Django Unchained (2012)

Food:

To get into the spirit of this film, I recommend getting yourself a Pina Colada inside a coconut, just like the devil of a character played by DiCaprio.

I recommend going to Kingston Hall in the East Village as they sell these in giant coconut form and they are delicious!

Western Film Series #17:

“Django Unchained” (2012) is Quentin Tarantino’s entry into the Western genre, starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, with cinematography by Robert Richardson. Richardson also worked with Tarantino on “Inglorious Basterds” in 2009, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 in the early 2000’s, and later “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” in 2019, but he has a long resume of big names throughout his career. He also worked with DiCaprio for “The Aviator” (2004) and “Shutter Island” (2010) and worked on “Natural Born Killers” (1994), “A Few Good Men” (1992), and “Casino” (1995), building a career working with major creators, like Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Oliver Stone. He is one of three living persons who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography three times (“JFK” in 1991, the aforementioned “The Aviator,” &”Hugo” in 2011), the others being Vittorio Storaro and Emmanuel Lubezki. The photography of this film is one of its most stunning elements, as well as the vengeance-filled plot-line that is satisfying to most viewers – in the same was that ‘Basterds’ triumphantly rewrote history, and Tarantino’s always electric writing. The film won many accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), and three more Oscar nominations.

“Django Unchained” is a clear homage to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Spaghetti Western “Django” and other highly stylized Italian westerns from that time period. He even includes a cameo appearance of Franco Nero (star of “Django”), and Tarantino has expressed that the inspiration for ‘Unchained’ came when he was working on a book about Corbucci in 2007.

Set in the Old West and Antebellum South, the story follows a slave (Django, played by Foxx) who has been separated from his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) and bought by Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter, who enlists Django for his information on the Brittle brothers – his previous owners – in exchange for his freedom and a small fee. The plot hurtles forward, throwing the dynamic duo into one situation after another, much like any good Western, exploring what our characters will do when presented with a set of explosive circumstances that leave us wondering whether or not they will make it out on the other side.

Tarantino is a wizard of storytelling – invigorating an already intriguing plot with quirky, brazen caricature-like characters, an incomparable score, and striking visuals. This film is no different. He brings on Ennio Morricone to provide similar sounds from his days with Sergio Leone, and brings us an unforgettable theme that might even have one singing along. Though, the film is deeply unsettling at parts, especially when audiences are forced to watch some of the most atrociously racist on-screen behavior, a major component to “Django Unchained” is its comedy. When speaking to Roger Ebert about the project, he commented, “When I’m writing a movie, I hear the laughter. People talk about the violence. What about the comedy? ‘Pulp Fiction’ has such an obviously comic spirit, even with all the weird things that are happening. To me, the most torturous thing in the world, and this counts for ‘Reservoir Dogs’ just as much as it does to ‘Pulp,’ is to watch it with an audience who doesn’t know they’re supposed to laugh. Because that’s a death. Because I’m hearing the laughs in my mind, and there’s this dead silence of crickets sounding in the audience, you know?”

This American revisionist Western was similarly cathartic for Quentin Tarantino as “Inglorious Basterds” or what we’ve more recently seen in “Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood,” where we are able to reconcile with horrible history in a new way – that does not pander to the redundant feel of big issue movies, but, instead, chooses to startle the audience with something new. It allows viewers to wrestle with the “what-if’s” of historical events in a way that the straightforward retelling’s do not. Another notable inspiration for this film was “Mandingo” (1975), where a slave was trained to fight other slaves, and for a period of time, Tarantino explored the idea of a cross-over Western and Martial-arts film – aspects of which still seem to seep through in the finalized project (less in choreography, but more in attitude).

There is a lot to love about “Django Unchained.” It has all the pieces of a well-baked pie – and the cherry on top is exceptional performances from the stacked cast. When working your way through the American wild west in film, this is a picture that should not be missed. And like most of Tarantino’s work, it’s made up of a cinematic history that can be seen in the seams, a love letter to Western film, and a masterful commentary on America’s most shameful history.

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