March 2013 Archives

"Oh, My Django-ed Nerves!"

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            A few days back, the Ol' Bloviator's absolute desperation demanded that he spend a few hours away from the bottomless pit of frustration, insurmountable obstacles, and unrequited effort that is his current book manuscript. Even so, a hardnosed stickler for accuracy in any popular or artistic treatment of the past hardly seems a good match for a movie that absolutely wee-wees on practically every historical, geographic, and economic fact that it comes across. The OB speaks, of course, of the already notorious "Django Unchained," the latest Quentin Tarantino blood- (not to mention brain-and-gut) bath. Set in 1858, the film stars Jamie Foxx as the aforementioned Django, a seriously pissed-off former slave who is unloosed on the slaveholding South by none other than Christoph Waltz, who as Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist turned bounty hunter finds Django's taste and aptitude for homicide a definite asset in his line of work. Though he, too, can be a mighty violent and uncompassionate feller himself when provoked, Waltz's Dr. Schultz is far more endearing in this film than his well-mannered sociopathic Nazi--or as Brad Pitt so eloquently put it, "NAT-z"--officer Hans Landa in Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards." As a bounty-hunter who believes "Wanted Dead or Alive" clearly implies "Preferably Dead," Dr. Schulz deals in human flesh himself, but he hates slavery with a passion equal to that of any Boston abolitionist. He demonstrates as much in the impressive, steadily accreting count of slaveholders and racist peckerheads he summarily dispatches during the film, the last of them being the despicable dandy, Calvin Candie, played to ultimate repulsiveness by one Leo Dicaprio.

            It is Candie, for example, who sets his vicious dogs on his own slave for failing to achieve the soulless brutality and killer instinct that Marse Candie likes to see in a member of his prized stable of "Mandingo" fighters whose high-stakes fights-to-the death with other slaves keep his palms as greasy as his hair. (In case you are wondering if there is a history of any such Mandingo fighting, the answer is yes, but it dates back only to the 1975 "Blaxploitation" epic "Mandingo.") At any rate, Schultz and his main man, Django, have arrived at Candyland ostensibly to purchase one of Candie's prized gladiators for $12,000, a sum likely equal to the price of a dozen or more healthy male field hands in Mississippi at that juncture. Their real aim, however, is to purchase one Brunhilda, Django's wife, who has been torn from his arms and sold away to Candie. Schultz's premise for such an apparently whimsical acquisition is the fact that Brunhilda was once owned by German immigrants and speaks his native tongue and for her he offers but $300, a sum perhaps a bit shy of the going rate for such a young and attractive slave woman at that point.

            Their strategy to unite husband and wife and leave Calvin Candie none the wiser is foiled, however, not by one of the aforementioned racist peckerheads but by Stephen, the plantation's highest ranking slave who is at once a bullying, backstabbing tyrant to the other slaves and a curmudgeonly Uncle Tom to the whites and played brilliantly against type by none other than Samuel L. Jackson.

            Doubtless you have already persuaded yourself that this house of horrors and abominations cannot stand, and, in fact, you are correct. Suffice it to say that when Judgment Day arrives, it is unspeakably bloody, unremittingly pitiless, and absolutely beautiful. Think of the most bodacious cans of whup-ass ever cracked open by the likes of Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal and multiply them by about a gazillion-and-a-half. Speaking of characters evoked by the film, which took part of its title and feel from the old spaghetti western "Django," the outlaw Josey Wayles himself wouldn't have been the least bit out of place in this flick.

            Simply put, if you get a genuine vicarious satisfaction from seeing really, really bad guys get their just desserts, you will love this film. If, however, you are a stickler in the mud for accuracy in all details historical, geographic, economic, or otherwise, this definitely ain't the show for you. This much becomes apparent in the first shot of a cotton patch, which appears to have been created by taping cotton balls to zinnia stalks, and this sense is quickly reinforced in an absolutely hilarious sketch where the Kluxers are transposed to the antebellum era. If this doesn't make you break out in hives, there is the film's implications that Tennessee is just a few hours' ride from Texas. Candyland is supposed to be located near Greenville, Mississippi, which is in the Yazoo Delta well upriver from the Natchez District's mega-mansion plantation houses and overhanging Spanish moss that are depicted--and destroyed--in the film. Moreover, Greenville is identified as being in Chickasaw County, which is actually all the way across the state.

            Also, needless to say, if you are at all squeamish about nonstop violence, this movie will have you staring down at your popcorn box a great deal. Finally, if you are also concerned about showing strong moral disapproval of reprehensible behavior or practices whenever they are encountered, not only should you stay away from this film, but you should leave town even if it simply comes to a theater near you. The Ol' Bloviator, on the other hand, believes that the single strongest aspect of this instant cinematic classic is its thoroughly nonchalant treatment of the most egregiously inhumane, physically and emotionally destructive daily realities of slavery. In fact, the OB believes that the film scores such a triumph of realism in this regard that, perhaps even by design, it's obviously intentional slights to such mundane concerns as historical or geographic fidelity simply underscore the transcendent importance of what happened over when and where. When, in order to succeed in reclaiming his wife, Django is forced to look on poker-faced as one black man is forced to beat another one to death with a hammer and a third black man is ripped apart by dogs while whites regard such episodes as hardly worthy of their note, the filmmakers are nailing slavery and its world dead-on or at least as much as anyone who has never been a slave possibly could. Among the slaves, the prospects for altruists and moral absolutists were virtually nil. Wealthy slaveholders like Calvin Candie might be as villainous as they chose without fear or regret, but for slaves like Django, the ultimate price of survival was almost inevitably a piece of their soul.

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