Guest blog: Quentin Tarantino isn't afraid to show the ugly, seamy side of this tragic part of our nation's history
"Django Unchained" brought back memories of my going to school in Bradenton, Fla., in the mid-1950s. My father had a mysterious illness and my family relocated to my grandmother’s house in sunny Florida. Doctors thought sun would do him good.
What fun I had with the snakes and walking the railroad tracks with a machete and with Tommy, my first love. We were in eighth grade. But I didn’t like riding the school bus because the driver made the blacks sit in the back. I never understood why and so I sat there with them as some of them were my friends. I can still remember the line they had to cross to get a seat. And if it were
crowded and there were no seats in the back for them, they had to stand while whites sat in the front.
I knew this was wrong, but there was nothing I could do. Sitting with them was my form of protest.
After seeing "Django Unchained," I recalled this ugly period in our history and laud this film’s passion and spirit that was missing in "Lincoln." Tarantino shows the crude cruel, seamy side of slavery that Spielberg glossed over. Slaves fighting to their death in the living room of a sumptuous plantation while wagers are placed on their lives. Blood is spilled on the plush carpet. A neck is broken. Sport. Mandingo fighting.
Tarantino is not afraid to call a slave a slave, or to show their victimization at the hands of southern plantation owners who are absurd, grotesque parodies of European aristocracy. Tarantino said to an audience of members of the British Academy of Film and Television that the research he did was "incredibly shocking" and that violent as his film may seem, slavery's reality was "far worse."
He wanted his film to have a visceral effect on the audience. "I wanted to break that 'history under a glass' aspect. I wanted to throw a rock into that glass and shatter it for all times and take you into it."
In "Django Unchained," the acting is first-class and directed with precision and an impeccable eye for detail by Tarantino who also acts in his film. No one misses a beat. Christoph Waltz (Dr. King Schulz), Leonardo DiCaprio (Calvin Candie) and Jamie Foxx as Django are all good, but the standouts are Waltz and Samuel Jackson (Stephen) who is smooth as molasses in a heat wave and barely recognizable as a slave master.
The story is about Django's love for his wife Broomhilde Von Shaft (Kerry Washington) and his journey across America to find her in the Deep South amidst its web of diabolical slave owners.
Using his former profession of dentist as a cover, Dr. Schulz, a bounty hunter, takes Django under his wing when he becomes aware that Django is the only person who knows what the infamous Brittle brothers look like. An enormous reward is offered for them. Schulz spots Django being transported by the Speck Brothers. Schulz kills one brother and frees Django.
During their travels, Django confesses his love for Broomhilde. Dr. Schulz is intrigued by the love story and discovers that she is enslaved by Mississippi plantation owner Candie, who with a ruthless hand oversees the infamous Candyland. And so they set off to rescue and unchain Broomhilde Von Shaft and perhaps collect a bounty or two on the way.
The dialogue has Tarantino's signature dry wit which makes it move rapidly through its two hours and 40 minutes. Ennio Morricone's score is witty and wonderful and inserted as relief from the bloodletting. Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" is an example of this perfect blending of music and story that Tarantino has mastered.
Stars from the past and some from the present pop up throughout the film. Franco Nero who starred in Sergio Corbucci's 1966 original spaghetti western, "Django," upon which this film is based, has a cameo. Jonah Hill, Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine and Dennis Christopher offer their talents in smaller parts, which proves that Tarantino has a cult following among fine actors who will do smaller parts just to be close to his genius. And these actors aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.
The Weinstein brothers have another megahit on their hands. "Django Unchained" will clean up at the Oscars. Don't miss it. Don't allow your fear of seeing an honest portrayal of violence on screen — that is less than what the actual slaves suffered — be your reason to skip this. A ticket to "Django Unchained" is a nod to the awareness and disapproval of the cruelty and brutality that America inflicted on the Negro. Our Negro.
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