Hey, it’s just a movie

An old pal swept me off the other day to see Tarantino’s blaxploitation spaghetti Western, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I thought the script was extremely witty, and all the performances were sheer delight. I’m so old-school that I think a movie ought to last exactly ninety minutes, not a minute more and not a minute less, but I wasn’t even bothered by the length. It was just a fun-filled boyish romp from start to finish, and hardly — I won’t say never, but hardly — a dull moment.

Spoiler alert: I am going to mention some things that happen in the story. It’s not exactly a suspenseful narrative — everything is telegraphed pretty thoroughly — but people don’t always like to know beforehand, so be warned.

My favorite bit was the proto-Klan guys bitching about their hoods, a scene which must have lasted ten minutes, and should have lasted twenty.  It was really just about all the commentary that Birth Of A Nation needs. That’s the part shown above, though the image doesn’t at all do justice to it. The night riders come galloping in, and of course you think Oh shit, how sinister, and then… but I can’t begin to convey it; it’s all in the writing, and actors who know how to put the lines over; just go see it.

Then there was the wonderful moment when Django guns down the gaping, insipid but not particularly offensive sister of the Leonardo di Caprio character, which is pure sight gag, like Toto falling out of the frame in Palm Beach Story. Hey, you too, beeyotch. In a glaring and deliberately obvious stunt effect, the victim is abruptly yanked backward through a doorway, apparently by the mother of all bungee cords. Anybody who doesn’t laugh at this simply has no susceptibility to slapstick. Do not consort with such folk.

My comrades on the Lefty mailing lists mostly took a much dimmer view, e.g.  “unrelenting tastelessness — exclamatory kitsch — on a subject as loaded, gruesome, and dishonorable as American slavery.” (‘Dishonorable’ in this context is the mother of all anticlimaxes, innit? Speaking of mothers.)

I have to wonder just what these guys expect of a movie: something Spielbergian in its high moral seriousness, but also impeccably Marxist? I don’t think I would go see that movie. I’d approve of the Marxist part, but the Spielbergeoiserie would kill it, for me.

Much of the commentary ended up wondering what ‘point’ Tarantino was trying to make, or what the movie was ‘really about’. (One ingenious contributor suggested it was an allegory about racism in… Hollywood!)

Why do we do this: go to the movies — of all places! — looking for meaning, or instruction, or edification, or political analysis? That’s a pretty sad commentary on us, isn’t it? Don’t we have better sources for all those things?

44 thoughts on “Hey, it’s just a movie

  1. Who says anyone went there looking for meanings? One can inevitably find them anyway. Cameron probably didn’t actively want to piss anyone off by perpetuating American Indian stereotypes in Avatar. Whoops! it’s still there. Some movies have a subtext that really sours them for me. I wasn’t able to watch The Birth of a Nation with the satisfaction that an honest KKKaner might take in it.

    I haven’t seen the movie in question, and I don’t think people go to Tarantino flicks hoping for much more than stylized violence and the characteristic dialogue, but people, especially the Left, are into looking at the philosophical or political underpinnings of fictional works, so when Tarantino starts putting out violent revenge fantasies about Jews smashing Nazis or slaves killing slave-owners, of course they’re going to try to figure out what (if anything) that’s all about.

    • Sorry, I could only get a couple of pages into this, it being Chris Hedges and all. I just remembered why I hardly ever read Truthdig. But, aaaaanyway… Reed is one of the reasons I don’t visit CounterPunch as often as I used to, either. “Idol Smasher”, huh? “Anything He Doesn’t Like That So Much As Looks At Him Cross-Eyed Smasher”, more like.

      Reed scores a few high points here and there — he certainly nails it on Precious — but most of the time he’s just stomping all over anything that challenges delicate Liberal sensibilities and the Pwog cultural status quo. He’s obviously in the pants-crapping brigade regarding Django Unchained, another hidebound Liberal culture cop who doesn’t get it. I wonder if he’s seen any other Tarantino pictures? Probably not, as he doesn’t really seem to get what Tarantino’s work is all about (as long as we’re talking idol-smashers, here). But, still, Ishmael plays jazz piano, so I guess that means he’s got Pwog “creds”.

      I’d hate to see Ishmael Reed’s reaction to Inglorious Basterds — hell, he’d probably have a heart attack.

  2. excellent review

    i tend to like T’s dialogue

    as more of a refined decoupage guy then the average bear cat

    his mannerism usually strikes me as rendering metzo images
    into predictable squences
    his ” verbal talents ”
    draw the ear more then his visual references draw the eye
    the words are a treasure flow in rapid permutation
    his visions
    well
    mannerism gets slapped on an era
    — at least it’s vis-art infestations —
    when the scholar-aesthetes response
    is something less then worshipful …eh ?

    and its greatest “practictioners”
    are not
    our most revered legacy gods

    an exhausted age indeed

    but that’s not movie going is it flick fans

    that’s more like
    low impact high contact
    AHHHHHHHHT hunting

  3. ” I wasn’t able to watch The Birth of a Nation with the satisfaction that an honest KKKaner might take in it.”

    no?

    you haven’t let yourself go thru the lookng glass

    live a little
    you paid for it

    check your tedious moral monitor at the ticket booth

      • hey
        its not asethetics here tthat causes the clinkers

        if you just don’t care for quent’s work on its on terms…
        fire away
        that hardly disappoints

          • TO
            why the reflexive self deprecation?

            of course not u
            the political clinkers freighted into the “story line ” and dialogue
            even into the iconography
            however we have a divergence here

            father smuff :
            “Why do we do this: go to the movies — of all places! — looking for meaning, or instruction, or edification, or political analysis? ”

            el chom chom :
            “one of the most powerful and insightful portrayals of the sickness and psychosis of racism I’ve ever seen”

            i’ll go see it of course
            but my daughter will laff
            at my
            early boomer ponderous fatuousity

            “squidbillies is the real white dixie deal “

          • My reflexive self-deprecation is normally just because I have low self-esteem and instinctively expect disapproval.

            In this particular case, though, it’s because you’ve had antagonism with a number of commenters before and I wasn’t sure whether I’d inadvertently gotten on your bad side.

  4. I remember recently hearing all the uproar about The N-Word™ (gasp) and such in this movie, and it wasn’t until a little later that I found out it was the new Tarantino picture and, of course, immediately resolved to see it as soon as possible. Being a hippie white boy from the ‘burbs, I had no real interest in Blaxploitation flicks back when they were big, but man, did I dig me some spaghetti Westerns. In fact, I’ll confess to being a huge Clint Eastwood fan back then, strictly due to his work in pictures like The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. I never cared for all that Dirty Harry bullshit, but his Italian cowboy pictures rocked, man.

    Three or four years ago, I went to an actual theater to see a major theatrical-release movie for the first time in nearly a decade: Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. That was another movie I’d heard all sorts of grim, dire things about, but then, remembering the great time I had seeing Pulp Fiction, decided “what the hell, man, it’s a Tarantino picture”, went to see it with some pals at a local cinema’n’drafthouse and had the time of my life. It was vicious, ultra-violent, grim, bloody — and one of the funniest goddamn’ movies I’d seen in years.

    So, now, hearing that Django Unchained is Tarantino’s interpretation of your classic blaxploitation subgenre — the “slaves’ revenge” flick — presented as a parody of a Spaghetti Western, I’ve decided I really do need to see it — not in spite of all the Liberal pissing and moaning about The N-Word™, but because of it. Still, I’ll probably wait a couple of months or so and go out with my buds to the same cinema’n’drafthouse we saw Inglorious Basterds at, as the admission is cheaper, the seating more relaxed (sort of nightclub/cabaret style), and because they have great burgers and potato skins and good cheap beer — a far more civilized movie-going experience than your modern standard-issue crackerbox Movie Mall (aka “cineplex”).

    A week or so back, I saw this show-biz news article in which Spike Lee shits himself over the frequent use of The N-Word™ in Django Unchained and fumes that “slavery wasn’t a Spaghetti Western”. That’s as maybe, but, then, I saw Lee’s Crooklyn, and I distinctly recall ’70s working-class black Brooklyn not looking like a goddamn’ Pepsi commercial. I was also more than a little amazed that an experienced and acclaimed director like Spike Lee seemed incapable of grasping basic concepts like irony and parody, nor that someone his age — mid 50something, like me — had totally forgotten the classic Blaxploitation movies of his adolescence.

    I shudder to think what we’d get if Spike Lee had chosen to tackle the same topic — it’d probably be preachy and boring and look like a Pepsi commercial.

  5. So glad you posted about this picture. Loooooved it. Good, ultra-violent, radical, vindictive fun. And also one of the most powerful and insightful portrayals of the sickness and psychosis of racism I’ve ever seen.

    Spike Lee’s been grousing about this picture, which only means one thing: envy. He’d love to have made this film, but it’s beyond his talent and limited sense of humor and fun.

    • “Limited” isn’t the word for Spike Lee’s sense of humor/fun.

      Seeing Crooklyn was like seeing Spike Lee have a major breakthrough. When I saw the scenes where the kids go to visit their uncle and aunt in the ‘burbs, and the “look” turns into an early ’70s oversaturated, soft-focused, CinemaScope-compressed-for-TV view of the world, I damn’ near died. Spike Lee, humorous and ironic? It was like a sign of the Apocalypse.

  6. “My comrades on the Lefty mailing lists mostly took a much dimmer view…”
    Mailing list pinkos make the grumpy cat Facebook meme look like a ray of sunshine.

    I liked “Django” a lot as well…. I also have to admit picking up Showtime’s “Homeland” as a bit of a habit. I avoided it forever for the obvious reasons; a Marine held captive for 8 years returns home and after converting to Islam and Terrorism. How could it be anything other than an ad for the War on Terror?

    It does have a prop-psych element in that it imagines a vast, Hezbollah-esque underground network of terrorists operating in the US; but it has the balls to make one of the central characters sympathetic and a would-be terrorist. The other a bipolar CIA woman who is arguably more destructive.

    The show is of course riddled with cliches beside mental illness-induced superpowers, infidelity playing a key part as in any American TV drama (TV writers show some impressive insights, at times; why have none considered the problem might be with marriage and the nuclear family not sinful carnal desire?) and the Middle Eastern characters are wooden zealots (as rendered so far). But the only real issue I take is the show’s nobody’s to blame/everybody’s equally to blame liberal bet-hedge. When, like a movie, there is a very clear villain.

    • I’ve recently bit the bullet and started watching it as well. I’m most of the way through season one. I’ve found the terrorists simple and overly influential, but the show is less propagandistic than I would have imagined.

      I think it’s really good, but still can’t quite relax watching something where the CIA plays heroes. I can’t help looking over my own shoulder worrying if I’m being programmed, wondering what everyone else is getting from it, and resenting it every time it contradicts my personal narrative.

      That’s probably why I never tried to watch 24.

      What does prop-psych mean?

      • Homeland is exceptional, when you realize it’s cribbed from an Israeli show, and that it’s show runners are Israelis.

        *

        Frame for frame, Spartacus (Starz) is the most subversive show on telly. It’s also not at all ashamed of its own lampshading, and positively hangs its hat on the members, so to speak.

        The culmination of season one had my normally reticent wife cheering. Hint: Raimi and crew let a slave uprising sink its teeth in.

        I tuned in to scoff, and ended up hooked.

  7. Back to Django, it was really good! Thanks to comrade Smith for posting this. My daughter just arrived back from San Francisco today and right after I read the post, we decided to hit the move theater. We both noticed that we were the only two people who were laughing hard and I guess the movie’s humor was lost on the Francophones. The German character was hilarious and I found the movie to be an homage to both the Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation. As comrade Smith pointed out, it was a little too long though.

  8. One of the problems I’ve always had with many of my fellow lefties and Marxists is the lack of appreciation in the fact that besides the Blues, rock-n-roll, North Carolina style bbq, and some big ass cars from the ‘50s like the Buick Roadmaster – one of America’s few great contributions to the world was exploitation films. An instance where the “anything for a buck” approach enriched us all.

    • “the Blues, rock-n-roll, North Carolina style bbq,
      and some big ass cars from the ‘50s like the Buick Roadmaster ”

      you forgot a couple three there boy !

      open ocean whaling

      corn squeezins

      bull riding

      the rebel yell
      strip poker
      the scalp belt
      the fun house mirror
      funny papers
      funny cars
      cotton candy
      fried dough

      the tom boy

      the handkerchief con
      snake bite jesus

      jim crow

      the lynch mob

      trick ropin
      and huck finn’s pap

      now of course
      most of these like those on your list
      are all products of our border trash heritage
      being
      either on the giving or the taking end

      taking end ?

      look at your basic blues

      that being the most refined cultural product
      on the taking side
      i can imagine

      yes slavin’ was an aquired border trash taste

      but segregatin oppressin and such
      let me put it this way
      maybe black people needed
      all that border trash
      dirty shirt high handedness and liquored up horror show
      from 1865 to 1965
      to produce such a timeless and a perfect art form

      way too deep and good for the pink ears of us border trash

      we like sour cat lammmmmmmentations
      and lacrymose end badly
      froggy come acourtin songs

  9. trawling amerikan cultural waters
    for racism is no longer a shark hunt

    its fish bowl stuff

    so we have to pump up the on screen melodramatics
    to hyper drive

    nothing makes me puke like
    out of body white self-sploitation

    its soooo early boomer

    stop licking black asses

    they don’t like it and they sure don’t need it

  10. I like all the Tarantino films I have seen, though Kill Bill II didn’t do much for me. As to films in general, some like Battle of Algiers make your heart soar, but most do well to entertain us for a couple hours. Most don’t do either for me. I’d rather watch TV series. I watch a lot of these on my laptop. I’ve watched and enjoyed Friday Night Lights, Spartacus, Rome, Homeland, Vegas, Sons of Anarchy, Prison Break, Veronica Mars, Dexter, The Wire, Sopranos, Band of Brothers, and lots more. Talk about a wasted life!

    • My list, FWIW (this decade, and omitting duplicates from your list):

      Breaking Bad
      Carnivale
      Game of Thrones
      Six Feet Under
      Justified
      Terriers
      Battlestar Galactica
      Lost
      Mad Men
      Deadwood
      The Shield
      Boardwalk Empire
      Doctor Who
      In Treatment
      The Corner
      Alias
      Fringe (takes some time to get good, but really does)
      Downton Abbey
      The Good Wife

      Comedy:
      Arrested Development
      Party Down
      It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
      Community
      Louie
      Archer
      The Venture Bros
      Weeds (at the beginning)
      Parks and Recreation (by season 2)
      The Office (at the beginning)

      Several of these surprised me, being set places I didn’t think I’d willingly watch week after week.

      • I can’t remember the last time I actually made a regular “date” to watch a TV show on my actual TV set; these days, I watch shows on my laptop or on DVD, whenever I feel like it.

        By way of replying to Smiff’s short list of good things America has given us, I’ll just add: really bad “B” sci-fi and horror flicks from circa 1950-65. While I was introduced to these wonderful nuggets via a local TV “horror host” as a teenager in the early ’70s — which brings me to my short list of current TV faves:

        Mystery Science Theater 3000: I’ve been sucking down mass quantities of this show lately. I had a “date” to watch this every week throughout the ’90s, but hadn’t seen any of it since it was cancelled in ’99, so I’ve spent the last two years reacquainting myself via YouTube and torrent downloads via the MST3K Digital Archive Project. I’d almost forgotten how brilliant it was, in the way that they’d present a movie entirely unaltered and, via their commentary, totally subvert its meaning and intent and generally fuck it up.

        The Larry Sanders Show: Another one I hadn’t seen in a dog’s age. I used to tape this every week and have a few episodes burned to DVDs. My wife found it on Netflix, and it’s been long enough that even episodes I’d seen several times are fresh again. Possibly the last decent work Jon Stewart ever did (he was a lead writer for the last couple of seasons).

        Arrested Development: I’d heard a lot of good stuff about this, and that it starred Jeffery Tambor (who played Hank on Larry Sanders), so I checked it out on the on-board TV system while on a 16-hour plane ride to Johannesburg a couple of years ago and wasn’t disappointed. There were maybe four episodes available on the plane, and watched them all at least twice, and now I want more. I’ll have to pester my wife to let me have the Netflix stream for a couple of hours.

        Venture Brothers: I was a huge Jonny Quest fan as a young boy in the ’60s; a couple of friends turned me on to this a couple of years ago, and it was a scream. They do a job on every trope, plot, character and situation I ever saw on Jonny Quest, and it’s sheer fucking genius.

        The IT Crowd: A British comedy I’d heard a lot about; my wife found it on Netflix and got me to try it out, and it was a blast. I’m not an IT type myself, but as over the past 25 years or so, my work has involved the use of computers and networks and I’ve become intimately acquainted with — and sympathetic to — the IT guys at every company I’ve worked with. I’m really loving it.

        The Office (original British version): I checked out a couple of episodes of the American version and tried really hard to like it but, as usual, the American version is a lame, watered-down imitation. Rick Gervaise’s scheming, back-stabbing, two-faced, smarmy version of the Boss is far superior to Steve Carell’s spineless, mealy-mouthed, wimpy version.

        …and, of course, I’m reacquainting myself with all those great old “B” sci-fi and horror flicks I saw on the old Count Gore DeVol’s Creature Feature via the public-domain archives at archive.org. They’re just as bad (read: awesome) as I remember them, and lately I’ve developed a philosophy on movies: anybody can like good movies, but it takes real guts to seek out and enjoy really bad movies, and while I can appreciate Kurozawa, Truffaut, Fellini and Kubrick, I think it takes a special kind of courage to appreciate Roger Corman, Coleman Francis, Bert I. Gordon and Ed Wood.

        • My trouble with the original Office (and parts of the US one, if I’m honest) is that it’s kind of painful for me to watch people embarrass themselves, even if they are David Brent. I see the funny parts, but I can’t enjoy them as much because my mind is so busy feeling bad for the characters. I found myself wishing at times they would turn the cameras off and give the man back some measure of dignity.

          Most of the shows I’ve watched since I’ve started my TV run two years ago I have blown through in marathon viewing on Netflix, DVD, or in the other way. This includes ones still running on the TV even (well, the DVR — I don’t watch anything live anymore); I can get subtitles and be rid of advertising. But there are some shows I feel the need to watch in the next few days.

          I wish I could be a better proponent for some of those shows. The list was probably too long. I started out thinking I was going to be very selective, not having really watched TV in years, but there was too much that was really great. If I knew I’d led others to watch them I’d feel this warm sense of having done good.

  11. Comrades, you’ve already covered all my favorite TV shows but here comes the “girl” perspective:

    I Love Lucy

    Though I wasn’t born yet to enjoy I Love Lucy when it was originally aired, I discovered it in my 20’s and got hooked. I know most guys don’t dig it but to us girls, it’s incredibly funny.

    Speaking of funny, I recently discovered old movies of W.C. Fields thanks to an acquaintance of mine here. I watched The Old Fashioned Way and The Bank Dick on Youtube last week and couldn’t stop howling!

    Now here’s my recent Quebec favorite film:

    Lawrence Anyways

    It’s an unconventional love story made by a 23 year old. The cinematography is gorgeous even though the movie is a little too long.

    BTW, I had no idea The Homeland was worth watching. Telequebec started airing it in September but I ignored it thinking it was another reactionary series like 24. After all, it was made by the same folks.

    • Oh, man! The Bank Dick! I am so in love with that movie; it’s the pinnacle of WC Fields’ work for me, the Dark Side Of The Moon of WC Fields movies. It’s as if every bit, every character, every situation he honed his art in all came together in a Gestalt “whole” in that movie.

      Of course, if you’re just now getting into WC Fields, you absolutely must see his short pieces The Golf Specialist and The Fatal Glass Of Beer (containing my all-time favorite WC Fields line, “It’s not a fit night out for man or beast!”).

      Some other movies I’ve heard about for years but have just now finally gotten to see thanks to bootleg downloads and torrents:
      • Russ Meyers’ Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (featuring the dangerously pulchritudinous Tura Satana. Damn, they just don’t make ‘em like her anymore)
      • Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies (both original and MST3K versions)
      • Timothy Carey’s The World’s Greatest Sinner (featuring a theme song and score written by a very young Frank Zappa)
      • Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (Zappa. ‘Nuff said.)

      • Comrade Flugennock, thanks for further recommendations on things worthy to watch. That W.C. Fields line that you mentioned (It’s not a fit night out for man or beast!), well I heard it for the first time last week when my husband used it to describe our arctic cold weather (like -15C). Silly me, I thought it was his line!

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