Trying to think smartly about Django Unchained

The trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Django Unchained is out.

Now, I’ll confess, I enjoy the trailer, and I enjoy Tarantino’s films (though I’ve not seen the Grindhouse double bill – I would have if it had come out in the UK as the double bill). I’ll also confess that sometimes, I’m not that comfortable with that fact about myself. I think Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown are legitimately great, and I love Kill Bill volume 1 (the battle of the House of Leaves is really violent, yet gorgeous ballet, choreographed to a great song) – but there’s stuff in most of his films that I don’t like, not to mention that I think he’s got much more self-indulgent since being proclaimed some kind of genius-auteur. Self-indulgence in pretty much all artists should be discouraged.

I’m also not of the opinion that Tarantino is the most self-reflective or self-critical human ever. Connect this to the self-indulgence, and you get an ‘If I like it it must be fiiiine’ mentality. Which it’s not always. I was pretty concerned about what he was doing with history in Inglourious Bastereds beforehand – and although it turned out to be a wildly fun, fantasy revenge (the fantasy bit is important in making it ok, I think) I’m still not sure it was his revenge fantasy to write and make.

With Django Unchained, I’m very very aware that there are huge areas of cultural and historical complexity that aren’t even on my radar of awareness, and even of they were, it wouldn’t be my culture and history Tarantino is playing in this time (I’m not saying that I shouldn’t get to have an opinion – just that it’s very very open to challenge from a lot of quarters).

So I’m really glad to see Ta-Nehisi Coates proffer up his thoughts on the trailer. If you don’t read him regularly, you should – and this is an area that is in his expertise and in which he’s personally invested. So, if you’re thinking about seeing Django, you should read him (as a starting point), and appreciate the way that he is culturally reflexive and self-critical in the way that Tarantino regularly isn’t.

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