4 February 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Racists



Because I live in a predominantly white area, racism is just something I don't understand. I think there must be one black family who live near-ish by and whenever I spot them I have to stop myself from staring. Not because I have any ill will towards them but because it's just so rare to see someone here even slightly darker than pure cracker-white. In fact the only exposure I really get to what racism might be like is the abuse I receive from my friends. On the Dulux skin colour chart I would say I'm only a shade below Wookie brown but even that's enough for me to be the group’s 'token darky'. They've never said it out loud but I know that if we lived in a horror movie they'd expect me to die first out of a simple respect for the rules. 

Thank fuck he's dead.
As everyone will be aware, Django Unchained is a Western that deals with the subject of racism and slavery. Director Tarantino has actually been referring to this as ‘a Southern’, due to it's location but I think that's more because he arrogantly just likes the idea of inventing a new genre. So the Western begins with the bounty hunter Dr King Schultz freeing Django, a slave who can help him identify his current targets. In case you can't tell by the name, Schultz is a German, but don't hold that against him. Played by Christoph Waltz, the bounty hunter has to be one of Tarantino's more likeable characters which isn't difficult when he's surrounded by a country of bigoted pricks. My knowledge of slavery isn't exactly expert but from what I can tell, America in 1858 was basically the large scale equivalent of a smoky, working men’s club in Salford. It's as though the past is some alternate world in which society was run to the abhorrent values of some ignorant fat shit like Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson. For any non-Brits, those two are basically what racism would look like if it grew a layer of slimy flesh and an unsightly pair of man tits.

So Schultz makes two promises to Django, if he will aid him in finding his targets. The first is that he will allow the man his freedom and the second is that he will help him find his wife Broomhilda. Apparently slaves back then weren’t allowed to get married but some people just don't want to do as they're told. As a result, Django and his wife were split up which is a punishment that ironically most married couples would these days relish. As it unfortunately turns out though Broomhilda now belongs to DiCaprio who treats slaves with sheer malice in an attempt at win any acting award that he can. Therefore Django and Schultz are forced to go undercover with the aim being to infiltrate his plantation and get her out. So basically this movie is simply a cross between the underrated Miami Vice and the overrated Blazing Saddles.

Over the years I've regularly found myself slagging off Michael Bay and Tarantino but for significantly different reasons. As a director, Bay is the evil king sitting proudly atop a back catalogue of unfiltered shit and depressingly high profits. Tarantino on the other hand is a film-maker who used to be brilliant until he started to believe his own hype. Bay pisses me off because he can't make good films whereas Tarantino annoys me because he could be doing a lot better. Like a manipulative parent, it's not that I'm angry- I'm just disappointed. Although.. I am angry as well...

I do not need to see that face on the big screen.
Like everyone with at least two working senses, I think that Pulp Fiction is clearly brilliant and Jackie Brown an absolute masterpiece. The reason something like Death Proof irritated me so much was because of how indulgent it was. It was overly long, boring and too derivative of shit movies that we've all tried to forget. If I wanted to watch grainy footage of forgettable actresses screaming I'd probably just check out porn. In Jackie Brown, the dialogue was expertly written to sound like it belonged to its cast of mixed characters. In Death Proof however every syllable sounded like it belonged to a person who if interviewed might threaten to shut someone's butt down. Although, if there's one thing more irritating than everybody sounding like him, it's Tarantino's insistence on cropping up in his own films. Watching one of his movies is like walking home in the dark when there's a rapist on the loose. You're just constantly on edge waiting for the moment of horror when he jumps out with his massive fucking chin.

Having now seen Django Unchained, it's obvious that it's certainly not his best film but nor is it his worst. In fact for the first couple of hours, I really enjoyed it as the two main characters travelled around bonding and shooting the crap out of people. It kind of felt a little bit flabby like a fat girl in need of a corset, but fuck it- it was still good fun. The problem was that after a while it just started to go on and on and on. Without giving too much away, the film seems to climax in a pretty cool shootout and then appears to end in an ambiguous Butch and Sundance kind of way. This would have been fine but then the movie kicks back in and goes on for what felt like another nine days.

"You call that an accent?!"
To make matters worse, the scene in this surprise fifth hour is bloody awful. So bad in fact, you wonder if the people involved had been held hostage and this was their way of warning us that something was wrong. I'm a huge fan of Wolf Creek and so got a little bit too excited when I heard that John Jarrett had been cast in this. But when he turned up, he was in the company of two other people. One was Michael Parks and the other was fucking Tarantino. Michael Parks always pisses me off because he mumbles so much I genuinely can't understand a word he says. It's as though every line he delivers is dubbed by Kenny from South Park whilst wearing Bane's breathing mask. But before I could even care about that, Tarantino had opened his mouth and shocked me with the worst performance I've ever seen. I mean- fucking hell- I've never been a fan of his 'acting' in the past but this was something else. The man can have the greatest actors in his movies and yet he repeatedly casts himself as the only person who struggles with his own dialogue. This time however, he decided to stretch himself by playing an Australian. I say Australian but that's only a guess based on the fact that John Jarrett is hovering silently somewhere in the background. As accents go, this is Aussie via Essex after a stroke and being punched in the throat. It's so bad that I forget everything that had happened in the last two and a half hours and just sat there in absolute shock. Considering the film should have ended by now anyway, this was like watching the Captain of the Titanic get to America and then hitting the iceberg because he decided to do a few more laps.

On the bright side, all of the other performances were brilliant and if anything I appreciated them even more after his film-destroying cameo. I also actually thought that a popcorn movie was a brilliant way to demonstrate the horror of what something like slavery must have been like. There's a scene in which two black guys are forced to fight which is genuinely horrible. Beyond the fact that the awfulness is brought home with some unexpected realism, there's also an added layer of guilt in that I had been looking forward to seeing a fight. It's kind of like when you jokingly get two tramps to wrestle over some crack and before you know it one of them has slit the others throat. No matter how much you tell yourself you aren't to blame you'll still feel a tiny bit responsible.

"I did this for you, Oscar!"
I don't think that this kind of film trivialises the issues but instead probably presents them to a larger audience. Paying to see a poe-faced lecture doesn't seem quite as appealing as a film in which DiCaprio self harms for an Oscar and smears his blood over the rest of the cast. I also don't think there should be any controversy about the films use of the word 'nigger'. I know in general Tarantino seems fairly obsessed with it but here is a genuine reason for its use. Nobody is arguing that people back then used the word less than is presented in this film so really- what's the problem? I suspect it's just another example of society trying to hide its shame by passing the blame onto cinema. I'd mention the constant accusations of movies encouraging gun violence but I could probably write an entire blog on why that's complete and utter shit. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. But people kill people a hell of a lot easier when they have access to guns. The only film that's made me want to kill was Battlefield Earth and that's only because it was so bad I felt like topping myself to forget.

In the end though, Django Unchained is exactly what you'd expect from a Tarantino film. It's got a great soundtrack, brilliant acting, mostly witty dialogue and is indulgently long. It kind of pisses me off the way he steals shots and music from other people’s movies but here, he mostly gets away with it simply because the characters are so strong. That last point goes both ways though so I don't sound like I'm picking on just him. In Ridley Scott's American Gangster he stupidly uses Bobby Womack's Across 110th Street which thanks to Jackie Brown couldn't belong more to Tarantino if he pissed on it and shoved it up his arse. I know QT stole that song from a film of the same name too but fuck it; it's hard to find anything completely original in one of his movies. Because of his cinematic kleptomania, he has been referred to a 'DJ director' but lets face it- that's not an excuse that would stand up in court is it? If I refurbished my house with furniture I'd stolen from mates I couldn't use the excuse that I was a 'DJ Interior Designer' no matter how nice the room ended up looking.

Don't say anything...
Despite all that moaning though, I did genuinely like the film which for the most part was really good fun. I'd be curious to know what any black people actually made of it because it seems that for the most part it's really a bunch of well meaning honkey's getting angry or defensive on their behalf. As mentioned at the start- with me being a middle-class and mostly-white chap, I really don't know what the fuck I'm talking about when it comes to prejudice. When I was about eight-years-old I curiously asked an Asian girl why she had a moustache which resulted in her calling me a racist but if anything I asked with admiration and jealousy. As a brief introduction to slavery, this film was genuinely a real eye opener and if anything added to my confusion. I just don't understand how people can be so cruel simply based on the colour of somebody’s skin. If we're going to start making ignorant snap judgements then why focus on black people? There's an entire country of French people that we've just been allowing to live in freedom for far too long.


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