this is a LONG, LONG post.
in our quest to see as many best picture nominees as we can, since my beloved is really into movies, we saw django unchained yesterday. i like quentin tarantino movies, at least the ones i’ve seen – i haven’t seen grindhouse or the kill bills (kills bill? is this like attorneys general?). but i really, really, REALLY liked reservoir dogs, pulp fiction, inglorious basterds and one of my all-time favorites jackie brown. i LOVE LOVE LOVE jackie brown. i also really, really enjoyed basterds. my ex-husband and i saw it together, one of the last things we did together out of mutual desire to spend time together. he ate it up like sugar candy. he adored the fact that the jewish characters in the film were finally able to be, y’know, developed as having agency in the context of the holocaust. his grandfather’s cousin was one of the kids evacuated from germany to england to escape the holocaust, and he was tired to damn death of seeing jews portrayed as silent suffering blanks in holocaust movies. he LOVED how eli roth was so full-throatedly strong and aggressive, and how mélanie laurent was so clever in her revenge. in other words, it was a lot more meaningful and high-minded to him than just a slasher nazi-retelling flick.
from the beginning, i wondered what django was going to be. i wondered if tarantino would try to do something that, frankly, risky and daring with slavery, the way he did with jewish resistance in basterds. that was one of three possibilities for django. the second was that it would be a thoroughly insane/racist/sexist/everything-ist debacle of cartoonish buffoonery. the third possibility was that the movie would simply be an old-timey western with a slavery core.
it is my opinion that django was, and only ever intended to be, option three: a thinking-optional cowboy film.
i will stop here for a second. many people have raised some serious sociopolitical concerns about django that are valid, and are worth mentioning. and again, recall that i am a white lady from the southern united states, so that’s how i see things. i may miss some of these things. i’m going to give my opinion only, and that’s all. i’m sure as hell not going to tell you that, if you were offended by it, you shouldn’t be. i am going to tell you what i saw and what i thought about it. we can go from there.
the one social-criticism angle i feel comfortable taking on and counter-criticizing is the feminist perspective, as i am a woman-type person. django is chock-full to the brim of boys. there are four women who get to talk. none of them is central to the plot as an actualized person. a lot of fellow feminists decry this. i’m not bugged by it. here’s why. i think that the appropriate demand to make of entertainment as a whole as a feminist is not to demand that people who clearly have no idea how to tell a story about girls begin telling stories about girls. why should i demand that? it’s a second-rate way to approach the lack of good stories about girls. [not to mention that, in his way, tarantino's done three big old giant movies, out of 11 that he directed, that had full, realized and very tough women as the leads. i refer my anti-tarantin0-from-a-feminist-perspective friends to jackie brown in particular; i ADORE miss jackie.]
the way i see it, the way to get feminist concerns mainstreamed is to demand that stories that are already written about girls and women start being taken seriously in their current forms. i mean, do you want james cameron to be our in? or do you want kathryn bigelow to get more movies made that have women in the lead roles? [caveat: haven't seen zero dark thirty - i understand that jessica chastain is the star and main thrust of the movie, though by god, you'd never know that from the ads.] so that’s my feminist critique of django: yeah, the girls didn’t matter. that’s kind of a bummer; i like movies where girls are part of the story. but i also understand that stories about men, especially ones that take place in the 1850s, are not within and of themselves the problem. i’d like to see storytelling broaden to include everyone at the expense of no one.
i will say this and only this about the race/racism angle, because i do not really feel qualified to get into it. i think that if you expected more than a cowboy movie out of django, thinking it would be more high-minded re: slavery than it wanted to be, you were disappointed and probably angry. fair enough. the man, outside of this context, said that at a certain point in the movie, it just became “a tarantino movie,” and didn’t aspire to be more. that’s all i saw. he didn’t try to be lofty. he got some things straight-up historically wrong [link contains spoilers, so if you're still interested in seeing it, proceed with caution]. but from a race/slavery perspective, all i saw was a giant dose of don’t-want-to-get-into-it on tarantino’s part.
as for the n-word count, which was prodigious: if y’all really think that was egregious, i am sorry [heh] that you never got to sit down with the expanded generations of my family from the grandparent tier up. the old, poor white folks in my bloodline were ALL about some n-word. constantly. in fact, if you tipped your hand that it made you uncomfortable to hear it said, as i did at age 8 when i said, “that’s a mean word, granddaddy,” they would say “you’re raisin’ that baby to be a [n-word]-lover, [horrid redneck nickname they stuck on my daddy],” and say it more. so i wouldn’t think that the n-word count, especially once they get to mississippi, would be that far off of reality in 1858.
i can’t speak to anything else re: race in this movie. it’s upset a lot of people. i watched the movie after reading a lot of criticism on this score, and i looked really hard. i tried to notice the points people made. in a lot of respects, i didn’t. but part of that could be that, no matter how enlightened i may or may not be, i am a white woman from the south. my lens is different. maybe that’s what this dude’s talking about in his article. but part of the dismay, as i see it, is that tarantino had a really interesting opportunity to do something special re: race and slavery with this movie. he didn’t do it. and that, as they say, is that.
so that said, we’ll move on. my daddy loves cowboy movies. i think all boomer men do, at least white boomer men. from what i’ve read and learned, entertainment for kids, and boys in particular, in the 1950s and early 1960s was exclusively made of spacemen, cowboys and bullwinkle. so because of this, i’ve seen a LOT of westerns. i mean a LOT. and honestly, i am not really a fan. once you’ve seen six westerns, you have seen every iteration of the genre. and kids, django is 100% a western. i don’t care that there’s a lot of rick ross and 2pac. (which i was weirdly tickled by; a sprinkling of anachronism never hurt a movie.) it hits every note, and hits it hard, up to and including the little coda that has what would seem to be a jarringly, inappropriately silly-comic tone. it wasn’t trying to be what basterds was.
what django and basterds both did REALLY well, and one of tarantino’s BEST qualities in my opinion, is the way he demonstrates the seductive power of psychotic violence. in basterds, it was colonel landa; in django, it’s calvin candie. you know the whole time that both of these men are bad guys. but in both cases, the evil is institutionalized and slickly glamorous. both landa and candie are high-class, high-status, genial and comfortable in their power. and in both cases, at pivotal moments the masks fall off and the true savagery both possess comes flooding out in terrifyingly sudden bursts. and like a switch, flipping on and off, the explosion ends and the mask goes right back on again. that is quite a talent: in the midst of spectacular, cartoonish violence, you’re jolted by the performance.
christoph waltz is amazing. there’s no question. i’m bummed it’s taken this long for us to get to see him, because he is a phenomenal actor. i think tarantino did a really interesting thing with his character in django. it was interesting to see how a bounty hunter, so comfortable with killing and blood, made his way through the naked brutality of slavery. (and in this situation, jamie foxx has just a KILLER line, one that zinged through me, about waltz’s relationship with slavery and americans. ohhhhhhh, man, was it good.)
and it was really fun, when you get right down to it, to watch jamie foxx be a cowboy. there were TONS of black men who were “cowboys” in recorded history. TONS OF THEM! but really, aside from buck and the preacher, posse, man and boy, and a few herbert jeffrey movies, i can’t find any hollywood depictions of this that weren’t, well, horrifically titled borderline minstrelsy. [fred williamson made one with a name i can't link to at work, because our web filter blocks racist language.] it’s not a high-minded goal, to see cowboy movies reflect reality, but it was cool.
i’ve written a lot of words about this movie. it’s full of thought-provoking details. on balance, i think it succeeded at what it wanted to be, which was a cowboy movie. there’s a small but very interesting thread of german mythology running through it too, which was a fun wrinkle. and i giggled my head off in places. [jim croce's "i got a name" was used to a really neat two-leveled effect, the second prong of which didn't hit me until much later.] it wasn’t inglorious basterds; that movie tried harder to be bigger. but in a weird, sprawling, hyper-violent way, it’s a small movie about a small story. it didn’t aspire to be much more than a slick, well-made horse opera. i’m really glad i saw it.
ok, friends: i’ve had my say. what do y’all think?