Django Unchained: Mandingo Fighting and Phrenology

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the last of four posts. The first can be found here, the second part can be found here and the third here.

Mandingo Fighting and Phrenology

Here’s another section where some may have missed the forest for the trees. When we go to Candieland, perhaps the most deliciously hilarious and ironic name for a plantation to American audiences for its allusion to a board game where almost everything is wonderful, and, well, candy; we are introduced, directly and indirectly to two concepts: the first is Mandingo fighting.

Now, here’s a piece that covers the niggling question of “Is Mandingo fighting even a thing?” To be completely honest, I hadn’t read any piece on it until now, because to an extent it didn’t matter, and I’ll explain why shortly.

Next, there’s John Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) “scientific” assertions of why blacks are inherently subservient. The speech, his illustration of the ridges on the inside of the skull and the smashing of said skull are ultimately what won Leonardo DiCaprio his second BAM Award for Best Supporting actor; it’s a moment as captivating as it is chilling.

Django Unchained (AP/The Weinstein Co.)

Now, getting back to the matter of truth, I will draw a parallel to Argo. Right after Argo won its anticipated Best Picture some select Canadians decided to go into a tizzy about the historical inaccuracies of the film. Apparently, they needed to be reintroduced to what movies are and the fact that just because they purport to be based on historical events does not mean they are under any sort of oath to be factual.

Coming back to Django, it does not purport to be based on historical events. Quite to the contrary it is consciously telling an alternate history. So, how come when we as the film nerds hear of gripes about a historical thriller we rationally say “Well, it’s not a documentary and doesn’t have to report the facts” yet, invention in a work of fiction can bother us? I ask this question hypothetically just to point it out. I don’t think too many people were upset by either of these elements in the film, but why should a film that’s not beholden to as many facts as one “based on a true story” not invent things?

Mandingo fighting as an element in the film is not only an ode to blaxploitation film of the 1970s, but it’s also an allegorical representation of how the slave states were in essence cannibalizing the African populous and profiting off their bloodshed. As King Schultz would say it was “another flesh for cash trade.” If nothing else in the film, things that actually happened like slaves being branded and whipped, people being lynched or the Klan burning crosses and terrorizing the ignorant, then this would; and it did me.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Co.)

As for the Candie theory on black subservience, considering that the pseudoscience of phrenology purported that the characteristics of the skull indicated ones faculties or mental traits, this is not that outlandish to put into a racist character’s mouth. What’s outlandish in this day and age is anyone giving any credence to phrenology. However, even if phrenology charts never went so far as to say indicate “African subservience” there was a generally unfounded and accepted belief that these were inferior, in fact, inhuman beings and these were the most dramatic rendition that Tarantino found to illustrate those points, and he drove them home so hard it should shame anyone.

Whether there is any basis in fact for these constructs is virtually irrelevant. For as Hitchcock said “…in my fantasies, plausibility is not allowed to rear its ugly head.” Any of Hitchcock’s edicts needed to be ciphered a bit. I think he meant he didn’t lose sleep if something seemed plausible, I think he did worry about if it made the story better and if it made sense, and I think these touches by Tarantino definitely do.

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Django Unchained: Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the third of four posts. The first can be found here and the second part can be found here.

The Apparent Defeat and Tarantino’s Cameo

Two of the more aesthetically controversial decisions in Django Unchained, ones that were fairly roundly criticized, were in the latter section of the film and interrelated in the story’s chronology. They are Django’s being sold into slavery anew to a mining company and Quentin Tarantino’s cameo appearance. The main critique of the section is that it adds an unnecessary half-hour to an already bloated film. Now, clearly I’ve already stated that Django was my favorite film of last year, so I can’t debate and cajole one into liking it more than one does, or liking it period if one dislikes it.

However, I wonder if the people who claim that there’s an extraneous half-hour in Django have fully considered the ramifications of truncating the story by that much. If not giving those critiquing the benefit of the doubt, you end up with a fairly anti-climcatic tragedy, wherein there’s bloodshed but Django doesn’t win. Now, given the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume you’d have given Django some improbable escape from Stephen’s clutches and the final show down is bumped up, it’s still not as effective. The apparent defeat of Django is not strong enough. What this segment does is it puts Django back where he was when the film started. However, this time there is no King Schultz to get him out of it by “legitimate” means. This is where Django truly becomes the hero of the tale. He brilliantly, through his own intelligence, skill-set and quick reflexes gets himself away from his captors. Now he’s a hero. Now he stands on his own. Now he can truly ride off into the sunset after his triumph.

So the existence of this section of the film is not only fine by me, but essential in my estimation. Tarantino’s appearance, to the extent that it it’s there, isn’t so much. Now, I will state a few facts to clear this up just a bit. Firstly, I was not surprised that Tarantino appeared in the film, what was more surprising was where he appeared. His cameo may have been better served on a plantation or in the KKK scene, which was funny anyway. However, based on the chatter I did think it was more involved and longer than it was. Now, did it play into my decision-making during my personal awards with regards to Best Cast and Best Director nominations and winners? Yes. However, to be fair I think that auteur criticism, once feared to be an overly-cultist altar of worship has started to reverse itself a bit in the internet age to an overly-nitpicky bitch-fest.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

There’s no such thing as perfect film. Yes, there are little things, which are what nitpicks are, you can point out that are off, whether in fact or in your subjective opinion, about every single film. All of them. My favorite film professor relayed a story to us about his one conversation with Robert Wise. Wise being the acclaimed director, who previously edited Citizen Kane. My professor said to him he thought it perfect or nearly so. Wise immediately pointed out he wished he didn’t leave such a long beat coming out of one of Raymond’s flashbacks. And I had noticed that, and when he heard it mentioned my professor agreed. Regardless of what you think of Kane the moral of the tale is simple: no film is perfect. Though I see where and how Tarantino appears in this film as an actor as a misstep, it’s not a serious error that affects the whole of the film.

One thing you have to respect about Tarantino, even when it comes to bug you, is that he doesn’t care; that’s practically what auteurism is. He’s making the film his way and if you don’t like it, tough. The last filmmaker who seriously overstepped the cameo appearance into supporting character was M. Night Shyamalan in Signs. He’s since pulled that back to where it should be. Shyamalan is also a prime example of auteur theory gone awry. People came to expect the twist ending from him in everything such that when people either didn’t get one or didn’t like the twist it altered their feelings on the film. I’m quite certain his prior filmography is why he dropped out of Life of Pi ages ago, and I can almost guarantee that if was exactly the same film with his name on it the reception wouldn’t have been as positive.

This is where auteur theory needs some checks on it. It doesn’t mean filmmakers or films get a pass, but just a little more perspective is taken into account, like is it par for the course for the filmmaker for said element to be featured? If so, does it work? If not, how big a deal is it really? If it was an intended departure those expectations shouldn’t factor in and so on. So, yes, that bit of casting was off, however, I don’t think it colors the whole film. I think the double whammy for many is that they didn’t necessarily see the need for the section of the film he was in so his appearance is further jarring.

Django Unchained: The Politics of Language

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the second of four posts. The first can be found here.

The Politics of Language

This brings us to the racial component of the film. Here’s where the mistaken impression about genre can come in for many people. There is comedy in this film, but it’s not a comedy. This is no more a comedy than For a Fistful of Dollars is. Yes, it’s funny the way Django turns around his former owners line and says to him “I like the way you die, boy.” It’s also funny when Clint Eastwood in For a Fistful of Dollars changes his intial coffin order to four. It doesn’t make either film a comedy.

However, the facade of a western is where the similarity between the film ends. The moments of overt comedy are there for you to laugh at in Django Unchained. The Klan eyehole scene may have been the funniest scene in any film I saw last year simply because it was such an ingenious cutting down of a hateful organization that seeks to taunt, terrify and kill. Yes, even some of the laughs can be tinged with uneasiness, but that’s the goal.

The death of slave owners is designed to be laughed at, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some deadened reactions to that. Upon introducing another, even more risqué skit than he had done previously (this one about a white family with a coincidentally racist name) Dave Chappelle said something to the effect of “Apparently, people didn’t think killing a slave owner was funny. I could watch that all day.” Which brings us to another source of controversy in this film the usage of the N-word.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Is it difficult to listen to it that many times, and spouted so hatefully? Of course. Especially when either Django or Stephen uses it. That’s the point and intent for a modern audience. Then there’s also the fact that that’s not far off the frequency you would’ve heard back then.

Yes, some words invariably cause issues as I noted in The Gay Dilemma, but when a script is well-crafted you can go a step beyond what is a generally accepted politically-correct norm and make a point as in The Sitter. I’m not one for censorship, and am in favor of artistic license, and the word belongs in this film as much as it does in Huckleberry Finn. In others it may be gratuitous and unnecessary, but that’s why I tend to take things like this on a case-by-case basis.

Furthermore, one shouldn’t allow the presence of a word, even one as disparaging and denigrating as that one, obscure the totality of the film. While he does get assistance, Django gets necessary training to be able to be the hero of the story, which he is. Will Smith’s assessment about Django’s secondary nature is only accurate if you’re into counting words of dialogue. King’s departure from the narrative gives Django plenty of time when the tale is his alone. He’s the one who has flashbacks and whose goals drive the story. Most importantly, in terms of race, Django’s nobility and heroism is not shown solely through his fortitude, his ability to withstand punishment like Kunta Kinte; his strength is his ability to fight back. And as much training as he gets, his intelligence is something he’s born with not given.

Django Unchained: Introduction and the Spaghetti Western Treatment

Introduction

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

So after having translated a post regarding Django Unchained here are my thoughts on the film, which will appear weekly in four parts. With regards to the translated post there is scarcely a thing I disagreed with that was being stated. However, the reason we read and the reason we write is that everyone has a slightly different perspective.

The reason I didn’t touch on Django at the end of last year was two-fold: first, there is the overwhelming crush of the end of year wherein I try to view as many films as I can and should to consider for my annual awards and list. The second reason is that I didn’t want to rush such a writing is that Django is a film that touches on enough raw nerves and opens enough old wounds, though skillfully, that a discussion on it should not be held in haste and cramming something in late December just because I wanted something to link to when I announced my awards. That wouldn’t be right.

Having said that I did want a few writings on my site with regards to the film because with Django being my favorite film of 2012, it earned it. And the class of 2011 with Super 8 and Hugo had quite a few write-ups along the way and since that documented a different facet of the film that appealed to me.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

The next obstacle would be what specifically to tackle in such a sprawling an epic film. The dangers in doing so come from both ends of the spectrum; one could either be too broad or too myopic in one focus. I’ve decided to split the difference and give each topic of the film I saw fit to address some attention in a sort of epistolary fashion, with headlined sections below.

I have made some commentary on the film in my awards, but will augment some points and talk about some new ones here.

The Spaghetti Western Treatment

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Tarantino has embarked on a seeming trilogy, if not more films, that deal in alternative history. When Inglourious Basterds rolled around I wasn’t sure before I saw it how far into an alternative history it would go. Some works of fiction that take place during World War II have told such microcosmic tales that whether or not they did happen, could happen, or could not happen, are academic points. With Inglourious Basterds it became very clear that the escalation wouldn’t end until a triumphant climax wherein the big wigs would be killed from Hitler on down. There would be no cowardly suicide for Hitler in this tale. Basterds was also constructed much in a similar way to some of Tarantino’s other films with chapters that seem disconnected at first, but form a whole when they combine and connect.

For a work like Django Unchained, one that would roundly explore America’s racist slave-owning past, a different approach was needed. In Basterds the heroes would clearly be the enemies of the Nazis both military (“The Basterds” in the US Army) and civilian, a Jewish girl and a black man. Here with slavery, a much longer running, entrenched and regulated system, a different tact was needed if it was to be an antebellum tale, which it is.

This tale predating the Civil War is very significant. It brings the story to a more personal place and takes much of the politics out of it. There’s no washing away of sin through a Union army whose “truth is marching on,” or a benevolent leader doing what he can to keep the country together and free the slaves. Not in this film.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

However, the film must pay lip service to credibility, to borrow a phrase from Stephen King, which is where King Schultz comes in. King Schultz on the surface could seem to be the typical benevolent white character whose presence is nearly always a prerequisite in a film on race relations in the US. There are key differences here though: mainly, Schultz is German. Now, wanting to work with Waltz again I’m sure factored into Tarantino’s decision. However, when looking at the films in tandem it makes an interesting delineation: Nazis are the enemy, not Germans. Look at how King can see what’s right and wrong, how he uses the system to exploit it. The film goes further to incorporate Teutonic sensibilities by having Django’s wife, his motivation, be named Broomhilda and know how to speak German. Furthermore, one of the great scenes of the film is King’s relating the legend of Siegfried to Django. This by extension takes back a legend, made more popular by Wagner, from Nazi clutches.

Simply using something like the Underground Railroad or a white abolitionist plot doesn’t fit the script of the justified revenge that was built in to Basterds and was the goal here. So Schultz assisting Django to manipulate the system by buying his freedom, teaching him to be a bounty hunter and then concocting a scheme to find and free his wife is necessary so that revenge can play out in this film as well.

The way the scheme works out, the play-acting required by Django to succeed are all things that make the Spaghetti Western structure perfect for this tale. What made the Spaghetti Western so popular, for the most part, was the graying of the hero. The methods weren’t always honorable, both ends were played against the middle, even who was the villain was at times nebulous. All these things were for the most part new to the genre. All these things were things a black cowboy, a freeman, would need in order to be able to reclaim his wife in this era. Cinematically, however, it’s also an interesting comment. It took Italian filmmakers with new ideas and a fresh outlook on a beloved American genre to re-invent and re-invigorate it. It took those same cinematic precepts used by an American to give us one of the most brutally honest, compelling and refreshing looks at race in America for quite some time.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: How Good it is to Kill Fascists, Racists and Slave Owners!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What we have here is a most unique and historic occasion! This is not only the first guest post ever on this blog, but it is also a bi-lingual post. My cousin Rodrigo Guéron on Facebook posted a brilliant essay about Django Unchained . I thought it was great and asked him if he’d mind my translating it. So below you will find not only my translation of the text, but also beneath it, for those of you who speak Portuguese and would prefer the original text, I have included that as well. Enjoy!

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained: How Good it is to Kill Fascists, Racists and Slave Owners!

Rodrigo Guéron

Philosopher. Adjunct professor Art Institute of UERJ (Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro). Author of the book From the Image to the Cliche, from the Cliche to the image: Deleuze, Cinema and Thought. Director and Screenwriter of the short films 750 Cidade de Deus (750 City of God), Cladestinidade (Clandestineness) and Eu Estou Cada Vez Melhor (I’m Always Getting Better).

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Funny, I was never a Tarantinophile. My mind wasn’t blown, in the ’90s, like some of my friends, by Pulp Fiction; I liked the movie, certain scenes and images especially, but that’s it. Truth be told I really liked a movie that the cultists of the director consider minor: Jackie Brown. Then along came Kill Bill, that I thought was very interesting, and I disagreed with what most critics said about the film, namely, that this, and Taratino’s films that followed, were a collage of references, a montage of cinematic citation, sketches and pop cliches: pastiche couture. That wasn’t exactly an untruth, but it was understating these films. Similar things have been said about Django Unchained, and I continue to think that in a way the critique of Tarantino’s cinema isn’t giving him enough credit.

From the beginning, I would say that Tarantino fights and confronts the US’s past and images of America’s past (Or better yet the past relative to imagery), not differentiating, as in Godard’s Notre Musique, if the image portends to be documentary or fiction: they deal with the memories in the collective consciousness that they’re created from, above all else a memory with a present to be dealt with. To begin such a story, we’d think that the first images of the film we’d face would be of blacks in the bonds of slavery. As a matter of fact, they are there, but it has a void too, a void of imagery, a shrieking omission, specifically a counter-image. In the American cinema, and in history, slavery appears through racism, the abscess of Anglo-Saxon Hollywood. Through its absence, for lack of a protagonist, or through the stereotyping of blacks in films and, finally, that these re-affirming constructs act as images of resistance, like exuberance and empowerment, become stereotypes themselves. But the remixed past of Django Unchained goes well beyond these images: the great, epic images of “America” that are present. And in that it makes sense to mix westerns and slavery: a combination that almost never occurred is, at the heart of it, a combination that was always latent, as if Saturation and Omission met each other on the corner of History and Cinema.

It’s clear that, it’s so impossible to make a western today, it’s so impossible to believe anew in those old epic fables (save the exceptionally beautiful No Country for Old Men by the Cohen Brothers which displays that, nearly debunking my statement) as impossible to not consider the epic majesticness, the power of the images of these civilizing fables mix cinematographic beauty (the beauty of life and the world, and not the dark underbelly of cinema) with sanguinary violence of all the conflicts and genocides of Manifest Destiny. In the middle of the impasse created by this heritage, it’s as if a space was opened up by kicking and screaming to create the images that Tarantino invents in Django, an impossible black cowboy, ex-slave, freedom fighter, bounty hunter, fighting against his captors to free his lady fair.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

But it’s so impossible to believe in a cowboy the way we used to, that one who is black politically correct, didactic, militant of liberal America, would be ridiculous and absurd. On the other hand, if Tarantino made his film a simple parody, or just a comedy, (as the great Spike Lee equivocally interepreted), it’d have eschewed violence in a cynical and impotent way. At the end of the day, cinema is violence, cinema is war, they’re as inextricable from one another as history and violence; whether it be the banalized violence of imagery or a violence of the banal in images; whether it be the aesthetically beautiful violence, sometimes cold and ascetic, sometimes redemptive (for a “great cause”) and, finally, a fascinating violence, attractive: a violence with the promise of great fun and pleasure.

And that’s not all, the situations in westerns are so impossible, so ridiculous, but at the same time are a past that happened, it’s almost irrelevant if it was in cinema or in fact. From old movies there are some images fascinate me to this day: fearless men, sagas, sublime landscapes. Aside from the obvious, the cowboy is at the same time a child, an innocent, sensitive and sanguinary. A heroic nomad, he comes last, does dirty jobs for others before himself, he’s also, violently civilized: the vagabond cowboy is a freedom fighter before “America” becomes the the United States of America. And in the United States film itself is, like a cowboy’s tale, a westerly march.

Tarantino creates in this black cowboy nothing credible, a fearless freedom fighter who’s enamored, who confronts a past, which is invariably tragic. In a mishmash of cinema and history, history and cinema, he duplicates images ad infinitum, showing us all its sides. Sometimes in just one movement, as times in frenetic comings-and-goings, he destroys the past as well as he salvages it. It even gives the impression that one of his filmmaking guides was the most beautiful anti-fascist text by Nietzsche (A philosopher who was, paradoxically or not, a hero to the Nazis): On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

At the intersection between Memory and Forgetting, between what we can’t relive and what is impossible (and undignified) to forget; between what we can no longer believe and what we wish to affirm; between cynicism and innocence; between raw, real violence and film effects; between the pretension of realism mixed with moral lessons and the ridiculousness of improbable situations; Tarantino chooses all this at the same time. We make fun of, laugh at, disbelieve, and surprisingly, we are on the edge of our seats like adolescents from the mid-20th century rooting for their heroes. And this is how we find ourselves getting frightened, nearing delirium like beasts before a huge massacre: a “just” massacre, the perfect revenge: a copy of a copy of a copy, but totally anti-Baudardrillian, posing as not at all nihilistic: potent. And the whole theatre is buzzing like when the young Jewish girl in Inglourious Basterds, in the middle of Occupied Paris, blew up the theatre with Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and the whole Third Reich in attendance. It’s an absurdity that’s good: the deliciousness of cinema unmasked, rustic, stripped of dramatic recourses and moribund cinematic technique, mixing the deliciousness of seeing how history absurdly should have been for the general welfare of all. In fact, if cinema is a fallacy, science and its “truths” can be the same way: certain situations in the film are so stupid like the “scientific” explanation that a slave owner gives about the brian of blacks. But their power is also maintained because it’s fascinating and engenders pleasures. Cinema and its joys have much to do with this. This is why the scene where the slaves are setting the table in the plantation house is perhaps one of the most beautiful of the film.

Hollywood always wanted to give us the omnipotent sensation of the desctruction of evil; for this it was necessary to drown under the polarization of good vs. evil to later get rid of all our desires – and above all the anti-desire: fear and guilt- within it. Only Hollywood isn’t over our heads: it is part of the power, either with active violence, or with the impotence of fear and guilt: impotent images. The “politically incorrect” relates to these things, and it’s still capable of turning, with its spectre, a legion of proto-fascist figures of the establishment posing as the irreverent “politically incorrect.”

On the other side, if the American cinema doesn’t get tired of killing for a great cause, or of promising an assassination with a great fun – and us with heroic assassins- Tarantino in Django permits us to to play joyfully at being just, saying “Fuck off!”, to our delight, to everything politically correct. Now we can even laugh, celebrate and get as blood-spattered as we want with the triumph of good we always wanted: the best happy endings of all time.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

The omnipotent American cinema of destruction of evil is triumphanty destroyed and resuscitated by Tarantino, who in the same gunsling kills liberal-Christian guilt with a bullet to the head. It’s not good enough anymore to kill “robbers,” “Indians,” “Communists,” “Islamic terrorists,” or all the other supposed enemies of “America.” Much less feel compassion for them. What’s good is killing fascists! What’s really good is slaughtering slave owners and racists! It delicious to see these pigs to the slaughter without any pity whatsoever.

Django Uncahined (2012, The Weinstein Company)

The Original Text

Django Livre, de Quentin Tarantino: como é bom matar fascistas, racistas e escravocratas!

Rodrigo Guéron

Filósofo. Professor Adjunto do Instituto de Artes da UERJ. Autor do livro, “Da Imagem ao Clichê, do Clichê à Imagem. Deleuze, Cinema e Pensamento”. Diretor e roteirista de Cinema, autor dos curta metragens “750 Cidade de Deus”, “Clandestinidade” e “Eu Estou Bem cada Vez Melhor”.

Engraçado, nunca fui um tarantinista. Não vibrei como alguns amigos nos anos 1990 com Pulp Fiction; gostei do filme, de algumas cenas e imagens em especial, e pronto. Na verdade eu gostei mesmo era de um filme que os cultuadores do diretor consideravam menor: Jackie Brown. Mas já em Kill Bill, que achei muito interessante, comecei a discordar do que grande parte da crítica dizia do filme, a saber, que este, e outros filmes de Tarantino que o seguiram, eram uma colagem de referências, montagem de citações cinematográficas, quadrinhos, clichês pops: uma espécie de costura de pastiches. Isso não era exatamente uma inverdade, mas era pouco para estes filmes. Coisas semelhantes tem sido ditas sobre Django Livre, e continuo achando que esta espécie de senso comum da crítica sobre o cinema de Quentin Tarantino não dá conta da força do diretor.

De início, eu diria que o que Tarantino faz em Django Livre é lidar e enfrentar o passado dos EUA, ou seja, as imagens do passado dos EUA (ou melhor, o passado enquanto imagem), não fazendo diferença, como na espetacular edição da primeira parte da História(s) do Cinema de Godard, se são imagens documentais ou de filmes de ficção: trata-se de memória e o que a constitui; sobretudo memória como um presente a ser enfrentado. A princípio, pensaríamos nós, as primeiras imagens a serem enfrentadas seriam as da escravidão e dos negros. E de fato elas estão lá, mas neste campo há também um vazio, uma falta de imagens, uma omissão gritante e, em especial, uma contra-imagem. No cinema americano, e na história, a escravidão aparece pelo racismo, pela assepsia anglo-saxã de Hollywood, pela ausência, pela falta de protagonismo ou pelo estereótipo dos negros nos filmes e, finalmente, pelo que estes construíram como imagens de resistência, como exuberância e empoderamento, e até como estereótipos de si mesmos. Mas o passado remexido em Django Livre vai bem além destas imagens: são as grandes imagens épicas da “América” que estão ali. E assim faz todo sentido misturar western e escravidão: a mistura que quase nunca houve é, no fundo, a mistura que sempre esteve latente, como se saturação e omissão se encontrassem numa esquina da história, e do cinema.

Mas, é claro, é tão impossível fazer hoje um western, é tão impossível crer de novo naquelas velhas fábulas épicas (e o belíssimo Onde os Fracos Não Tem Vez dos irmãos Coem mostram isso, quase me desmentindo), quanto é impossível não considerar a grandeza épica, a força das imagens destas fábulas civilizatórias que misturaram uma beleza cinematográfica gigantesca (beleza da vida e do mundo portanto, e não do umbigo do cinema) com a violência sanguinária de todos os conflitos e genocídios da “marcha para o Oeste”. É no meio do impasse criado por esta herança, como se abrisse um espaço a cotoveladas para poder criar as suas imagens, que Tarantino inventa Django, um impossível cowboy negro, ex-escravo, justiceiro, caçador de recompensas, lutando contra seus algozes senhores para libertar a sua amada.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Mas é tão impossível crer num cowboy como antes, que um cowboy negro politicamente correto, didático militante da moral liberal estadunidense, seria ridículo e absurdo. Por outro lado, se Tarantino fizesse do seu filme uma simples paródia, ou apenas uma comédia, (como o grande Spike Lee equivocadamente entendeu), teria banido de modo cínico e impotente a violência. Afinal de contas, cinema e violência, guerra e cinema, são tão imbricados quanto o são história e violência; seja a violência banalizada das imagens e a violência do banal em imagens; seja a violência bela e estética, às vezes ascética e fria, às vezes redentora (por uma “grande causa”) e, finalmente, uma violência fascinante, atraente: a violência como promessa de um grande gozo e prazer.

Mas isso ainda é pouco, as situações dos westerns são impossíveis, são ridículas, mas ao mesmo tempo são o passado que houve, pouco importa se no cinema ou de fato. Nos velhos filmes de mocinho e bandido algumas imagens fascinam ainda hoje: homens destemidos, sagas, paisagens sublimes. O cowboy é ao mesmo tempo uma criança ingênua, sensual e sanguinária. Herói nômade, ele vem antes da besta branca civilizatória ocidental, faz o serviço sujo para ela antes de ser, ele também, violentamente civilizado: o cowboy errante e justiceiro antes da “América” se tornar EUA. E nos Estados Unidos o próprio cinema é, como num western, marcha para o oeste.

Tarantino cria este cowboy negro nada crível, justiceiro destemido e apaixonado, enquanto enfrenta a sempre trágica lida com o passado. Num emaranhado de cinema e história, história e cinema, ele duplica infinitamente as imagens, mostrando-as em todos os seus lados. Às vezes num só movimento, às vezes em idas e vindas frenéticas, ele destrói o passado tão bem quanto o resgata. Dá até a impressão que um de seus manuais de filmagem foi o mais belo e anti-fascista dos textos de Nietzsche ( filósofo que foi, paradoxalmente ou não, herói dos nazis): “Das Utilidades e dos Incovenientes da História para a Vida”.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Na encruzilhada entre memória e esquecimento, entre o que não podemos reviver e o que nos é impossível (e indigno) esquecer; entre o que não conseguimos mais crer e o que temos o desejo de afirmar; entre o cinismo e a ingenuidade; entre a violência crua e real e o efeito cenotécnico; entre a pretensão de realismo misturada às lições de moral e o ridículo das situações inverossímeis, Tarantino escolhe tudo isso ao mesmo tempo. Debochamos, rimos e descremos juntos e, surpreendentemente, somos arrebatados na cadeira do cinema como adolescentes do meio do século passado torcendo por seus mocinhos. E assim nos pegamos se assustando e delirando como bestas diante de um grande massacre: o massacre “justo”, a vingança perfeita: a cópia, da cópia, da cópia, mas totalmente anti baudrillardiana, posto que nada niilista: potente. E o cinema todo vibra como quando a mocinha judia, de Bastardos em Glória, em plena Paris ocupada, explodiu a sala de cinema com Hitler, Goebbels, Goering e todo o Terceiro Reich dentro. É o absurdo que é bom: a delícia do cinema desmascarado no tosco de seus recursos dramáticos e cenotécnicos moribundos, misturado à delícia de ver como a história absurdamente deveria ter sido para a felicidade geral todos. De fato, se o cinema é uma falácia, a ciência e suas “verdades” podem sê-lo do mesmo jeito: certas situações do filme são tão estúpidas quanto a explicação “científica” que o senhor de escravo dá sobre o cérebro dos negros. Mas o poder também se mantém porque é fascinante e engendra prazeres. O cinema e suas delícias têm muito a ver com isso. Por isso a cena das escravas arrumando a mesa de jantar do senhor na casa grande talvez seja uma das mais belas do filme.

Hollywood sempre nos quis dar a onipotente sensação da destruição do mau; para isso precisou nos afogar na polarização bem x mau para depois despejar todo o nosso desejo – e sobretudo o anti-desejo: o medo, a culpa – nela. Só que Hollywood não está acima de nossas cabeças: ele é parte do poder que nos atravessa, seja como violência ativa, seja como a impotência do medo e da culpa: imagens impotentes. O “politicamente correto” tem a ver com estas últimas, e ainda é capaz de gerar como seus espectros uma legião de almofadinhas proto-fascistas, figuras do establishment pousando de irreverentes “politicamente incorretos”.

Por outro lado, se o cinema americano não se cansa de matar por uma grande causa, e de nos prometer o assassinato com um grande gozo – e nós como heróis assassinos –, Tarantino em Django nos permite brincar deliciosamente de sermos justos, mandando à merda, para o nosso deleite, todo o politicamente correto. Agora já podemos rir, comemorar e se lambuzar de sangue à vontade com o triunfo do bem que sempre desejamos: o melhor final feliz de todos os tempos.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

A cinematográfica onipotência estadunidense da destruição do mal é triunfalmente destruída e ressuscitada por Tarantino, que no mesmo movimento de pistola mata a culpa liberal-cristã com uma bala na testa. Bom já não é matar “bandidos”, “índios”, “comunistas”, “terroristas islâmicos”, ou todo e qualquer suposto inimigo da “América”. Nem muito menos sentir compaixão por eles. Bom mesmo é matar fascistas! Bom mesmo é trucidar senhores de escravos e racistas! É delicioso poder mandar esses porcos todos pelos ares! Sem pena alguma.

My Ballot: LIONs for LAMBs and The OMIEs

As I indicated earlier, when there are public or open to membership voting that I qualify for, I will write a post here to discuss my picks and to publicize the poll. I have included two polls here.

They are both run by the LAMB, the Large Association of Movie Blogs, of which I am a part, or a member thereof. The first is Lions for the Lambs, which seeks ranked submissions in various categories. Since that closely reflects my BAM Award selections, I also included my Omie choices where I more closely considered “Oscar-viability” in my decision-making process.

LIONS for the LAMBs

Best Film

1. Django Unchained
2. The Turin Horse
3. Anna Karenina
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. North Sea Texas
6. The Cabin in the Woods
7. Les Misérables
8. The Dynamiter
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
10. Kauwboy

Best Director

1. Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
2. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
3. Bavo Derfune North Sea Texas
4. Joe Wright Anna Karenina
5. Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises

Leading Male Performances

1. Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
2. Hugh Jackman Les Miserables
3. Denis Lavant Holy Motors
4. Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe
5. Logan Lerman The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Leading Female Performances

1. Keira Knightley Anna Karenina
2. Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin
3. Magaly Solier Amador
4. Noomi Rapace The Monitor
5. Erika Bók The Turin Horse

Supporting Male Performances

1. Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained
2. Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
3. Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables
4. Mikkel Boe Foesgaard A Royal Affair
5. Matthew McConaughey Bernie

Supporting Female Performances

1. Anne Hathaway Les Misérables
2. Samantha Barks Les Misérables
3. Gina Gershon Killer Joe
4. Sally Field Lincoln
5. Anna Gunn Sassy Pants

Best Screenplays

1. Patrick Wang In the Family
2. Bavo Defurne and Andre Sollie North Sea Texas
3. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
4. Laszlo Krasznahorki and Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
5. Tom Stoppard Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina

Best Foreign Film

1. The Turin Horse
2. North Sea Texas
3. Kauwboy
4. Holy Motors
5. The Raid: Redemption

As for the Ormies, as intimated above, it’s more of a snubbed award so here are my choices based on Oscar expectations. A few are admittedly wished-for surprises. These are open to anyone. Submit your choices here via email.

Best Picture

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Director

Tom Hooper Les Misérables

Best Actress

Keira Knightley Anna Karenina

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress

Samantha Barks Les Misérables

Best Original Screenplay

The Cabin in the Woods

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Foreign Language Film

Kauwboy

Animated Film

Rise of the Guardians

Documentary

Bully

Original Song

“The Big Machine” Safety Not Guaranteed

Top 25 Films of 2012: 10-1

I try to keep my mind as open as possible during the year, and as you start assembling a list like this you see there could be perceived slights. The fact of the matter is making this list was brutal. More than once I had to consider if I can stick to a previously made proclamation, more than once I jotted down additional titles to see if they could slide into the top 25.

10. Kauwboy

Kauwboy (2012, Waterland Film BV)

Few films can go for lyrical simplicity and capture it so well. Equally difficult is capturing the unspeakable wonders of childhood creativity and a young protagonist alone. This film succeeds in all those areas and more. It truly deserves a worldwide audience.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012, Summit)

This film is one of the best heartfelt teen movies in quite some time. Yes, there was Easy A a few years ago, but that was primarily satirical comedy. There’s humor here but it’s mostly a drama, and has three characters you end up knowing and caring about a great deal.

8. The Dynamiter

The Dynamiter (2011, Film Movement)

I could’ve mentioned this for quite a few entries, but aside from all these films being quality pieces, this was really a year of tear-jerkers crowding this list. Making someone cry is one thing, but doing so and being all around great is something else. This film works so subtly and softly I never felt it coming, but when it hit, it hit so hard.

7. Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012, Universal)

The rip-your-heart-out-bawl-your-eyes-out emotions of the show are here cinematic, raw, in your face here and I for one love it. Some songs are redefined, others reinvented; the cast breathes new life into this classic tale.

6. The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Lionsgate)

If there’s one genre that needs a jolt of energy every so often, it’s horror. The proliferation of horror films will continue, so originality and reflexivity need to be injected to keep it vibrant. This is one of the best films in the genre in years.

5. North Sea Texas

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

Here you see the benefits of festival-going, for had I not made a point of attending QFest in Philadelphia I wouldn’t have seen it. The limited release of this film never really came anywhere close to me.

Thus, I haven’t been fortunate enough to re-view the film, but I firmly believe what I said prior: this will stand the test of time as an important work.

4. The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Warner Bros.)

I love Batman. I do. Had I not gotten bogged down, and behind schedule, I would’ve written a Hero Whipped about it. Nolan’s trilogy is brilliant, but mostly due to the way this one closes it. Enjoyable as the first two were, I always felt I didn’t like them as much as everyone else. This one I love a lot and was very emotionally involving.

3. Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012, Fox Searchlight)

This and the title that follows on the list are the ones that really grew upon thought. I never expected this to be such an emotionally involving experience and I was very glad it turned out to be one.

2. The Turin Horse

The Turin Horse (2011, Cinema Guild))

This film is about as perfect a swan song as you could want.

1. Django Unchained

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

I wrote a bit about this in the BAM Award Winners post. To summarize here: this is a film about slavery that’s as funny as it is smart, and as brash as it is enjoyable.