Monday, January 7, 2013

One more thing about Django Unchained...

Okay, there was one more thing I wanted to add in my review but maybe it takes a little longer to explain. Unlike Quentin Tarantino I am a bit more versed in spaghetti westerns than so-called "slavesploitation" movies like Drum (although it has been sitting in my Netflix Instant queue for a long time) and Mandingo, I am sure that cinematically-speaking, Gone With The Wind has been put on cinematic blast before, particularly in the late 60's and 70's.  But it seems like it took someone like Tarantino and with his pedigree (and let's face it, because of his name) to put it on blast in  a more major way than a lot of those B and exploitation movies used to. (Of course, Tarantino's knowledge about all these genres is, to put it mildly, pretty extensive).

What do I mean by all that? Well, first to start, I think Gone With The Wind is important and worth acknowledging but overrated. Setting aside the fact that rape was a fairly big part of the "romance" between Rhett and Scarlet there are other issues that I think Tarantino, at the very least, helps to give the lie to. These are all from Margaret Mitchell's book and the movie: Blacks were happier as slaves, plantation life was idyllic, the Confederacy were the god guys because the men that fought for it were always perfect gentlemen. All of it bullshit, of course, and all wrapped up in an "epic" movie like "they just don't make any more". It always gets brought up as one of the greatest movies of all time, and while it's well acted and beautifully shot it is highly problematic.

In a lot of ways critics of Tarantino can probably say the same thing about Django Unchained, and while it might not be wholly successful to many, part of the reason I liked Django Unchained is the idea that he tries to show what a lie that movie and Margaret Mitchell puts forth. And that lie is basically that old lie about the Plantation South being the "good old days" instead of being a disgusting system rife with atrocities. Tarantino adds the sweet plum of slavemasters being killed off of course, it is a revenge fantasy, and while it might not be able to convey just how horrible slavery really was (which would be really hard) I think it takes steps to show just how twisted of an enterprise it really was. As well as showing, no matter how they dressed or attempted to act like some bullshit aristocrats from France or something, how deeply corrupt the people who owned an traded slaves were. Of course this film is set a couple years before the Civil War, but no matter really. It looks as good and you don't have to deal with Margaret Mitchell Pro-Plantation horseshit.

Now, some might say, "But it was a different time, you can't expect people in the 30's to share our modern views." Well that really depends: is the view that blacks in the South were happier as slaves because they knew their role? Is it the view that though the men of the Confederacy were naive, they were ultimately gentlemen, unlike the brutes that fought for the Union who ruined the purity of Plantation life? Is it the view that even freed slaves preferred a life of servitude over emancipation? This is not only revisionist, but at best apologist and worst supremacist.

Look, I know that Django Unchained could certainly come under fire for being revisionist. But even with all it's B-movie/spaghetti western trappings and anachronistic music, at least it is somewhat more truthful about what life was like for people in the South, and that that Southern aristocracy was not only built on atrocities but also on lies. (I think of the Alexander Dumas mention/moment...) So perhaps not historically, but, in a way, cinematically Tarantino gives the lie ultimately to what the filmmakers did so man years ago with Gone With The Wind, and how because it is so "grand" it still sits up there as "one of the greatest movies" but beyond it looking nice and being acted well, there is a lot there that is, for lack of a better term, a turn off.


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