Tarantino’s Dynamite “Django Unchained” and the Critics [Spoiler Alert]

… 75 percent of everyone polled said it isn’t Congress’ or the president’s role to pressure Hollywood to make less-violent movies and TV shows. [...] Meanwhile, 68 percent of liberals say the NRA bears more blame than Hollywood, but 74 percent of conservatives blame Hollywood more than gun-ownership advocates. However, 60 percent of all respondents agree that mental illness is the single biggest cause of mass killings. [Hollywood Reporter]


WASHINGTON – Spike Lee is acting like a punk, but he’s got a lot of company stirring up mind numbing hysteria. Blaxploitation just can’t get no respect anymore. And blaming films like “Django Unchained” for violence in American society certainly won’t solve the mental health crisis that is at the heart of massacres like Sandy Hook. Hey, but if it makes the nags on the left and right feel better to pick a convenient target, gang up on Hollywood, which just happens to be the most lucrative and creative American export we’ve got, beyond making war.

There’s a reason Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” is making people flock to see it. Not only is it Tarantino’s best film, but it’s the most eviscerating narrative through filmmaking on Spaghetti Westerns meets Blaxploitation and the U.S. history of slavery ever to be created. Everyone gets what’s coming to him or her, with heroes willing to do anything, including lay down their lives, to do right against pure evil. There’s retribution laced throughout the spectacularly entertaining and gruesomely violent ride, complete with a love story at its heart, all of which John Legend tried to capture in the song he wrote for the film.

“I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it. The only thing I can say is it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.” – Spike Lee via Twitter

That Spike Lee made his judgment without seeing the movie sounds like a fit of pique out of professional jealousy, because he couldn’t have gotten the big budget financing to make a similar film, a frequent gripe of his. This is mostly due to his earnest myopia that has kept him from producing entertaining films of late. Or maybe it’s just sour grapes over the crash and burn of “Red Hook Summer.”

Oh, my, as a white chick, is that even okay for me to write?

Given all the politically correct historical caterwauling, on top of the gun nut versus anti gun battle over violence that actually stems from mental illness and access to firearms, it seems a whole class of culture warriors is bellyaching without bothering to even understand the actual scope of Tarantino’s film vision.

That’s really the whole reel. You either get Tarantino’s fearless genius or you don’t. Many critics are simply using him to hijack the film for their own agenda. That it’s helping to make the film a bigger success is a fitting irony.

GROSS: You sound annoyed that I’m…
(LAUGHTER)
TARANTINO: Yeah, I am.
GROSS: I know you’ve been asked this a lot.
TARANTINO: Yeah, I’m really annoyed. I think it’s disrespectful. I think it’s disrespectful to their memory, actually.
GROSS: With whose memory?
TARANTINO: The memory of the people who died to talk about movies. I think it’s totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health.

via Movieline

That Ennio Morricone, who wrote the music for over 500 films including beloved spaghetti Westerns, is presenting Quentin Tarantino with a lifetime achievement award last Friday in Rome, just before the European debut of “Django Unchained,” sets a wider backdrop for what’s happening in the U.S., as moviegoers flock to the film. Peter Bogdanovich calls Tarantino “the single most influential director of his generation,” which “Django Unchained” clinches.

The film is not only brilliantly constructed from beginning to end, but entertaining and horrifying, never once disrespecting slavery, as the unfolding plot obliterates the history of westerns and civil war slavery whitewashing, while using both as a springboard on which to construct a stunning display of satisfying storytelling.

Jelani Cobb’s piece on the movie is a sad example of the New Yorker’s pervasive intellectual arrogance and could only happen in the We Take Ourselves Very Seriously New Yorker.

If either Spike Lee, Cobb or Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress cared about anything but their own agenda, which is cloaked in cloying earnestness and ignores the filmmaking and the actual story the film tells, they might have been spared how silly they sound. If they’d only taken a clue from the casting, which is inspired.

Why don’t critics digest the reason why Franco Nero was cast? The information has been out there for ages, since 1966, to be exact. Franco Nero starred in Sergio Corbucci’s original “Django.” Tarantino even resurrects the theme song! In fact, the music of the film further cements his narrative.

In fact, Tarantino has brought together tracks from the godfather of spaghetti western music composers, Ennio Morricone (“The Braying Mule” and “Sister Sara’s Theme,” both from his score from “Two Mules for Sister Sara”), rapper Rick Ross (“100 Black Coffins”), jazz musician Anthony Hamilton (“Freedom,” with Elayna Boynton), R&B-pop singer John Legend (“Who Did That To You?”) and ‘70s folk-rocker Jim Croce (“I Got a Name”).

Here’s what Tarantino says about the film‘s main theme, “Django,” composed by Luis Bacalov.

“It’s sung,” he says with a chuckle, “in quasi-Elvis style, by Rocky Roberts. Now this was the actual title track to the original 1966 movie ‘Django.’”… I’ve always loved this song–I think it’s fantastic. Not only that, ‘Django’ was so popular around the world, I’ve heard Japanese versions of the song, Italian versions of the song, I’ve heard Greek versions of this song, because it was played all over…”

Get it yet?

Then you’re already way ahead of most of the critics and culture nags. … . …

[Continued here, though I've never done this at TMV, but the controversial issues covered in this review require it.]

Taylor Marsh, is a veteran political analyst, a former Huffington Post contributor, Broadway babe and talk radio dabbler, and is the author of The Hillary Effect, available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media magazine www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women, foreign policy, and culture.

23 Comments

  1. Interesting Taylor…i have not seen the movie, but i did hear a lengthy interview of GROSS with Tarantiono. After listening to the interview i lost all desire to see it.

    What you call ‘genius’ might be seen by some as a creative individual with a perversion towards violence, that has found a lucrative niche.

    As i listened to the defense and offense of violence Tarantino portrays in his movies, i did not hear much difference from him than with NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. Both of them seem void of a consciousness that can pause and self reflect on the possible impact and consequence of flooding the culture with visceral, gut wrenching,slam it in the face violence. Sure they are protected by the First Amendment and not even suggesting they it should be censored. The only hope for a less violent culture is for each person to take individual responsibility and ask; What is violence and what is my part in adding to it? After listening to both of these individuals it seems obvious they lack that capacity. Instead they finger someone else, both found safe refuge in pointing the finger at mental health. These individuals that are deeply invested in glutting the culture with horrific and vulgar violence are not what i see to be genius, creative and penetrating in their ability to transmit constitutional rights yes, but definitely not genius. I think when we glorify ones like this as genius, we are very close to the edge of serving violence.

    BOB DYLAN – GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY LYRICS

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    yes indeed You’re gonna have to serve somebody

  2. I’m BEYOND TIRED of the Black Intellectual Mafia (a division of Viacom) of gatekeeping the African Slave Trade. It was an absolutely great movie (in my opinion) with a bad ass hero. The Black Intellectual Mafia goes after Django Unchained but sits next to and chum it up with hip-hop artists that go all N-word this and big booty b——s that. Oh! That’s because they sponsor their irrelevant conferences on Black Race Theory and other non-pertinent to life today crap. Whatever…

    SIGNED,

    Irritated Black Dude… :)

  3. First of all, I’d like to say that I’m a 22 year old, post-college white male. Just remember that.

    I’ve seen the movie twice since it came out. The first time, I saw it alone. I’m a Tarantino fanboy, and I’m going to see any movie this guy makes, plain and simple. The second time, I went with a friend. This friend is a 27 year-old African American, and he wanted to see it as much as me.

    Now, here’s the meat of my little debate sandwich:

    Django Unchained is a fine film. I think so and my black friend thinks so. First, let me make a quick statement about the racism in the film. I’m not offended by racial slurs when used in film, because they depict something. Tarantino isn’t calling my friend a ‘nigger’, he’s depicting the time. In the 1850′s when DU is set, ‘nigger’ wasn’t offensive in society, it was just a word. Now, I understand that to use that word now outside of hip-hop and white supremacist meetings is generally out of place, but if we try to shield ourselves from the fact that it was once acceptable to call anyone of African descent a ‘nigger’, then we are just ignoring our own history.

    Secondly, the violence. If you think for a second that what was depicted in the film didn’t happen, please do everyone a favor and go to a library. Slaves were treated brutally because no one was there to stand up for them. There was no ‘slave union’ that would lobby for the ethical treatment of plantation workers, and there were plenty of slaves to go around. Brutality was commonplace.

    I suppose that the core of my argument in favor of this film is as follows: Many period pieces show us a romanticized view of history. Indians and pilgrims dancing around in circles and singing songs, prisoners that are treated fairly, and slaves working in beautiful cotton fields while their children play in the pastures. Come on, folks. We know from records that this isn’t true. Tarantino offers us the brutal truth that most of us would like to forget. In many places, whites tortured their black slaves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Should we ignore it? I say no. To remember is to learn the lesson and to reconcile. The horror of this movie (and it does get VERY uncomfortable in some places) reminds us that we are always bettering ourselves. We learn and we forgive.

    God Bless America.

  4. Taylor, your writing has been on FIRE! Your review was one of the most accurate, thoughtful and entertaining I have ever read. Thank you for doing your due diligence (in all areas, even musical) prior to the review; something too many fail to do. As well, for your comments on the politics that surround the film. You nailed Tarantino’s skill as a film maker (who certainly did his homework). As well, I enjoyed and agree with your comments about “Jack Reacher” and Cruise.

    I am a big fan of spaghetti Westerns and enjoyed the movie. Christopher Waltz was amazingly good.

    As much as I enjoyed the movie, your review is so good and so packed with facts that I am going to have to go see it again because there is much I missed or didn’t know to look out for. Thank you!

  5. I have to agree with KP that was a great review Taylor.

    It’s not often that I agree with Taylor and disagree with ordinarysparrow (“i did not hear much difference from him than with NRA’s Wayne LaPierre”).

    Maybe ordinarysparrow hasn’t seen any Tarantino movies? I didn’t see Kill Bill until a few years after it came out because I was dead (pun intended) set against violent movies but I’m glad I did because unlike Wayne LaPierre, Tarantino’s violence shows the ease and absurdity of violence.

    Tarantino includes enough humor and full cast of ‘A’ actors in his movies because that what it takes to get squeamish viewers (like me) was take a chance and see what he has to say.

    Added bonus: Every Tarantino movie I watch, I enjoy and they have all reenforced my position against semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines.

  6. Like Spike Lee I also have not seen this movie, and also like Spike Lee I am going to have a strong opinion about it. It’s really good. Dear Fandango….

    PS – Nice post afreed. I too am sick of romanticizing the past because its easy to do. The past sucked. Even 100 years ago life was pretty crappy. You were orders of magnitude more likely to die in war, on the job, of disease, and if you weren’t rich you were very, very poor. There wasn’t much of a middle class back then.

  7. Mr Slamfu said:

    You were orders of magnitude more likely to die in war, on the job, of disease, and if you weren’t rich you were very, very poor. There wasn’t much of a middle class back then.

    Kind of sounds like today, doesn’t it?

  8. @Steve K “Every Tarantino movie I watch, I enjoy and they have all reenforced my position against semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines.”

    I completely agree.

    As well, I didn’t see Kill Bill movies until years after they came out and they remain my least favorite. I thought he was red hot in the 90s with Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and the sleeper, Jackie Brown (1997).

    I had been eagerly waiting for the release of Django Unchained for months. I am a big fan of stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Washington was a small but pleasant surprise. But after the Saturday Night Live bit where Foxx quipped about killing all the white people the flame was dappened. Having now seen it, I better understand his Tarantino flavored humor and wonder why it was unsettling at first. I should have known better.

    I was surprised by how crafty to the movie is. Many times, I paused and thought, damn, Tarantino is brilliant (funny or sad). I was misty eyed several times and laughed others. Like I said, I will go back and this time I will ask my wife to accompany me.

  9. Okay Steve i will give Kill Bill a try again….My comment came from Tarantino’s interview with Terry Gross and a number of times attempting to watch more then 20 minutes of one of his films. There is a consistent motif in his films; vengeance and pay back amplified on steroids. In the interview he came across as fascinated with violence,and found that repelling, and violence is the dominate in his movies

    Over the holidays watched the Batman series while holding awareness of James Holmes/Aurora murders. It was evident how a loner with a deeply disturbed psychotic mind,that cannot not discern reality from fantasy, could get tangled up with the mind of the Joker.

    I do believe the motif of ‘payback and vengeance’ fantasy/entertainment is what keeps most movie theaters open these days. We see payback/vengeance at many levels of the collective psyche. Death penalty…gotcha journalism… politics… fanaticism…Am not for sure payback vengeance being applauded as brilliance and when it gets mixed with humor then i am left repelled by its sadism.

    As Dr. E often says; ‘to each their own’… just thinking out loud and writing it down…appreciate the differences, and what it is for me does not mean it is that for others.

  10. ordinarysparrow, I saw a wonderful movie yesterday; “Rust and Bone”.

    There are still great indie movies out there.

  11. Not that it matters, but I’ve never seen (nor intend to see) a Tarantino movie because of the violence which seems to be his hallmark. Using violence to make a point when humor or empathy or any other better human attribute would suffice seems gratuitous to me. Anyone who’s seen The Pawnbroker understands what I mean. Anyone who’s read Frederick Douglass’ writings understands the mayhem of slavery.

    A fine movie that shows some violence (as opposed to unrelenting violence) to make a point is adequate for my entertainment. Any thing else is over kill, pardon the pun. Having endured enough loss in my life, I am truly unable emotionally to enjoy watching anyone or anything suffer no matter how realistic the portrayal of real life. Because of the portrayal of real life.

    Anyone who thinks movie violence is divorced from current mental health problems is simply uneducated about the many studies in existence. Healthy people can watch films like Django U or SEVEN and recover their balance soon after, not so many unhealthy people who internalize the violence to their detriment and sometimes to society’s detriment.

  12. Thanks KP…will check it out. Just had my friend to drop of his copy of Kill Bill will try to see if i can watch it below the violence.
    Taylor i do enjoy your movie reviews… it is a great addition to TMV..

    How about reviewing Beast of the Southern Wild?

  13. @The_Ohioan It took me some days to feel ‘normal’ after Django. If I have returned there yet. Point well taken. I don’t like watching suffering.

    Do you see any educational value? For instance, should some of us be okay with exposing ourselves to past history of the holocaust knowing that we may never quite be the same?

  14. KP

    If you mean like The Pawnbroker or Schlinder’s list or Sophie’s Choice, yes if you feel you can take it. Are movies better able than books to portray the horror of the holocaust? I doubt it, but since many people don’t read, this may be the only way they will experience that horror. I wouldn’t want to see what Tarantino would do with the holocaust.

    Some people can read Stephen King or Ann Bishop novels, which contain sadism and mayhem but suspend reality, while appreciating the writing and remain unaffected – just because reality is suspended.

    People who have no history of deep loss are better able to bounce back from reading or watching violence. What we have to be concerned about are those who cannot. And the studies that indicate that those who look at violent pictures are more apt to approve of violence.

  15. You either get Tarantino’s fearless genius or you don’t.

    For sure, i don’t…

    Tried again…Kill Bill 25 minutes, hospital nurse pimping out a comatose woman, that was the cut off place.

    Spaghetti Western and the most horrific event in U.S. history? And for me that is small image that becomes holographic of the Tarantino’s replicating theme, violence mixed with smirk..Am i the only one here that discerns violence with a smirk as sadistic? The guy is twisted.

  16. When I saw Pulp Fiction, there was an ancient woman in a head scarf in the ticket line ahead of me. The guy working the ticket booth warned her, “Ma’am, just so you understand, this is a *very* violent movie.”

    “I’ve been through two world wars,” she said. “I think I can handle it.”

  17. Dr. J

    Did she say she’d been through two world wars or in two world wars?

  18. Tried again…Kill Bill 25 minutes, hospital nurse pimping out a comatose woman, that was the cut off place.

    Well, I agree with you there, that was the worst part of the entire movie. As I watch it at home I always click the scene change ’til that segment is over.

    If you have the DVD (or streaming video) you could start at Scene 10 – Chapter Four The Man from OKINAWA, then maybe you’d understand why some of us ‘otherwise normal’ folk like Tarantino movies.

  19. T_O Thanks for your thoughts. I think we share a lot of common ground. For me, books are longer lasting and harder hitting than movies. Books that precede movie screenplays tend to bear that out. Reading is a concious effort to place yourself there. I have walked out of movies and I have put down books. More books due to discomfort or disinterest than movies.

  20. Thanks for the suggestion “otherwise normal”, i will give one more try …. ugh!

  21. I’ve seen most of the Tarantino movies and have been alternately revulsed and entertained. In general though the comments expressed by ordinarysparrow resonate for me. I don’t have particularly delicate sensibilities, but the glorification of violence as a problem solving technique in our culture is out of control. It’s naive to imagine our culture of violent entertainment over many decades doesn’t have any sort of negative impact. Tarantino’s contribution to this culture is pretty obvious. Yes, I know he is against real violence but without glamorizing it he has no fame nor fortune. You can’t have it both ways and expect unshaken credibility imo.

  22. Just a .02 Ordinary Sparrow. I find that those in our profession, yours and mine often have no appetite for ‘film fictive acting versions’ of the actual blood and bones violence we face in our work with living human beings who are so harmed, so devastated, and so wounded with ‘the wound of pHiloctates’… that even most others shy away from helping, so horrendous are the injuries to the often innocent human being.

    Most of us in our work of post-trauma, do not speak of the blood and death dances we not only witness, but intervene in and often come away in some way heart-battered and some share of our own psychic blood spilt, as anyone who has a heart would. We hope to mediate, intervene, enact something close to the heroic spirit often… and it is not fictive when we do–it is never a neat and tidy a script; there is no director, or actors’ trailers with feasts set out on breaks, and no one is acting when they cry out or bellow in pain or try to throw themselves into the grave or nearly choke to death while trying to tell the near unspeakable.

    I think for many of us, we arent drawn to a film that even as brutal as it can be, is nowhere near the actual reality of a true ser humano suffering in real time… current or past brutality. The film is pretend. B ut those who actually lived and suffered so, long ago, and also now, that is real. A film or play can sorta kinda tell the story by rousing some people’s emotions and causing stimulus to think, perhaps. But to witness first person, cheek to cheek, the abject atrocity’s aftermath, cannot be compared.

    I dont have a dog in any fight about most any film, and I love many films, but I see they are ‘units’ of sales, and that there is a huge consideration there re audience garnering and massive intention re money-making that is very different also, than walking with the walking-and devastatingly wounded in our time. I also believe for my children and now my grandchildren, that what one shows them early on re violent films for instance, imprints them in certain ways that we believe leaves them apart from/divorced from actual real suffering in others especially. Violent films are not our way with our children. Our children and grandchildren are all in service to others, working with people who have been hurt or are in some ways having need for accomodations. That, trust, is face to face reality with violence of humans against already struggling or wounded humans, enough. Except it is engaged, instead of rousing film that one sees and after goes back to life as usual.

    For many persons in the helping and medical and healing professions, there is a seeking of peace, of center, of restfulness, or quietude… to balance the mayhem we often walk in, blood up to our boots daily. I think we all have different ways of seeing things. And there’s often good reason, some are not interested in what they, in actual life, already see so much of…

    To each his own. To each her own. In their own ways.

  23. Awesome review, Taylor.

    Tarantino has directed a number of my very favorite films, but I don’t like all of his work, and I definitely have to be emotionally prepared to watch it, even movies I love and have seen many times. I absolutely understand not being able to get through the violence to see the genius in what he does.

    Kill Bill is on my top 5 all-time movie list; ordinarysparrow, if you can make it past the initial scenes, the violence becomes a cartoon of itself. It is still definitely violence, and can be gory, but the majority of it is so stylized and silly (and this done on purpose) that it’s more like watching the Road Runner dump a safe on Wyle E Coyote’s head. However, I will not be offended at all if you decide against giving it another go, nor think any less of those who choose not to watch violence in general.

    The character Shoshana in Inglorious Basterds is my hands-down favorite female character in film period. In that movie, Tarantino manages to write a character that goes through certain experiences and emotions that are almost universal to women, but that I have never seen portrayed in film. I can’t even recall if I’ve seen it portrayed in literature.

    Anyway, yes, big fan, can’t wait to see Django.

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