Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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The Right Dreams for Fire and Mountains

Like the Spaghetti westerns Tarantino seeks to emulate, Django Unchained is beautiful, brutal, in "bad taste", and intensely satisfying. It's more accurate actually to say that it lacks taste than that it has bad taste--or rather, as Oscar Wilde said, "An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." As Tarantino himself said, when responding to a question about whether he disagreed with his character's decisions in moral dilemmas, "I never, ever relate or touch base with Quentin when I'm writing my pieces -- people can say to a fault. I follow the characters wherever they want to go." This is one of my favourite quotes from an artist in years*. It's probably a big part of why all the characters in his movies work so well, and what makes this Spaghetti "Southern" so satisfyingly complex in tone even as it's thematically simplistic.

As Tarantino acknowledged realising in making this movie, however horrible he might portray slavery as having been in the old American south, it was impossible to approach how horrible it actually was. As I watched the film, I found myself thinking, "I bet Spike Lee doesn't like this movie." Sure enough, I found he'd gotten into an astonishingly petty argument on Twitter about it. Lee very clearly takes himself extremely seriously and in his very attitude about it shows why Django Unchained is a more effective way of discussing slavery than what he's doing. "American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them." One can unpack a lot from this statement--he feels the format of the Spaghetti Western demeans serious subject matter. Since Spaghetti Westerns dealt with real issues in American history as well--a big part of The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly is the horrors of the Civil War--we can assume either he doesn't like Spaghetti Westerns or he doesn't know very much about them or he didn't think very much about what he was saying. But what it boils down to in any case is that if the audience enjoys a movie in a visceral way, it can't be a respectful portrait of its subject matter.

Django Unchained is certainly viscerally satisfying, its action scenes are brilliantly constructed, as always in a Tarantino movie, and compositions are beautiful. Most importantly, it's the improbable tale of a former slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) managing to take vengeance on the people who oppressed him, his wife, and everyone else who shares their skin colour.

Assisting him in this is Christoph Waltz as Schlutz, a German bounty hunter who shows Django the ropes of killing for money. Just as the audience is inspired and sensually elevated by the experience of watching Django Unchained, Schultz feels that myth elevates the soul of humankind, as evidenced by his love for the Nibelungenlied as he tells Django the story behind his wife's name, Brunnhilde.

Was life in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages really like the Nibelungenlied or other tales of Brunnhilde? No, and that's probably why people loved them. It did what legends are supposed to do, empowering the listener, gratifying his or her needs that can't be met in reality as well as validating them through the shared aesthetic appreciation.

By not being what is considered a serious movie, Django Unchained is a human movie. Because that's the point of the sort of rhetoric Spike Lee is extolling--to keep people at arm's length. The pain has become holy and untouchable to him.

Like Siegfried, Django is no perfect hero, either. That would be remote, untouchable, too. He has to go through fires of moral compromise, but complexity makes the conclusion even more satisfying. The most effective part of the movie involves plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) ordering a slave to be torn to pieces by dogs. The ways in which Schultz and Django respond to the incident, both immediately and later, provide an abundance of fuel for character dilemmas. And helps the whole film to be an honest confrontation and a spiritual rebuke of slavery.

Tarantino has long used music by Ennio Morricone from other movies. This was the first time Morricone actually composed something for a Tarantino film and I must say it's some of the best music Morricone's made in a very long time. I doubt even Spike Lee could listen to it and think it demeans anyone.

*it's from this excellent interview.
Tags: america, brunnhilde, christoph waltz, django unchained, jamie foxx, leonardo dicaprio, movies, myth, nibelungenlied, quentin tarantino, siegfried, slavery, southern, southerns, spaghetti westerns, stories, united states, westerns

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