Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Some Thoughts on Django Unchained

As I wrote in my December round-up post, Jeff and I have been talking about Django on and off for the past weeek, but I hadn't spent any significant time thinking about it on my own. That is, not until I stumbled upon this great blog post:

I got the link from Roger Ebert on the twitter this morning (we're good friends). A bit later, I saw Hannibal Buress retweet it via someone else, so I'm sure plenty of people have visited/read that site today. And what a great read it is. If you haven't checked it out yet, I would encourage you to do so.

Anyway, first I want to focus a bit on Blazing Saddles. It's funny...when I saw those words in the Big Media Vandalism post, of course I immediately thought of Jeff. And then when I got home from work, Jeff told me that Brandon texted him to poke a bit of fun in saying that someone dismantled his Blazing Saddles argument. I'm pretty sure that was the only thing about the BMV post that I disagree with. I'm sticking with Jeff mainly because the Don Johnson/Jonah Hill KKK scene is pretty damn silly.

Now it's not as if the comedy in that scene came out of nowhere....both in terms of Django and Tarantino's other films--Inglourious Basterds is funny, Death Proof is funny, etc.--Quentin has a great sense of humor and he knows how to incorporate comedy into his films, no matter how dark the subject matter is. And there are a handful of humorous moments in DU before and after that aforementioned Don Johnson scene.

Also, I know no one is shitting on Blazing Saddles here, but I still feel like it should be said that comparing the two should not be seen as an assault on the work Tarantino has done with Django.

In Odie's round 3 post, he does make an excellent point about the differences between Blazing Saddles and Django Unchained. In the former, the people of Rock Ridge can't believe their eyes when they see a black man wearing a badge; in the latter, the people of (I forget the town's name) are stunned and angered by the sight of a black man on a horse. Fair enough, Tarantino's film resembles the zeitgeist a little bit more. But I still wouldn't say it accurately depicts what would've actually gone down back in the mid to late 1800s. The reality probably would've seen someone coming at Django to kill him, just for riding a horse.

So for me, unless I'm missing something, that's where the argument ends up--Quentin's movie isn't as much of a comedy as Mel Brooks' (there are clear differences), but they both handle racism and slavery with comedic gloves. And sure, both movies are funny. Though I admit that there were times, sitting in a theater surrounded mostly by white people, where it felt a little strange that everyone was laughing. This was mainly during the scene where the townspeople are scared and pissed because Django is riding a horse. (I thought the humor in the "how should I treat Django?" conversation between Big Daddy and Bettina was done very well.)

Here's a stupid Blazing Saddles/Django Unchained comparison...but I'll only make it because it'll serve as a segue for me--the directors both cast themselves in their respective films. I didn't really have a problem with Quentin putting himself in his movie; as we all know, he's no stranger to that. Sure his accent was terrible, but I didn't care too much about that either. What bothered me was, as Jeff wrote, how easy it was for Django to escape from him and Michael Parks. In a way, it ties in with what Django learned from Dr. Schultz--that he if speaks confidently and clearly, he can talk himself out of a jam. Fine, but really, the only reason why that scene exists (in my mind) is so that Django can get his hands on some dynamite.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to see Candie Land blown to high hell and, but to tack on an extra twenty minutes just go it could happen seemed sloppy.

But I had no problem with the showdowns. This was something I've been thinking more about today--Dr. Schultz has to be the one to kill Calvin Candie and Django has to be the one who kills Stephen.

In Dr. Schultz's mind, Candie is the worst kind of scum. I love the scene where Schultz tells Candie that Alexandre Dumas was black. And I haven't seen much talk of that handshake scene. It was one of my favorites because in that moment, Candie becomes the unpredictable villain I expected him to be throughout the film. Granted, he does have a moment of unpredictable villainy when he threatens to bash Broomhilda's skull open with a hammer.

But I digress....was Candie just looking for a handshake? I asked Jeff after we saw it in the theater. I'm not sure if he's still sticking with this answer, but he told me that he thought Candie was going to kill them. It does make sense, and you'd almost expect it given, in his mind, the hell he'd been put through by Schultz and Django. But I disagreed and I wanted it to be the case where Candie was just looking for a handshake.

In that scenario, it gives more power to Christoph Waltz's character and to the decision he makes. All he has to do is shake Candie's hand and he's gone. He's safe. But no, Waltz loathes and is so sickened by this man that he cannot help himself; he must kill Candie.

In Django's mind, most people are the worst kind of scum. But then there's Stephen, a new kind of scum...a black man who, through spending his entire life serving a rich, white people, has grown to hate and destroy other black men and women. It's conceivable that through his upbringing, Stephen would grow to love the Candie family and hate anyone who would try to hurt or cheat them.

The feeling is mutual for Stephen. He sees Django on a horse with clean clothes and it tears him up inside. Stephen's mind has been so warped and polluted that he instantly identifies Django as his enemy. There's an obvious tragedy to that but the fact remains, Django has to be the one who kills Stephen..but not before he gets to witness Django walking out of the front doors of Candie Land to Broomhilda.

The ending is a spectacle (complete with dressage). It was the way to go, but it was dragged out far too long. And as the Big Media Vandalism post rightly points out, even though the credits roll, it'd hardly be the end for Django and Broomhilda; unfortunately they would be hunted for the rest of their lives.

So while the link at the top of this post got me thinking more on Django Unchained and got me to appreciate it a bit more, I still stand by the idea that it was ultimately disappointing. I've seen better from Tarantino and I agree with Brandon's thoughts about where he should go from here.

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