Despite the violence, I have always liked the dialogue in Tarantino’s films. In this sense, the excess distracts from the intense conversations that deal with everything from the name of the Quarter Pounder and the Big Mac in France to the rumors involving Antwan Rockamora’s mysterious fall out of a four-story window. This same penchant for intense dialogue plays out in “Inglorious Basterds” each time the Jew-Hunting Nazi officer Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, sits down with a suspect and begins his horrific interrogations.
Similar to the use of violence, Tarantino’s much maligned overuse of the n-word (and the mf-word) doesn’t do much to add to the plot. Those who found this wording humorous seemed to be laughing louder than what I consider to be normal, as if they had already prepared or toughened themselves up for it. Stranger yet, they were laughing at things that I didn’t find funny at all, and I found myself laughing at things that none of them thought were funny. This left me to believe that Tarantino was playing to two audiences: those who get off on the outrageousness of the N-word in the MF-word, and those who enjoy subtle humor and irony. This is probably what makes Tarantino so damn cunning; he’s as devious as his dialogues. Nonetheless, about halfway into the film I asked myself, “How many times can someone say n—- or mf—- in one show?” In contrast, the terribly campy film, like Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows, one of the best crafted aspects of the film was Barnabas Collins’ antiquated monologues; his speech appeared to coincide with his historical period.
While I don’t want to take an extreme position regarding historical accuracy, there was a lot in “Django Unchained” that appeared to be out of sync with the period. But with a little effort, one can suspend disbelief. A. O. Scott, in the New York Times’ review of the film, came up with a fairly workable explanation for Tarantino’s use of historical background. He writes that he was performing a “belated and altogether impossible form of revenge, using the freedom of cinematic make-believe to even the score.” The film “Inglorious Basterds” follows along this same notion by creating a platoon of Jewish soldiers that carry out an (unfortunately apocryphal) assassination of Adolph Hitler.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but notice that the weapons used in the film hadn’t been invented in the time period represented. The repeating rifle dates to 1860, but didn’t come into widespread use until after the war between the North and the South. However, historical accuracy has never been what the Tarantino was interested in. His references are cinematic and the use of weapons works as a footnotes to the spaghetti westerns. The weapons that Jamie Foxx and Christoph Walz are packing are the same ones that were carried by Franco Nero and Clint Eastwood.
The references are part of the attraction of Tarantino’s films. They give the impression that you’re watching a collage of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, and Bad-Ass cinema plots, all rolled into one. This of course is one of the richest aspects of Tarantino’s films, because they remind us that what we’re watching isn’t real. His films are self-referential, they are movies about movies. This aspect is dramatized when King Schultz explains to Django that he is playing a role and that he never should step out of character.
Like binge drinking and drug use, one builds up tolerance to excess. It is here where Tarantino’s rip-offs of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and the blacksploitation/Bad Ass cinema help to diffuse the shock of the extreme, give us this notion that we’ve seen it before. Even the final fight scene between Beatrix Kiddo and O-Ren Ishii in “Kill Bill, part II,” seems to model itself on the final showdown between adversaries in “Once Upon a Time in the West” when the mysterious harmonica player tracks down and kills the murderous Frank. These films recall other moments of excess and reify those moments. As a kid, I also saw “Superfly,” “Shaft,” “Shaft’s Big Score,” “Cleopatra Jones,” “Blackula,” “Buck and the Preacher,” “Get Christy Love,” “Gordon’s War,” and “Trouble Man.” My family and I saw “Trouble Man” in downtown St. Louis when I was 9-years-old in 1972. Although I pass for swarthy, we were likely the only “honkies” in the theater. I vividly recall one of the chase scenes when one of the characters yelled, “Kill whitey!” and having the audience erupting into cheers. The funny thing was that we were cheering, too. The characters were despicable and most like got what they had coming to them.
To be continued…
Cross-posted at My Ongoing Struggle with Misanthropy