Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)

“The D is silent.”

I’d rather listen to Quentin Tarantino talk about cinema than watch one of his movies. Like Alex Cox , also a devotee of the ‘Spaghetti Western,’ Tarantino is a great critic but his films feel like cover versions of whichever genre he happens to be working in at the time. Here he is discussing Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-Wai), a movie he helped bring to the attention of US audiences back in the day.

However stylised they may be there is an emptiness to Tarantino’s movies. They mean nothing. They say nothing. Tarantino never makes you think or makes you care. Django Unchained is no different even though it does deal with slavery, but in such a simplistic way it is no more condemnatory than Kill Bill is of Yakuza crime syndicates. Slavery is just a plot device to allow Tarantino to indulge his love of Blaxploitation movies and for the first hour Django Unchained is entertaining enough as loquacious dentist turned bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christophe Waltz) frees Django (Jamie Foxx) from chains and enlists him in a hunt for three fugitive brothers. Once they are done with this and set out on a search for Django’s missing wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) the film becomes an interminable battle of wits with camp Southern gentleman Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his loyal manservant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson, just…fucking hell).
‘Spaghetti Westerns’ provided an outsiders view of an American genre with a subversive disregard for conventions and a strong sense of social injustice. Damian Diamani’s A Bullet for the General (66) epitomises this contrast between a love for American culture and left-wing idealism. In Diamani’s movie a Mexican bandit played by the great Gian Maria Volonté, a Communist in real life, chooses revolution over his money-making partnership with a charismatic US government agent. Corbucci’s wintry masterpiece The Great Silence (68) has its gunslinger hero (Jean-Louis Trintignant) prove ineffective against the state-sponsored bounty hunters working to protect the rights of landowners. While Leone turned his gunslingers into mythic figures his political views were cynical. Any form of authority was to be mistrusted and even the closest of friends could turn on each other as in this key sequence from A Fistful of Dynamite in which an IRA volunteer (James Coburn) realises he has been betrayed.
For all the controversy over race Tarantino’s approach to the material is surprisingly safe. Basically he’s made The Help with six-shooters. A film which deals with racism but locates it firmly in the past and makes those who participated in it seem ridiculous. With all the economic, religious, and political chaos going on at present surely Tarantino could have found some way of fitting those concerns into Django Unchained. The fairly standardised woman in peril plot just makes Tarantino’s film seem so very small in scale despite its epic length. 

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