Django Unchained

LP Hartley’s 1953 novel “The Go-between” was set in north Norfolk, in the secluded country homes and villages where I grew up. Yet, the Victorian landscapes of the novel weren’t really a place I recognised. Understandably. Hartley famously began the novel: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

And this is how I’ve decided I shall approach Django Unchained, Tarantino’s latest, quite excellent opus. This will allow me to think my way through the big issues at stake – racism, slavery, guilt, redemption, power and powerlessness, simmering residual anger, sexual violence – as well as the deliberate portrayal of these themes within the framework of a blaxploitation-style Spaghetti Western that’s written and directed by a white guy, without getting too stuck on finding a singular interpretation or understanding of it all.

I thought it was brilliantly, beautifully filmed in awesomely art-directed locations, and there wasn’t a single performance out of kilter. Samuel L Jackson gives the first performance I’ve seen him give in a long, long, long time that isn’t phoned in – he’s electrifying – Leonardo as the bad guy is completely mesmerising, and Waltz and Jamie Foxx deserve whatever accolades come their way. So: it’s not easy viewing given the themes and the violence and the language, but the past is, after all, another country, and I’ll do the heavy lifting on this later.

Django Unchained filmed the upland winter scenes in Wyoming – on a private ranch location in Jackson, with additional scenes in Grand Teton National Park and on the National Elk Refuge, according to Wyoming Tourism. The plantation scenes were shot in Louisiana on the Evergreen Plantation, a National Historic Landmark from 1832, on Louisiana Highway 18 near Wallace, Louisiana. Due to it’s historical significance, the plantation is on the first 26 featured sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino brings World War II to an explosive and entirely non-historic end with The Inglourious Basterds. Basically it’s a double story thread – a group of American Jews are behind enemy lines, killing (and scalping – a real yeuch) Nazis. And a Jew who runs a Paris cinema gets a chance to revenge the murder of her family. Neither thread meets or even has an inkling what the other is doing, and only the Nazis themselves provide the common link.

All I can say is check out the performance of Austrian actor Christoph Waltz as the Jew Hunter – a chilling portrayal of how the most civilised country in Europe could produce such urbane brutality. His multi-lingual performance is awesome. Diane Kruger is also extremely good and looks the part, magnificently. Brad Pitt reminded me of George Bush, which is not so good.

A lot of the production took place on the set at Babelsberg Film Studios in Germany – a location allegedly used to create the kind of Nazi propaganda that appears in the film. (Cool thing: you can even order a Tarantino crew jacket here) External scenes were however shot in the town of Bad Schandau in Saxony, a spa town on the Elbe, just 6kms from the Czech border.

By the way, having sat through Tarantino’s (gross, captivating, entertaining) revision of history, I’ve just been reading a George RR Martin short story about time travel and mind-reading in the time of nuclear war that’s set in the Swedish stronghold of Sveaborg during the Finnish war of 1808. Now that’s eclectic.

Deathproof

Caught the uncut version of Tarantino’s Deathproof on DVD over the weekend. Actually a bit of a blast, faux-70’s styling with dodgy edits, scratchy film, wandering colour balance etc. Check out the dents on 1970 Dodge Challenger – they get less as the crashes get worse.

Deathproof features a deranged killer named Stuntman Mike – Kurt Russell – who stalks a group of young women as they spend their night in Austin, Texas, bar hopping, teasing boys, and getting trashed. Stuntman Mike proceeds to kill the girls by crashing into them head on with his death-proof muscle car. Of course, he walks away unharmed.

Months later in Tennesee, he targets another group of young women but this time, he picks the wrong targets (they’re in the film industry, so you must know….)

Deathproof

The first part of the movie is awash with Austin locations – there’s talk of The Dobie Theater, Guero’s, Lake LBJ. And the main action takes place in Austin’s real-life Texas Chili Parlor -although this venerable establishment is shown with a parking lot and a back porch (it doesn’t). Tarantino added these himself for his own fictional version of the restaraunt. The movie is (self) referential to a t – Abernathy, played by Rosario Dawson, mentions she had a thing for a director named Cecil Evans. Cecil Evans is the name of a transportation coordinator for films in Austin.