Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Django Schmango and no other stories

I went to see Django Unchained on Sunday. I'd been itching to see it since its release and was so excited I brushed my teeth.  The film has split opinion amongst my peers and I was eager to form my own conclusions to toss into the opinion-ring. I love Tarantino and thought it had to be a sure-fire winner. In my mind, all the folk who had bad-mouthed it must have just missed the point or found the ridiculous elements too jarring, or been slave-trader symapthisers, or something.

That's my shit
It was a truly gross, storm of a day. Wind and rain lashed against Brighton seafront and my hangover was a soft, dry flannel between my face and the world. Perfect cinema conditions, basically.
Me and RC leapt eagerly from the taxi (it was raining and we were both feeling flush, this isn't how I live) and split into two groups, she hit the tickets, I hit the popcorn and jalapenos. Within moments we were snuggled into the warm, spacious, front-row seats of the Brighton Odeon, stuffing popcorn and peppers into our grubby faces. Things were good.
But then, about half an hour in, something became amiss. Popcorn quaffing had slowed and we were both shuffling uncomfortably in our seats. This happened a few times throughout the movie and it was only in the storm-buffeted debrief, en route back to RC's, that we were able to exorcise the Tarantino-demons.

For anyone that doesn't know, Django Unchained is set during the slave-trade era in Southern America. Django is a slave who is freed on the condition he assists a bounty hunter, Dr Schultz, with the tracking and killing of three slave-traders with bounties on their heads. Django and Schultz become firm friends and together they attempt to free Django's wife from the most excellent and horrible baddie, Calvin Candie. QT's B-movie adoration is all over the movie; heads explode, cameras zoom, plot devices abound. The whole story is delivered tongue firmly in cheek and for the first half of the movie it works real good.

BUT. Can I make that BUT any bigger? If I could, I would, that's a big 'BUT', ok?


The images of whippings, beatings and other horrific elements of the slave trade were really getting to us. Wet blankets? White guilt? I had a good mull on it and I don't think so. Tarantino LOVES violence, right? His films are not only violent but take great pleasure in the violence within. Fuggin A. I have no problem with violence in movies and when it's stirred in with QT's trademark dialogue and characters it makes for a thrilling brew. But in Django Unchained, the violence is really, really unpleasant. It's not cartoon violence. It's historical violence. This bad, bad shit really went down. Women are flogged with bull-whips and QT puts us right there, up close, in the action. I don't think for one second that film makers should pander to the popcorn, Haribo, brain-at-home audience, but the relish with which we are presented these images makes for very uncomfortable viewing.

Roy Morgan thought it was bullshit, too.
'But it's a revenge thriller!' I thought to myself. 'I have to HATE these people. QT's using the slave-trade to hook my emotion-fish and reel it in. Uncomfortable or nay, I am most certainly engaged, I want these men to suffer. Django is my own angel of retribution, and he is cooool.'

And then, (SPOILER ALERT!), and this is where QT missed the point for me, the baddies, or at least the main baddy, the men that you have spent the last hour hating, despising, LOATHING, the baddies just get shot. Pop. Dead. Done. That's not revenge. That's BULLSHIT!

And so begins the tagged-on extra bit where Django gets recaptured and has to do it all again. Except now there isn't any able-bodied bad-guy you give a toss about. It becomes a pointless shoot-em-up game with a cool protaganist, who actually ends up being a bit of a douche-bag, and loads of screaming.

So what was all that horrible, flogging stuff about? The slaves forced to fight to the death? The dogs being set on runaways? The masks, the brandings, the chains, the hot-boxes? The tongue in cheek, ludicrous elements of the film make very, very uneasy bedfellows with the horrors of the slave trade. Tarantino's deliberately toying with us there but it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and a furry tongue, and I know it wasn't my hangover because I was drinking lots of water. My problem isn't the setting of the movie, my problem was the pleasure QT took in delivering the graphic details without any clear or effective purpose. And maybe the reasons I mentioned above were Tarantino's reasons for presenting us such nastiness. Maybe he just wanted us to be behind Django 1000,000 %, to really, truly hate these bad guys, so that when they get their comeuppance, we leave sated and happy that vengeance has been metered out.

If this is the case, he failed. The film failed. Maybe he just doesn't give a toss and loves all violence indiscriminately and sees making films as a way to get loads and loads of money and doesn't really care about them being good and Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglourious Bastards, Jackie Brown etc were all humungous flukes. Maybe he got bored or tired half way through the script and just had a big bloodbath-wank.

I didn't like it, basically. It's worth seeing though. You will form a strong opinion one way or the other.

I don't want to end on a downer so to go back to the second paragraph, I think the world needs to know this; salted popcorn and jalapenos is the sheeeit. You want one small jalapeno, or half a large, for each fistful of popcorn. I know it sounds crazy but it's revolutionised my cinema-going experience. Check it. If you're going to see Django Unchained though, just get a medium popcorn. You'll probably lose your appetite about an hour in.

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