Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino)

Quentin Tarantino is a household name at this point. There's no reason to introduce him or to go through his body of work. If you've been alive in the last ten or fifteen years and are interested enough in film to be reading this, I'm going to just make the bet that you know who he is, and are familiar with his work. All that can really be said and all that needs to be said is that many of the movies you see today, much of the writing about movies that you read and everything in ecosystem that can be considered film, has been influenced by Quentin Tarantino. In the last twenty years, no one has put as heavy a foot print on the landscape of cinema. Argue that point as much as you want, but no one with even the slightest amount of objectivity in considering who has and who hasn't influenced film makers, journalism, music in film, marketing, and every aspect of the business and creative side of film culture is going to take it seriously.

Django Unchained is the next step in Tarantino's journey toward taking that legacy in a new direction. That new direction began with Inglorious Basterds, and it's obvious he's pushing forward. He is no longer strictly concerned with telling stories of mythic criminals of some dingy, unseen underground. He's now concerning himself with mythic criminals of dingy, unseen history. It's worth asking whether or not Tarantino felt his rewriting of World War II history didn't cause enough controversy and then decided he'd reach for the most controversial topic in American culture and society. The history of cinema was practically built around WWII stories. In some ways, that makes perfect sense, considering that the medium was coming to prominence as the war was happening. It's also one of the eras in history that's become the most mythologized and in many ways, been the foundation of the American people developing any positive association with their culture and society. It's the war which is undeniably the most just. When the war began, the extent of Nazi horror may not have been known, but it's incredibly hard to make the case that the revelation of Hitlers Final Solution and the extent to which he'd taken his genocidal vision doesn't still make WWII a just war. Whatever else can be said of the various aspects of the war and the way it was handled as a culture and society, the fact that it stopped a genocidal maniac from wiping the Jewish people from the face of the majority of continental Europe is an undeniably good and just thing. Considering how hallowed that history is to American's national conception, the fact Tarantino's rewriting of that history caused only the most minor controversy is a testament to the size of the silhouette he cuts across contemporary culture and cinema.

What could possibly generate more controversy than rewriting the history of World War II? Slavery. Where American culture and society have nearly fetishized WWII, it certainly hasn't attempted very many serious acts of retrospective introspection where slavery is concerned. Culturally, considering the part slavery played in the nations history, it's been essentially overlooked in comparison. Again, the film industry and film as a medium were coming to prominence as the war was actually happening, so in looking at the history of cinema and realizing the gigantic number of films that deal with it isn't really shocking, but to do the same with slavery, look back and count the number of films that deal directly with it as a central part of their narrative, and the degree to which we've been more or less unwilling to consider much of anything about slavery becomes clear. It's not something we like to think or have conversations about on any level.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)

Image found at
Being a film fanatic means, in part, being aware of and occasionally interested in the never ending discussion of "What are THE BEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME?"For my money, any time that conversation comes up, if Network isn't in consideration for that title, the conversation isn't worth having and isn't worth paying attention to. I can completely understand the idea that in asking "What is the greatest movie of all time?" the answer is necessarily going to be different from person to person, because it is entirely subjective. On the other hand, there's only so much that is subjective, and if Network isn't in the running, someone is either full of it or they have no idea what they're talking about. I do not impugn the opinions of others lightly when it comes to film, music or literature, but this is one case where I feel it's absolutely warranted. Subjectively, I can absolutely love and enjoy Friday the 13th. Objectively, I understand that it's really not that good a film. It's within the realm of possibilities that someone wouldn't enjoy Network, but to somehow claim that it isn't both a high mark in the standards of quality studio film making and still completely relevant would be to either lie or to be ignorant to what those things mean.