Django Unchained – Tarantino and the Spaghetti Western (film review)

“Ever with grief

and all too long

Are men and women

born in the world;

But yet we shall live

our lives together,

Sigurth and I.

Sink down, Giantess!”

Helreið Brynhildar (Broom-Hilda’s ride to Hell)

Exploitation films have this wonderful retro look now that we’re all PC’d-past and grown our brains to incorporate awareness. In some ways, poking fun at our schlock forebears is a little grim, but then it’s also a way of poking fun at ourselves and the odd things we were brought up to believe and now have the mental capacity to question. Quentin Tarantino has established himself as the master of this, looking back on the exploitation films he loves so much with warmth and a comic eye.

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Personally I like him best when he’s doing this. I like films like Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown and The Kill Bills when genre is adhered to and surpassed in that larger than life Tarantino way he has about him, thrashing his way all over the screen. Django Unchained is definitely an energy fest, filled with that loud thumping kitsch music, that witty dialogue (there is a wonderful scene when the Ku Klux Klan discuss how difficult it is to operate effectively while wearing masks) and spaghetti western.

Lots and lots of Spaghetti Western.

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Tarantino, A white director often slammed for his attempts at black politics, keeps the politics to the visual in Django Unchained, preferring to use love as the great motivator for all that violence he has to fit in somehow.  It’s a white man who can’t bear the way black men are treated in the South (point of irony – a Western held in the Great South) and a white man who will ultimately make the first move(s) in protection. However, this works, because Django is the slave, he is living it. His battle for l0ve, for his wife, is his rising above in a situation where he is powerless.  This is a time when it is illegal for Blacks to marry because they were mated strong to strong in order to produce better slaves. Phrenology is a ‘science’ given a lot of time in the film.  To fall in love and spend one’s life defending that love is an act of deep subversion – as (in my opinion) all great acts of love are. Tarantino wisely leaves all the judgement up to us.  And he depicts scenes of oppression I have not seen in any American “slave depiction’ films before.

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By making a film look so large, Tarantino has a talent for bringing images close to home. He cuts into the passive viewing experience such that one feels closer to the action, almost as if you were reading a book.  I have rarely seen the black slave trade and the keeping of slaves in America shown in such explicit, horrifying detail. It’s a fictional tale that uses real events to bring us closer to an inexcusable era. In a year after Django and Broom-Hilda end this film, the civil war will begin in the States and many things will change and many things will remain unchanged.

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All seriousness aside, however, this is a film filled with all the things we love (and love to hate) about Tarantino. In my opinion it deserves all the hype – well all the goofy academy award type hype anyway.  I think I’d be a bit pissed if a film like this beat Amour or Holy Motors at Cannes. Tarantino says that he believes in god because writing comes so easily to him there must be a higher power up there making it happen (!) and I confess, you can tell that this is all very easy for Tarantino. In many ways his greatest asset is not a benevolent god blessing all his films, its the absence of any real competition.  He’s damn lucky there’s no Eisenstien, Kurosawa or even a Melville breathing down his neck. He gets to stand on the shoulders of Corbucci in a flat lifeless ocean. With an audience hungry for a dose of cool with our intelligence, Tarantino gets gobbled up every time like a delicious caloric meal.

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We’ve come to love his films punctuated with those wonderful “you-tube-clip” scenes that stand alone in their fun and playfulness, and Django Unchained has plenty for the hungry viewer. There is a particularly great scene in with Tarantino himself, Michael Park and Jon Jarret – the southern Gothic horror replaced by the Australian Gothic horror.  Tarantino’s accent is so terrible you’re not sure if he’s playing an Australian, a South African or a South African pretending to be an Australian. But the scene is very clever, funny and “Tarantino-esque” (a word that is in my dictionary).

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I recommend it for those who are happy to lie back and take it from Tarantino. Lets face it – that’s most of us.

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