Sunday, March 8, 2015

Don't Make a Scene: Django Unchained

The Set-Up: "Tell Me a Story." During the month of February, (and beyond, as it turns out) we'll be showcasing scenes that feature a story in the midst of the narrative. That story may couch the plot in a new light; it may illuminate themes or present a back-history. It may be just a distraction. It may be a side-story that resonates throughout the film and casts its teller (or its subject) into the affections or disaffections of the audience, making him immortal no matter how short their amount of screen-time.  

I'm a fair-weather fan of Quentin Tarantino—I only like him when he's good, which is only sporadically. Two movies of his I've liked all the way through, Jackie Brown and Inglorious Basterds. Everything else has good bits and pieces, undone by Tarantino's habits of snorting from other people's movies (without laying claim, ala Mike Meyers), and for his hipster excesses that have remained unabated because he had such acclaim so early and so fast (and some of his zombie supporters, who don't know any better, and some critics, who should, just continue to fan the flames, so he's become an insufferable egomaniac). I mean, I think the man owes me four hours of my life back after suffering through Kill Bill (Vols. I and II) just to have it end with a lecture about Superman. Really?? The truth is the emperor has no clothes

He says he's retiring after his next movie, but I rarely believe Tarantino's self-generated press. I go into his movies hoping for the best, and expecting the worst, and sometimes he delivers both in equal measure.

Django Unchained, for instance. A 70's styled Western full of anachronism and eye-rolling blood-lust, that is so drastically inconsistent, you don't know whether to laugh or be pissed off—I think that's often the reaction Tarantino wants. For some reason, QT won the Oscar for Best Screenplay with this mess (over Tony Kushner's epic Lincoln) in which he creates an extraordinary character (in the form of Dr. King Schultz) only to have him undone by deliberately breaking his own rules.

But there are moments: like this one, early on (before we get to Candieland—no, really) in which Schultz explains to his new partner in bounty-hunting, Django Freeman, freed slave, the story of Brunhilda (or "Broomhilda," as Tarantino writes it in the script—isn't that a comic-strip?*) who bears the name of Django's wife, sold separately at auction as punishment by a past slaver (Bruce Dern).

In this, QT sets up the story and presents it, as if on stage, in a natural proscenium arch in the shape of a mountain, and in the telling of the tale Schultz realizes (maybe a little late) how important it is to his audience. This is a nice little scene, and although Django... is ultimately lousy, this part's great.

The Set-Up: Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys a chained slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to help him locate two criminals called The Brittle Brothers in order to claim the bounty on their heads.  The two unlikely allies have settled the score and stopped the pursuit of the local yokels aiming to ambush them. This business finished, the two stop to eat and talk.


The two men sit on a blanket with a nice picnic spread spread out. 
Django eats a cucumber sandwich with the crust cut off, and drinks a cup of tea.
DJANGO How did you know Broomhilda's first masters were German?
Dr.SCHULTZ Broomhilda is a German name. If they named her,...
Dr.SCHULTZ stands to reason they'd be German. 
DJANGO Lotsa gals where you from named Broomhilda?
Dr.SCHULTZ No, not so much. Broomhilda is the name of a character in one of the most...
Dr.SCHULTZ ...popular of all the German legends. 
DJANGO Really? There's a story 'bout Broomhilda?
Dr.SCHULTZ Yes there is.
DJANGO Do you know it? 
Dr.SCHULTZ Every German knows that story.
Dr.SCHULTZ Would you like me to tell you? 
Django nods his head, yes.
Dr.SCHULTZ Well Broomhilda was a princess.
Dr.SCHULTZ She was the daughter of Wotan...the god of all gods. 
Dr.SCHULTZ Anyway, her father is really mad at her.
DJANGO What she do.?
Dr.SCHULTZ I don't exactly remember.**
Dr.SCHULTZ I think she disobeys him in some way. So at first he's just going to obliterate her - 
DJANGO Obliterate... . what does that mean?
Dr.SCHULTZ Like blow up.
He pantomimes a explosion.

DJANGO Phew, that's pretty mad.
Dr.SCHULTZ Yes it is, and like most fathers, given a little time, he calms down a bit. He's still mad at her. He still wants to punish her. Just not ... . blow her up. So instead what he does, is he puts her high on top of a mountain.
DJANGO Broomhilda's on a mountain?
Dr.SCHULTZ It's a German legend, there's always going to be a mountain in there...
Dr.SCHULTZ ...somewhere. So, he puts her on top of the mountain and he puts a fire breathing...
Dr.SCHULTZ ...dragon there to guard the mountain. And. then he surrounds her in circle of hellfire.
Dr.SCHULTZ And there Broomhilda shall remain...
Dr.SCHULTZ ...unless a hero arises brave enough to save her.
DJANGO Does a fella arise?
From now on as Dr.Schultz talks, he's beginning to realize something he wasn't aware of when the conversation started.
Dr.SCHULTZ Yes Django...
Dr.SCHULTZ a matter he does. A fella named, Sigfried. 
DJANGO Does Sigfried save her?
Dr.SCHULTZ Yes he does,
Dr.SCHULTZ ...and quite spectacularly, so. Now true, he is assisted in his triumph by a truly, truly, remarkable sword, still, having said that, Sigfried triumphs over all of his obstacles not just due to his sword, but due to his courage.
Dr.SCHULTZ He scales the mountain, because he's not afraid of it.
Dr.SCHULTZ He defeats slays the dragon, because he's not afraid.of him.
Dr.SCHULTZ (CON'T) He walks through hellfire...
Dr.SCHULTZ ...because Broomhilda's worth. it.
After that last line of dialogue... .the two men just let a moment pass as they nibble on their sandwiches.
DJANGO I know how he feels.
Dr.SCHULTZ I think I'm just starting to realize that.
He pours Django and himself some more tea out of a fancy tea pot, as he thinks about what he's going to say next.

Django Unchained

Words by Quentin Tarantino

Pictures by Robert Richardson and Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Home Video.  

* Yeah, it is.

** Yeah, and that depends on which version of the story you're telling.  In any version Brunhilda is a valkyrie, not a princess. In the Norse version (where it's Odin playing her father), she is punished for not picking Odin's favorite king when charged with deciding who should win a fight. In Wagner's version, which is far afield of the actual German version, Brunhilda spirits away the wife of Wotan's bastard child Siegmund, and hides his sword, after Wotan changes his mind about keeping Siegmund safe (after pressure from the angry cheated-on wife). 

Now, Wagner began writing this in 1848, 10 years before the date Django Unchained is set in, but it wasn't performed until 1876, 18 years after the time of the movie. Schultz couldn't have known this version. But, like dynamite (patented in 1867) and sunglasses (20th century), Tarantino can't be bothered by too much research if he's seen it done in other movies.

No comments:

Post a Comment