Cult Pics and Trash Flicks: Django Unchained (2012)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is a part of Matthew Blevins’ weekly series Cult Pics and Trash Flicks
Django Unchained is the latest film in the long and illustrious collection of homages to the bastard stepchildren of cinematic history from the frenetic fanboy of film, Quentin Tarantino. Much like the historical reimagining of the events of World War II in Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained plays with the facts of lies of both history and cinema. This playfulness creates satiating and pulpy entertainment that cuts down the undesirable and often uninteresting elements of its exploitative predecessors. Here are the films we were often promised by posters and the VHS covers in the cavernous depths of our favorite dingy rental hole, but always denied because of limitations in the filmmaker’s budget and imagination or lack of availability in the adolescent years of the digital age. Tarantino lovingly references Sergio Corbucci, a filmmaker that delivered on his promises with his masterpieces of exploitation, but trash cinema rarely reached the heights of Django (1966). Tarantino weaves the good parts from the films that just missed delivering on the promises of their covers and gives us the films we always hoped we would uncover in what we thought were the endless possibilities that our video store provided, but slowly realized were practically non-existent as we stopped believing in the lies of the posters and covers, jaded by years of cinematic dejection and banal dialogue.
As our duo reluctantly and efficiently carry out their futile duty of stamping out evil men, they are unavoidably surrounded by the injustice of slavery, forcing them to confront the hypocrisy in their shared occupation of trading in flesh and the souls of men.
of righteous vengeance, a theme that allows immediate engagement with the material as we go with Django and his idiosyncratic and menacing “dentist” cohort on their journey. Their trek toward justice would lead the duo across mountains, through towns filled with befuddled and backward townsfolk, and across the cotton fields and mansions of the south. We find that all of these places are imbued with the faint stench of decay and souls of evil men in a Corbucci inspired universe. It’s a world where flesh is the only bankable currency and bounty hunters are the only humanists. As our duo reluctantly and efficiently carry out their futile duty of stamping out evil men, they are unavoidably surrounded by the injustice of slavery, forcing them to confront the hypocrisy in their shared occupation of trading in flesh and the souls of men. It takes “sand” to survive in such a ruthless world, and Jamie Foxx’s Django Freeman and Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Shultz have got plenty of that, but it would take more than sand to rid the south of the scourge of slavery.
Sequences with Leonardo DiCaprio as the sinister Calvin Candie show the actor in unusual territory. This wooden toothed embodiment of the ignorance of men and their unfathomable capacity for evil engages in the gentlemanly sport of raising men for “mandingo” fighting. He attempts to present himself as a worldly man in a menacing combination of ignorance and self-importance with a forced and awkward charm. His entire persona reeks of the stench of man’s capacity for evil, with his yellowed wooden teeth and meticulously maintained surroundings, tended by a veritable army of slaves that cannot edulcorate the ancient filth of human slavery from Candieland’s unhallowed walls.
He attempts to present himself as a worldly man in a menacing combination of ignorance and self-importance with a forced and awkward charm.
Our bounty hunting duo arrives at Candieland on their quest to rescue Django’s forcibly estranged wife Broomhilda from an almost certain fate of sexual servitude, finding a palace of decadence and sin forged from the evil of men’s souls and the blood and sweat of multiple generations of legal unconscionability. Tarantino’s version of a southern plantation is imbued with the perniciousness of a Corrbuci western and decaying Dixieland of Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo. His dialogue is every bit as potent as Norman Wexler’s Mandingo screenplay but with healthy doses of the hyperkinetic nerdery that we have come to expect from cinema’s favorite frenetic film-geek. The resultant cocktail ranges in cinematic ingredients from D.W. Griffith to Sergio Corbucci and sips like a contemporary reimagining of a mint-julep, supercharged with Red Bull, but never crossing the line into gauche despite its dangerous intensity and diverse flavors.
Quentin Tarantino continues to pays loving tribute to films that intrigue and excite him with Django Unchained, creating the unfound works from the dead shelves of the video rental stores of old, given unimaginable budgets, unthinkable to even the greatest exploitation filmmakers. Django Unchained’s portrayal of a exaggerated but fictional version of an evil south, blackened by the souls of dead slaves and evil men, would earn it a place on Corbucci’s Django shelf. It is exploitation filmmaking made by a cinephile given one-hundred million dollars to create the films he would have loved to see. Perhaps we resent him for that, his unnecessary cameo (in which he speaks with an Australian accent that is exactly as irritating as you would think it would be) causes irritation at a subconscious level. We see one of us living the dream, creating films that pay homage to the films he loves and doing a damn good job at it. I suppose he can be forgiven for one brief moment of irritating self-indulgence.