As America’s future position on the world stage becomes increasingly uncertain, some of its prominent filmmakers have retreated to the country’s past with high budget epics, which have been major players in this year’s award season but, at the same time, given rise to controversy. Kathryn Bigelow tackled America’s recent history in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ with the dramatisation of the ten year manhunt for Osama bin Laden and provoked absurd allegations that sickening scenes of human degradation somehow glamorise torture. Just as John Ford turned to Abraham Lincoln for a timely biopic when America was under pressure internationally at the outset of the Second World War, Steven Spielberg has given us a portrayal of the 16th President during these troubled times, which has prompted a debate on artistic interpretation/fictionalised elements in history filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist western, ‘Django Unchained’, notionally starts one year before ‘Lincoln’ and two years from the start of the American Civil War and makes no attempt at historical verisimilitude but like, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, has caused outrage in its presentation of the unacceptable; this time slavery.
Tarantino makes his intentions clear in the film’s title, a very specific reference to the brutal revenge hero of Sergio Corbucci’s cult spaghetti western, ‘Django’, which spawned one official sequel and over thirty others and received outright bans in the UK and Sweden. It places us firmly within Tarantino’s territory; extreme violence, irreverence and plenty of outrageous myth making and post modern posturing that tests the patience of film censors but somehow remains on the right side of the line.
Jamie Foxx plays Tarantino’s reincarnated Django, now taking the form of a black slave on a chain gang in the Deep South, whose fortunes change dramatically when he encounters another Tarantino genre-twisting amalgam, Dr King Schultz, a German dentist- turned bounty hunter. Christoph Waltz, who received an Academy Award for his portrayal of Col. Hands Landa in Inglourious Basterds, returns as Schultz and excels playing the human extermination machine but one with charm, elegance and a delicious moral compass of the twisted kind.
What a superb set-up this is? The pair team-up against the odds, roaming around ‘Searchers’ style but there is none of Ethan’s conflicted racism. This is two men on a mission interpreting ‘wanted dead or alive’ as ‘dead with serious bloodshed’, and united in making a stand against the Klan and repugnant Southern Fascism. Joyfully playing with genre conventions, Schultz becomes the German liberal – geometrically opposed to Col. Hands – who brings Django’s innate ingenuity to the fore but, thankfully, without overdoing the teacher/pupil bit that can so easily replace one form of superiority with another.
Things come to a head when the ‘partners’ arrive at the feared Candyland, the cruelest plantation in the South. They search for Django’s lost wife, Broomhilda, a German speaking black slave, making the most of an absurd Mel Brooks style cross cultural irony, blatantly playing with Wagnerian connotations of proto-Nazism. Django raises the ante when arriving on horseback – unheard of in these parts – fully dandified in blue silk, jubilantly mocking the grand dress code of the Southern elite. Foxx pulls it off to a tee, giving Django a knowing stare and a fearless menace that simultaneously fascinates and appals Calvin Candie, the repulsive plantation owner.
Leonardo DiCaprio, working with Tarantino for the first time, serves up a mesmerising blend of Southern chivalry and controlled sadism in a chilling portrayal of Candie, who gets his kicks from bare-knuckle slave fights to the death. The appalling spectacle resembles a dog fight but any link to slavery is a pure cultural invention, given mythological currency in Richard Fleischer’s controversial ‘Mandingo’ almost forty years ago. It’s just the kind of post modern concoction that appeals to Tarantino, of course, bordering on the gratuitous and, yet, taking on a potent symbolism, which, ultimately, makes a point.
But it’s the characterisation of Candie’s trusty head servant, Stephen, that has put the cat amongst the pigeons. Tarantino favourite, Samuel L Jackson, is outstanding as the demonic ‘Uncle Tom’, who is not only wholly subservient to Candie but hell bent on preserving the absolute oppression of the black population. It gives rise to obvious and uncomfortable questions of responsibility and leading black filmmaker, Spike Lee, has led the chorus of protests, even refusing to watch the film. This is a controversy that will remain unresolved, inevitably, but when viewed as a whole, it is difficult not to see Stephen as anything other than a symptom of the abominable excesses of the dominant group. Although Tarantino was pushing his luck with this typically daring provocation, white oppressors always come across as odious and detestable cowards, fully deserving of the treatment that Django dishes out.buy viagra online ukcheap viagra 100mgbuy viagra online canadaviagra 100mg price
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