Django – Chains and Guns

The key to a film’s success may be casting — yet the timing of a film’s release can be just as important.  Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino‘s latest  gunfest, is rallying an audience, just as proponents of gun control are calling for stricter regulations, while gun and ammo buyers are emptying the shelves.  Please let me know if you can figure out a correlation.

A Spaghetti Western, Heavy on the Red Sauce (With a High Lead Content)

If there’s any justice in Tarantino’s blazing revenge saga in his homage to the magnificently operatic Italian-language Django (1966, dir. Sergio Corbucci), it comes from the barrel of a gun.  And if the guns aren’t enough to make this film objectionable to the civilized world, the N-word is everywhere.

This avenging of slavery is adolescent in its mockery, although it might be reassuring that Tarantino has a far larger repository of stories and formulas inside him that most adolescents can draw on.

Think of the allusive Pulp Fiction, only this time Tarantino’s tale is rural, and instead of a tangle of road movies intersecting in Los Angeles, this one has a long linear trail – The Searchers? Everything with Tarantino is some kind of movie quote, and I don’t mean that as a criticism – at least, not necesarily.

Think also of the historical revenge saga, as in Inglorious Basterds.  Not to give too much away, but when slave Django (Jamie Fox) and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) are caught trying to escape (way back when this story is supposed to begin), they are whipped and scarred, and then sold separately. As wild and frenzied as the revenge scenes in this bloodfest are, there’s more than testosterone wish fulfillment to them, unlike the fiery justice imparted to Nazis in Inglourious Basterds. Expect fire here, too, though. You can’t get away with a flame-free homage to Spaghetti Westerns.

This is not a film that you’re supposed to like – to teenaged, too violent, too smug, too enclosed in the world of cinema. Much of it will still be fun if irony is your thing. Christoph Waltz fits the ironized updated SpagWest picture if you accept that an Austrian might have a place in such a story – witty, delicately verbose, courtly in his mockery, the slight man whose weapon is the polished rhetorical turn because he can’t rely on his fists to win an argument. Jamie Foxx holds up in close-ups as he marches deliberately toward destiny, the guy who welcomes getting his hands dirty because he’s spent a life being dragged through the dirt. My favorite is Samuel L. Jackson, the traitorous Stephen, the iconic monstrous collaborator who ties his fortune to that of the master race (it probably seemed like the right idea when Stephen saw anyone uppity get whipped.) Pulp Fiction alum Jackson talks anachronistically (in the 1850’s) like a villain out of a Tarantino spin on Blaxploitation – which is exactly what he is. Tarantino won’t be recognized for writing a part with such treachery in it, but he should be.

Franco Nero in the 1966 Original

Give Tarantino his due with this one – then see the extraordinary original Django (available on Netflix, and also in release from Rialto Pictures.)

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