13 October 2013

Django Unchained

Well, I broke down and watched it. Promotional images like this one gave me a bad feeling. The high-pitched wailing and criticism that the film's release provoked (granted, I crept around the edges of it, walking away when the topic came up in social settings and deleting references to the film that popped up in my Facebook news feed) heightened my fear.

I was reminded of how as children my siblings and I decided in the first 60 seconds whether or not to watch the featured film on Saturday Night at the Movies:  if all of the stars were male or if the trailer contained guns or bombs or lots of scene in shadow, we weren't interested. We'd turn off the TV and play checkers or something.  I called them "boy movies" in my own mind. Movies with no women in them had to be boring or terrifying in a "I'm gonna have bad dreams about this" way.

I watched it at home courtesy of Netflix. The DVD arrived and laid a few inches from the player for over a week. For all I knew, this was going to be a Misery or Silence of the Lambs type experience. And I wasn't sure I was ready to "go there".

My journey back home to New Albany IN last weekend somehow nudged me into readiness for Django Unchained. The strongest feeling I had after two days moving among the people and places that I've known longest was a sense of how far I've come, how distant and dissimilar I've grown. Rather than serving to remind me of who I am, returning to my "roots" amplified the perception that we are all strangers here and, truly, you can never go home.

"I am sky and everything else is just weather."

People, places....movies.

And so I watched the film. It wasn't scary. I wasn't terrorized or offended or bored. For me, I was distracted from any possible terror by the poorly designed soundtrack. I just don't even want to know how that soundtrack happened. Posters like the one above spring from "boy movie" mentality, not all what I would have chosen as art director. It's a hero tale. Less another story about slavery in the U.S. than a universal story of the spiritual and ideological journey required to move from bondage to freedom .

My heart aches deeply for Tarantino now. So much of the critical yammering about the film was knee-jerk, boilerplate discourse:  the same old responses and reactions we've come to expect to words like "slavery" or "the South" or "nigger". 

I heard someone recently talking about "black film" and saw an advertisement for a web page devoted to "LGBT films" and I wondered, again, what is a "black film"? Is it the number of actors or crew involved who have dark skin?  Is it based on the racial or ethnic identity of the writer? the Director? Or is it a thematic designation, as in "This is a story about blacks" or a story black people will identify with or be entertained by or interested in?

What I love about Django Unchained is that even though there are lots of guns, I can't think of it as a "boy movie"; and even though there were fewer female than male stars, it was not boring; and even though there were, by Hollywood standards, a lot of "black" people on screen, I doubt it would be considered a "black film"; and even though it's set in the Deep South before the Civil War, it is not a film about slavery....

I love how it is larger than the familiar categories, how it spills out of any box you try to put it in.

Now that most of the screaming has died down, I think I'll read some reviews and hopefully find some interviews with Tarantino, Fox and DiCaprio.