Quentin Tarantino gets on my nerves. I like (some of) his movies, but there is something about the guy that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s the way he comes across on camera. For starters, I wish he’d stop making crappy appearances in his movies. His last role in Django Unchained was particularly painful.
Tarantino’s lousy Australian accent not withstanding, his latest film greatly exceeded my expectations. I watched it with my sister and cousins shortly after it came out. I thought it would be another mindless smattering of violence and corny jokes. It turned out to be much more than that.
The Washington Post’s film critic recently wrote a piece that does a nice job of explaining the strengths of Tarantino’s latest film. She said it did a better job of addressing slavery than Lincoln, which is expected to do well at the Oscars.
“It could be that to capture the perversity of a system of kidnapped human beings who were routinely bought, sold, raped, maimed and murdered, it takes genre filmmaking at its most graphic and hyperbolic. How else can movies make proper symbolic sense of America’s bloodiest, most shameful chapter?”
Django made me laugh at times, but I don’t remember it ever doing so at the expense of any of the slaves being portrayed. It kept me interested and waiting to see what would happen next. And most importantly, it made me think. It’s not a feel good movie, nor is it meant to be one.
Spike Lee had major issues with it, as did many other people. I wonder how many of them would have been so critical if Quentin Tarantino wasn’t white. Hornaday is as white as they come, but her critique of Django seems far more accurate than Spike’s.
I look forward to the DVD release. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for something else…
Spike Lee started believing his own hype in the early 1990’s, and I think it’s partly why he’s not as respected as he should be.
He hasn’t grown as a director as he should have, perhaps out of fear of erasing from his future work the very brash insights that made him a media darling. It’s one thing to explore the racial divide in US society, but he always takes the black man good/white man bad approach in his scripts, and frankly, while I want to be entertained, I also want to be challenged and to see growth in both the director and the characters. (One can argue that Tarantino makes the same mistake, by relying too much on violence as a storytelling device — but then I give you “Jackie Brown,” or the “Kill Bill” films, where the women are faced with moral choices and act on them. They don’t just start kicking ass as if it’s a musical interlude in the movie.)
Lee also has committed the sin of thinking he is THE authority on the African-American experience, and uses his films to push that view. What’s more, too many African-American filmgoers, desperate to see their stories on the big screen, adopt his aesthetic and don’t push Lee to broaden his view. They do the same thing with Tyler Perry, who is just dreck as a filmmaker.
There is the rub: Lee comes from ONE particular strand of black society; Perry comes from another. My experiences come from neither, and my view of my particular experience is as valid to me as theirs are to them. However, both Lee and Perry expect, nay demand, that I endorse their world views as the only legitimate ones. Not gonna happen. You need a healthy level of self-regard to work in film — but if you’re not pushing yourself and questioning the very insights you explored in your early work, I’m not sure how much of an artist you are versus how much of a polemicist you are. I don’t like polemicists, and I don’t know why I should be expected to support your work with my dollars.
A confident person would look at “Django Unchained” and not consider it a personal assault on his ancestors, as Lee considers the film. If Lee had any balls, he’d quit whining to the NYT or to Time or to Ebony and start producing an answer to “Django.” The experiences of black slaves in America run the gamut — and we are all shortchanged when filmmakers don’t try to reveal them and instead get into pissing matches with each other. Show me what you think that story should be. Surprise me. And STFU.