Once more, presenting a Challenge: At best, Charles Blow seems lukewarm about Django Unchained. Here’s how today’s column starts:
BLOW (1/5/13): America has slavery on the brain these days.Does Django feature “a profound love story?” We find that somewhat hard to believe, though we only lasted forty minutes. Click here.
There were the recent releases of the movies “Lincoln” (which I found enlightening and enjoyable) and “Django Unchained” (which I found a profound love story with an orgy of excesses and muddled moralities). I guess my preferences reflect my penchant for subtlety. Sometimes a little bit of an unsettling thing goes a long way, and a lot goes too far. Aside from its gratuitous goriness, “Django Unchained” reportedly used the N-word more than 100 times. “Lincoln” used it only a handful. I don’t know exactly where my threshold is, but I think it’s well shy of the century mark.
Regarding this new film, we will again suggest that you take The Django Challenge: Go to the movie, then read the reviews found all through the upper-end press corps.
At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir dismissed the film in a review which refers to Tarantino’s “dumb ideas” and “self-indulgent rambling.” We too were struck by the sheer dumbness of this film’s first forty minutes.
There’s no accounting for taste, of course. But we’ve been amazed to see how few mainstream reviewers wrote anything like what O’Hehir wrote.
Go ahead—take The Mainstream Press Corps Challenge! See the film, then examine this rave review in Time, in which Richard Corliss seems to praise the “brazen amusement value of the Pulp Fiction dude’s latest tribute-provocation,” which closes with “a vivaciously choreographed blood bath.”
For ourselves, we didn’t see that vivacious closing bloodbath. We weren’t offended by the level of violence found in that first forty minutes. But we’re puzzled by the worldview of a 68-year-old mainstream reviewer who closes his piece like this:
“Django Unchained may not reach the delirious heights of Pulp Fiction; its climactic crimson orgasms lack the emotional gravity of the fatal tilts in Kill Bill. But it’s undeniably, gloriously Tarantino: all talk and all action.”
Go ahead: See the film, then take The Corliss Challenge. See if you understand the thrill Corliss seems to find in those glorious crimson orgasms.
On balance, it seems that Blow did not. For whatever reason, he doesn’t praise the “orgy of excesses” to which he refers.
Why have so many mainstream reviewers heaped so much praise on Django Unchained? We can’t answer that question. That said, we couldn’t help noting these excerpts from O’Hehir’s review:
O’HEHIR (12/26/12): I realize I’m supposed to say something about Tarantino’s use of revisionist historical fantasy—making Jewish warriors the protagonists of World War II and inserting a black action hero into the antebellum South—but I just don’t think either of the movies is serious enough to make that a worthwhile topic.In what way was O’Hehir “supposed to say” something about that revisionist history? Was O’Hehir suggesting that his fellow reviewers were working from highly standardized scripts? Later, was he pre-mocking the praise from his fellow critics, who ran, just as he said they would, to talk about Tartantino’s masterful homage to (in Corliss’ words) “the movies he learned to love as a Manhattan Beach video-store savant a quarter-century ago?”
I understand that for many viewers the crazily overstuffed, one-damn-thing-after-another quality of “Django Unchained” will offer a fun alternative to more predictable fare, and [I] have no doubt that some of my fellow critics will proclaim it a postmodern masterpiece, equally inspired by Jean-Luc Godard, the spaghetti western and the screen careers of Jim Brown, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and whatever other ex-NFL stars of the ‘70s made movies in which they got to kill white people. I love to make those kinds of proclamations! And that combination of ingredients sounds intriguing, in theory–just about enough for a great trailer.
Does Richard Corliss really believe the following things about Django Unchained? If so, what might that mean?
CORLISS (12/12/12): A pastiche that’s nearly as funny as it is long (2hr. 45min.), and quite as politically troubling as it may be liberating, Django Unchained is pure, if not great, Tarantino. At 49, after eight features, the writer-director has become his own genre, running weird, violent, maniacally elaborate variations on the movies he learned to love as a Manhattan Beach video-store savant a quarter-century ago. He honored and reconstructed the Hong Kong crime drama City on Fire in Reservoir Dogs, gave ’70s blaxploitation epics a feminismo makeover in Jackie Brown, spliced and diced a dozen Shaw Brothers martial-arts films into the Kill Bill diptych, revived the auto-eroticism and carnage of grindhouse revenge epics in Death Proof.Corliss goes on (and on) from there, listing the various elements of Tarantino’s serial acts of homage. But can Corliss possibly think this film was majorly funny—“nearly as funny as it is long?” And in what universe could this nonsense possibly be “politically troubling?”
In the universe of scripted old men?
There is no ultimate arbiter of taste or value, of course. Is this a serious, worthwhile film? When Moses came down from the mountain, he wasn’t carrying tablets explaining how to judge feature films.
That said, our country has been taking an unusual Challenge in the past forty years. Tarantino is one part of that Challenge. Here’s how that Challenge has gone:
Not so very long ago, citizens were exposed to a rather narrow range of tastes and ideas. As many fans have noted in comments, there was a time when Tarantino couldn’t have made this movie.
Somewhat similarly, there was a time when Don Imus couldn’t have gotten on the air. Ditto for Rush Limbaugh. In those days, Americans were exposed to Cronkite and Brinkley. In those days, it was actually somewhat hard to hear crazy batshit ideas.
It’s also true that Maureen Dowd couldn’t have gotten a column in the fairly recent past. If she had gotten a column, she wouldn’t have been allowed to discuss the silly crap around which she’s built a rather large franchise.
The Dowdism never could have crept. It wouldn’t have gotten in print.
Today, crazy and/or dumb ideas are pretty much all around us. Increasingly, you can’t get on the air without them. Especially in a world where so many journalists fawn in such obvious ways to power, are we as a people able to separate the wheat from the chaff?
In many ways, our ancestors weren’t exposed to The Crazy. As our discourse keeps tumbling down a long hill, do we know how to spot it?
Can Andrew O’Hehir say that: In his review of Django Unchained, Richard Corliss goes on and on about the various acts of homage which help define Tarantino’s career.
Andrew O’Hehir isn’t buying. Instantly, he says this:
O’HEHIR: You could claim that he’s “quoting from Sam Peckinpah” with those slapsticky water balloons full of blood, except that that’s not quite it. It’s more like he’s quoting from crappy ’70s drive-in movies that were quoting from “The Hills Have Eyes,” which was quoting from something else that was quoting from Peckinpah. (I may be missing an intermediate stage there, such as a cannibal film that was dubbed from Italian into Spanish and projected once, with the reels out of sequence, at a downtown Los Angeles theater in 1983.)O’Hehir’s says those 70s films were “crappy!” In a world where every damn fool can get on the air, can Andrew O’Hehir say that?