Wednesday, March 6, 2013
But several African-American friends recommended it and wanted to see what I thought of it, and then I found out just recently that a few old friends of mine are in it. So, someone loaned me the disc and I watched it on my laptop and have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Not that the movie didn't in the end (and sporadically throughout) give in to the Tarantino movie-violence-is-justified-if-it-references-movie-history indulgence. But it did serve as an antidote to decades of Golden Age Hollywood genuflecting at the altar of "Southern honor" not just in movies directly about The Civil War like GONE WITH THE WIND where slavery is seemingly loved by the slaves etc., but indirectly in too many Westerns and other historical genre flicks that indulge the jive myths of Southerners somehow defending a genteel and honorable way of life and not just defending the idea of other humans being property.
So Tarantino uses the Spaghetti Western format, as well as some other genres including the Southern myth ones mentioned above (combining the Western hero and sidekick genre with the antebellum plantation genre and turning them on their heads) to make a pretty clear point about not just the cruelty of slavery, psychologically as well as physically, but also the lack of a black perspective in these genres historically (except for the exploitation flicks that Django also mines like MANDINGO).
There's a lot of controversy, at least among the Black Blogosphere, about a white man being the one to do it (Spike Lee was particularly pointed in his angry criticism) and maybe because I'd heard so much about the violence and the "N" word usage I ended up not being put off by either in the context of the movie fantasy, and actually found it less aggravating then when Tarantino used similar devices in other movies (the violence in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and the overuse of the "N" word in PULP FICTION etc.).
The main failing for me is the screenplay, which works amazing well in combining irony and brutal unirony to make some scenes crackle in a pretty unique way, but at other times is just cliched in a way that seems easy and indulgent. But in the end I was glad I watched it and impressed with a lot of it, including my old friend Dennis Christopher's performance (you might remember him best still from BREAKING AWAY when he was younger). Who really surprised me was Kerry Washington who should have been nominated for something for the accuracy of her portrayal of the fear and pain and despair a slave must endure, Samuel Jackson as the ultimate "Uncle Tom" in the worst way, and Leonardo DiCaprio who looked ridiculously miscast in the few snippets of scenes in the trailer but who was actually very successful at creating a full if despicable character out of what could have been a cliche.
I'd love to see a young black filmmaker address slavery in a more realistic film, but not Spike Lee because in his own way he has proven himself to be the predecessor to Tarantino, not with the violence or the abuse of the "N" word, but in the gaudiness of his imagery and story telling, ala MALCOLM. But for now, DJANGO UNCHAINED will do as a much needed corrective to too much of historic Hollywood's treatment of the pre-Civil War South.