Quentin is at it again, creating his own cinematic reality for us all to play in. This time Quentin focuses upon a pre-Civil War American South. He creates a legend of DJANGO UNCHAINED. Technically unrelated to those Spaghetti Westerns… until you notice the viscera in the gun fights, which goes well past Leone or Peckinpah and lands firmly in the blessed gory zone of Sergio Corbucci… if not even a tad further.
Quentin’s DJANGO UNCHAINED is my favorite film he’s made.
I grew up in the macho Blaxploitation films of the 1970s… I saw at the Drive-In everything from THE SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY to TAKE A HARD RIDE to KID VENGEANCE… Along with the more modern day Black Empowerment films. In the Seventies, I grew up with magnificent leading men like Jim Brown, Jim Kelly and Fred Williamson. I saw MANDINGO & DRUM on initial release, but… as much as I’ve loved this genre of film… they were made on the cheap. The writing and acting was entertaining, but not particularly fulfilling. They made me believe in the notion of African-American Heroes. I could see these heroes fight for their rights and the rights of their brothers & sisters and I loved it.
Here, Quentin takes those Western Blaxploitation films and combines it with the SOUTHERNS like MANDINGO & DRUM… but… frankly, he just does it way the fuck better than they’ve ever done this type of Exploitation.
People that want to get offended, if you want to see the film that will really offend you, try ADDIO ZIO TOM aka GOODBYE UNCLE TOM… it came out the year I was born in 1971 – and when I played it at BUTT-NUMB-A-THON several years ago – it actually offended me. And you all know that I’m about as cinematically deviant as they come. Gold hands. That’s all I’ll say.
Quentin has made a film about an empowered slave named Django. He’s collected by what at first seems like a traveling Dentist that comes across some Slave Trading folks in the woods one night. This is Dr. King Schultz, now my favorite Christoph Waltz character… yes, even greater than Hans Landa. Waltz plays a bounty hunter that needs Jamie Foxx’s Django who had been previously owned by a trio of evil bastard brothers. You see the great Django is the only person that Waltz knows that can identify them. So he frees Django, but then finds himself in a precarious ethical quandary, because you see Dr. King Schultz despises slavery. It repulses him. So he strikes a deal with Django, that if he helps him bag these 3 bastards, he’ll be paid and set free.
It’s best not to have the twists and turns of DJANGO UNCHAINED spoiled for you, but it is also my job to talk about the film. So do realize that I may go into some spoilers. Before I do – let me tell you, this is a supremely entertaining story about one man born a slave who goes on to write a different story for himself. It is kinda like SPARTACUS without being like ARENA with Pam Grier.
For a goodly portion of the story, we’re with Christoph and Jamie as they bag various bad men for the loot they represent. You see Dr. King teaching Django how to handle himself and we see that Django was born to kill. He not only has the motivation, but he cherishes the notion that as a man bearing the whip marks of his fellow man, that by becoming a bounty hunter – he found his purpose in life.
There’s more to Django than killing though. Django has a love. A forbidden love. Married in secret. He might be separated from her, but often his Broomhilda is in his thoughts. Ever present in his mind. Cinematically this is shown, but I began to attribute it to a look on his face.
As the film goes on, Django changes. He ceases to be a man that looks at his feet and the ground, and becomes a fully engaged person. Once he gets a taste for that, once Dr. King is motivated to help him free his wife and take on Django as his partner in Bounty Hunting…. Well, there’s no going back.
When the film becomes about the specific mission to rescue Broomhilda… once Dr. King sees that this young man he has taken in, is actually upon a quest straight out of his beloved DIE NIBELUNGEN… and that Django is in actuality a surrogate SIEGFRIED, he takes it with a degree of Nationalistic Pride. As a German, he is duty bound to help Django free his Broomhilda from the Dragons of the South.
Enter Calvin Candie as brought to life by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s my favorite DiCaprio character (at least until Gatsby, but even then I predict). Calvin Candie has been raised generationally as a slave owner. Now as the head of the family, he has turned his family home into CANDIE LAND, he breeds and trains Mandingo fighters. Slaves that were pitted against one another. Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King pretends to be someone that wants to enter the pit fighting arena. He introduces Django as being his expert judge of fighting stock. And their charade has begun.
Money is the carrot – they must play their parts perfectly and then they’ll save his precious Broomhilda… but with all men on a mission plots, shit goes wrong – and the one thing they did not count on was Samuel L Jackson’s Stephen.
We’re not given a terrible lot to know about Stephen, but if we take a look at the context in which his character is framed, we know that he has raised Calvin Candie from birth and that perhaps even before that, he could very well have been Calvin’s father’s personal slave. We don’t know. But we do know that Stephen tends to be the Mr. Carson of CANDIE LAND. Stephen is proud of the home and the traditions that he keeps alive there. He isn’t just a happy house slave that we’ve seen in many a vintage film. Stephen is dedicated to Calvin. More than that, he looks out for Calvin’s best interest. When Dr. King Schultz and Django show up, Stephen can smell the game. He’s instantly suspicious. As house help, he’s able to notice things and not be noticed.
I love Sam Jackson. When the shit that goes down goes down – and the horror that he expresses. People have been calling him one of the great screen villains, but I don’t see it that way at all.
Slavery is a beyond fucked up thing. But Stephen’s character shows the truly fucked up side to SONG OF THE SOUTH. To me, I give Stephen the Uncle Remus back story. Calvin Candie could totally be a grown up Bobby Driscoll. And Stephen no doubt told him and his sister stories growing up. I absolutely believe that Stephen loves Calvin. And their scene in the library flips their entire relationship upside down. NOW – having said all that, SONG OF THE SOUTH takes place on the other side of the Civil War in Reconstruction, Which is why Uncle Remus could be dismissed by the ignorant whites that he worked for.
Yes, I’m relating to cinematic characters written by Tarantino via other characters that I’ve seen in films not directed by Quentin… but I also know that that’s how Quentin thinks. These characters are an extension of a cinematic memory.
The film has SONG OF THE SOUTH in it, just as it has SOUL OF NIGGER CHARLEY, Spaghetti Westerns, MANDINGO & DRUM and yes, even GONE WITH THE WIND. This is Quentin’s comment upon that cinematic history. This is what he adds to the jambalaya.
This is Quentin taking an entire history – a fictional history & adding to it. Making a film so cool, that it will hopefully open up a level of appreciation for films like King Vidor’s HALLELUJAH! At the same time, I know that the film will offend folks that don’t want to imagine this particular era, the language of the era or the violence of the era. Me – I’ve always sought this stuff out.
There’s a whole history of cinema that’s out there – and Quentin does a wondrous job of playing with it. When the shit hits the fan, he has the most fun with it.
This brings us to the thought – should we as Americans be having fun with something as abhorrent as our shameful history?
In my opinion, absolutely. I feel there is a weird healing process to be sitting in a movie theater with your fellow filmgoers of every race and creed and cheer for a hero like Django.
When I saw DJANGO UNCHAINED, it was upon my birthday, December 11th, 2012. I was ecstatic when I saw that the screening was set for December 11th. The theater, a screen far too small for the number of people that wanted in, was filled with critics and film aficionados here in Austin.
We laughed & cheered. We were horrified by some things, but mainly by the end we were thoroughly exhilarated. That Quentin could transfer his brain of cinematic insanity so perfectly… so deftly – that the running time felt too short, rather than long. By the time the story was over – I couldn’t think of a single thing I could add.
I’ve thought a lot about Django Unchained. The only thing I would have wanted would have been if at the very end, you’d seen Django go to the Mandingo area and get the 3 badasses there and recruit them into his own All Black Bounty Hunting group of badasses. But that would only signal my own desire for Quentin to create more films from this root. With KILL BILL, he made me wish that he only made badass kung fu flicks. With INGLORIOUS BASTERDS he made me want him to just make more and more Nazi fighting movies. With PULP FICTION, I was dying to see Sam Jackson walking the Earth having adventures afterwards.
After this, I just want a whole series of films that show the good Dr and Django cleaning up the scum of the South. I’ve only seen the film once thus far, but I can tell you with absolutely certainty, that simply won’t do. Quentin makes films worth memorizing. This is no different.