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I wanted to analyze a bit of the controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained.' But instead of just focusing on the one movie, I thought it might be interesting to analyze the grindhouse/exploitation genre as a whole, since many of them are fondly remembered, and not exactly politically correct by today's standards.

What exactly qualifies as an exploitation or grindhouse movie is very broad & open to interpretation. The term covers a lot of genres of B-movies, cult films, and direct-to-DVD/late-night cable flicks. And even though the themes of the films might be lurid or sensationalistic, with copious amounts of sex & violence, there was also room for social commentary & satire. However, there were also the "WTF?" movies too.

So in addition to looking at 'Django Unchained,' I thought I might pose a late-night question for the movie lovers. What are some of the best & worst exploitation films?

There was also a fair amount of controversy when 'Inglourious Basterds' was released. In all of Tarantino's films, there are references to classic exploitation films of the past. With 'Inglourious Basterds,' Tarantino said his intent was to do a Spaghetti Western, except based in Nazi-occupied Europe. With 'Django Unchained,' it's a mixture of Spaghetti Western & Blaxploitation film, and basically seems to be what you would get if you crossed "Roots" with 'Shaft' and sprinkled some 'Once Upon a Time in the West' on top. The controversy surrounding the film seemed to start building around its release date, when there was a right-wing freakout over the use of the word "nigger" in the film.

The brouhaha surrounding the film got kicked up another notch when director Spike Lee decided to criticize the film (which he hasn't actually seen), and other directors came to Tarantino's defense.

From the A.V. Club:

While most of us awoke to a 2013 in which we are all post-human creatures of pure light and lovely, ashen gray skin, indistinguishable within our silver jumpsuits, some people have had trouble letting go of old feuds. For instance, Spike Lee, whose tendency to see other directors as John Turturro in 'Do The Right Thing' has reared its head yet again over Quentin Tarantino.

"American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them," Lee tweeted in his typically haughty, halting manner, calling out Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' for what he perceives as the film's flippant treatment of the subject. Of course, "perceives" is the key word, as Lee previously told Vibe that he "can't speak on it 'cause I'm not gonna see it. I'm not seeing it. All I'm going to say is that it's disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film," therefore safely ensconcing himself behind the privilege of assumption, which is much easier than actually experiencing and evaluating something. Fun, too.

But apparently not everyone is against digging up the skulls of Spike Lee's ancestors and putting cowboy hats on them and using them for a puppet show, while their tormented spirits moan in agony (metaphorically speaking). Director Antoine Fuqua came to Tarantino's defense during an interview at the Capri Film Festival, first and foremost criticizing Lee for making his objections public. "If you disagree with the way a colleague did something, call him up, invite him out for a coffee, talk about it. But don’t do it publicly," Fuqua said to a journalist from The Hollywood Reporter who was holding a tape recorder, and who then printed his comments in a widely read international news story. Adding another layer of irony, Fuqua admitted he hadn't seen Django Unchained either, but said, "I don’t think Quentin Tarantino has a racist bone in his body. Besides, I’m good friends with Jamie Foxx and he wouldn’t have anything to do with a film that had anything racist to it." (Ah, the old "It can't be racist; I have lots of Jamie Foxx friends" defense.)

Anyway, unlike the previous brouhaha over Jackie Brown—in which Spike Lee fired the immortal "What does [Tarantino] want to be made—an honorary black man?" shot, and Samuel L. Jackson responded with an awesome barb about how Spike Lee hadn't made any good films in a while—no one involved with 'Django' has yet to legitimize Spike Lee's complaint with a response.

Although, Tarantino has already sorta preemptively responded to Lee during an interview with Harvard Professor and cultural critic Henry Louis Gates Jr., in which he calls the sort of criticism "ridiculous."
On use of the N-Word:

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Spike Lee‘s on your ass all the time about using the word “nigger.” What would you say to black filmmakers who are offended by the use of the word “nigger” and/or offended by the depictions of the horrors of slavery in the film?

Quentin Tarantino: Well, you know, if you’re going to make a movie about slavery and are taking a 21st-century viewer and putting them in that time period, you’re going to hear some things that are going to be ugly, and you’re going see some things that are going be ugly. That’s just part and parcel of dealing truthfully with this story, with this environment, with this land.

Personally, I find [the criticism] ridiculous. Because it would be one thing if people are out there saying, “You use it much more excessively in this movie than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi.” Well, nobody’s saying that. And if you’re not saying that, you’re simply saying I should be lying. I should be watering it down. I should be making it more easy to digest.

No, I don’t want it to be easy to digest. I want it to be a big, gigantic boulder, a jagged pill and you have no water.

In Samuel L. Jackson's retort to Spike Lee's similar criticism of 'Jackie Brown,' he argues that Lee's beef with Tarantino is that he's a white director & "black artists think they are the only ones allowed to throw around the [n-word]." Similar arguments were made against Steven Spielberg, when he directed Alice Walker's "The Color Purple."

Whether or not that's true, I'll leave for others to ponder. But in my humble opinion, Lee's criticism fails in three respects.

  • If you haven't watched the movie, don't expect me to take your opinion seriously. This is something that's bothered me about some of the reviews & criticisms I've read about 'Zero Dark Thirty' as well. I have no patience for the sort of person that bitches & moans about something they perceive to offend them, when they haven't even watched the damn thing. And that holds true whether it's religious fundamentalist crying about 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' or some of the critics going after 'Django Unchained.' Watching the trailer or reading a description of what takes place in the film is not an acceptable threshold by which it gives one leeway to criticize something they haven't seen. For one thing, trying to review something based on descriptions & snippets loses the context & tone of how things happen over the totality of the work, and how it may play into a larger subtext.
  • Slavery is a tragic part of American history. It was a cancer at the heart of the American Dream that we as a country have been trying to deal with for the past 150 years. However, like every other tragedy, it is not precluded from being used as a backdrop to tell a fictional story (even a Spaghetti Western), no more than the holocaust during World War II, Native American genocide, Rwandan genocide, the September 11th Attacks, or any other terrible event in human history in which large numbers of people were systematically wronged, killed, or tortured. And this is not a docudrama that's supposed to be taken as gospel, anymore than believing that we're supposed to walk away from 'Inglourious Basterds' believing that Hitler was gunned down in a movie theater, or that Victor Hugo got every detail of the French Revolution pitch perfect in 'Les Misérables.'
"American Slavery The French Revolution was not a Spaghetti Western musical. It was a holocaust bloodbath. My ancestors were Slaves starved, beaten, and murdered... I will honor them"
  • Finally, even though the film is part exploitation film, it's a movie that approaches slavery & the antebellum society that accepted slavery as horrifying. I've had many non-African-American people that have seen 'Django Unchained' tell me that the film made them think about slavery & its repercussions more than any textbook ever did. That's something Lee (or any of the other critics with problems) may have ascertained if they had actually watched the film. This is also a movie where the African-American characters are by & large more noble, honorable, and smarter than the white characters. And like a lot of old-school exploitation films, there is more than a bit of commentary & subtext to the film.

From io9:
The most soul-mangling scene took place at Candieland, the plantation from Hell, where Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) throws used-up "mandingo fighters" to the dogs. No, it was not the dog scene that unhinged me. It was when Candie delivered a wrathful speech about Phrenology, a popular pseudoscience of the era.

Candie sets a skull on the dinner table where Django (Jamie Foxx) and Schultz (Christoph Waltz) have just been discovered and disarmed. It's the skull of the slave who raised three generations of Candies, the skull of a man Candie loves. So he saws off the back of the skull, and picks it up to reveal three dimples on the inside of it. Phrenologists believed you could read personality from the skull's shape, and Candie announces that every person from Africa has those three dimples, right in the part of the head devoted to servility. A European genius like Newton would have those dimples in the part of the head devoted to creativity, he yells, but every single black person — even the exceptional Django — is fundamentally built for slavery.

We think of science as a form of enlightenment, but 'Django Unchained' reminds us that it has been used just as often to justify racist totalitarianism of the kind we see at Candieland.

What makes this all-too-historically-accurate speech so powerful is that it closely resembles arguments still used today to justify the high rates of black imprisonment, unemployment, and general disenfranchisement in America. In the 1990s, sociologist Richard Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, a book that suggested that blacks had lower IQs on average than other groups. Hence, their achievements were naturally less spectacular than whites. This book was not treated with sarcastic disbelief the way slavery is in 'Django Unchained.' It was widely accepted as fact, and indeed Charles Murray had been and continues to be regarded as an expert on social welfare policies for low income people, especially people of color. Candie may be a fantasy, but his idea of scientific truth is not.

If Tarantino's films are odes to exploitation films, what exactly is an exploitation film? A lot of them were staples of theaters & Drive-Ins, low-budget, have a good amount of gratuitous sex & violence, and usually had a kick-ass trailer that's probably better than the actual movie. Here's a general definition from TV Tropes:
"A film which focuses on morbid elements a lot, the type of morbid elements that fascinate or excite people. For example, a crime movie which focuses more on the details of committing the crime or its effects on the victim, rather than the efforts to solve it. Or a movie that's excessively violent for no real reason. In fact, that - excessive violence or sexuality - seems to be the main definition of an exploitation film... Because one person's "gritty realistic drama" is another's form of entertainment in the "grit" itself, the line can sometimes be pretty thin."

► "Educational" Films

These are the movies that were attempting to "teach" children & young adults about the dangers of the world. They're sorta the dimwitted grandparent of the old CBS After-School Specials & today's "The More You Know" and "Knowing Is Half The Battle" PSAs. The '30s & '40s cautionary films have the quality of an Ed Wood film, making them good fodder for "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and have some downright whacked-out messages.

For example, 1938's 'Sex Madness' warns us about the dangers of burlesque shows helping to spread syphilis. According to this film, watching some showgirls prance around on stage & show off their legs will turn women into lesbians, and make men engage in dirty pre-marital sex. The film also exposes the dangers to aspiring burlesque dancers, who will be exposed to "The Syph" by way of the casting couch.

Apparently people in the 1950s had forgotten what to do with someone they had feelings for, since someone felt the need to make 'What To Do On A Date.' And if that's not enough, it seems that people in 1950 needed an instructional film to help them figure out when it was time to get married too, hence the need of 'Are You Ready for Marriage?' On the more sinister & shameful side of things, there's 1961's 'Boys Beware,' a ridiculous anti-gay propaganda film created with the help of the Inglewood, California Police Department and the Inglewood Unified School District, in which homosexuals are portrayed as pedophiles.

And then there's 1936's 'Reefer Madness.'

Reefer Madness (aka Tell Your Children) is a 1936 American exploitation film revolving around the tragic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try "marihuana": a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, rape, and descent into madness all ensue.
There's also 1982's 'Desperate Lives' where Helen Hunt learned never to trust a dude that says snorting Angel Dust is OK, otherwise you might jump through plate glass windows.

► Martial Arts

If you look back at some of the films of the '70s, there seemed to be a fascination with Kung-Fu & Karate that elevated martial arts to the level of comic-book superpowers. You can still see a hint of it in the 80s with movies like 'The Karate Kid.' According to that film, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) can fix ligament damage by just rubbing his hands together & giving Daniel's leg a massage. It's also similar to the Hollywood version of Native American mysticism that appeared in a lot of '70s films. There are a lot of white actors playing Native Americans in exploitation films, where their "Indian-ness" consisted of brown makeup, some turquoise jewelry, and a feather added to their wardrobe.

However, with all of that said, it shouldn't negate that there were a lot of great martial arts exploitation flicks. I still remember, as a very little kid, the 7-hour block of "Kung-Fu Theater" that used to come on USA Network on Saturdays. My first exposure to horribly dubbed martial arts films began there.

Of course there are the Bruce Lee films like 'Fist of Fury' & 'Enter The Dragon,' or the Shaw Brothers' 'The 36th Chamber of Shaolin,' which is one of the greatest martial arts films ever made. Or one of my favorites, Sonny Chiba's 'The Street Fighter.'

► Blaxploitation

What are the elements of a "Blaxploitation" film? Usually a predominantly African-American cast, with the lead character having to deal with some endemic problem affecting the community, while also having to fight "The Man" (who is represented in the form of corrupt white cops, corrupt city officials, corrupt business officials, etc.).

Among some of the better known examples:

Blaxploitation includes several types of films, including crime (Coffy), action (Three The Hard Way), horror (Abby), comedy (Uptown Saturday Night), nostalgia (Five on the Black Hand Side), coming-of-age/courtroom drama (Cooley High/Cornbread, Earl and Me), and musical (Sparkle). The primary quality of the Blaxploitation film is the targeted marketing to black audiences with the use of exploitable elements such as a black cast and subject matter of interest to African-Americans.
You get into an interesting argument with Blaxploitation films. Did they perpetuate stereotypes about African-Americans, or were they some of the first films to show strong, intelligent African-American characters who weren't the sidekick, or in need of "assistance" from white people? Or maybe they were both things at the same time? 'Shaft' and Melvin Van Peebles' 'Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song' are considered some of the earliest examples of the genre. According to Van Peebles, he wanted to "show all the faces that Norman Rockwell never painted."

► Vengeance

A common theme of exploitation films is a wronged person or group turning the tables and giving an oppressor a taste of their own medicine. The "Basterds" in 'Inglourious Basterds' sort of fit this archetype. "The Bride" in 'Kill Bill' is also based around this story genre. Wes Craven's 'The Last House on the Left,' which is based on Ingmar Bergman's 'The Virgin Spring,' has a father & mother avenging an attack on their daughter.

Other prime examples this are 'Dirty Harry' and Charles Bronson's character in 'Death Wish,' who goes on a vigilante killing spree after the rape & murder of his wife. Both were big budget responses that played on public fears towards rising crime rates in the 1970s. Another film from that era is 'Rolling Thunder,' which was written by Paul Schrader after 'Taxi Driver.' It's a "back from 'Nam" revenge film.

The original iteration of 'I Spit On Your Grave' was (and arguably still is) very controversial, having been banned in a lot of countries. The controversy largely stems from a very graphic rape scene, and how you interpret the film. Is it a movie portraying the horrors of rape, and the revenge of a strong woman that's not going to take it? Or is it misogynistic trash that titillates its audience with sadism against a female protagonist?

► Biker & Car-Fu Movies

Outlaws on two-wheels.....
1953's 'The Wild One', starring Marlon Brando, was one of the first films about a motorcycle gang. A string of low-budget juvenile delinquent films centered around hot-rods and motorcycles followed in the 1950s. The success of American International Pictures' 'The Wild Angels' in 1966 ignited a trend that continued into the early 1970s. Other biker films include 'Motorpsycho' (1965), 'Hells Angels on Wheels' (1967), 'The Born Losers' (1967), 'Satan's Sadists' (1969), 'Nam's Angels' (1970), and 'C.C. and Company' (1970)
Outlaws on four-wheels.....
Carsploitation films are films featuring many scenes of car racing and crashing with sports and muscle cars that were popular around the era. The quintessential film of this genre is 'Vanishing Point.' Others include 'The Blues Brothers', 'Cannonball', 'Death Race 2000', 'Dirty Mary Crazy Larry', 'Gone in 60 Seconds', 'Mad Max', 'Race with the Devil', 'Eat My Dust', and 'Two-Lane Blacktop'.

► Sexploitation & Women In Chains

Speaking of outlaws in cars, Russ Meyer is one of the first people to figure out that if you had fast cars and then add women with tight clothes & big breasts, that works even better. In 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,' Meyer presents a dangerous trio of Go-Go dancers.
Also under the Sexploitation genre would be a lot of the soft-core porn that came out of the '70s & '80s that populated Cinemax After Dark. Sorta like the 'Emmanuelle' & 'Lady Chatterley' films that had me believing as a young adolescent just exposed to naked boobies that all frustrated wives took trips to the Orient to have sex with anything that has a pulse.
One of the genres of '70s Sexploitation flicks was the "women in prison" movies. Roger Corman & others came up with a basic formula that goes something like this: take hot women, put them in some prison shithole with sadistic guards (usually in the Far-East), and have them eventually kill or beat the living hell out of their captors, but not before mud wrestling, bondage/torture, or a shower scene every 10 minutes. Oh, and Pam Grier is in almost every one of them. Examples include 'Women In Cages' and 'The Big Doll House.'
With these films you get into some of the same questions I posed with the Blaxploitation films. Are these films pretty much about T&A, or should they also be seen as some of the first films to show strong female characters? There is some support for the latter interpretation.
"Even in the mid-'70s, the kind of proto-feminist element was being written about," said Kathleen McHugh, director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women. "Feminist film scholars were writing about Roger Corman and Stephanie Rothman, locating a feminist impulse in the standard plot, where you have these powerful, self-assertive, one might even use the term 'extremely aggressive' women who are wreaking vengeance against forces, people, men who are trying to keep them down."

► Horror

There are so many sub-genres for this, it's almost impossible to list them. There are Slasher Films ('Friday the 13th', 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'), Zombie movies (The Living Dead Series, 'Zombi', 'Re-Animator'), Cannibal films ('Cannibal Holocaust'), Eco-terror films ('Godzilla', 'Night of the Lepus', 'Jaws', 'Them!'), Nazi-ploitation ('Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS'), Torture porn ('Saw', 'Hostel'), and the list goes on and on and on.....
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips/Flames (31+ / 0-)

    Some writers love having all of their works interconnect. The cops & thieves of Elmore Leonard's books all exist in the same universe, and most of the weirdness of Stephen King's works are concentrated in a universe where very odd shit happens in Maine.

    Quentin Tarantino takes a similar position on his films; that they're interconnected.

    • Mr. Blonde/Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) of 'Reservoir Dogs' is the brother of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) in 'Pulp Fiction.'
    • In 'Reservoir Dogs,' Joe (Lawrence Tierney) mentions that Mr. Blonde used to have a partner named "Alabama." This is a reference to Patricia Arquette's character from 'True Romance,' which Tarantino wrote. In his original ending for that film, Clarence (Christian Slater) died. And some even interpret Tony Scott's ending to 'True Romance' to still be that way, with the belief being the ending of the film is a fantasy inside Alabama's head of everyone getting away alive to live on a beach.
    • Tarantino has stated that 'Kill Bill,' 'From Dusk Till Dawn' and 'Death Proof' are a universe within a universe as movies that characters from the 'Pulp Fiction,' 'Reservoir Dogs,' and 'True Romance' universe would go to see in theaters.

    Tarantino added a new layer to all of this when 'Inglourious Basterds' was released by saying that Eli Roth's character, Sgt. Donny Donowitz (aka the Bear Jew) in 'Inglourious Basterds' is the father of of Lee Donowitz, the sleazy movie producer trying to score cocaine in 'True Romance.'

    However, this means that almost all of the Tarantino movies occur in a universe in which World War II (or at least the European part of it) ended very differently than our version of it, which opens a can of worms.

    From /Film:

    The below theory first popped up on Reddit (influenced by Cracked) but then our own David Chen tweeted about it and sort of got the ball rolling. Here goes:
    As it turns out, Donny Donowitz, ‘The Bear Jew’, is the father of movie producer Lee Donowitz from 'True Romance' – which means that, in Tarantino’s universe, everybody grew up learning about how a bunch of commando Jews machine gunned Hitler to death in a burning movie theater, as opposed to quietly killing himself in a bunker.

    Because World War 2 ended in a movie theater, everybody lends greater significance to pop culture, hence why seemingly everybody has Abed-level knowledge of movies and TV. Likewise, because America won World War 2 in one concentrated act of hyperviolent slaughter, Americans as a whole are more desensitized to that sort of thing. Hence why Butch is unfazed by killing two people, Mr. White and Mr. Pink take a pragmatic approach to killing in their line of work, Esmerelda the cab driver is obsessed with death, etc.

    What immediately springs to mind about 'Kill Bill' and 'From Dusk ‘Til Dawn'? That they’re crazy violent, even by Tarantino standards. These are the movies produced in a world where America’s crowning victory was locking a bunch of people in a movie theater and blowing it to bits – and keep in mind, Lee Donowitz, son of one of the people on the suicide mission to kill Hitler, is a very successful movie producer.

    Basically, it turns every Tarantino movie into alternate reality sci fi. I love it so hard.

  •  I don't think that... (9+ / 0-)

    Spike Lee "decided" to criticize Tarantino.

    It seems like that's his innate reaction to every new Tarantino film.

  •  Here's one that fits into this mix someplace. (7+ / 0-)

    Father Time remains undefeated.

    by jwinIL14 on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 09:33:15 PM PST

  •  Spike Lee Is Such a Clown In His Reaction (5+ / 0-)

    That I endorse the idea of Tarantino using part of his scripts for the sole purpose of trolling Lee by putting in something that offends Lee's African-American sensibilities so that he can complain in a way that amuses me.

  •  Black Dynamite! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JekyllnHyde, Rimjob, Simplify

    First they did a movie that was a living tribute to the blacksploitation movies of the 70's starring Michael Jai White (Spawn)

    This movie includes Arsenio, various professional athletes,  and many comedians like Key and Peele,

    And this led to the animated spinoff

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 09:44:26 PM PST

  •  A few thoughts: (13+ / 0-)

    1. I enjoyed most of Django: Unchained, especially the two powerhouse performances - Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson - that leave a mark.  It's not Tarantino's best film, but that's a pretty damned high bar.  It also has significant problems, not the least of which is the film's uneasy tone.  I don't think Tarantino successfully resolved how to make the violence in the film both entertaining, and with his signature over-the-top style that barely skirts cartoonish, and historically true to life, which he seems to want to do at the same time.  There's this thing with dogs, for example...  Not to mention the problems with Kerry Washington, whose character is subject to a constant train of humiliations, which is again drawn from real historical treatment of slaves, but which doesn't gibe well with the rest of the film's tone.

    2. This feeds into my second issue, which is whether Django: Unchained is an exploitation film, or just an ode to them.  I think it's very strongly the latter, and I do think it makes a difference in how we watch them.  99% of exploitation movies are not very good to begin with, but the ones that succeed in the long run do so because there's something about their low budget recklessness that somehow transcends their material.  It feels strange to say this, but Django: Unchained is a mostly safe movie.  The only real chance Tarantino has taken here (apart from his own Australian accent, which is a disaster) is with Samuel L. Jackson's character, which takes one of the most historically divisive (and frankly racist) stereotypes in American culture and tries to make something nuanced out of it.  It's a bold choice, and it pays off.  But the film itself is otherwise, almost defiantly, a safe and conventional movie.  The fact that we're arguing mostly about the n-word says a lot about how little there is that actually "exploits" anything.  This is straight up film homage, and mostly defanged.

    3. It's easy to beat up on Spike Lee, but I think his opposition to the film goes back to a thesis he tried to argue in Bamboozled: that negative, racist representations of black men are no less corrosive when they're treated "ironically" by modern white people.  Lee sees this kind of treatment as detrimental in the long run, even when everyone agrees that we're all "in" on the joke.   Now, people may disagree with that thesis - but my point is that this isn't just about Tarantino, and not just about his own inability to deliver a coherent artistic vision of his own in the last few years.  Bamboozled is itself a bit of a mess, but it's Lee's most forceful argument about the way that white culture tries to refashion its own racism as a harmless commodity in a postmodern environment.  He's not entirely wrong, even about Tarantino (remember the cringe-worthy "dead nigger storage" dialogue from Pulp Fiction?)   Does it apply to Django: Unchained?  Maybe a bit, maybe not.

    4. Just to reiterate, I really enjoyed Django: Unchained.  There's just a lot to chew on here.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 09:57:36 PM PST

    •  As Jules Winnfield Said..... (6+ / 0-)

      Allow me to retort. :-)

      1. I agree with you that it's not his best film, and I probably wouldn't put it above 'Inglourious Basterds,' but I did really like it. The third act has some problems, and I've heard it theorized that some of the problems with pacing & tone may be due to the fact that this is the first Tarantino film not edited by Sally Menke, his longtime editor who passed away back in 2010.

      Quentin Tarantino: There were versions of the movie, getting to the version that we have now, where both the Mandingo fighting [male slaves fighting to the death for sport] and the dog scene [were] even worse … even more violent. I can handle rougher stuff than most people. I can handle more viscera than most. So to me it was OK.

      But you know, you make your movie and you get it to a certain point where we’ve seen it ourselves enough — now we have to see it with an audience. And this movie has to work — all my movies have to work this way — but this one kind of even more so had to work on a bunch of different levels.

      The comedy had to be able to work. The horrific serious scenes have to work. I have to be able to get you to laugh at a sequence after that to bring you back from [the horrific scene]. We have to be at the right place in the story where the big suspense scene at the dinner table happens so that it will pay off.

      Now, I’ll talk a little bit in code, but you’ll know what I mean, and I don’t think it will spoil anything. But by the way, I actually don’t mind people knowing that Django triumphs at the end.

      But there’s that moment where Django turns to Broomhilda and has that kind of punky smile that he does. If I’ve done my job right, modulating this movie and doing it the right way, then the audience will burst into applause. They’ll clap with Broomhilda. They’ll laugh when Django and his horse do the little dance. That means I’ve done it the right way. The audience is responding exactly the way I want them to.

      2. I do wonder though if because it's a Tarantino movie, and his preceding film was one where a bunch of Jewish soldiers brand swastikas into Nazis foreheads, maybe there's an expectation & a bit of "exploitation fatigue," with it being not as "shocking" to have a slave ripped apart by dogs? Here's how Tarantino described the film back in 2007, when it was still being developed.
      "I want to explore something that really hasn't been done. I want to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to. But I can deal with it all right, and I'm the guy to do it. So maybe that's the next mountain waiting for me."
      3. I thought the argument in "Bamboozled" was a really good one (i.e. the minstrel shows of the past have taken on a new form in TV shows based around stereotypes). But I have a problem with the sort of reflexive criticism that pushes that opinion without even seeing the material being discussed. Even though the movie depicts African-Americans in slavery, I don't think 'Django Unchained' casts a negative, racist representation of black men. Like I said in the diary, it's a movie where the African-American characters are by & large depicted as more noble, honorable, and smarter than the white characters. And with the "dead nigger storage" dialogue from 'Pulp Fiction, Tarantino's argument would probably be a variation of it's true to the way characters who just blew a kid's head off & are trying to cover it up would talk to each other.
      Playboy: You apparently got into a war of words sith Spike Lee over the dialog in the subsequent Tarantino film, 'Jackie Brown.' He objected to the use of the N word.

      Samuel L. Jackson: Come on, you can say it [laughs]. In truth, I wasn't trying to defend Quentin or shoot Spike down. I've said "nigger" in Spike Lee movies. He just thought Quentin used the word excessively. People have said that about 'Pulp Fiction' too. The Hughes brothers came to me with that same thing. "What the fuck is up with Quentin and this 'nigger' thing? I said, "And how many time did you use it in 'Menace II Society'? "Oh, that's different." "Bullshit. You wrote your script, he wrote his." With Ordell, I may have said it three times more than Quentin wrote, because that was who Ordell was. For Spike to say, "Well, I use the word at home, but Quentin's got no right." Bullshit. And if he really thought Quentin was a racist, why put him in 'Girl 6'? He had Quentin in 'Girl 6' looking at a black woman's breasts. Was that a metaphorical master-slave thing we didn't get? [laughs].

      •  On the second point, (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Rimjob, terrypinder, FutureNow, Wee Mama

        I'm not sure I agree.  The best of exploitation films are genuinely shocking and sordid... I've had a lot of complex emotions to Tarantino's films, but he's also got good taste, and the closest (I think) he's gotten to genuine exploitation is his screenplay to Natural Born Killers.   Even then, everything's in quotes and polished to a nice shine.

        I think the closest we got to a genuine exploitation film this year was Compliance, which is all kinds of wrong.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 11:13:19 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  To be fair, (6+ / 0-)

        I had a problem with the "dead nword storage" scene from Pulp Fiction, too, because if Jimmy was truly a "down" white dude, he would never say that word, even in the "brotherly" way.

        This is my opinion as a black person. I think I'm pretty astute on the subject of racism although I still have much to learn. Where QT went wrong as do other well-meaning people is that he tried to force his way into a territory he will never be welcomed. That goes for any race or ethnic group of people. It will never be okay for people to use slurs outside of their group and being friends with a black person, a true friend, a best friend or spouse doesn't require that kind of familiarity. we don't choose our family or ethnic peers, we choose our friends. The fact that Jimmy married a black nurse named Bonnie doesn't give him the right to talk to Jules that way.

        It can also be argued that QT wasn't as dumb about race in the 90s as I thought he was. Perhaps he was only setting up Jimmy to be less sympathetic by giving him that dickish monologue. After all, these two guys pop up at Jimmy's house with a headless body less than two hours before his wife gets home but somehow, we still have to sweat for Jules and Vince and hope that everything works out for them. Maybe Jimmy being a dick made us almost glad this misfortune came to his doorstep? Perhaps QT was more advanced in the department of racism than many of us, his main blunder being that Jimmy's dickishly racist lines came through HIM.

        We'll never know the answer to that so I tend to think QT was just stupider about race in those days, not necessarily a meaningful racist. He doesn't strike me as someone who can't grow or change or learn. I don't think he would write the same lines for Jimmy today. Just my opinion.

        But for Spike to take issue with slavery being the subject of a spaghetti western seems silly. Does he have an issue with the genre not being the right emotional fit for the subject matter? Colorism is a serious problem in the black community that is a direct result of color hierachy created in slavery. Who's to tell Spike Lee that something like that is too serious to be exploited in a musical? Or the subject of inter-racial relationships...what business does Spike have reducing it to a Woody Allen drama?

        I can go on and on...

        Nevertheless, I tend to think that Spike misses the greater point about using language in movies and literature. We can strike the nword from Mark Twain classics because teachers don't want to deal with historical truths that lead to today's realities for blacks but all it does is whitewash history and put us in danger of finding ourselves in such a place again.

        "It's not enough to acknowledge privilege. You have to resist." -soothsayer

        by GenXangster on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:12:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  "Too Familiar" (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pico, GenXangster

          If I was being generous, I almost want to say that "Jimmy" is Tarantino's caricature of the guy who Spike Lee & others have accused Tarantino of being.

          When Jules is explaining the "Bonnie Situation," the audience gets to see a fantasy segment of what might happen if Bonnie comes home to discover the body, where it's revealed his wife Bonnie is black.

          I've known white guys who've had black girlfriends/wives & even had a majority of black friends they hung around. I've heard those same black friends describe a situation where because that white guy is hanging around in that clique, where the n-word might be thrown around, he becomes "too familiar" and thinks he can throw it around too, only to find out that shit isn't going to fly.

          I think that sort of explains Jimmy in 'Pulp Fiction.' And the only reason Jules doesn't call him on it is (as he tells Vincent moments before that particular scene) they have a dead body in the garage & he doesn't want the situation to get any more out of hand.

    •  Uncle Ruckus On "The Boondocks" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rimjob, terrypinder

      On the one hand, it's a perfect satire of "straw boss" characters like Alan West, but Ruckus is also a favorite of old white guys.

      There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

      by bernardpliers on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 10:42:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Whatever. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pico, terrypinder, FloraLine, Wee Mama

      Spike Lee has no problem calling women b-----s and worse.  He has no right to complain about being stereotyped.  I've walked out of some of his films, they're so sexist.

    •  Re point 3 (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      I actually agree with Lee's thesis that "ironic" characterizations can be equally damaging, but is this really what Django was?  It seems to me that there's a big difference between an ironic rendering and a historically accurate (if hyperbolic and over-the-top) performance.

  •  does this mean (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, Rimjob, terrypinder

    i have to sit through the passion of the mel?

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 10:15:19 PM PST

  •  <Looks both ways ...> (8+ / 0-)

    Django was brilliant!  Fuck it was good!  It was completely racist and redemptive, all at the same time.

    How could you not love the scene where Jamie Foxx whipped that white boy's ass while dressed as Little Boy Blue!

    Oh my fucking God that movie was so goddamned good!  It could only be made in the Obama era.  It'd be too fucked-up otherwise.

    I had the good (mis)fortune of meeting Tarantino years ago.  It's a long story, but I asked him why he had his characters "nigger" so often.  He told me it was because the word is "delicious" (It is.  It's the one word white people are forbidden to say.) and that he'd be damned if, as a writer, he wasn't going to use it.


    •  ... (4+ / 0-)

      and the scene where Tarantino blew himself up!  Fucking genius.

      Django is his best work by far.

    •  Makes sense. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, FutureNow, fou

      I wouldn't say that Twain was a racist because he used it but it can be argued that he lived in a time when white people actually did say that word and it wasn't taboo. He was just being honest about the world he knew. Doesn't mean he agreed with or endorsed it.

      I would never walk around the city spewing racial slurs about any other group but if I was writing a screenplay about an unlikeable Nazi, yes, I'm pretty sure that this douchebag character would be using a lot of antisemitic slurs. I'm putting these words in his mouth because I hate this guy and I want the audience to hate him also and cheer for his demise. There are unlikeable and unsympathetic people in this world who actually use these kinds of words. I see no harm in shaming them.

      QT has every reason in the world, as an exploitation writer, to use controversial words in his scripts. I just hope he doesn't go around making an ass of himself in real life because I would personally punch him in the face if he sat in front of me and kept saying the nword while we were having a conversation. Depending on my mood, I might just explain to him why I would never use the word d*go in conversation. If I was writing about an ignorant asshole who hates Italians then I would certainly WRITE it. In that way, I think (I hope) I get what he's saying.

      "It's not enough to acknowledge privilege. You have to resist." -soothsayer

      by GenXangster on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:28:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Have't seen "Django Unchained" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rimjob, Wee Mama

    Or "Les Mis."  Or "Saving Private Ryan." Or Disney's "Pocahontas," for that matter. But have seen a whole lot of other historically oriented films including "Zulu," "The Killing Fields," "The Patriot," and "Lincoln," to name a few.

    One general comment: films can seriously disserve history and their audiences in several ways. One is by "sexing up" the truth of actual, stomach-turning atrocities into the realm of caricature.

    Evil imaginary villians can be harmless fun. Caricaturing an actual historical evil, or creating a "historical" over-the-top supervillian type against a real historical background allows audience members to groove on cruelty and violence while basking in self-righteous anger, or superiority, as the case may be -- meanwhile implying that actual atrocities might be too banal to gain our attention, and at the same time sending a subliminal message that the cartoonish evildoer need not be taken too seriously.

    There is no danger that anyone in the audience might discover in a grotesque caricature something...uncomfortably...close to home.  

    An example of this was Gibson's "The Patriot." Among other things, in this film British soldiers burned down a church where people had taken refuge, killing them all. This is the key event that what motivates the main character to take up arms. But it is something that never, never, never happened in the American Revolution.

    Terrible things happened in the American revolution, but the burning of a church full of terrified women and children was not one of them. Things like this happened in European wars, but not in the American revoution. Placed in a carefully designed film with high accuracy in things like costume details, this episode amounts to a false historical claim. In other ways as well, the film turned the British commander into a caricature of a "bad guy" and devalued a complex historical event, rich with real ambiguity and irony that could have made much more effective drama, into a cliche of a revenge film with God-and-country dressing. Just another opportunity to wallow in ego-tonic emotions: self-righteous outrage culminating in self-righteous self-congratulation.

    Someone once described poetry as “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” “The Patriot” resembles a real garden with imaginary toads in it.

    I think history, including all of our ancestors known and unknown deserves more respect, and makes better cinema that way too.

    •  Tarantino was on Fresh Air (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PHScott, skrekk

      It was a great interview. Fresh Air with Quentin Tarantino

      "What happened during slavery times is a thousand times worse than [what] I show," he says. "So if I were to show it a thousand times worse, to me, that wouldn't be exploitative, that would just be how it is. If you can't take it, you can't take it.

      "Now, I wasn't trying to do a Schindler's List you-are-there-under-the-barbed-wire-of-Auschwitz. I wanted the film to be more entertaining than that. ... But there's two types of violence in this film: There's the brutal reality that slaves lived under for ... 245 years, and then there's the violence of Django's retribution. And that's movie violence, and that's fun and that's cool, and that's really enjoyable and kind of what you're waiting for."

      There were a lot of other great snippets from the interview including the fact that his mom dated Wilt Chamberlain!
      •  "dated" -- Wilt the Stilt did more than date (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        matching mole, Rimjob

        according to him anyways - LOL

        thanks for link - I missed that show.

        kudos to Rimjob for the lengthy diary!
        saw the movie yesterday - great but over-the-top bloody there at the end. Loved all the old TV actors he brought in. I'll watch again to to spot all those guys.

        And who was the woman in the mask/bandana?

        Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

        by PHScott on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 02:24:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  This is pretty tangential (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama

    but I thought I would comment see if there were other perspectives.  I realize this was quoted from another source so this comment is not directed at the diarist at all.

    In the 1990s, sociologist Richard Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, a book that suggested that blacks had lower IQs on average than other groups. Hence, their achievements were naturally less spectacular than whites. This book was not treated with sarcastic disbelief the way slavery is in 'Django Unchained.' It was widely accepted as fact, and indeed Charles Murray had been and continues to be regarded as an expert on social welfare policies for low income people, especially people of color. Candie may be a fantasy, but his idea of scientific truth is not.

    In my field (Evolutionary Biology) this statement strikes me as completely false.  'The Bell Curve' is widely regarded as pseudoscience written by people who either didn't understand or willfully disregarded the basics of quantitative genetics.  The textbook I used last summer to teach evolution has an entire section devoted to explaining why the analysis presented in The Bell Curve was wrong.  I guess someone took it seriously because it was published???

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:04:06 AM PST

  •  "Jungle Fever", "Mo Better Blues" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrypinder, Mistral Wind, Rimjob

    Spike Lee pretty much doesn't have room to talk.   I enjoyed several of his works, specifically "She's Gotta Have It" and "Do the Right Thing", "Malcolm X" but Spike Lee's commentary on here in laughable considering these two works.

    In "Jungle Fever" Spike Lee makes a long case against interracial marriage and relationships.   Now, there is an argument to be made that he's voicing the frustrations of a community that successful African American men find white women; but the problem is several of the roles within this are horribly overdone stereotypes that border on being the kind of offensive roles he's worried about.

    And "Mo Better Blues" which has some good moments, also manages to portray Jewish characters in some of the most offensive ways possible.

    Like many filmmakers he's going to have hit and miss.   So will Tarrantino.   But Django Unchained, which is on my best of list this year, isn't really an exploitation film as it is a Vengence Epic.   It's a replay of an era of the civil war with a revisionist history vengence angle.  

    It won't be for everyone, but Lee's Holier-than-though rant doesn't really deal with the film in any meaningful way.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 05:24:59 AM PST

  •  Watch my favorite movie, Baadassss (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Rimjob

    A couple years back Mario van Peebles made a movie about how his father, Melvin, made the first blaxploitation movie.  It's a fascinating movie, both because of the lengths he had to go through to make the movie and the unique perspective Mario brings as an eye witness to the events and an uncanny double of his younger father.

    The movie also does a great job of exposing all the racist roles black people were forced into by Hollywood.  While it's possible that later blaxploitation movies became exploitive or sensational, early movies were clearly radical statements freeing black actors to kick as much ass as the white ones.

  •  Blacksploit without the sex (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I just saw Django last night and I was pretty happy with it.
    I got most of the call-backs and homages, even the one to 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' and extra bonus points if anyone can tell me what the reference was, but the one thing that I thought was really amazing was the portrayal of sexuality.

    Most Blacksploit movies I've seen will portray the lead male character as a bit of a Lothario with a few of them taking the lead down to whore status. He's black, he's well hung, and all them white women are just falling all over him. The sisters too, but that's not quite as important to the character development.

    That didn't happen in Django.

    He was dedicated to finding his wife, and the Black Delila stereotype didn't even catch his eye. Now, the scene with the attempted castration was pretty much hanging a lampshade on the whole big dick thing while at the same time being amazingly homoerotic.

    Just my take though.

    Yes, Samuel L. Jackson played the perfect Uncle Ruckus.

  •  We have to consider QT's background in this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Listening to an interview with him on Fresh Air, he told Terry that he was definitely influenced during his childhood by the lifestyle and people his mother exposed him to. She, a young, hot (as he called her) white woman lived in LA with a young, hot black woman and a young, hot mexican woman. They dated many men, including basketball and football stars (his mother dated Wilt Chamberlain) during the 70's, and he was often taken to "blaxploitation" films by these boyfriends to help their cause (scoring with his mother). Which helps to explain his tendency to do "exploitation"-type films now.

    He was also taken to clubs where R&B singers and bands were performing, so he has a soft spot for much of "black culture".

    "Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati" - Red Green

    by FlashfyreSP on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 08:49:05 AM PST

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