Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is my favorite living director. Even so, I have been waiting for one of his films to disappoint me, and considered the possibility that this would be the one. I'm happy to say that nothing about Django Unchained disappointed me. Tarantino has made another eccentric, original (how is it possible that some people claim he has no originality?), exhilarating, and emotional piece of cinematic collage.

This won't be a full review because I simply have too many thoughts on this film. But, most importantly, he has managed to graft an entertaining adventure story onto a historical period rife with atrocities, and he has managed to keep the integrity of both. That he does this while also including b-movie tropes, Mel Brooksian humor, rap music, and such a high level of craftsmanship is truly a feat. It's a beautiful film, filled with memorable shots, all rendered, of course, without any computer help.

This is the first Tarantino picture that takes place before the advent of cinema, the first picture in which he cannot directly reference movies (there are endless indirect references). Yet, there is a definite meta-reading of this film in which Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), the German bounty hunter, "directs" Django into his role of a movie hero. Schultz sees it as a re-telling of German legend while the audience sees it as the birth of a movie hero. This has become a constant theme of Tarantino's: this idea that all the characters in his film are battling for center stage, are battling to be the lead role. What makes this movie redemptive is that the black cowboy and the slave girl ride off together in the end, stars of their own movie.

I will admit that I think Sally Menke's unfortunate death last year affected the editing of this picture just a little bit. At least to my eye. Even though the editing booth had a sign up that said "What would Sally do," and even though Fred Raskin did a good job, I felt that Menke would have tightened it up a little. A small quibble.

What's next for Quentin Tarantino? He's talked about doing a 1930s gangster picture but I would love to see him do his 1960s spy caper. He still holds the rights to Modesty Blaise.

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