Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino (USA 2012) Jamie Foxx; Leonardo DiCapprio; Christopher Waltz
Viewed: Empire Cinema Newcastle upon Tyne Ticket £3.60
Viewed on the budget ticket night (Tuesdays) the cinema was full of people eating buckets of popcorn and trays of Nachos.
Set in 1858 in Texas and the Southern States of the USA, the only surprise in Tarantino's (QT) latest confection of stylised violence, Django Unchained (DU) is that no one uses a mobile phone. They would certainly come in handy from time to time in the old West and raise a laugh that would cut above the corn. These days it's almost cruel to deny the cowboy a touch screen, when every other anachronism is OK.
DU is a movie that exemplifies the notion that film has little left to express beyond revisiting its own past and history and engaging in replication and recreation of itself out of its previous forms. Otherwise there is not much to say about DU or QT. Excepting that its bloated length and etiolated stretched out structure is not sufficiently justified by QT's ambition of revisiting almost every style of Western from John Ford and Hoppalong Cassady through to Lars Von Trier, Arthur Penn and John Sturges. It's a belly full o beans as Mel Brooks might have put it, who is paid extensive tribute in the faux KKK scene which is another anachronistic farrago (laboriously and mechanically executed).
DU's narrative is simply a device to enable QT to work through a sizeable number of action and sound images that reference the Western genre in all its poly-variant glory, whilst simultaneously exposing them to the distancing mechanism of dialogue and attitudinal gloss embedded in contemporary discourse. In relation to the referencing two areas of the film stood out: the film score in itself, and the landscapes and backgrounds.
DU's score is a key to the way in which the film psychically unfolds and affects. The score quotes and reprises every type of Western theme music of which I aware, from the 50's to date. This music, much of it familiar even if not actually recognised, lends a disjunctive deconstructive element to the film, working to detach and disassociate the viewer from the relentlessly aggressive modernist stream of the acting and dialogue. The score, in itself, creates a meta track outside of the spacial contemporaneity of DU, a space that comprises the dimension of history.
The score brings history and the traditions of the Western genre into the audience's consciousness. The music allows DU to flow out from its performance bound present back into a referenced past The score adds the dimension of time to the experience. Time is located on one of the film's tracks as a counterweight to the images and dialogue in DU that are uncompromisingly dedicated as a celebration of the present. The music in the score, at given points in the development of the narrative, swells and announces its momentary sovereignty in affective mood establishment. We hear in the music, the knightly decoriously attired apple pie cowboys of 50's TV series, Cisco Kid Roy Rogers the Lone Ranger. These card board characters with their noble steeds such as Silver, and their side kicks such as Tonto, are briefly suggested, resurrected and brought back to momentary life as phantom presences. In the music, the epic Westerns of Ford and Wayne swell up in our minds. Films such as: the Searchers Red River True Grit, with their strange lone cowboy ballads, enter envelope and then quit remembrance, shadows flickering on the cave wall of the mind. As DU ploughs through later Rock n Roll thematic cowboy anthems suggested by the movies of Sturges, Peckinpah and even Von Trier (I count Mandalay as a Western) so too moments from these films are reinvested in the score.
Softening the edges of an uncompromising contemporary bad ass script, the score, in mediating other filmic eras of fantasy and style, folds into the action, the dimension of an immersed recollection in other images, that makes it possible to watch the film through.
Many of the action images in DU of course pay homage to and quote all these types of films (some of the images of horses were pure revisiting of the horses in the 50's US cowboy series)
But it is the music in the score that carries the history and which connects us to a cultural collective memory.
In a similar vein the backdrops and landscapes against which QT shot DU, serve a similar function to the film's score. Their purpose again seems to be to act as an historical reprise, to trigger nostalgia for earlier simpler forms of the genre. QT moves DU through the whole lexicon of Western locations. The obviously fake studio recreations of 'rock outcrops' and 'camp sites' through to the delirious encompassing landscapes of Ford and other outdoor directors: the grand magnificent vistas that promise to open up the whole world for us. The movement between these exterior locations and the 'back lot' studio look of the small Western towns in DU, gives the film a dynamic range of image quotes from a wide range of earlier Westerns, which in themselves, as the film develops into an obvious pastiche, lends DU a sort of mantel of cod authenticity.
Although the narrative revolves round the raw issue of slavery and its horror, the acting out of the sequences, the mannered detached stylisation of the actors ( who perform in the manner of actors in adverts), never permits QT to develop the film as anything more than a stylised exercise in violent sequences. Any more than James Bond could make any informed statement about the politics of democracy, no more can DU be considered an angry diatribe against the evils of slavery. These films are about style and detachment from the real and the actual. As such, DU is a film that speaks to an audience that consumes violence in the same way that they consume pop corn and nachos: mechanically with little discrimination and in huge amounts. There there is a whole dimension of street violence that is concerned with how it looks, personal style rather than what it means.
DU as stated earlier may be a bloated overlong production, but as a movie, pregnant with its own past, it is QT's best filmic statement for some time.