Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Django Unchained.

When I did the introduction for the screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) for the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club a couple of weeks ago we discussed at length how his movies are known for various characteristics. These include extensive and diverting dialogue, an ironic mix of humour and violence, a strong storyline and a host of cinematic references, some obscure, some more obvious.  This week’s film is no different; Django Unchained (2012) has a strong dialogue driven linear narrative, in contrast to the circular narrative we saw in Pulp Fiction, which is only interrupted when bouts of gross violence take place. Like his previous body of work, the film veers back and forth between humour and violence, a film where your never sure if you should be laughing or cringing?

Dr King Shultz with his apprentice bounty hunter.
The cinematic references in this film are very interesting especially for lovers of spaghetti westerns.[1]. Tarantino has been quoted as saying that his main inspiration ‘pretty much began and ended with Sergio Corbucci’. Corbucci made thirteen dark and brutal westerns, with characters portrayed as sadistic anti heroes. These westerns were famous for a very high body count and scenes of mutilation. Generally they were not as well known as Sergio Leone's world-renowned Dollars trilogy and none of them truly cracked the American market but they were very popular in Europe. The best known of these was Django (1966). This prototype spaghetti western was adjudged to have set a new level for violence in westerns. The film was banned out right in the UK, unable to get a BBFC 18 certificate until 1993 and downgraded to a 15 certificate in 2004. It was influenced by Akira Kuroswa’s Yojimbo (1961) as was in fact Leone’s For A Few Dollars More in 1965. Yojimbo in turn had been influenced by American westerns like High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953)[2]. Incidentally Franco Nero, who stared in Corbucci’s film as Django, has a cameo appearance in Django Unchained, which also shares the main theme music with the original. Two other Corbucci westerns have been sited as an influence for the film, The Great Silence (1968)[3] with its bleak winter snow passage’s, and Navajo Joe (1966) a racially themed western that Tarantino credits with ushering additionally realistic violence into cinema. Mix these with blaxploitation movie’s like 1975’s Mandingo, a blunt sexual saga about slave masters, traders and lovers, and the crudely named The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972)[4] which is about an enslaved blacksmith granted freedom on his masters deathbed only to be goaded into living as an outlaw by his hatred of a loathsomely depicted white society.

Tarantino references classic Corbucci westerns including The Great Silence (1968) 

Django Unchained begins in 1858, three years before the American civil war and five years before the Emancipation Proclamation. Two ruthless guards are transporting a group of shackled slaves overland; they are stopped by a German bounty hunter, Dr King Shultz, (Christoph Waltz) who is looking for a particular slave that can give him information about the Brittle Brothers. That slave turns out to be one called Django (Jamie Fox) who Shultz takes with him after killing one of the guards and leaving the other to the ‘mercy’ of the remaining slaves. When Django turns out to be a useful assistant, the good Doctor agrees to help him find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who, it turns out, is one of Calvin J Candy’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) house slaves on his vast Candyland Estate.

Because of the award winning Sally Menke’s premature death Fred Ruskin took on the editing duties, a man best known for editing three instalments in the Fast and Furious franchise although he had worked as an assistant editor on the Kill Bill films. The soundtrack as usual comprises a variety of music genres, but relies heavily on spaghetti western type music. 

Jamie Fox with Franco Nero.

As normal with Tarantino’s body of work this latest film has again raised areas of controversy. As with Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown (1997) the heavy usage of the word ‘nigger’[5] was criticized by some commentators, including film director Spike Lee who accused it’s use as being ‘disrespectful to his ancestors’ but defended by others pointing out that the word was part of the historic context of race and slavery in the United States. It’s arguable a film that deals head on with the full extent of slavery, its bottomless obscenity and violence, and bravely attempts to show the full vileness of this evil trade. A subject of which modern Hollywood’s film making machine is traditionally nervous. The filmmaker Michael Moore commented, "(Django) is one of the best film satires ever? A rare American movie on slavery and the origins of our sick racist history."

The lovely Broomhilda.

Secondly some reviewer’s criticized the film for being too violent raising the old chestnut about whether there is a relationship between screen violence and actual acts of violence however I’m afraid that Tarantino’s films would not be the same without it! Incidentally the planned premiere of Django was postponed following the mass murder of twenty young children and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut on the 14th December 2012 an event that I would say had more to do with America’s liberal gun laws than Tarantino’s films.

The not so lovely Calvin Candy.

This western, which follows three-crime dramas, two Asian influenced action thrillers, a slasher action thriller and a war film, could be seen as a companion piece to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012). It received very positive reviews and included one that I think sums up the movie "Bold, bloody, and stylistically daring, Django Unchained is another incendiary masterpiece from Quentin Tarantino”[6] certainly his best work since Pulp Fiction. It was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay (Tarantino). At the 85th Academy Awards, Christoph Waltz won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, after already having won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor and Quentin Tarantino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, after having won the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay and the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film has been commercially successful, grossing over $380 million in theaters to date.

It's goodbye to one of the Brittle Brothers!!!

[1] The classic period for these westerns was from 1963 until 1973.

[2] The Magnificent Seven is a 1960 American western film directed by John Sturges. It is a western-style remake based on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai, which in turn was influenced by John Ford’s westerns.

[3] The movie features a score by Ennio Morricone and stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Silence, a mute gunfighter with a grudge against bounty hunters, assisting a group of outlawed Mormons and a woman trying to avenge her husband (one of the outlaws). They are set against a group of ruthless bounty hunters, led by Loco (Klaus Kinski).

[4] It had a sequel called Run Nigger Run (1974). Both films featured Fred Williamson.
[5] 110 times in Django Unchained

[6] Rotten Tomatoes

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