Tuesday, April 9, 2013

django unchained, a second viewing

i try to see every Quentin Tarantino film at The Castro in San Francisco. it's a big beautiful old theater with an organ player and the kind of ceilings that are 200 feet tall and inscribed with gold detail and an art-deco chandelier that hangs precariously over the audience. the type of place that you can watch Lawrence of Arabia one night and see Peaches Christ present Scream 4 another. it is, with out a huge amount of research, my favorite theater in the world. i once told CC that i'd move to The Castro only to be closer to the theater. 

Tarantino himself has claimed it to be his favorite theater in the world, and I had this in mind on Sunday afternoon when I sat down for a second viewing of last year's Southern masterpiece Django Unchained. I'm a huge fan of the film and have found myself in hotter critical water than I care to be at most times defending it against the slack-jawed, mouth-breathers who claim it to be insensitive or, and my blood boils just writing this, "racist". I'm easily wowed by quality filmmaking though and I thought maybe upon second viewing I might be able to better see what the dimbulbs of film viewing thought was true.

I was, happily, wrong.

A few thoughts on Django Unchained:

1. It is a major, major travesty that Jamie Foxx wasn't nominated for Best Actor at this year's Oscar ceremony. Foxx's portrayal of freed slave Django Freeman is one of the great portrayals of the hero-journey ever captured to film. What starts as a quest for violent retribution becomes the story of a changed man, it becomes the story of the end of slavery to be quite honest and Jamie Foxx, near silent in the film, wears the entire transformation on his face, in his body, in the sheer physical confidence he exudes throughout the film. Moments before the credits roll, when Jamie Foxx quite unexpectedly pulls out a few horse tricks atop Tony, his trustful steed, you know, this is a man done changed, and Foxx makes you believe every second of it.

2. This is not a racist film. This is not an insensitive film. This is a beautifully made bit of cinema that deftly foots the line between the humorous and the horrific. Yes, there are horrible moments (the mandingo fight at The Cleopatra Room the hardest for me) and yes at times they are sandwiched between moments of caustic humor and hard-fought action, but Tarantino doesn't use these to make the horror more palatable, he uses it to make the horror all the more terrible. By placing it in the context of a b-movie, he gives an easy, highly entertaining gateway for people to walk through, only to be buffeted by a great film that doesn't shy away from a terrible period in this country's history. This isn't a film making light of slavery, it's a film giving a broader access to the sheer horror of it all. It's good, solid, beautiful fun, with the darkest underbelly of all seething below it. 

3. The first time I saw the film I worried that it might be too long. That the dinner scene where Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) goes crazy was too much Tarantino-speak, but on second viewing, it's a slow crank, a bit of real tension and unease that directly mirrors the atmosphere the audience must be feeling at this point. Our heroes aren't just locked away inside the 4th biggest plantation in Mississippi, more so they're locked in the South, surrounded by slavers and deeply racist, deeply violent people with little to no escape if their plan goes awry. The dinner scene is the tightening of the screw, each moment another build towards the shit hitting the fan and everything going wrong. Tarantino doesn't waste time, every moment of this film is important to the story, and every moment massively enjoyable.

If you haven't seen this film yet and are worried about gore or violence, buck up kiddies, this is a film people will be talking about when you're pushing 100. Get out there and see it or look back in ten years and say what was I thinking.


criterion counsel: kicked off film #130 ...

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