Django Unchained

master zero django

Guest Essay by Zade Constantine

Film provides a vast canon to explore, retroactively, trends and ideologies. The distinct relationship between society and film is suited for scholars of history and those who understand the dense social, political and economic landscapes that surround a particularly creative time for film. So specific and noteworthy are chunks of American cinema that we can pinpoint beyond decades, specific years of importance. 1976, for instance, harbors films like Network, Rocky, Taxi Driver, and All The President’s Men. These films lend importance, not only to American culture as a whole, but to American cinema. Works are identifiable as seminal films and their influence apparent in narrative and aesthetic years following.

The question becomes how the hell to decipher what 2012 has offered. The process of understanding or simply trying to pick your favorite films of the past year begins with an act of relearning. Film on celluloid is dead; denounced by mostly all. No longer viable, practical, economically feasible for theaters. Begrudgingly or willingly, many have accepted this as a rule going forward for American cinema. That undefinable characteristic that distinguished a work either as a film or as a movie no longer exists. “Films no longer exist” was a realization that took years to process leading up to 2012. The journey of acceptance marked by key points along the way. Marvel at the digital splendor that is Avatar. Navigate the perilous waters of raising ticket prices and 3D to discover gems (Hugo) and traps (films converted to 3D after they are completed).

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Unlike most of my blogger brethren, I would certainly never dismiss anything Spike Lee had to say. He is, after all, one of America’s best — and, in my opinion, one of Hollywood’s most screwed over – filmmakers.  So his objections to Django Unchained are worth noting.  In an interview, Lee said:

“All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors,” says Lee. “That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”

He also tweeted:

@Spike Lee  American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western.  It Was A Holocaust.  My Ancestors Are Slaves.  Stolen From Africa.  I Will Honor Them.

That set off a bit of a firestorm on Twitter. Naturally, sides will be taken. Some will back up Lee’s objections. Some won’t. Some won’t want anything to get in the way of the wildly entertaining movie that is Django Unchained.  But it’s worth noting, nonetheless.  Lee states over and over that it’s just his opinion. Of course, “just” is a loaded word here. Many respect Lee’s take, especially when it comes to films and, perhaps, racism in Hollywood.

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One of the best songs on the Django Unchained soundtrack…

Who Did That to You

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“And so shines a good deed in a weary world.”

When I first heard that the Weinstein Co were planning a premiere for Django Unchained I wondered who would be the first to pronounce that film the definitive cause for gun violence in this country. It would be too easy because, after all, Django is a bloodbath. Guns fire again and again, bullets are pumped into human bodies throughout. Blood squirts, flies, splatters in all directions. After all, Django is two things at once: Tarantino’s take on a spaghetti western, and a reminder of the blood shed by White America during slavery.

The news of the premiere being canceled agitated many on Twitter because most felt it unnecessary, “the people in Newtown don’t care about a Hollywood premiere.” And perhaps that’s true. But Newtown is a global event. Anyone not deeply indoctrenated in gun culture is looking at us and thinking, “what is wrong with America? Why are young, mostly privileged, educated males shooting people not even monthly, not even yearly, but weekly? Why are they shooting children with automatic weapons?  After every shooting the same dance plays out – people call for gun control. The NRA and its legions of fans start spouting the 2nd Amendment, as if our Constitution wasn’t meant to be changed.  You need only watch Spielberg’s Lincoln to see how to change a wrongly writ document.

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Two noted films about Slavery and the end of it are in this year’s Oscar race. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Two different approaches to the time but in many ways great companion pieces. Tarantino talks about the dirty little American secret of slave owners, calling it “sex on demand” in his latest Playboy interview. Countless African Americans alive today are descendants from slave owners raping or having long term affairs with their slaves. Thomas Jefferson fathered many children, and none of whom can claim the historical lineage. It is one of the more reprehensible details in American history. In Lincoln, it isn’t directly addressed because that isn’t the film’s focus. Naturally this won’t keep people from whining and complaining, something they won’t do for Django Unchained, though I’m sure there will be something else to criticize.

PLAYBOY: You killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, with Jewish soldiers scalping Nazis. In Django Unchained you have a liberated slave turned bounty hunter who takes on the slave masters who turned his wife into a prostitute. Hollywood is recycling fairy tales, from Alice in Wonderland to The Wizard of Oz. Are you doing a more creative version by crafting revisionist-history fables that allow victims of loathsome events to rise up and have their day?

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The Oscars can be a kaleidoscope view of our world — spectacular and surreal. Or they can be a microscope, honing in with sharp perspective on matters we’re obliged to observe with crystal clarity. The themes that course through this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture will likely be far more consequential than stories of a king from the 1930s who stuttered or a silent movie star who lost his mojo. For voters in recent years, those films offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return.

Between then and now, we’ve witnessed a divided America, a hard fought election, a second-term victory by the first black president, and the subsequent fallout which cannot yet be measured. These events have altered our perceptions of ourselves as Americans. How could they not? 2012 wasn’t a bloody civil war but it often felt that a physical clash was just a few hurled insults away. Racist tweets from young students in the deep South using hateful epithets you just don’t hear anymore were quickly investigated and rightly outed. At this very moment, signatures are being gathered from at least 15 states on petitions to secede from the union. All because a black man is in power and he won’t step aside until he finishes the job he started. Nothing has ever made America lose its head the way it has over this.

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Thanks to Josh:

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With two weeks before the US Presidential election, nerves are frayed. The horses are kicking in their stalls. Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon and a country sharply divided. Oscar season had no choice but to start early this year. With ballots being turned in very early in January, there are just two months left to lay it all out. At the end of November and early December we’ll get our critics top ten lists. After that, the critics awards. Then the guild awards followed by the Oscars. That means that a consensus will be forming soon. Usually by the beginning of December the race seems to be about a handful of films that have run the gauntlet and come out the other side with a consensus vote. Some of these movies have been preordained, their places in line held firm. They only have to meet or surpass expectations to fortify their position.

Oscar pundits are busily making their lists, putting certain names at the top of the list because they deserve to be there, or because they hope they will be there. Oscar voters are preparing for the all-out assault of ads and screeners, parties and interviews. Through the noise they’ll lift their fingers and point, “that one. I like that one.” It’s enough to drive any sane person off the cliff, that is, if the election hasn’t done that already. But at this stage of the game, there isn’t a lot more we can know because four of the biggest movies of the year have yet to be seen: Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hobbit. Any one or all or none could shift the race from where it stands right now.

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Posted at EmpireOnline

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Hat tip – Trailer Addict

Django 1

(Thanks to Jon Pace)

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