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Django!

December 11, 2012 1 comment

[WARNING: SOME (minor) SPOILERS follow]

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Something interesting happens in Quentin Tarantino’s movies when circumstances – be they those of 1850s slavery in the United States of America or those of Nazi extermination of Jews in 1940s Europe – produce the Good and the Bad. The interesting thing is that, eventually, both the Good and the Bad become Ugly.

Now, this is not to say that the division between the two collapses entirely so that we are left with some kind of nebulous moral relativism that prevents us from differentiating the good from the bad. No, this is not the case at all. But both the good (which become the really Good) and the bad (which become the really Bad) start to evoke a certain kind of sadness brought on by the ugliness of history and the participation of men and women in this history. And they do so while, at the very same time, they allow the audience to genuinely celebrate the asskicking that the Good bestow upon the Bad. It is truly a beautiful (and grotesque) thing.

In a recent interview, Tarantino has stated that Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds “bespeak a trilogy.” “As different as they are,” Tarantino noted, “there is a companion piece quality. There might very well be a third one. I just don’t know what it is yet” (http://www.totalfilm.com/news/quentin-tarantino-hints-at-inglourious-basterds-django-unchained-trilogy).

Like that of the Basterds, the plot of Django Unchained, Tarantino’s latest flick, is relatively straightforward. Set in 1858, approximately two years before the start of the Civil War in the Southern United States – Texas and Mississippi – the story follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave given his freedom by the German bounty hunter, Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), in exchange for help in tracking down and killing the odious Brittle Brothers. As Django joins Shultz in the bounty business – which is explicitly compared to slavery by Shultz himself – Django’s motives for vengeance move from personal to impersonal/financial and back to personal.

In his attempt to rescue his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), Django, with the help of Schulz, becomes the spirit of vengeance and one of the quickest draws in the South. By the end of the flick, however, as he triumphs in the aura of Tarantino badass glory, Django also becomes something else. We cheer for him and for his actions; we cheer for his destruction of the truly Bad Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). But we are also saddened. The fact that in a scene before he finishes off the villains, Django’s face is covered with white dust, that his teeth strangely start to resemble Candie’s, and that he rides off into the night with his wife wearing Candie’s clothes, (ought to) trouble the pleasure we get from seeing the Good triumph.

As do the Basterds – particularly Brad Pitt and Eli Roth’s characters in Tarantino’s 2009 flick – Django becomes what Joseph Natoli has called a “Barbarian of the Good” (http://sensesofcinema.com/2009/52/the-deep-morals-of-inglourious-basterds).  This is how Natoli describes this phenomenon: “[E]verything is morally permitted – stupidity, ignorance, savagery … – because goodness can never commit an evil in its battle with evil. You can take this attitude right up to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s and Vice President Dick Cheney’s advocacy of torture at Guantanamo: we’re the good guys; we can’t do anything wrong. If we have reasoned our way to this view, then perhaps we’ve reasoned as Colonel Landa and the SS officer reason.”

Colonel Hans Landa (Basterds) and Dr. King Schultz, both played by Christoph Waltz, are here an instructive example. Waltz’s approach to both characters seems to have been the same, to a degree. Both Landa and Schultz are, again in the words of Natoli, “as ingratiating Devil[s] as Walter Huston’s Nick Bael was in The Devil and Daniel Webster, … more appealing, more human than Conrad Veidt as Colonel Strasser in Casablanca, … less odious than Ralph Fiennes as the Nazi Commandant in Schindler’s List.” While Shultz displays a level of sympathy Landa never does, there is a strong sense that Landa is what Shultz would have been had he been born 80 or so years later. Yet, while Landa is clearly Bad, Shultz is equally clearly Good, despite the fact that he is a cold-hearted bounty hunter who instructs Django how to calmly kill a man, from a distance, right in front of this man’s son. Both Landa and Shultz are, undoubtedly, also Ugly.

Again, my point is not to argue that Tarantino’s latest movies completely destroy the difference between the forces of Good and the forces of Bad. Rather, they dare us to laugh and cheer at (and in) a world in which there is very little to cheer for and even less to laugh at.  There was in the Basterds, and there is in Django, a feeling that the audience needs to be much more thoughtful before they allow themselves to laugh. For it is in a kind of instinctive, thoughtless laughter that the audience itself can – but need not – become extremely Ugly.

Categories: Fact

December 11, 2012 Leave a comment

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Categories: Uncategorized

Candles

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Image“It’s always just that little bit more,” she said, “that doesn’t get you what you’re looking for.”

I look up at her.

“Is that the game we’re playing?”

She smiled her frightening smile: “Sometimes life gives you lemons.”

I can’t smile. A profoundly disturbing thought runs through my mind and I stare at her calmly, preventing her from seeing into my head. “It’s always just that little bit more.”

“Come on,” she said.

“‘Come on,’ what?”

She is still smiling. “You know very well what.”

“Impenetrable?”

“Impenetrable.”

“I tried to do all that I can,” I said.

“Good. Very good.” She dares me to make the next move. “I tried to lend a helping hand.”

Still smiling.

The dinner is almost ready and the house is hot – it’s the beginning of a long, hot summer – and filled with the smells of spices: fresh basil, oregano, garlic, and just a hint of cinnamon. I sweat sitting down and she glows under her crêpe-paper-thin dress. As always, no brassiere. It’s late in the day; the sun is shining through the west-facing windows and the air is thick. Yes, like molasses.

“Come on, it’s dinner time.”

“I’ll be right there,” I said.

“What are you writing?”

“Nothing.”

She looks over my shoulder. “You’re switching tenses inexplicably again.”

I look down at what I’ve written. “It seems you are right.”

“Fix it,” she said.

And I refuse.

Categories: Uncategorized

Such a Dirty Old Man

June 5, 2012 Leave a comment

mean mister mustard sleeps in the park
shaves in the dark trying to save paper
sleeps in a hole in the road
saving up to buy some clothes
keeps a ten-bob note up his nose
such a mean old man
such a mean old man

Everything I write is a lie. But, these days, I write little as there are other lies I’ve been living.

Such a mean old man, she says. A liar, a cheat, a thief, a plagiarist. A man.

It seems that everything I see – in life in life in life – these days tells me so. Such a dirty old man.

The nemesis lives and breathes and looks lovelier every day. She’s put on a pound or two and I secretly enjoy it while I take every opportunity to tell her she’s getting fatter, using the truth to cover up the truth. She’s getting older. And fatter. A goddamned hippopotamus. When she straddles my body I can barely breathe. A goddamned hippopotamus.

Such a dirty old man.

I’ve been listening to the Beatles lately – a lot a lot a lot – and the truth of it is, I do not like them. Ringo, Paul, John, George: how dare they? From the past they mock me with their truths and their lies. “The eagle picks my eye, the worm he licks my bones”: nonsense. Worms have got no tongues. Have they?

Such a mean old man.

Yesterday, I awoke to the sounds of traffic and it calmed me down. Her body lay next to mine, breathing softly, her mouth open, her eyes closed. “How lucky I am,” I thought, “My own goddamned hippopotamus. A beautiful purple hippopotamus.”

I get up, make her coffee, breakfast, and then I wake her gently with a slap. She smiles and throws a pillow at me. Ridiculous: pillows don’t hurt.

“Everybody’s got something to hide,” she says, “except for me and my monkey.” Ridiculous. A monkey.

How lucky I am. My own goddamned hippopotamus. A beautiful purple hippopotamus.

Categories: Fact

Frenzy

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

I sit at home and read: because home is where the work takes me. Or leaves me.

What is it ‘they’ say? “Home is where the work is?” Or is it “heart?” – “Heart is where the work is.” I am not sure; and it doesn’t matter, I suppose.

I sit at home and read and try to make sense of things in my head: subject, object, realism, dialectic, materialism, historical contingency, natural necessity. How do I explain all these without confusing myself and ‘them.’

What is it ‘they’ say?

And as I read and stack information in my head my mind starts to race and my heart starts to beat faster. So I try to walk away. But everything around me is information: images sounds textures. And my mind continues to race. And my heart beats faster.

Maybe if I read: “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” Johnson in Thompson in me.

Maybe if I masturbate I’ll get rid of the panic. At the end of a disgusting frenzy, calm? Quiet? No. Just more information. Sight sound texture smell.

My right eyelid twitches and I ask it to stop, but it just taunts me with a wink or two. As if to say, “…” – I don’t know; it’s nonverbal.

The feel of the keys on my keyboard on my fingers does nothing to assuage my feeling of panic. “No point mentioning the bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.”

But I mention the bats.

My right eyelid twitches and I resign myself to the frenzy.

Categories: Uncategorized

Jack Layton (1950 – 2011)

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Categories: Fact

Blockbuster

August 4, 2011 Leave a comment

My vein, so delicately bluish-green, splits open so easily, with but a single touch of a razor.  And out of it, equally delicately, comes a slow-spreading trickle of red. Viscous, almost frozen, the red spreads. Like molasses on a chilly autumn day.

The truth, here, is discursive, not literal.

That reminds me of a story once told by Harland Williams to a group of people assembled somewhere east of here, a story that takes place on a chilly autumn day, when he was sitting at home; and just as he – making himself comfortable on his old, worn-out couch in front of his old television set – just as he slit his vein with an old-fashioned razor blade, so shiny and new, just as blood started to pour out of him, slow like molasses on a chilly autumn day, he noticed some movies he had forgotten to return to the video store. What a bummer.

Sew sew sew. Quickly, before both the big and the little arm are on twelve. Or else: late fees.

Life, at times, is nothing but avoidance of late fees.

Categories: Fiction