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#601744 - 01/08/13 09:46 PM Re: tarantino's django unchained [Re: Charles Reece]
Peter Urkowitz Offline
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Registered: 08/28/00
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Loc: Salem, MA, USA
Well argued and stated, Charles. Nice work!

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#601745 - 01/08/13 09:51 PM Re: tarantino's django unchained [Re: Peter Urkowitz]
madget Offline
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Registered: 05/11/01
Posts: 4870
Your analysis was in some ways more interesting the film. I liked your very alternate take on the scene in which Waltz attempts to save the would-be runaway, and your contrast of his and Django's differing ends. I saw it merely as clumsy writing resulting from weak characterization, but you make a good argument for the arguable merits of it.

Originally Posted By: Charles Reece
Thus, the film is an abysmal failure at addressing the other ensemble of questions Wilderson delineates, the prescriptive: “How does one become free of suffering? [Those] questions concerning the turning of the gratuitous violence that structures and positions the Black against not just the police but civil society writ large.” [p. 126] By giving the story a revenge motive, Tarantino reduced the suffering to a personal level, a subjective violence that one person might do to another — kill the oppressor, stop the oppression.


S'true, but then again QT's answer to Jules' theological deliberations in Pulp Fiction was for him to decide to "walk the earth, and get in adventures," like a TV character he enjoyed. Tarantino's characteristically been far better at digging unflinchingly into situational dynamics, than in providing moral insights. On the other hand (and tangentially) the majority of QT's characters are so thoroughly, almost fetishistically, driven by pragmatism that the introduction of compassion becomes inherently interesting. Mr. White's in RD, Jules' in PF (and Pumpkin's seemingly sincere submission to it), the bond bailsman's in JB, etc. There's always these little threads of compassion playing a subtle and unusual tug of war with both the logic of pragmatism and the conventions of genre simultaneously. Morality in QT's films seems to be centered around self-sacrifice, mainly. But revenge and pragmatism triumph as often as not. I still love Butch's sequence in PF in part because of how amazingly this recurring tug-of-war between compassion and pragmatism peaks. Then again, I think Roger Avary wrote that part.

Anyway, this said, I agree Jackson's character is cartoonish in DU. I thought he was great, but you couldn't help but feel: "Aw, that's all they're going to do with him?" Missed opportunity. I'm not sure I entirely agree with your overall critique of Stephen's function, though ... something there's not sitting quite right for me. But I'll have to mull it a bit, nothing I could articulate off the top of my head.

K

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#601760 - 01/13/13 10:36 PM Re: tarantino's django unchained [Re: madget]
Jimbo Offline
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Registered: 07/13/01
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Loc: New Zealand/Canada
I liked it.
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#601776 - 01/16/13 12:12 PM Re: tarantino's django unchained [Re: madget]
Charles Reece Offline
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Registered: 08/18/99
Posts: 10013
Loc: us of fuckin' a
Contrary to Spike Lee, I think you can make a genre film with slavery, but QT fails because of the way Stephen fits into the narrative structure. In some ways, I think QT touches on moral issues about genre and movie making more than most, but his cinephiliac focus can occlude moral understanding, too. That Butch segment is, to me, one of the weaker segments in his films once it gets to the hillbillies, but it does get to the contrast you're talking about, I guess: it shows a sense of honor and morality (Butch saving Marcel), while also using cartoonish movie stereotypes (the buttfucking hillbillies). On the other hand, part of the problem I have with it is it doesn't say anything particularly interesting about honor other than what it borrows from some macho movie tropes.

As a moral critic, if he is one, QT's stance can't be separated from movie mediation. Moral questions are always about how morality is reflected in movies.

Thanks, Peter.
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#601777 - 01/16/13 06:19 PM Re: tarantino's django unchained [Re: Charles Reece]
madget Offline
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Registered: 05/11/01
Posts: 4870
Maybe you have more experience with the buttfucking hillbilly genre than I do, but like most things in PF, I thought it took that scenario onto a whole new playing field aesthetically and tonally, in ways I'd never have expected. Same for the macho honor stuff -- sure I've seen two enemies put aside their differences in the face of an even greater threat or evil, but never quite with this level of intensity, or with such a tight eye on the "choice" aspect. Normally it would be entirely obvious. Here, it isn't so clean cut. Butch could leave Marcellus to his fate; he is about to; he stops, and we see him struggle, and consciously make the decision to turn back. What I mean isn't so much the contrast as you describe it, but the complexity of Butch's decision in terms of the motives behind it. On the one hand, yes, there's a question of the Man Code: to leave a man to his death is one thing, but to leave him to the indignities of sexual torture and servitude of the kind faced in that scenario, well ... that would be beyond the pale. In that sense, yes, Butch feels he has a moral obligation to turn back. But there's also another layer at play, which is that of this being a way to get out of the "debt" Marcellus is pursuing him over to begin with. If he left Marcellus to his fate, Marcellus might escape on his own, or might not -- but the debt would remain. The level and nature of the danger still remaining to Butch over having ripped Marcellus off, would be unknown to him. By saving Marcellus he takes a calculated, strategic risk, wagering that it will earn him forgiveness/reprieve of his debt. Even if it didn't achieve that, Butch would still now have the upper hand, and control of the situation: he could still kill Marcellus himself, after all, as he would not have hesitated to do prior to their mutual capture. Either way, Butch gains something: he knows where he stands, with regards to Marcellus Wallace and the un-thrown fight. It's a moral choice and a pragmatic (even selfish) choice at the same time. And not an easy choice even with both of those things going for it, a credit to the bleak shock value of the situation.

Bruce Willis is at his best in this sequence, because -- for me -- I see all this clearly playing out in his head, etched on his face, and carried through in the tone of his actions as the sequence plays out. It's not all just one guy saving another from malevolent faggotry. It's a complex situation, but the complexities are transmitted with -- despite the sequence's obvious excesses -- quite a bit of subtlety and care, not to mention impeccable timing (something DU's set pieces sorely lacked).

As for Stephen in DU, I don't know. I get your point about the movie's central evil -- slavery/racism -- being a problem that can't be sufficiently addressed with a one-off revenge scenario that takes place on a single plantation. We can more easily accept that the death of Hitler pretty much brings the atrocities associated with World War II to a grinding halt; Django isn't going to have it that easy. The problem is more complex and not at all centralized around a single authority figure the way the extermination of the Jews was. If the atrocities of WW2 had a face, it was Hitler's. The atrocities of slavery had no such single external face; it had only the face of the slave himself. However, I'm not sure the focus on Stephen is ultimately as inappropriate as you argue, for just that reason. There is something about the notion of selling out one's own, that is not only powerful in general, but particularly relevant to slavery in the sense that in many cases it was blacks selling blacks to the whites, to ship over to America to begin with. I realize that's a simplistic lens, but it is a uniquely heartbreaking part of the whole picture, and one echoed faintly in the decision to make Stephen the greater arch-nemesis. The horrors inflicted by whites are horrible indeed, and depicted as such; but "otherness" is understood as a troublemaker in the realm of human nature in general. To inflict those same horrors upon your own people, to give them up to that fate to save your own skin -- is beyond the pale. This said, I do agree that Stephen was not as richly mined as he could've been, as a character. Surely he has had a very difficult life himself, and probably some very hard and complex situations led him to where he is. That's all great soil left criminally untilled by QT here. But had it been tilled, I think it only would've made the selection of Stephen that much more interesting as the film's true arch-nemesis, as opposed to less.

K

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