Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Take On Django Unchained

FWIIW: Here is my amateur's take on Django Unchained, being a reworked expansion of a comment I made yesterday to a FB friend right on seeing it.

...Some say Django Unchained is fantastic. I'll say it has some of that in it in the sense of containing the fantastical.

I agree with the presence in it of many good things people see in the movie including:  it's very funny; it's a great epic story; it makes loving, funny use of exploitative B genres; it's got vital, wonderful acting; it's long but not overly  long, the length giving it an epic quality; it exacts cinematic revenge on the the treatment of blacks throughout cinema; it in effect makes Clint Eastwood over into Jamie Foxx; it has racial catharsis of a kind; the dialogue crackles; for cineasts, I'm not one, it's loaded with nods to, homages to, and echoes of, iconic cinema; it's extremely self conscious; it lets the righteous emerge victorious and sends the racist villains to bloody, fiery hell; generally, it buzzes with  energy and is irrepressibly, irreverently  entertaining-irreverence multiplied by itself.

It just so happened that the morning of the day I saw Django Unchained I heard a NPR rebroadcast of an hour long interview with Toni Morrison--who my eldest daughter did her Honour's English graduating essay on, and whose writing and novels I don't much like for their stiff prose, humourlessness, irony deficiency and unrelenting somber seriousness. Correctness multiplied by itself.Tarantino is quite the opposite in his manic playfulness, his radical irreverence, his in-your-face incorrectness--at times, it seems, just for its own sake, his refusal to let any seriousness take any dominant role.

Maybe Tarantino and Morrison are bookends of a spectrum that might want Morrison, for example, to lighten up some and not be so in love with her own heaviness and might want, for example, Tarantino to heavy up some and not seek to wink at, and send up, most of what he touches. (There is some of that Morrisonian heaviness in Spielberg too, which bothers Lincoln a little, but he's such an alive  film maker compared to her lifelessness as a fiction writer that Lincoln is just too good to be reduced to a joyless artistic fate.)

And that's my problem with Django Unchained, for however much I enjoyed it, which was a lot, a lot, up to a point. I try to think of what I ultimately get or take from the movie; I look for its moral vision, its unflinching representation of the terrible history it reprises and means to present in a stark and original way. I get and take away instead, ultimately, the fantastical exploding the serious--the ludicrous shoot outs and explosions at the end, for example--replete with ironic winking at everything,  which buffer the horrors Tarantino wants to portray and his audience, in a new way in film, to take into itself. Tarantino destroys any meat of seriousness by slathering it with his barbecue sauce of winking and joking and slick, easy, glib dialogue and ironic tongue-in-cheek exaggeration and cartoon violence and multiple insider nods to this and homages to that.

In a nutshell, all his hip, ironic nodding and winking combined with the ending apotheoses of cartoon-level violence explode any pretence to seriousness, depth or moral vision Django Unchained might want to possess, leaving the brilliant sizzle drowning the meat.

In the end, in my view, on the evidence of this movie, I'll give, as I  have, Tarantino his props for his movie making skills, his screen writing, his humour, his narrative control, his energy and irreverence, his expertise and love for the vast range of cinema itself, other things. But I want to claim that in his art Tarantino is a moral idiot.

And for those who worry about a toxic culture of violence in an America awash in an insane number of guns of incredible lethality and in permissive laws about them, they might consider the relation between Tarantino's movie and the very toxicity rightfully decried...

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