You’d have to be deaf, blind and live in an underground bunker in the Outer Hebrides to escape the noise made by Quentin Tarantino’s utterly excellent, Django Unchained. The film has been more than adequately reviewed on SB by Irvine Welsh, so I will resist the temptation to tread his path and instead address a few misnomers and answer the film’s critics. Set in the Deep American South prior to the American Civil War, it’s partly based on the 1966 cult flick, Django directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero - who has a cameo role in Unchained - was said to be one of the most violent films ever made (up until that point) and was refused a certificate in Britain.
That said, it’s only similar in that it begins with the rescued and rescuer going off on a revenge mission and is pure spaghetti western. It’s also been said to be influenced by Mandingo, the great Richard Fleischer’s somewhat lacklustre 1975 movie about a plantation owner and his bare knuckle fighting slave (played by former WBC heavyweight champ Ken Norton who defeated Ali and broke his jaw) but in truth, apart from a few sequences, the resemblance is scant.
Yet to compare, Unchained to either film (neither of which are that good) doesn’t do Tarantino justice. This is audacious, biblically black humoured comic-book film making of the highest order that also lambasts the outrageous brutality of antebellum Southern States. Some reviewers have complained that it’s overlong at 165 mins but I could have gone another hour at least. Many critics, such as Anthony Quinn of The Independent and Christopher Tookey of The Mail, have said that it loses momentum for the second hour, but in my opinion the first hour establishes itself so fully and gallops along at a rollicking old speed that to keep such a pace would have been a mistake.
Jenny McCartney at The Telegraph criticises Tarantino for his lack of historical accuracy and overt screen violence (didn’t seem to do Sam Peckinpah any harm) yet she forgets that this is a piece of entertainment and not a documentary and, as we all very much aware, both are Tarantino hallmarks. Quartet this is not. It’s as if she’s complaining about the rain in Wales. To me everything about the film is right – the clever use of the spaghetti western soundtrack, Robert Richardson’s cinematography, Tarantino’s hilarious script and sentiment, the violence that is so over the top it loses its teeth. It is certainly your man’s finest work since Pulp Fiction, maybe ever. Spaghetti with meat balls.
Undeniably, top marks go to all and sundry, Jamie Foxx, Christophe Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio (who might have found himself by playing the bad guy) but the big honours go to Samuel Jackson who as Stephen, boss man slave owner’s Candie's top “house nigger’ (their words not mine) whose loyalty to his ‘masser’ knows no bounds and who dishes out excessive punishments to the rest of the slaves like confetti. Tarantino has taken this ’uncle Tom’ stereotype with the white beard, the bald head and the coal black skin and magnified it a million, while Jackson has added a maniacal stare and a distressing, Parkinson's-type tremble. For sure, he even looks like Josiah Henson on whom Uncle Tom’s cabin was partly based. In truth, it was not unusual for older black slaves to run such plantations for their playboy masters.
Outlined in Django, Unchained this fact has not gone down that well in some quarters. Director Spike Lee has claimed that the film is ‘disrespectful to his ancestors’ further adding that ‘slavery was not a Sergio Leone western,’ but in fact has refused to see the film on principal. In my opinion it’s simply a case of sour grapes because he didn’t make this scorching condemnation that only makes fun of the inbred white folk I walked away from the film wondering (a) how did the whites got away with it? (b) Why wasn’t there a significant uprising and (c) why haven’t all those families (and the US) that still live off the wealth from slavery been made to pay financial reparation to the African Americans.
Since World War II, Germany has paid at least 108 billion Deutsche Marks in reparations to the state of Israel. The United States Government has paid $1.2 billion or $20,000 per person for each Japanese American illegally imprisoned in American concentration camps during World War II. Said money might be used to provide better to schools, housing and hospitals in black areas to serve a sector that, for the most part, are still undermined, disenfranchised and ghettoised.
Talking of which, BBC4 aired a thoroughly incisive, important four and excellent documentary by their Storyville team, entitled The House I Live In and directed by Eugene Jarecki which, whether you disagree with drugs or not, makes many valid points regarding the profound human rights implications of U.S. drug policy and underlines just how the Afro American male has been demonised via drugs.
According to interviewee Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow”, there are more African-Americans in US prisons today than there were enslaved 10 years before the Civil War. 2.7 million black children have parents in prison. Stop and search laws and arrest targets allow a lazy Police force to go for bronze. Once brought to trial, the arrestee’s are subjected to harsh mandatory minimum sentences. This bottlenecks prisons with nonviolent offenders serving the same sentences as rapists and murderers.
Indeed, until Obama stepped in national legislature demanded that a man in possession of one gram of crack would get a sentence 100 times longer than he would for the same amount of cocaine. Now it’s 18 times as much. This injustice has been disproportionately applied against blacks, which represent only 13% of the country's crack users, but account for 90% of those arrested for it. The film is 105 minutes long, but please take the time out to watch.
Another film that has received pundit’s acclaim is released this week. The Sessions, is based on article by polio survivor, journalist and poet, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes of Deadwood fame) who, paralysed, has only the use of his face and mouth but has still earned a university degree and followed a writing career by typing with a stick in his mouth. Two ambitions down, another remains – to have sex. He thus, with the blessing of his parish priests Mark (William H. Macy), calls on sex therapist Cheryl (Helen Hunt) to guide him through the losing of his virginity in six sessions and shag him. And it’s sensitive and funny but wallows in that American feel good TV movie shite that clogs up the arteries. And although I felt really glad that O’Brien got his oats I, who am not big on sex scenes anyway, was not that entertained seeing the 49 year old rather muscular, Hunt, starkers riding a paralysed man who moves a little like Daniel Day Lewis, In my Left Foot. It might appeal to some though.
Django Unchained and The Sessions are in cinemas nationwide, while The House I Live In is available on the BBC iPlayer.