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May 8, 2021

Django Unchained

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Film review by John Campbell

http://youtu.be/v-4r_B8hY_I

Quentin Tarantino is a ‘master’ (Paul Byrnes in the Sydney Morning Herald). So is Francis Bacon, whose retrospective is attracting bumper crowds to the AGNSW – but I wouldn’t cross the road to be surrounded by his ghastly paintings. It’s all a matter of taste.

Tarantino’s hyperbolic referencing of spaghetti westerns (the title alludes to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Django), TV cowboys, B-grade movies, martial-arts flicks, etc is what sets him apart but, no matter how earnestly done, is it a virtue in itself? His faction would emphatically answer yes, but for mine this over-stylised approach is so ceaselessly jokey that it undermines the serious intent of the story. It also unfailingly results in a tone of ‘too cool for school’ which, irritating though it might be to some (eg me), is a perfect fit for a bourgeois white audience that so wants to be seen as not part of the prevailing orthodoxy, the desperate rebels without a cause.

The subject here is slavery in the US and, if Inglorious Basterds was a fantastical revenge on Nazism, so this can be seen as a similar get-square with that hideous episode in America’s history. It is a terrific Western, with caricatures beautifully drawn by Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L Jackson, who is especially good as Stephen, an Uncle Tom more malevolent than Harriet Beecher Stowe could possibly have envisaged. Catering to attention spans annihilated by Facebook and Twitter, there are numerous insertions of pop music, all meant to spell out the point being made, but they also tend to make the whole feel like it is an accumulation of YouTube clips.

Predictably, a juvenile preoccupation with lurid gun violence prevails – perhaps we might next get a tongue-in-cheek Anders Breivik, or a laugh-a-minute Newtown, Connecticut? As the man/boy of mainstream bromances who is derided for never growing up, or simply the iconoclasts’ icon (oh, bitter irony), Tarantino has made an excellent film – clever, if immodestly so, rambunctious and brilliantly executed. I just didn’t like it very much.


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