Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Django Unchained Is Not A Good Movie

I'm in the computer age but I use a typewriter see,
I'm not behind the times it's just more authentic to me,
It's got metal and levers and clanks and zings,
the orchestra of sounds conjures-up all sorts of things,
I write what I think and I think what I say,
you like pretend but it doesn't happen any other way.

We are lucky when we're clever, 

when we stand and deliver,
our genius comes in slips and spurts,
and when we have to work too hard oh god how it hurts,
it hurts!

We marvel in dreams of authentic conversation,

that swell up our glasses with insight condensation,
but we are not as bright as we think we are,
just above the bar,
just slightly above the bar.

Let me preface everything I am about to say by stating that I am a Quentin Tarantino fan. In fact, I have directly quoted him in at least one if not more of my previous blog posts.  I hate the thought of people eventually finding this blog post, not reading it thoroughly, and then slamming me for not recognizing the genius of Mr. Tarantino.  So, to be clear Tarantino is a solid movie maker who is very interesting and often highly creative. I love many of his dialogues and I believe that several scenes of his design are of the best ever made in cinema.  In spite of all of my fanboy love my critical and active brain was not able to give Django Unchained a passing grade as a movie much less elevate it to the height of a best picture nominee.   

I could spend all day arguing the relative craptitude of all of the other best picture nominees or the craptitude of the institution of the Oscars themselves. However, I am expecting anyone reading this to be caught up with my rage for society enough to know that the status quo of what people tell you is good, is actually crap. So where could I possibly go with this argument then? If I like Quentin Tarantino and I don't respect the Oscars as a credible source for excellence in film making what is my point?  Well, I am part of society, a society that when all lumped together is stupid and apathetic. The problem with the stupid/apathetic and/or gainfully employed/productive members of society is that they do not have the time to separate the wheat from the chaff in all aspects of their lives.  While "these people" are out living real productive lives their brains are indirectly being crushed by the soulless art that is shoved into their eye holes.

It is my job as a thankless gadfly to make these atrocious oversights clearly visible so that the generic highly unmotivated masses might change their minds ever so slightly and in doing so change the course of our collective human progression ever so slightly. So let's get to it already!

Rule number one: Everyone is capable of making crap.  Creativity is neither linear nor accumulative. As a child I thought I would get to a certain age where ideas about life would come flooding in. I believed that somewhere past the age of 25 everyone graduated into a wise old man/woman and everything in life would start to make sense. Projecting outward from this idea I thought that all success in life fell in line like one might go through the grades at school. All you had to do was keep working hard and everything you did would get better and better, but, this is not the case for art.

As I alluded to at the top of the post "our genius comes in slips and spurts." What this means is that although people may be mulling over the big questions in life trying to develop keen insights on who we are and where we are going in this ocean of chaos we don't come up with this thoughts in a timely or predictable fashion. Sometimes the first album a band makes is their only good one while another band creates borderline cacophony up until their third or fourth effort.  Sometimes we tinker with and try to fix a formula that is not broken and sometimes we have to work through every terrible possibility before something useful bubbles up to the surface.

One of the problems with fanboys/girls of a band/comedian/street performer/other various talent is that our desire to praise the thing that has changed our lives blinds our ability to critically analyze the work of our heroes. This religious-like devotion convinces us of delusions like every song that a band has ever made is their best song and anyone who challenges that idea should be put to death.  A character flaw within many of us (self included) is the hope that there are perfect beings out there, gods among men who are capable of divine creation without flaw. Unfortunately it turns out that idea is bullshit. This narcissistic devotion is an attempt to assert intellectual dominance over the rest of humanity, because we need to feel superior, we need to feel like we saw something that all the others didn't see. We want to believe we have a sacred connection to something outside ourselves.

Tarantino started out by making movies that captured the style/essence of the films of his youth yet they were injected with new age cool and further emphasized with his interesting and punchy dialogue.  Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction created an entirely different genre of film one that has been referenced and mimicked hundreds of times over in past years.  The problem with art is that you cannot be a one trick pony or else you get labelled a hack.  It didn't take the world that long after The Sixth Sense to figure out that M Night Shyamalan is M Night Shamashit.  So it is understandable that Quentin as an intriguing film maker sought to diversify his cinematic expression unfortunately this is where all of the problems began.

At some point post Jackie Brown Tarantino stopped making movies that were infused with influences of the movies of his past and he started trying to make genre films.  The problem with genre films is that by design they only really appeal to people who are in on the joke or late to the party posers faking cool. Further, impersonating a style of film rather than referencing it removes almost all of the artistic integrity behind the work.  The difference is better illustrated through the idea of a band writing and recording a song and then 30 years later another band records a cover of that same song. Even if the end result is better (a very rare feat) all of the final works insight and creativity is attributed to someone else. 

Django unchained is a bad movie because it is an impersonation of a decidedly bad genre of film that leaves us with an ambiguous moral message. Blaxploitation films short of camp (read: point with disgust and laugh value) have no place in the world of cinema. By any other measure we would see Django as a poorly conceived, written and acted movie void of interesting or useful dialogue coupled with an instagram old timey photo layer effect. Seen through the sycophantic Tarantino prism however it's a gutsy, gritty modern day marvel of a film that dares to be different while shaking the foundation of our nougaty existential center. 

Inglourious Basterds gave us Hitler and his henchmen and presented them in as foul a light as possible. The audience (us) needed to hate Ze Germans so that when they were pummeled with baseball bats or cut in half with large caliber bullets we felt no sympathy for them getting their just desserts. Americans could harmonize with the idea of exacting bloody revenge on an unprompted enemy who sought only to maim and murder their loved ones. In this instance the conclusion was satisfying because the evil was distinct and at the end a sense of order was restored. 

Django Unchained attempts to apply the above formula with less desirable results. While building to it's crescendo the movie provides proficient fodder to engender a fiery hatred for the bad guy slave owners. We the audience are supposed to be okay with dogs mauling humans, overt racist taunts, mandingo fighting and whipping because in our minds we know that the evil doers will get their comeuppance. However, when the pay off finally does arrive and a bevy of racist white men lay in a pool of blood at Django's feet we don't get the same feeling of relief.

The reason for this I surmise is that even though the film is a fun, poppy, blaxsploitatious look at racism it inadvertently plays like a form of visual reparations. Americans both black and white are supposed to cheer for the black hero Django and through our cheering reveal that we have defeated racism? Yet in the end the hero was not rewarded with respect from white people or given equal footing. 

Unlike Inglorious Basterds Americans are unable to detach and objectively view the enemy because the enemy is still in many ways present within us.  It is like the difference between a stranger abusing you or your grandfather abusing you. In one respect you can compartmentalize, work through the feelings and move on. In the other instance you are encumbered by feelings of family, love and confusion. No matter how much you try to compartmentalize, the abusive relative is still very much a part of you thus there is no solace in seeing them punished for abusing you.

 The indirect effect of the movie then is that it increases tension and hostility between whites and blacks under the pretense of a feel good ending.  Like a seven year old boy who's dad let's him grab hold of the steering wheel, he feels like he's driving but ultimately his dad still has full control over the vehicle.