cowardly, dishonorable one like what we witness with Stephen—highlights the depravity of the institution.

What? Did Cobb actually see the movie? That is literally the point of why Stephen is such a sad and interesting villain. Ultimately, the villain is not even Candie, but the corrupted Stephen, who has been destroyed by slavery. Slavery itself has corrupted everything around it. It's very clear within the movie itself.

Cobb never claims that audiences are meant to mock Stephen - just that he is played to 'great comedic effect' and that, when Stephen is "in character", we are presented with an obsequious black slave that is a character to be ridiculed (again, not Stephen - the character Stephen is playing). But why should white audiences ridicule an obsequious black slave?

But obsequiousness itself is not what's interesting or funny about Stephen. How quickly he snaps back and forth between the two extremes, how he delicately words everything he says to Candie, as well all of his weird asides - those are all funny, and sad, and menacing.

See, you lost me at the idea that there's ambiguity. It was noble and totally worth it for the heroes to die killing Hitler.

Worth it, probably, but saying there's no ambiguity in IB is like saying there are no movie references in it. Willfully ignoring what the movie very consciously sets up doesn't make it go away.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:28 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


All in all I'm glad he is no longer acting.

Ah.
posted by Artw at 10:29 AM on January 3, 2013


I'm not saying anything, but...
Vindicated!
posted by markkraft at 10:30 AM on January 3, 2013


So, in my mind, I'm thinking that they went through this whole thing, when they could have just said, "Here's all of our money."

This guy is obviously wasted as a movie critic for HuffPo. Dude should be negotiating billion dollar deals for some massive corporation.
posted by mullacc at 10:32 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: “But every step of the way, Tarantino makes us complicit with the slaveholders, in part because we laugh at stuff that we're not supposed to (what Gawker calls the "Django moment"). We're not Shulz -- he's not even from America. We're every other white person in the film.”

Sticherbeast: “The idea that the audience would hold such racial allegiances is not believable. White Americans aren't going to identify with the slaveowners just because they're white Americans, and they're not going to not-identify with Schultz (or even Django) just because they're not white Americans.”

I really like Bunny Ultramod's reading of the movie, and I have to say that I agree that any white person who considers this for a moment will have to be uncomfortable about the people who most represent us racially in this movie.

However, Sticherbeast, I have to agree about who most white people will identify with in watching this movie: Django. That's the simple fact. It's not like us white people haven't had practice identifying ourselves with black people; we do it all the time. It's almost a national pastime.

It's interesting. That, too, makes me nervous when I think about it.
posted by koeselitz at 10:35 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


For me, the only nearly righteous person in the film is Shoshana, and even she succumbed to taking pleasure in the demise of her enemies at the end. The Basterds, meanwhile, evince an unholy glee in violence that makes me squirm.

I think it's crystal clear that Shoshana is the central character of the film. The Basterds themselves are a cartoonish sideshow. This misdirection is one of my favorite things about the movie.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:36 AM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


(Actually, I guess I don't know if you were saying they'd identify with Django, but I think they will. And they'll be happy to do it.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 AM on January 3, 2013


"Quentin who? Ohh right he was that amateur who was briefly thought of as a legitimately amazing American film-maker who made those self-indulgently campy "provocative" bloated epics when he should've stuck to making bubble-gum heist movies."

Tarantino's been a Big Deal for nearly 20 years now. Pulp Fiction was released in 1994.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:37 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


That also makes me think about the Germans watching their own gorefest later on in the film, when they are gunned down by the joyful IBs. This might be Tarantino's first metafilm.

For me, at least, this was the whole core of the film-- the story revolves around these American heroes going against overwhelming odds and slaughtering Nazis while we, the audience, cheer and laugh at Hitler getting machinegunned in the face. But the machinegunning takes place at a propaganda film where Nazis are cheering and laughing at a Nazi hero going against overwhelming odds and slaughtering Americans.

So....
posted by shakespeherian at 10:38 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have some bad news for you. His bit in this one is horrible.


Oh god, worse than his "you can ride my tail anytime" top gun schtick in Sleep with Me?

I haven't seen Django yet but I am certainly going to. I vacillate between thinking he is great, and thinking, like after seeing Death Proof, that he is somewhat overrated. I got into hundreds of debates about Pulp Fiction. At the time, you would have thought Pulp Fiction was the single greatest artistic achievement of mankind based on people's effusive praise. I was a pretty big snob and couldn't see past the constant and layered homages, peans and straight up rip offs of other movies so I thought it was derivative, a sort of best of scenes from other movies. At the time people thought I just didn't get it and I thought people just hadnt seen enough movies. Now I see it as a love letter to cinema.

Whatever, I'll see all his movies. I can't think of anyone making more interesting movies. I'm sure there are , I just can't name any.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:39 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it weird that Death Proof is probably my favorite film of Tarantino's?

I just find it really enjoyable: it's most of a movie's worth of women talking to each other, a car chase, and a dude getting a righteous beatdown. Simple, but perfectly executed. And Tarantino is so obviously fond of the women he portrays.
posted by nonasuch at 10:42 AM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a great moment in Punisher: War Zone, in which the director has a couple of those annoying parkour guys in the film, and then The Punisher just takes them out with a rocket launcher.

Quentin Tarantino's appearance in this film is like that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:42 AM on January 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


No, I think what Tarantino is selling here is white complicity.

This might be Tarantino's first metafilm.

I agree that (with Inglorious Basterds, at least), Tarantino is doing this, but after hearing his interview on Fresh Air, I'm starting to think that it's not intentional (or he's just a bad interview subject). His view of the characters in IB and in Django Unchained is essentially "Good guys good, bad guys bad. Bad guys committing historically-accurate violence == uncomfortable. Good guys committing cartoon violence == fun!" I have a hard time reconciling that with the idea that Tarantino wants us to equate the actions committed by the 'good guys' in Basterds with the actions committed by the Nazi's, and by that step equate our own reaction to the reactions of the Nazi's. But again, maybe he's being intentionally facile in his interview answers.
posted by muddgirl at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not as if his own exceptional merit as a person was an insult to everyone else.

Yes, this. It seems like Cobb is reading Candie's outspoken viewpoint as the film's. The film answers Candie's monologues pretty assertively. Why doesn't your slave slit your throat? Because there are always more guys with guns and dogs to kill your slave ... but that doesn't mean that given enough freedom, that slave won't take action. We see this from the first scene through to the last one.

It's kind of interesting applying Bunny Ultramod's point about "making us complicit with the slaveowners" as a filter on Cobb's reading.
posted by pokermonk at 10:45 AM on January 3, 2013


Another thought about Stephen: it's interesting, his real rationale for stopping Hildy's sale. Candie was never going to lose money on the "con". He wasn't for want of money, either. IIRC, he didn't even particularly care about selling fighters. No, what pissed Stephen off was that Hildy was going to get off easy, and that people other than himself would get to play off of Candie's putziness, and in doing so, her very existence would undermine everything even superficially worthwhile in his life.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


What I loved about Basterds is that it sets up the premise that the audience can be tricked into forgiving the 'Good Guys' of just about *anything* if they're fighting Nazis, because Fighting The Greatest Enemy is the most noble cause. The Basterds are completely unapologetic terrorists, causing the most horrific and grisly destruction they can in order to shock not just the enemy army, but the entire nation out of their complicity. The film is (among many things) about the power of propaganda to stir a people towards a cause despite the most horrible acts perpetrated in the name of that cause. The Nazi audience being mutilated at the end as they watch their murder porn? That is the SAME AUDIENCE that watches IB and cheers on the bloodsoaked rampage committed by their 'good guys'.

For that, I can imagine the idea behind Stephen not just that he's playing Candie for a fool by PLAYING a fool, but that the meta-narrative is that by provoking some parts of the audience to laugh at his japery he is exposing them as the same simple-minded minstrel-show-goers that have continued to exist in mainstream culture since the beginning of the concept... clashing the structure of blaxploitation based on the framework of perception specific to the audience.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I agree that (with Inglorious Basterds, at least), Tarantino is doing this, but after hearing his interview on Fresh Air, I'm starting to think that it's not intentional (or he's just a bad interview subject).

Eh, I don't care if it's intentional or not. If the film works in a certain way, and the guy keeps making films that work in that certain way, I'm going to say he's making interesting films, even if they're not at all what he thought he was making.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:47 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have heard him explicitly say in interviews that it is intentional.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:48 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever Tarantino's feeling about this ending, it chilled my blood worse than anything in Ken Burns's The Central Park Five.

Look, I know that "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is great and all, but I'm pretty tired about this sort of TVTropes-level of speculation. Sometimes, a happy ending is just a happy ending. Sometimes, films just lay on the cheese at the end. (And as with another movie, not every Christopher Nolan ending has to be ambiguous and a dream sequence.) This film showed its cowboy roots there, even though it was riding off into the moonlight and not the sunset.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:49 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree that (with Inglorious Basterds, at least), Tarantino is doing this, but after hearing his interview on Fresh Air, I'm starting to think that it's not intentional (or he's just a bad interview subject).

I'm tempted to say it's the latter. He seems to vacillate between unserious to philosophical and points in-between both across and within interviews. I don't know if it's part of the ADHD persona thing he has going on (which itself seems to be variously real or contrived at different points), or if he's just fucking with the interviewers and/or audience, or maybe just on a fuckton of drugs.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2013


I have heard him explicitly say in interviews that it is intentional.

I'd love a link. As I said, I acknowledge that it might be an artifact of that particular interview. Terry Gross sometimes brings out the worst in people.
posted by muddgirl at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it weird that Death Proof is probably my favorite film of Tarantino's?

Two things on Death Proof and Django.

Death Proof seemed to be Tarantino's epic experiment in slow-boil tension, and I think it works really well once you can get over the fact that it's not Planet Terror. The signature moments of Basterds and Django take what he was doing there and apply them more tightly in the framework of a bigger film. So, I don't think it's weird it all.

Also. Zoe Bell (the adventurous blonde from Death Proof) was the masked Candie Land woman in Django, and I've been trying to figure out if Tarantino had some reason for masking her.
posted by pokermonk at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh you got me.. it's true I did come here to shit the bed today. I like QT's earlier work fine but it annoys me how much DISCUSSION happens about his films when they're still the same schlock as he ever made, just longer and more "controversial." He can make a taut heist film at 90 minutes or a bloated 2h45m monstrosity that crumbles under its own weight, but oh he's still an "important" American filmmaker. Important?? Just popular.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:59 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Has his three-part interview with scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. been posted yet? Because it does help shed some light on the details behind the film. It would have been interesting if he had been interviewed by a Jewish WWII historian after Basterds, to say the least.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:01 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like QT's earlier work fine but it annoys me how much DISCUSSION happens about his films when they're still the same schlock as he ever made...but oh he's still an "important" American filmmaker. Important?? Just popular.

You can't be an arbiter of taste or importance for anyone but yourself.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Important?? Just popular.

How are you defining 'important'?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2013


Has his three-part interview with scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. been posted yet?

Yes, in the previous thread.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:06 AM on January 3, 2013


Also, Artw mentioned it above, as did I. It's a very good interview.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 AM on January 3, 2013


How are you defining 'important'?

In whatever fashion serves as the largest portion of trollbait, apparently.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:08 AM on January 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


He's popular but I don't think he's going down in history.

Tarantino is going to be remembered as one of the major film directors of this new era of filmmaking, if not its single largest component. I'm hard-pressed to find another contemporary director who's influenced both popular and arthouse filmmaking to the extent that he has: the Coen brothers or Wes Anderson are other possible contenders, but I don't feel that either one really hits at the vein of what modern cinema is like or what it's becoming. (Directors like Lynch or Scorcese are probably more influential, but they've also been around twice as long as Tarantino's been, and really they're precursors to Tarantino more than they're contemporaries.)

Contemporary culture is highly driven by irony and self-reflexivity, and Tarantino more than any other director I know embraces that aspect of our culture. His films simultaneously embrace the cheapest thrills of cinema – the violence, the dialogue, the simple but stunning cinematography, the trick editing – while fetishizing them so much that they're both elevated to heights you don't often see in film, while somehow becoming disturbing in their blatantness. People I know who can't stomach discussions of cinema or directorial intent walked out of Inglourious Basterds talking about how weird that movie made them felt, because the weirdness somehow goes hand-in-hand with the film's pure visceral thrill – indeed, it arises from the unexpected places those thrills come from, and from the dissonance that comes from how some of them clash.

The scene with the Nazis in the bar is a perfect example: you have a beautifully-written conversation with interruptions on two separate fronts overlying a more noirish tension that comes from our seeing the Basterds in disguise and surrounded by armed soldiers. But the conversation keeps overriding the tension: the Nazis, particularly what's-his-name the new father, are charming, goofy, and even lovable. These are the soldiers of the melodramatic Hitler who's never played as anything other than a comedic buffoon – "Gum?" – yet it's hard to see them as the evil, faceless creatures that we keep getting told they are. They're human beings, delightful ones; yet in a five-second shoot-off they're all dead, every last one, and so are all of the Basterds whose fate we were so worried about. The only surviving Nazi? The new father – and after a minute where it seems like at least he'll survive, he's brutally gunned down by the German actress whose double agentry must not be discovered. (And in a final twist, his murder doesn't even matter, because arch-villain Hans Landa knows immediately that she's a turncoat and strangles her.)

There's only one other director I know of who's as sensitive to the minute details of thrilling cinema, and that's Edgar Wright – whose style is blatantly influenced by Tarantino's. And while I love everything Edgar Wright's touched, he makes "smaller" films than Tarantino does: he uses film tropes to detail these lovingly human characters, and creates this terrific sense of space and location which is key to every one of his projects. In some ways Wright is a subtler and more rewarding director than Tarantino is. But he's not doing what Tarantino does, which is to use bigness and grandeur to smash away at spectacle, to make us feel uncomfortable about the sort of over-the-topness which he embraces fully.

You can feel his influence in blockbuster cinema – without him you don't have The Matrix, you probably don't have The Hangover, you definitely don't have the excellent 21 Jump Street remake – but also in literature and especially music. The sorts of formal experiments in books like Cloud Atlas or House of Leaves often strike me as coming from similar places as Pulp Fiction did, breaking down a style of storytelling to both comment on the nature of the genre while somehow making it even more lurid and powerful. Meanwhile, Tarantino's pulp celebration and self-examination seems to have found its way into every corner of the music landscape, from Lady Gaga's obvious admiration (she even borrowed his Pussy Wagon for a music video!) to the smart reflexivity of "indie" groups like Art Brut or Los Campesinos! to plenty of the various smaller scenes I find myself interested in. You could point to any of Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs or Kill Bill and say that they've inspired leagues of artists who saw something worthwhile in them; give it a few years and you'll see a wave of filmmakers who were similarly moved by Inglourious Basterds. Django Unchained maybe deserves to be even more influential than any of Tarantino's other work: it's simultaneously more fantastic and more rooted in serious issues than anything else he's ever done, and can both be enjoyed as a commentary on Westerns/Hollywood's queasy approach to depicting racism and slavery, or simply watched as a fantastic popcorn movie, which by the way it totally is.

I remember reading David Foster Wallace's sneering dismissal of Tarantino as he was writing about David Lynch – Wallace, who was notoriously uncomfortable with irony especially as it manifested itself in entertainment like film and TV, basically snubbed Tarantino for his fascination with gore and sensation while lauding Lynch for his attempts to go beyond thrillingness and explore something more profound. I love David Lynch a whole ton and I admire DFW, but I've always felt like he exposed one of his own major weakness as a critic in his stance on Tarantino. Irony is not simply a tool for excusing bad trends in entertainment or society, like Wallace frequently claimed. It is an exploration into whether or not the strangeness or provocativeness or thoughtfulness that sensationalism often hides can exist hand-in-hand with that sensationalism itself. Whether you can eat your cake and have it, too, make the popcorn-munching blockbuster while still making your audience uncomfortable enough that they have to think and talk about what they've seen afterward. Or whether, in fact, combining the one with the other might make for a film that's better at both.

I don't think Tarantino's my favorite contemporary director and there are some things about him that bother me considerably, but his style has defined the direction popular art's taken in the last twenty years maybe more than any artist in any others field. He's the perfect example of a director who's going to be remembered by history: for all his flaws, and he has many, he touches upon an idea whose current underlies much of our society, and our popular culture in particular. And rather than touching upon it quietly, he hits it in such loud and major ways that, whether you like him or hate him, you can't easily ignore him outright. Maybe Anderson or the Coens have a little bit of that in their work, but as much as the Coen brothers might make BETTER films than Tarantino, they're nowhere near as provocative.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:09 AM on January 3, 2013 [38 favorites]


The key, and I repeat for emphasis and truth, The Key to understanding Quentin Tarantino's movies is to understand exactly which "Universe" the movie takes place in: The "Realer than Real" universe, which is populated by real people and we just happen to be able to peak into that world, or the "Movie Movie" universe which is made up of movies that the characters in the "Realer Than Real" universe would actually watch (or perhaps play a role in such a movie).

Think of it this way:

Vincent Vega has gone to the movies to watch "Kill Bill" and "From Dusk Till Dawn".

The characters in "Reservoir Dogs" would have told you that most of the high level german brass in WWII died in a movie theater fire.

Within this framework, the disparity between the different Tarantino "styles" makes sense. Some of his movies are meant to be entertaining to some of the characters IN some of his movies.
posted by Freen at 11:10 AM on January 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Dunno, I guess I can re watch Death Proof and give it another chance. Maybe it needs to stand on its own as opposed to being part of the package. Or maybe it should have been first in Grindhouse. I guess I also don't like his meta antics and fictive effects, like the fact that he made it purposefully disjointed by cutting out a "missing reel". It isn't very interesting to me to mess with the story by experimenting with the media in that way. I guess that was the point though. The fake film damage and missing reel were supposed to recreate an experience beyond just the world in the film, by constantly taking you out of the film world. The fake film damage just screams you are watching a film over and over, maybe that isn't my thing.

It is also true that his movie universe is not our universe. One example, in Kill Bill, people are allowed to bring swords on planes.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:13 AM on January 3, 2013


I saw Django, liked it a good deal as (partially) counter-programming from family christmas stuff, though I initially thought it was a slightly less-ambitious trip back to Inglourious Basterds territory. Maybe not one of my favorite Tarantino films.

But as with most well-crafted entertainment, it stuck under my skin and made me think a lot more about how it was crafted and Tarantino's intent; not only the racial components which have received most of the scrutiny, but also for example the relationship between the villains and the revenge enacted on them in both Django and IG. It's interesting that in both cases the films take place at a point in history where the dominant villain class are approaching a hard fall, which undercuts the entertainingly choreographed, but very personally-motivated cinema violence. For all the righteousness of the vengeance, neither film endorses it as a lifestyle choice. Django receives a happier ending in part because vengeance was a by-product of saving Hildy, not an end unto itself.

I wondered what was up with Zoe Bell, too. Since her "group" was named in the credits, it made me think they had a larger role once that was cut down in editing.

The links in this thread are a good assortment of analysis and commentary; though I heard the NPR interview yesterday and I was happy that Tarantino took noticeable offense at the hamhanded segue between movie violence and Sandy Hook. The guy has been "answering" for movie vs real violence his entire career and would love to see that line of questions for him retired permanently. Maybe his response will make the next interviewer think twice.
posted by ipe at 11:14 AM on January 3, 2013


His view of the characters in IB and in Django Unchained is essentially "Good guys good, bad guys bad. Bad guys committing historically-accurate violence == uncomfortable. Good guys committing cartoon violence == fun!" I have a hard time reconciling that with the idea that Tarantino wants us to equate the actions committed by the 'good guys' in Basterds with the actions committed by the Nazi's, and by that step equate our own reaction to the reactions of the Nazi's. But again, maybe he's being intentionally facile in his interview answers.

I see Tarantino as talking less about whether good guys doing good things is OBJECTIVELY more okay than bad guys doing bad things, and more as him saying that this is how people in theaters react to things. In the lengthy three-part interview with Gates, he talks about how the dog scene and Mandingo fights were much nastier in earlier cuts of the film, but he had to edit them down because his audience was too upset by those parts to applaud in the end. His goal is to manipulate the audience, and when he talks about the art of movie-making he often talks exclusively in the sense of "here's what doing certain things on-screen will do to the people watching them."

The man himself is clearly much more thoughtful about the morality of the behaviors he portrays on-screen. He just doesn't insist that audiences behave differently from how they actually do. And that's a virtue of his style, I think: as much as I like directors who don't give a fuck about what viewers think and make their films exactly the way they think they ought to be, there's no superiority to that method than to treating films as entertainment first and foremost, and deciding that your artistry involves outright maneuvering an audience in certain ways. In that sense, Tarantino is a master, and in nearly every movie he's made he's gotten better and mor subtle in that manipulation.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:16 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a great moment in Punisher: War Zone, in which the director has a couple of those annoying parkour guys in the film, and then The Punisher just takes them out with a rocket launcher.

Quentin Tarantino's appearance in this film is like that.


I kind of love the Tarantino cameo.
posted by Artw at 11:27 AM on January 3, 2013


I see Tarantino as talking less about whether good guys doing good things is OBJECTIVELY more okay than bad guys doing bad things, and more as him saying that this is how people in theaters react to things.

I agree, and he said the same thing in the Gross interview. But Tarantino is the one crafting those reactions. Tarantino wants us to cheer for Django or for Shoshana. He crafts the movies specifically to make their actions seem moral (in the context of the movie, not in some universal morality) - the 'bad guys' perpetrate atrocities against them, so the reaction of the 'good guys' seems like, not only the moral choice, but the heroic choice. The claim I've read, and made a few times in this thread, is that Tarantino actually intends for smart audiences to realize that we are no different from the 'bad guys' in the movies - in one sense that by cheering for violence we are complicit with the perpetrators of violence. I don't see how this fits with what I've heard from Tarantino so far. His claim in the Gross interview fits with the denotation of what he films - Django is a hero. Shoshana is a hero. We should cheer for them because they are heroes. It doesn't fit the implied connotation - that we cheer for them because we're bloodthirsty fascists.
posted by muddgirl at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love David Lynch a whole ton and I admire DFW, but I've always felt like he exposed one of his own major weakness as a critic in his stance on Tarantino.

To be fair, in that essay Wallace is only talking about Reservoir Dogs, as it was the only Tarantino movie that existed at the time, and Reservoir Dogs is certainly the film in which Tarantino is least careful about the implications of his filmic violence.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2013


We should cheer for them because they are heroes.

More explicitely, we cheer for them because they are heroes in their own particular universe which Tarantino created.
posted by muddgirl at 11:46 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


For that, I can imagine the idea behind Stephen not just that he's playing Candie for a fool by PLAYING a fool, but that the meta-narrative is that by provoking some parts of the audience to laugh at his japery he is exposing them as the same simple-minded minstrel-show-goers that have continued to exist in mainstream culture since the beginning of the concept... clashing the structure of blaxploitation based on the framework of perception specific to the audience.

THIS, YES.
posted by naju at 11:48 AM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, what pissed Stephen off was that Hildy was going to get off easy, and that people other than himself would get to play off of Candie's putziness, and in doing so, her very existence would undermine everything even superficially worthwhile in his life.

I can't say I agree with you there. When Candie gets killed, Stephen gives off an absolutely genuine shriek of anguish. On one level he's playing a role - the fool - but that's a public role, not a role for Candie's benefit specifically (i.e. while it is something Candie always sees when it's put on, and is obviously entertaining for Candie, it's primarily a show for Candie's guests).

Stephen has a job - court jester - but that makes him neither an idiot nor a master manipulator: it's just a job. When Stephen is out of the white public spotlight, when it's just him and Candie, that's when you see his other role and, I think, his true self - a clever man who's looking out for his master's interests, one who has completely bought into his own subservience. There's a reason he has been appointed to the administrative position he's in.

Stephen is angry at the situation because his master is being manipulated, and he doesn't like that.
posted by Palindromedary at 11:49 AM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Palindromedary, can't it be both? I see Stephen as both looking out for Candie's interests, and trying to prevent Django and Hildy from, as he sees it, manipulating and ultimately escaping the whole slave system. The slave system has given Stephen what power and influence he has, and he doesn't like to see others undermining it, because they're undermining him as much as they're undermining Candie. In his mind, Django and Hildy are trying to cheat his master, whose interests he's protecting-- but they're also trying to cheat slavery, and he can't stand that either.
posted by nonasuch at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


nonasuch - I suppose it could be both, but I just don't see any evidence for what you're proposing: I don't see where in the movie you're getting that from, whereas the scream Stephen gives when Candie dies (and, to a lesser extent, the effort he makes to ensure that Django dies terribly after that) seems to support what I'm saying.

What brings that interpretation to mind for you?
posted by Palindromedary at 12:03 PM on January 3, 2013


I'm of the opinion that Django Unchained, or something very much like it, is something that we culturally need. The trope of the aggrieved Southern man as hero is pervasive in the Western genre, from The Outlaw Josey Wales to Hell on Wheels to (let's be honest) Firefly, and it requires a response. It requires examination and discussion. The Western genre presents these wandering, displaced rebels as romantic figures, and it is high time that we had a Western showing what they were rebelling to protect.

My girlfriend, who is black, loved the film itself. She was a little bit less thrilled with the white audience's reaction (the guy sitting next to us was in stitches laughing during D'Artagnan's scene, which was both mystifying and unnerving). She had mixed feelings about the film being directed by Tarantino. On the one hand, he's a white director. On the other hand, what black director could have possibly gotten this movie made? What black director could have walked into a movie studio, pitched this script, and gotten it financed? What black director could have gotten a film with this premise into theaters nationwide for a Christmas release?

If we accept that a movie like this is needed to respond to the Western genre (which I believe to be the case), then it needed someone with enough sway and credibility with the studios to push it through in the face of the entrenched ideas of what a Western should or could be. The studio machine is not going to take a chance on a black director for a project of this scope and subject matter (something that I'm hoping to see changed, but I'm not holding my breath). Since we're still a long way from reaching that ideal, I think that Tarantino is a pretty good consolation prize.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:03 PM on January 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


If we accept that a movie like this is needed to respond to the Western genre

East German Westerns cast the Indians as the heroes.
posted by OmieWise at 12:10 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have to say that I agree that any white person who considers this for a moment will have to be uncomfortable about the people who most represent us racially in this movie.

What? I mean what does it mean to be "racially represented"? An average white person in America doesn't have a whole lot in common to a plantation owner 150 years ago.

We're not Shulz -- he's not even from America.

Yeah, he's representative of a "foreign" mindset; foreign to the American antebellum South, but not all that disimiliar to conterporary America. We- regardless of race- are more like Shulz than any other character.
posted by spaltavian at 12:11 PM on January 3, 2013


To lay out my thoughts on this interesting review a little more –

It had worried me already, the fact that actual dimensional women are nonexistent in this film. I hadn't thought much of it, though; it seemed like kind of a dead end, especially since sadly that isn't remarkable even in this day and age.

But I hadn't connected it with the almost virulent machoism of the film, and now that I do, it's strikingly apparent. Remeike Forbes is right when he says this:

Django Unchained ultimately has less to do with black vengeance than it does with machismo.”

We can cheer along with the power struggle, and I can see the worth of valorizing a black man who struggles against slavery instead of accepting or forgiving. But that's not all this story is – essentially, it's a story about black manhood; and viewing it in that dimension, some things emerge that I am very uncomfortable with.

[Spoilers in the next paragraph here.]

For starters, it's incredibly machoistic and heteronormative. There's this consistent banter between Billy Crash and Django that seems like it's just barely-sublimated homophobia straight through, each one baiting the other and implying that he's some kind of fairy. And the way that Billy Crash strings Django up to castrate him – and then Django ends up shooting Billy in the crotch; this is standard stuff, 'you tried to steal my manhood, now I will destroy yours.'

There's also the fact that the marginalization of women in the plot seems to have a kind of fatalistic inevitability about it. Brunhilde can do nothing but be rescued; it's said that she tried to escape, but all we really see is her subjugated and in subjection, put in the hot box and suffering. She barely says anything. She exists only for Django to save her.

And in that light the movie becomes a lot more worrisome. Remeike Forbes' starting formulation has a lot of truth to it: this is really just a mandingo fight set up by Tarantino between Django and Stephen. I'm sure Tarantino wants it to be more, and I believe he has the best of intentions, but that doesn't change the fact that this movie, as a morality play about the triumph of a very narrow kind of black masculinity, has some serious limitations.
posted by koeselitz at 12:13 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


TL;DR – I think there's a bit of misogyny and even more homophobia in Django Unchained, and that bothers me a lot.
posted by koeselitz at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2013


The thing I'm taking away from a lot of the commentary here is that Tarantino is essentially a modern day cinematic Norman Spinrad, except his films are watchable while Spinrad is mostly unreadable. So that's good.
posted by Justinian at 12:14 PM on January 3, 2013


East German Western would be a great band name.
posted by Mister_A at 12:22 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Palindromedary: I don't see where in the movie you're getting that from, whereas the scream Stephen gives when Candie dies (and, to a lesser extent, the effort he makes to ensure that Django dies terribly after that) seems to support what I'm saying.

While I wasn't part of the original discussion, I definitely agree with nonasuch that Stephan reacts both to the personal insult on behalf of Candie and the institutional insult. The latter is revealed the first time (I seem to recall) that we see Stephan, where you get a close shot of this utter anger and hatred on his face when he sees Django approach Candieland on horseback, the equal to everyone else around. He already loathes Django purely for not playing the subservient part in public.
posted by Schismatic at 12:23 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh hey, I forgot that part. Yeah, that makes sense to me now. Thanks.
posted by Palindromedary at 12:26 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


The homosexual stuff in the movie just struck me as part and parcel with the many fascinating and overlapping thematic strains happening above and below the surface - masculinity, power, master/servant dynamics, business, race, oppressed becoming oppressor. There's a LOT happening in this film that Tarantino is throwing in deliberately - right down to the silly stuff like what Django wears and how horses do tricks when their names are called.
posted by naju at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


That kind of sounds like a catch-all that suggests that Tarantino couldn't have just been being homophobic. Based on your definitions of complexity, when would we be able to say that he was being homophobic?
posted by OmieWise at 12:45 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other words, that sounds like rationalization.
posted by OmieWise at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2013


Well there's a valid debate between whether 1) Tarantino is being reflexive, thoughtful, and deliberate in thematically focusing on masculinity, power struggles, etc. in this film, as well as provoking/manipulating/accusing the audience throughout nearly every scene of the film in both big and small ways, and 2) whether he's showing his disgust for gay people. I'm on the side of the former and without writing a lengthy essay about the movie, I respectfully don't think I'm just rationalizing. (I'm happy to call out homophobes when they need calling out.)
posted by naju at 1:01 PM on January 3, 2013


naju: “Well there's a valid debate between whether 1) Tarantino is being reflexive, thoughtful, and deliberate in thematically focusing on masculinity, power struggles, etc. in this film, as well as provoking/manipulating/accusing the audience throughout nearly every scene of the film in both big and small ways, and 2) whether he's showing his disgust for gay people.”

I don't know that that's a fair way to phrase it; I mean, I don't think anybody would say that Quentin Tarantino is simply "showing his disgust for gay people," at least not as simply as all that.

The trouble for me is that, whereas I see a fair amount of thought about race and culture in Tarantino's movies, I'm sorry, but I don't see any consideration of sexuality there – at least not any consideration that isn't strictly heteronormative and implicitly homophobic. Marcellus Wallace's rapist in Pulp Fiction is the only character I can think of in any of QT's films that expresses homosexual desire. That isn't really a very nice indication of the treatment of homosexual desire overall.

“The homosexual stuff in the movie just struck me as part and parcel with the many fascinating and overlapping thematic strains happening above and below the surface - masculinity, power, master/servant dynamics, business, race, oppressed becoming oppressor. There's a LOT happening in this film that Tarantino is throwing in deliberately - right down to the silly stuff like what Django wears and how horses do tricks when their names are called.”

I grant that he's throwing in a lot of interesting stuff. I just can't imagine a reading of the film that justifies it. And going over Tarantino's films in my mind, I can't even think of a single worthwhile character that is explicitly or even implicitly homosexual. I mean, I know that there's a lot happening. But it seems homophobic to me; I've explained why. Can you say what you think Tarantino is doing with the weird machismo bullshit?
posted by koeselitz at 1:31 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw Basterds and Django, and for me, the former was a series of extraordinary vignettes (the bar scene, especially) that felt stitched together, while Django was a coherent whole. I'm not sure why that is, but Django worked much better for me. I didn't like a lot of the scenes, and I thought some of them were echoes of scenes in Basterds (the hand shaking scene being a retelling of Basterd's bar confrontation brinksmanship, going wrong due to similar blindness and ego).

With Basterds, I left thinking about the striking scenes, while after Django, I felt like it was a striking movie.
posted by zippy at 1:46 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can you say what you think Tarantino is doing with the weird machismo bullshit?

I think it's yet another part of his attempts throughout the movie to bait his audience - get them to laugh or cheer at things that upon reflection are problematic, injecting ambiguity into the power dynamic and revenge narrative. The scene in which Django is about to be castrated fits into the slavesploitation genre, while being unsettling to audiences. Django's revenge by shooting the guy in the groin conversely is played for laughs and for audiences to cheer - drastically different tone - but upon reflection we're simply being manipulated into a revenge fantasy that we simultaneously root for and are troubled by. It's played out earlier as well with the "holding my hand in the moonlight" back-and-forth - this is a male power struggle, one of many male power struggles in this movie, and we're glad that Django is so fearless in his shit-talking but something isn't right about it either (clear to some people more than others). The guy in the theater who said "haha, he's gay" is precisely the guy who Django wants to unsettle in this movie, is precisely the stereotypical Tarantino fan that Tarantino wants to antagonize, and he wants us to reconsider the historical narratives, character arcs, revenge arcs, the power plays. It's actually interesting to read that HuffPo conversation with Tarantino, where he's very clear about Schulz's power obsession and getting the upper hand, and how that led to his downfall. As far as this being a male movie almost entirely about flawed males, I think he's more or less earned the right to make such a movie after smart deconstructionist-feminist stuff like Death Proof.
posted by naju at 1:52 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Zippy, I felt the same, and came to the conclusion that it was because IB was so indulgent of its "striking scenes". That is, when you give 20+ minutes to one scene, you can build a pretty amazing scene, but there might be a cost there in narrative momentum and coherence. So DU sacrificed one for the other, IMO.
posted by neuromodulator at 2:03 PM on January 3, 2013


The Nazi audience being mutilated at the end as they watch their murder porn? That is the SAME AUDIENCE that watches IB and cheers on the bloodsoaked rampage committed by their 'good guys'.

I think this popular interpretation is seductively trite. It's not about how YOU THE VIEWER ARE THE REAL VILLAIN. You're not. It really should not be hard to understand that the real villains are the Nazis.

The idea that there are ambiguous Nazis is something the film beats down a couple of times--literally, when Donny, who we cheer for, kills the Noble Wehrmacht Officer, when Zoller the sniper, who is presented to us as a decent kid swept up by war, proves to be just another Nazi asshole, and when the Basterds decide that Landa will *not* get off scot free.

QT's body of work never criticizes you for indulging your id. In fact, the film is a powerful indictment of the kind of shallow moral relativism that would make you have your privileged guilt moment for liking the idea that evil people get the bat and the gun, because the entire scene in the theatre is created by Shoshana under an entirely righteous motive, making everything that happens in that arena an expression of justice. The message instead is that our flawed, id-based drives can in fact be diverted to moral uses. It is in effect QT's defense of his own filmmaking as something beyond sheer self-indulgence.
posted by mobunited at 2:17 PM on January 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think this popular interpretation is seductively trite. It's not about how YOU THE VIEWER ARE THE REAL VILLAIN. You're not. It really should not be hard to understand that the real villains are the Nazis.

You misread my comment. I didn't say that the American filmgoers are the true *villains*, I said they are operating functionally the same as the Nazi *audience*. The point is about the behavioral parallels between the 'good team' and the 'bad team', and the darker undercurrents that run through both, not a rationalization of whose goals were truly 'good' or 'bad'. It's about the things that the audience cheers for, DESPITE how horrible those things are from an 'objective' view. The film invests a large portion of effort into making Landa seem almost a sympathetic adversary, despite his Nazi allegiances. This is exactly the point that the film is explicitly making - the final scene of the film has a POV shot of Brad Pitt carving a swastika on the audiences face, by way of that almost sympathetic Nazi character. Who was getting carved up specifically as a response to his mercenary cowardice - his desire to shed himself of the consequences of all his prior actions and associations, his culpability in the system his new allies were aiming to destroy. It's much more complicated than 'You americans are the REAL baddies!'
posted by FatherDagon at 2:51 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Closing sentence above, Americans = American Audience, not the Basterds in the film.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:57 PM on January 3, 2013


That's a fair interpretation, mobunited. I prefer to believe that Tarantino is problematizing his text, and have heard him indicate in interview that he's doing just that, but authorial intention is only part of the equation. A fair case can be made that Tarantino was presenting a vivid revenge fantasy against monstrous Nazis -- and he has indicated that in interview as well.

Ultimately, it demonstrates that art can be very complicated and support multiple interpretations. Maybe Tarantino is a bit like Goddard, who it was famously said created art that supported whatever version of Goddard you thought the artist was, although I can't remember the source of that quote, so maybe the quote isn't as famous as I thought it was.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:12 PM on January 3, 2013


I saw Django on the day of release (on accident-- Les Miserables was sold out) and looked for this thread all across the internet. I think it was a pretty incredible movie, and I think there are so many different things in it that are worth talking about.

I'm of the opinion that Django Unchained, or something very much like it, is something that we culturally need. The trope of the aggrieved Southern man as hero is pervasive in the Western genre, from The Outlaw Josey Wales to Hell on Wheels to (let's be honest) Firefly, and it requires a response.

QT has made a lot of movies, but until recently, there's been a lack of depth. He seems to me to be a man who cherishes entertainment above art (which is not an unreasonable position) and it's only recently that he's discovered that he can make movies that are both entertainment and art.

So there's this real desire to see DU as a repeat of IB, when it's not. If anything, the two are inversions of each other. Part of IB is running with the idea of Nazis-as-bad-guys and seeing what you can talk about with that. But Nazis are not the same as slavers. While Nazis have been so routinely demonized that you only have to show some insignia to indicate the antagonist, white American cinema is much more in the habit of apologizing for slavers. There is a value to be had just in rushing the other way: to establish slavers as perpetrators of an evil so great that there is no excuse, no apology possible.

To me, the really interesting thing about QT's recent movies is less that they can be seen in multiple ways, and more that QT seems perfectly happy with you enjoying the movies in whichever way you do. I really appreciate that. Because DU is a really great shallow film, if you want to see it that way, and I don't think there's much wrong with just wanting to see the bad guys get killed. That's fine.

Except it's really weird with DU, because, in the audience I was in, people were laughing at really inappropriate parts. And I know there's a fine line between satire being powerful and satire being counter-productive. And, given the rest of his oeuvre, I'm not sure that QT really minds that what some people find horrifying, some find hilarious. So there's this thing that I love about DU, and that I hate at the same time.
posted by nathan v at 3:18 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


At the time people thought I just didn't get it and I thought people just hadnt seen enough movies.

This is the most frustrating thing when talking about Tarantino - as someone who's not really a fan. Fans are always like, "ohhh, but you just don't get it". It's like, "Nope. I get it; I just don't like it."

I think there's a bit of misogyny and even more homophobia in Django Unchained, and that bothers me a lot.

I think there's a fair bit of both - especially the former - in most of his movies. Uncomfortable gender relations in many of his films that go largely unexamined by his (mostly male) ardent fan base, imho. And no, I don't think the discomfort is deliberate - the Tarantino get-out-of-jail free card.
posted by smoke at 3:35 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there's a fair bit of both - especially the former - in most of his movies. Uncomfortable gender relations in many of his films that go largely unexamined by his (mostly male) ardent fan base, imho. And no, I don't think the discomfort is deliberate - the Tarantino get-out-of-jail free card.

Can you elaborate on this with specifics? I can't think of many examples beyond the immature blonde woman in Jackie Brown (which is a bit of a stretch, she only acts that way because she knows away with it around DeNiro's shlubby, pathetic character). I seems unfair to take a few small examples of misogyny while not considering how he handled the women in Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds.

While Django is entirely focused on men, in the past Tarantino has been far more willing to at least deal with gender and race relations than most other popular directors.
posted by bittermensch at 4:01 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know, I thought Kill Bill was really valuable in terms of showing righteous female anger, seeing as how so often angry women are portrayed as shrewish or hysterical.
posted by dogheart at 5:32 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised there's not more reaction here to the astonishingly beyond-the-pale brutality of the violence in the film. I almost walked out after that gunfight; another couple actually did.

Maybe Tarantino was trying in his ham-fisted way to provoke some kind of meta-epiphany, like nonasuch's to Basterds ("And the fact that Tarantino was able to make me feel that is pretty impressive")? Well, fuck that. It was way too much and it ruined the film.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:48 PM on January 3, 2013


Wait, so you were cool with the bare-handed, arm-breaking, eye-gouging fight and the guy being torn apart by dogs, but the gunfight almost made you walk out?
posted by adamdschneider at 6:09 PM on January 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, maybe not cool, but I would think if anything would make someone walk out, the mandingo fight would.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:09 PM on January 3, 2013


SPOILERS: The REAL VILLAIN was the institution of slavery - which Django blew up with dynamite.
posted by Artw at 6:13 PM on January 3, 2013


Wait, so you were cool with the bare-handed, arm-breaking, eye-gouging fight and the guy being torn apart by dogs, but the gunfight almost made you walk out?

It's weird, but yes. While both of those are conceptually horrific, the film did not show the man being torn apart on-screen, nor did it show the gruesome ending of the mandingo fight. In contrast, for the duration of the gunfight, the camera was fixed on people being systematically murdered.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:20 PM on January 3, 2013


Well...it is a western, and not the John Wayne kind.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:29 PM on January 3, 2013


The blood effects in Django reminded me a lot of Zatoishi (the modern one). I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino was going for the same visual look.
posted by zippy at 6:54 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


He can make a taut heist film at 90 minutes or a bloated 2h45m monstrosity that crumbles under its own weight, but oh he's still an "important" American filmmaker. Important?? Just popular.

See I would have gone the other way: he has only once in twenty years had a movie make it into the top 10 at the domestic box office (Pulp Fiction, squeaking past Interview with the Vampire) to the #10 spot, and he has won a grand total of one Oscar, which he shared with Roger Avary (Best Original Screenplay, Pulp Fiction). In twenty years, his movies have netted a combined total of around $500 million at the domestic box office, making them in toto slightly more successful than, say, Shrek 2. Popular? Not necessarily.

On the other hand, his first movie was so well done that even people with no appreciation of his work praise it and call it a "taut heist film." I suspect that it is the best heist film in which no heist takes place (a bunch of guys in suits stand around and talk about a heist).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:56 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mentioned this in a previous thread, but the somewhat conservative black jazz essayist Stanley Crouch makes a very good argument that Quentin Tarantino is the deepest filmic thinker about race in America today. Honestly, I was surprised by this thesis, but it's worth reading. It's a seventy-page piece in his book The Artificial White Man, but he also wrote a pretty good shorter piece for the LA Times called "Pulp Friction."

I can't decide if that piece is brilliantly written or too baroque. Regardless, he had some interesting points and point of view. Definitely gave me some food for thought re: Pulp Fiction (which aside from Reservoir Dogs is the only Tarantino film I've seen. Tried Kill Bill but I really can't deal with fake gore and had to stop.
posted by smirkette at 7:36 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't stop at Kill Bill.

Try Jackie Brown (hardly any gore at all) and then Inglorious Basterds (all kinds of gore but it somehow justifies itself via the various meta games getting played).
posted by philip-random at 7:45 PM on January 3, 2013


working through what i think here:

i didnt like it. i love him.

a) my fear was that he had nothing left to say after he killed off cinema in IB, and with two or three possible exceptions (including two that were direct allusions to birth of a nation (directly making it a domestic farce--which is something even Brooks didn't do) and gone with the wind (HE BLEW UP TARA!, when someone as politically progressive and asutute as Molly Haskell cannot blow up Tara, to say, this doesn't matter anymore, that seems realvent) this proved to be true.
b) spike lee had an interview where he talked about how people ignored john singleton’s rosewood, but gave permission/capital for tarintino’s unchained, and how he thot that was realvent. i kept thinking about that quoute, and thinking–that though qt was right that the slave story in american cinema needs to be told, and needs to be told in ways that aren’t roots, singleton is much more likely to do a good job (and did a good job) than qt. I agree then, with the Jacobin article there--but he (and his fellow schlock as radical change master Roth) has spoken about how polite, easily digestible work like Roots does a dis-service to the history of slavery, while more explotative work seems more legitmate. One text that I know that Roth has presented, and I am sure that Tarintino has seen is Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti's Goodbye Uncle Tom, from 1971. But that text both allowed for Europeans to point out how terrible America was, and to get an almost psychopathic thrill from the sex and the violence. There is something to be said that qt is making 70s euro attempts at american original sins back into american texts--and that white america is difft. than white europe--cool, yeah, sure--but i remain convinced that these are not his stories to tell, and that makes me feel really uncomfortable. That said, if you thot that DU was a creepy peice of torture porn, you haven't seen Goodbye Uncle Tom, which refuses any attempts at artistry. (It's on Youtube, I cannot recommend it)
c) man, the female roles in this were almost non existent, and when they were present, they were hella misogynst, and featured almost no dialouge from kerri washington–no matter how problematic qt has been about race, he has been unusally good at allowing women to speak, and allowing that speech to be equal to men. it is a complete backslide, from a writer who created bunny, mia wallace, beatrix kiddo, o-ren ishii, abernathy, zoe bell, etc etc to write as shallow, violated, and dull a charachter as bromhilde von shaft. even the idea of her as matriach to the legacy of black cinema, instead of part of it is problematic (call her coffy or jones or something)
d) speaking of actors–it was mostly terrible–jamie foxx cannot act, weitz was playing who he was playing in IB w. no one to play off, don johnson was a cartoon, dicaprio is still too nice and too soft to play someone sufficently amoral, they didn’t use keri washington or jonah hill enough, etc et al.
e) the violence, while lampshaded a bit, is not morally ambigious or reflexive enough–there is not enough analysis or talk about the actions that are occuring, not enough justifiaction, or even lack of justification.
f) lastly, about the violence--the male body in QT is not written on, he is an agent. when he is contained (see esp. in the Zed's Dead sequence in PF), it is a symbol of the agency being contained. that said, the castration scene seemed to be this space where the homo-social world of the film may allow homosexual access--but that access happens thru violence. maybe b/c violence is how everything is constructed in Tarintino's world, or maybe it's that he knows how to deal with boys when they are fighting, but not when they allow for the possibility for that fighting to become fucking--the scene in the woods in IG seem to be v. close to fucking, and the para-text made by fans around that make that tension clear...no matter how common castration was in the south for black men, and no matter how much castration was a way of arguing against the autonomy of black men, you know the weird SM vibe of it suggests that was not the first goal.


i was disappointed.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:07 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


White people may be laughing at Stephen when he's doing his shtick, but they're the actual butt of the joke, not Stephen, who knows exactly what he's doing.

This is why I think Tarantino's recent films are bullshit, and cowardly. He wants to have it both ways -- he wants the "masses" to yuk it up while the "astute" audience sees through the facade, but neither group is actually challenged or confronted, they're just given a confirmation of what they already want to see. Inglorious Basterds was the same deal, with the Nazi audience mirroring the American audience, but the American audience wasn't really implicated beyond that lazy analogy.

Reservoir Dogs was pretty good, though.
posted by speicus at 9:46 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, that's it – PinkMoose just turned out the best review I've read of this movie anywhere, and probably the best review of any QT movie ever. Thanks, PinkMoose.
posted by koeselitz at 11:16 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


too kind but thank you
posted by PinkMoose at 11:45 PM on January 3, 2013


He wants to have it both ways -- he wants the "masses" to yuk it up while the "astute" audience sees through the facade, but neither group is actually challenged or confronted, they're just given a confirmation of what they already want to see.

Wasn't this Shakespeare's schtick?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:25 AM on January 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yes, that's why Titus Andronicus and Hamlet ride off into the sunset together, happily ever after.
posted by speicus at 1:12 PM on January 4, 2013


Tragedies ending tragically was very much expected at the time. Indeed, Titus Andronicus was one of his biggest hits during his lifetime.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:44 PM on January 4, 2013


The blood effects in Django reminded me a lot of Zatoishi (the modern one). I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino was going for the same visual look.

I thought it was a Sam Peckinpah "Wild Bunch" call out.
posted by octothorpe at 9:19 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't Peckinpah's movies yet, but Zatoichi and Pekinpah references would both be dead center in Tarantino's set of film interests. Youtube has the bloody highlights of Zatoichi (in German). If it needs to be said: spoilers (especially the end of the clip), NSFW, lots and lots of blood.
posted by zippy at 2:42 PM on January 5, 2013


Basterds: Tarantino sets the audience on fire
Django: Tarantino blows up the director.

I imagine him working his way down the credits, eventually meting out terrible ends to the best boy, "assistant to ..." and caterer.
posted by zippy at 2:52 PM on January 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


DEATH GRIP
posted by Artw at 5:12 PM on January 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure every single film that has copious blood splatter is within Tarantino's set of film interest. TBH, I am finding it hard to believe that he is referencing Zatoichi when he has specifically name checked Westerns that use swimming pools of blood splatter.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:49 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would have loved to seen a movie that more deeply examined the relationship between Stephen and Candie. Or a revenge fantasy that had Django and Hildie taking separate paths to vengeance that cumulated into a single larger path. As a revenge fantasy flick, Django fell remarkably flat for me.

I did not love Django, though I walked in expecting that I would. Too bloody, too long and poorly placed. It was filled with spots of brilliance (the klan hoods, much of the dialogue, the performances, etc), but all the various pieces never came together as a better whole

The movie feels like Taratino's idea of what black vengeance should be about and while he gets parts of it, he misses the larger picture. Either that or he specifically choose to ignore or downplay others aspect with a fictional figure that dipped its toe into realism, but never really dove in. But had he gone that route, getting the movie financed and produced might have been difficult.

I'd recommend reading the Confessions of Nat Turner in addition to seeing Django, at the very least.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:40 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Zoe Bell (the adventurous blonde from Death Proof) was the masked Candie Land woman in Django, and I've been trying to figure out if Tarantino had some reason for masking her.

Part of the reason is that it may be a simple way of getting an audience to make the false assumption that a female gunfighter is male, similar to how Orson Welles put Mercedes Mccambridge in gang of hoodlums in Touch of Evil. Another possibility is that he's referencing The Ballad of Little Jo, a 1993 movie about a woman masquerading as a male gunfighter. The Ballad of Little Jo is interesting, because I believe it is only the second Western made in the history of the film that was directed by a woman. The first was directed by Alice Guy at the turn of the century, and the only other one I can think of is Meek's Cutoff. Westerns are such a historically masculine genre that more women have directed slasher movies than Westerns.
posted by jonp72 at 3:55 PM on January 6, 2013


We saw Django with a largely black audience. It was interesting how they gasped and laughed or were appalled at pretty much the same places as the white viewers. I have never felt much pull towards QT, and hated that poor Hildy had so little to do, but my god it was a movie that has stuck with me. I have never seen the southern slave plantation treated in just this way in any movie, and it so needed to be stripped of its glamor and shown for the bloodsoaked prison it was. For that alone I think it's worthwhile.
posted by emjaybee at 6:35 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Django Unchained: “Coded language, man-made laws.”
posted by Artw at 7:47 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This was kind of a terrible revenge movie. I didn't feel like the violence was remotely proportional.
After all that extreme violence and degradation Django just gives the white villains one or two bullets each, pretty clean deaths.

The only person he mutilates and leaves to die is the black Stephen, who is just some lame ass house n-word[0] I didn't really care about anyway.

I didn't feel any gleeful revenge at all, because he killed them too quickly.. at that point in the movie I wanted him to do them some serious unkindness where I had time to appreciate the extent of their shock and horror.

I mean, I went to see the movie. I trusted QT to make a revenge movie about slavery, but he totally backed out.
The revenge was completely inadequate and after the movie was over I just felt numb.

Zero catharsis.

[0]: whitewashed at the request of taz. Quentin Tarantino can say it 50,000 times in his movie but I can't even say it once in polite company when discussing why the movie made me uncomfortable as a black person.

One more thing: It's not really a revenge movie if no one dies slow. I mean, they're tearing people apart with dogs, there's beatings, all kinds of degradation and humiliation and racist diatribes, it's baldly stated that they're having his wife raped every day.. and he spends less than a second killing each of them. I felt fucking cheated. Was that the point of this movie? I didn't need to go to the movies for that. I wonder if the message is different when received from white filmmaker to white filmgoer. I mean, I want revenge on Tarantino now for not delivering.
posted by yonega at 10:56 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


After all that extreme violence and degradation Django just gives the white villains one or two bullets each, pretty clean deaths.

Yeah, it felt odd that Django killed his personal antagonists so soon within the movie, killed only two and so quickly and one of their deaths was due to their ineptitude, which was played for laughs.

These were the men who presumably whipped him and whipped his beloved wife in front of him as he got down on his knees and begged them not to. Those men had probably inflicted numerous other insults, beatings and put downs on a daily basis. If anyone deserved to repeatedly shot, in slow motion, and played for laughs as their blood spurted and bathed the walls in a shootout that took up 5-10 minutes of screen time, it would be them.

Then there's the fact that the only reason Django got his vengeance and wife is because of the help and generosity of a white man.

Finally, the movie ends with two black people on horseback in the deep south, after the explosion and destruction of one of the most famous (or was it largest) plantations. I don't see them surviving too long, never mind the white anger that would be inflicted on the slaves left behind.

This isn't a black fantasy revenge flick. It's fantasy revenge flick of someone who happens to be black. The difference is subtle, yet large and profound. Django isn't a bad ass leader. He's just a bad ass concerned with his own problems and to hell with everyone else.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:41 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw this the other night, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm typically not a huge Tarantino fan, so it was a bit of a pleasant surprise (especially considering the potentially tricky subject matter).

Discussing the film seriously is kind of difficult. On one hand, there's clearly a lot of depth in the film (as evidenced by the 152 comments above this), while the film simultaneously suggests to us that we shouldn't take it too seriously -- stylistically, the film often feels like a cross between a spaghetti western and a comic book. The violence is so gruesome that it occasionally comes across as being outright farcical. However, Tarantino deliberately breaks the farce by interspersing these scenes with some genuinely disturbing images.

However, the most uncomfortable parts of the movie for me were the audience reactions. A few lines and scenes that I personally found to be rather upsetting got laughs from most of the crowd. I've seen and laughed at quite a few dark comedies, and I cannot remember another film that had this dynamic. (For what it's worth, I'm white, and the audience was mostly black)

A lot of people also seem to miss exactly how small the movie is. Tarantino never exposes us to any grand story or historical context beyond what's essential for the plot of the movie, and the movie only has about 5 important characters in it. Django doesn't inspire a rebellion, we never get any hints that the Civil War is brewing, and Django/Schultz spend most of their time alone on the road. I suppose there's some legitimacy to the critique that there aren't many strong female characters in the movie, but there simply just aren't that many central characters in the movie at all. I suppose that there were opportunities to further develop the characters of Brunhilde or Candie's cousin, but I'm not quite sure that I like the idea that Tarantino was obligated to -- it would have been incongruous with the film's historical context.

tl;dr; I think that Brandon Blatcher is right on the mark that Django Unchained isn't a movie about slavery -- that's just the backdrop. (To draw a parallel, Pulp Fiction isn't a movie about the briefcase -- it guides the plot, but it's not the point of the film.)

Palindromedary: "Stephen is angry at the situation because his master is being manipulated, and he doesn't like that."

Stephen is smarter, and in many ways more powerful than Candie is, and I'm surprised that so few people pick up on this. Candie is blindingly small-minded and incompetent (in spite of his pretensions), while Stephen has a pretty sweet gig and knows how to exploit Candie's weaknesses. Barring some sort of nationwide revolution (a la the Civil War), Stephen isn't going to be able to do much better than his current position at Candie's plantation, freedom or not. A threat to Candie (or slavery) is a threat that risks exposing the powerful niche that he's carved out for himself.

This niche makes him an integral part of the institution of slavery, which is really what makes him a villain. Candie himself doesn't even seem to understand the dynamics of this heirarchy, instead choosing to believe that the institution holds itself up because of some phrenology bullshit. By creating a system/illusion in which Candie's slaves believe that they're better off than other slaves, he's effectively given them a perverse incentive to defend the institution.
posted by schmod at 10:00 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few lines and scenes that I personally found to be rather upsetting got laughs from most of the crowd.

Would you mind being specific about this? I am trying and failing to recall where my reactions were at odds with the rest of the crowd (which was extremely distracting) I saw it with and would be interested.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:18 AM on January 7, 2013


I suppose that there were opportunities to further develop the characters of Brunhilde or Candie's cousin, but I'm not quite sure that I like the idea that Tarantino was obligated to -- it would have been incongruous with the film's historical context..

Piffle and tripe. Harriet Tubman was twice the badass the fictional Django was, or anyone else. Writing a less-trivial female part, even just for Hildy, would not have violated any historical realities whatsoever. Unless you believe historical stereotypes of what women did are the same thing as what they actually did, which would be foolish of you. Especially foolish when speaking of black women in slavery and escaping from it. Not to mention how many of the white abolitionists were early feminists, as well. It's was a woman's book that did much to make slavery less palatable to white Americans, and aside from the unstoppable Harriet Tubman, you also had ex-slave Sojourner Truth speaking loudly and publicly.
posted by emjaybee at 1:55 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It has taken me a few days to process this movie. I liked it but I liked it in the same way I like a Hubert Selby Jr. novel; awfully brutal but a deepening experience that keeps you watching.
The movie is beautifully constructed and even so much so I believe you could watch the movie with the sound off. There is a lot to go over as far as the language used in this movie but consider this: the power dynamics are literally played out through eye-lines and character placement.
In the first scene the men are upset and tell Schultz “Hey, stop talking to him like that.” “Like what?” “Like that.” and points to him standing there. They don’t care that he is speaking politely to Django, but rather because he is face to face with him. The first thing Django sees riding into town is two men and a noose hanging from the gallows above him which he passes through unharmed. The townsfolk, and everybody else subsequently, are not so much surprised to see Django on a horse, but rather that a black man is positioned on high that they have to look up to.
Schultz immediately takes Django under his wing and begins teaching him many things, but mostly about those dynamics and how to deal with them. Characters are often put down onto the ground before being shot again such as the sheriff, and others, but most notably Stephen. In Texas Schultz talks his way out of being shot by many people who are positioned higher than him, the same way Django does later in the film with the mining slavers. Keep in mind the one time Schultz forgoes a ruse of some sort is when he takes Django to the top of a hillside to kill a man. If that wasn't a lesson in power dynamics.... When we meet Big Daddy he is standing high up on his balcony and later watch him dealt with as he is down below in the valley. The flashback in dealing with the Biddle brothers shows Django on his knees, but ends up shooting one of them face to face and whips another man to the ground before dealing with him. When we get to Mississippi the audience is literally placed above the slave trade as the state (name) crawls across the slave’s backs. On the way to Candie’s ranch we see Django throw a man to the ground from his horse, which almost evokes a gunfight.
There are very few instances of a black person who is not walking around in the dirt, besides Django and the house slaves. The runaway who is seeking a better life ends up in a tree but told to get down and quickly obliges. One thing to notice about Django’s journey is that in the end he is on the balcony shooting down upon the Candie household. If you compare that to when he was captured, they simply didn’t lock him up or chain him down but put him in considerably the worst and most exposed position a man could find himself in – balls up inverted.
You can clearly see the power dynamics play out in the brilliantly constructed scene where we are introduced to Stephen. Stephen’s entrance begins with questioning Django’s position as he stands upon the deck but immediately cowtows to Candie as he moves down to the dirt ground. Candie and Stephen move up to the balcony as we see that Brunhilda was punishmed for running away by being buried in a box below ground. Stephen, from the deck, ends the scene by taunting down to Django with sleeping in the box.

There is a ton of stuff going on in this movie and I could simply talk about the character’s names at length, or even in a meta fashion talk about who is acting and directing to what takes place onscreen.

I likes it, I likes it a lot.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:48 PM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Finally saw this tonight, and having only seen it once I won't be able to give it the full treatment I gave to Inglourious Basterds, but I also imagine not many people will read this comment as late-in-the-game as it is, so here goes.

Where IB was about narrative, Django Unchained is about the evils of institutionalized systems. And Tarantino is very, very good at making complicated stories with not-always-immediately-apparent thematic coherence. Pulp Fiction, for instance, is a crime story known best for it's fractured timelines and interlocking stories, but is in fact pretty much all about forgiveness and redemption.

As for the "institutionalized evils" theme in Django, Stephen is the obvious villain in the end, yes. He is a slave, but one who has found his place and purpose in climbing to the top of the ladder within that institution. And he will own that purpose and protect that place. More interesting to me, however, is Shultz. Shultz hates the system of slavery and fights against it romantically. And yet, white and European and educated as he is, he still comes into the story with a privilege that Django will not ever in the film be able to share and as such does everything he can to play within the system itself.

In some ways, this makes sense and he is laudable for doing things in this way. He points out that if they were to just offer to buy Broomhilda from Candie and he refused, then "stealing" her would mean nothing - Dred Scott had already shown that the law would still consider her Candie's property. And so he makes a point of getting a bill of sale for Django even after having shot the slavers at the beginning, only shoots them after making certain that they have threatened him "with lethal intent" in front of witnesses, plays his games with the Sheriff and Marshall in Daughtrie, gets them off of Big Daddy's property alive, and comes up with his "harebrained" scheme. The system, for all of its faults, still respects him and he pushes the envelope on it like crazy, but always stays within it (well, until his very final action, but I'll get to that.)

Shultz also recognizes that the system is, at it's foundation, an economic one. It may be covered in mossy traditions and prejudice and auspices of "southern hospitality" and gentility but time and again he cuts through with money. This is important in that Stephen cannot be dealt with in this way. The economy of his position is based not on currency but on the traditions and politics of the system itself.

And so we come to the central relationships at the core of the movie. Both Django and Stephen are tethered to the white men who allow them to have any status and recognition at all. Django doesn't get invited to the table at Candyland without Shultz as his front, and Stephen's power is nonexistent without the threat of Candie behind it.

So what happens when Shultz is finally beaten at his own game? He realizes that the system isn't worth it. He tries to get them out of there, tries to leave peacefully after everything, but cannot acquiesce to that hand shake, that symbol that he consents to Candie's actions. And so he shoots him, and gets shot in return, and damn straight Stephen lets out a wail - Candie was his line to his lifestyle. In Stephen's way of working the system, he'd never have enough time left in his life to get another plantation owner to the point where Stephen could whisper that they needed to meet in the library and then help himself to his master's drinks while he waited.

But for Django, it is a very different story. Shultz's death (and his final action leading to his death) free Django from any deference to the system. From that moment forward he fights it outright, but with tricks learned from his mentor. This, by my reading, is the "unchaining" from the title. And the scene with the Australian miners is clearly meant as an echo of the opening scene, but here Django now knows how to talk himself out of the jam, and then shoot his way out of it, unfettered by adherence to a legal system that doesn't care about him anyway.

In the end, he has to blow up Candyland, because it is the power structure of the system he has to destroy. And Stephen has to go with it, not just for revenge, but because Stephen will always be a key part of that structure, and cannot exist without it.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:32 AM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


You have to keep a couple things in mind about Schultz because he has a bit of a dichotomy going. He sets up the elaborate plays and loves acting in them but he doesn't diverge from who he really is, a gentleman. He speaks properly and believes in politeness and courtesy. These are things he also passes onto Django as you can hear after the winter his manner of speaking has improved. You could even argue the point at which he shoots people is when they have shown themselves to be distasteful. The big thing people seem to miss with him is that he had another bullet to shoot Butch in the back, so in that light he actually gave up rather than beat.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:12 AM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


More David Brothers:
“There could never really be justice on stolen land.”
“If they had my sense they would not serve any master in the world.”
“I can’t pay no doctor bills (but Whitey’s on the moon).”
posted by Artw at 9:18 PM on January 9, 2013


I think the most racist thing I witnessed when I went to see this movie was Johnny Depp do the most stereotypical Tonto voice in The Lone Ranger preview that came on before Django started.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:25 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


There was a very weird mix of trailers when I saw it - it felt like someone had decided it was a Black People movie and brought out the Black People trailer real consisting mainly of Wayan's Brothers comedies and increasingly worse looking knock offs of them.

And, um, yeah, is Depp counting on being 1/18th Cherokee or something?
posted by Artw at 12:32 AM on January 10, 2013


The Week: Why Django is better than Lincoln
Marc Ambinder
Here's my verdict: Django Unchained is probably the best movie about slavery, ever.
[...]
Both movies are great. One makes you cry; the white men did something right; the country realized its mistake and began atone for it with Constitutional amendments.

The other makes your innards turn: You'll know how utterly evil, insane, and unique the practice of American slavery was and why political and legal transformations are still, today, not enough to expiate our shame.
The Big Picture: The Takeaway From 'Django Unchained'
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:14 PM on January 14, 2013


It's a fine historical politucal film, but for a movie about slavery, Lincoln really doesn't have a lot of slaves in it.
posted by Artw at 7:18 PM on January 14, 2013


I found myself agreeing with Jelani Cobb from the New Yorker. It's a good movie, but I think it's historically dishonest:

"The primary sin of "Django Unchained" is not the desire to create an alternative history. It’s in the idea that an enslaved black man willing to kill in order to protect those he loves could constitute one."

He sets this notion that a black man willing to rise up against white slave owners is an anomaly, when in truth it was happening all the time.

Also, QT to Channel 4: "I'm shutting your butt down!"

Thomas Frank has a great takedown of the Lincoln movie (NBC video with 30-second ad) in this month's Harper's.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:40 AM on January 16, 2013


Just finally saw this last night, with a white British audience in Northern England. I was one of the few people laughing, and at times, in seemingly inappropriate places relative the reactions of the rest of the movie goers. I think it hit me differently and I don't know if that's cultural, or differences in theater behavior (theatre behaviour?), my insensitivity or what. Anyways, I loved the film from opening scene to last lines. I found it just as thought-provoking and complex as Inglourious Basterds, while also just as entertaining and simple (if one were in the mood for pure cinematic escape, free from overthinking and analysis, that parsing is also available from start to finish).
"This movie won't leave me alone because I, too, fell in love with it. The first swoon was during the scene where King and Django have a teachable moment over beers in a saloon while waiting for a Sheriff to come arrest them."
I love this comment (from the FPP), the scene and the picture with the caption about the Beer Summit.

Other random thoughts/questions/observations [lots of SPOILERS ahead]:

—The end of the Alexander Dumas conversation in the study reminded me of the scene in Inglourious Basterds where Landa (Christoph Waltz again) implicitly reveals to the audience why he had asked to switch the conversation to English. I felt it was less about reminding the audience of, say, the false books exchange in the Great Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio again) and more sticking it to the character, in the context of that character's world. It reminds us that the scenes in the movie aren't just for our entertainment really, but exist for these characters as much as these characters exist for themselves. They may not even exist for the reference to other movies and their tropes (i.e., for the intertextual dialogic), it is just them and them alone. Even though the parallels can be made. It is because they can be made that the contrast exists and you see where Tarantino intends the focus to be.

—I keep thinking about the use of Jim Croce's I Got A Name paired with the scenes with the horses' names...and its polar opposite, the America song A Horse With No Name. Something going on there, but I'm not sure what yet. Any thoughts on that?

—Also, anybody know why James Remar plays both Ace Speck and Butch Pooch? The Slate Spoiler Special podcast suggests it might be a nod to some Spaghetti Western trope, but they don't really know. Anybody else got an idea? It's not an accident, I'm sure of that.

—Reading about Brynhildr on Wikipedia is fucking fascinating. Gives a whole new dimension to the motivations and backstories of Django, Dr. King Schultz and Broomhilda.

—Mentioned on the Spoiler Alert with Nick and Kevin podcast, Broomhilda von Shaft...last name a nod the the movie Shaft? I have some other suspicions about the rest of the character names in this film, but I'm keeping them to myself until I think it through some more. Some of them are a bit reaching, I think.

—There's these themes running through the film about acting, roles and breaking character. It's interesting when you go back through and think about all the manifestations of that. Every character in the film acknowledges this in some way. And there seems to be a shifting around, where sometimes the function or roles that the characters play are purely symbolic. This is just my interpretation, but for an example, when Broomhilda campily claps at the explosive last scene, I immediately thought to myself, "Oh, she's playing the audience right now. And we are supposed to clap, but we can't clap, so she does." There is a LOT of 4th wall breaking in this film, and if going with my interpretation of that scene, this is yet another one of them. Also, Broomhilda doesn't actually have a fully-developed character and this is established from the start. She's a McGuffin, a legend, a dream, the past. That is why, when she clapped at the end, I didn't take it as her playing herself, but rather what she is meant to represent. And passive viewer, i.e., audience, was the first thing I came to.

I was also reminded of Inglourious Basterds again here. Specifically, that fiery scene in the theatre. I didn't see IB in the theater but I can only imagine what it must have been like to be watching a film of a film (which has Shoshona's special, hidden film in it) positioned in front of a pile of films which are then set on fire to result in a fire in a theater which mimics the violence of the film that the characters in the film have just seen (and we have also just seen for the first time). It's so meta. There are several abstractions of the concept "film" in that scene, which are nested inside one another, Inception-style. But how these conception of "film" interact with each other in that scene is brilliant, because each one has something symbolic to say about the other abstractions in the chain — they're not relegated to saying things within their own world, much like the characters in the Tarantino universe. They are true to where they're positioned, but they have things to say about us, history, other films about us, other films about history, and about themselves and each other. (I realise I'm sounding a bit Time-Cube-y or perhaps Shining conspiracist here, but whatever.)

Point, some similar cognitive assonance (and dissonance) and abstraction going on with the scenes of blowing up Candie Land and riding off in the sunset. For me at least. I may be overthinking this.

—What was Django's bit with spinning the horse and getting him to walk fancy for? Was that a nod to something?

—There was a lingering shot when Django is watching Broomhilda being taken out of the box. It's Django up close and Schultz, Stephen and Candie and his sister in the background. It's set up like a movie still from Gone with the Wind or just about any other period piece of that time. Except that the order of the faces in this version is all reversed. It's beautiful and brilliant.

—Lastly, am I the only one who kept getting reminded of the board game Candy Land? Like, going up Gumdrop Mountain to the Peanut Brittle House and eventually to find King Kandy (and Princess Frostine) and get to Candy Castle? It's weird and WTF, yes?

That's all I got for now. But yeah, it made me think.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:01 AM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tarantino told Vulture magazine that Django and Broomhilda are supposed to be John Shaft's great-grandparents, which wouldn't be entirely unusual for him. The Hattori Hanzō character played by Sonny Chiba in Kill Bill was a newer incarnation of the same character that Chiba played in the television show Shadow Warriors, in which each season had Chiba play a different descendent of the original Hattori Hanzō, an actual Endo period ninja. And Pai Mei, the martial arts instructor, is a recurring character from Chinese martial arts cinema, and another character purportedly drawn from history.

So Tarantino has a history of writing character who are related to or are new incarnations of characters from other media. Even more interesting, the character John Shaft was created by a white writer, Ernest Tidyman, who said that he had created the character because he wanted to give black audiences a hero -- and, if you look at it in the history of blaxsploitation, it's a pretty unusual film, in that Shaft is mostly just a East Village private dick with a lot of connections (he proves to be unexpectedly comfortable in a gay bar at one point), in the way that, for a stretch of the film, Django is just a bounty hunter.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:04 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Django' Untangled: the Legend of the Bad Black Man
posted by homunculus at 9:03 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just saw Django Unchained, and I'm in love. It's pure action cinema, a kinetic Western that I feel like Hollywood has forgotten how to make. I was laughing with joy at the shoot outs.

I've mentioned the book too much, but Mark Ames free book 'Going Postal' asks the same question Leo does in the film. It turns (according to Ames) out the culture of the South made slaves internalize their slavery to the point that what few rebellions there were were stopped by other slaves. So Tarantino at least captured that reality.

I was uncomfortable with how a white character was the initial hero and died too late to just be an Obi-Wan style mentor. I also wish Brumhilda had got more characterization - we didn't even get a shot of her feet.

Local audiences loved the comic relief Australians.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:35 AM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised there's not more reaction here to the astonishingly beyond-the-pale brutality of the violence in the film. I almost walked out after that gunfight; another couple actually did.


I had a very strong reaction to those scenes. I cheered, I whooped, I hollered. I wondered why no other recent action film besides 13 Assassins was that well-shot and that visceral. I had an urge to play Red Dead Redemption for several days straight. Are there any other movies with this high quality of bloody violence?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:24 PM on February 2, 2013


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