Quentin Tarantino on the set of Django Unchained
Photo by Andrew Cooper, SMPSP – © 2012 – The Weinstein Company
I had the pleasure of seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained again last night, this time at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ nicely appointed Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. My main mission was to see how the old-skewing Oscar audience would respond to one of Tarantino’s bloodiest and most over-the-top movies. Somewhat surprisingly, the audience was really into it. They laughed in all the right parts, they cheered in all the right parts and they seemed less disconcerted by the fountains of blood during the finale than I expected. There was a good amount of applause when the credits rolled (though I’m told it was more restrained than what you often get at these things) and Quentin got an solid standing ovation when he came out for a post-movie chat with Elvis Mitchell. More about that in a minute.
As for the movie itself, I think I liked it a bit better than the first time I saw it. There were some subtleties involving Samuel Jackson’s character I wasn’t focused on the first time and it helped keep the film afloat during a slow stretch before the finale. Leonardo DiCaprio is a little better than I first gave him credit for, but I still wish his character was more unhinged. Leo really needs to let go in my opinion. Talking about it afterward with Awards Daily’s Sasha Stone, I think I realized that part of my overall problem with the film is the two big action sequences at the end. I won’t say more about it than that because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think Django overall would’ve been better off if the first action scene was cut way back and then you could even extend the second one. As it is, the latter feels a little anti-climactic. Interestingly, Tarantino says he came up with the second sequence after he wrote the script and decided he needed it to complete one of the character’s arcs. He’s absolutely right, but the first action sequence still feels like the finale and the 30 odd minutes that come after feel sort of like an appendage.
Back to the Tarantino Q&A. Everyone knows what a movie savant Tarantino is, but it’s stunning to see a moderator just start rattling off movies I’ve never even heard of let alone seen and Tarantino can zero in on a specific scene from that movie and rattle off anecdotes about it.It was actually a little embarrassing to see Mitchell try and out-nerd the ultimate movie nerd. Close, but no cigar. Don’t even try. Anyway, of course Tarantino lives and breathes movies, but what also came across is how thoughtful he is about what he’s doing. He’s a highly intuitive filmmaker even saying at one point he doesn’t want to think about any thematic arcs of his career until his career is over, but he also thinks a lot about every detail. He’s not just throwing stuff up there because it’s fun. He’s got reasons for it. One can argue whether they’re good reasons or not, but at least you know he’s just not showing off.
Along the same lines, a slave-revenge picture is clearly not just a goof to him. He’s really thinking about his character Django and about the whole slave experience. He talked about how negro folklore helped him shape the character. Most interestingly, he talked about the dynamic between King Schultz played by Christoph Waltz and Django played by Jamie Foxx. At first, Django is out of his element as a newly freed man while Schultz is the epitome of confidence with an intellectual’s idea of what slavery is all about. As the two make their way deeper into the South however, Schultz begins to get in over his head as he confronts the ground-level reality of what slavery is. Meanwhile Django is kind of in his element. He’s already experienced first hand the worst that the South can do and he’s ready for it.
One last anecdote that I think illustrates Tarantino’s in depth, detailed, obsessive process. Apparently he’d already cast the great Bruce Dern in a small flashback cameo as Django’s original owner. Despite the tiny amount of screen time Dern would have, Tarantino sat down with the actor at Musso & Frank’s in Hollywood for over an hour just to talk about the whole history he’d envisioned between Dern’s character and Django. I have no idea whether that conversation enriched Dern’s performance or not, but that depth of thinking no Tarantino’s part sort of illuminates why his movies are as rich and as textured as they are.
Filed under: Screenings