Archive for Quentin Tarantino

A thought

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2022 by dcairns

Anthony Mackie said it, then Quentin Tarantino parrotted it on his podcast.

Audiences now go to see superheroes, not movie stars. OK. It’s a somewhat unfalsifiable statement — we can say that’s approximately or mostly true, not absolutely true. There’s a lot of truth IN it.

One definition of a star is “someone who will open a film.” The film might go on to flop but at least people will turn up on opening weekend to see if they like it. The Mackie-Tarantino hypothesis is that people will now turn up to see Captain America, but not necessarily to see Chris Evans if they don’t like the sound of his latest vehicle.

It’s possible that audiences could be repelled even from Captain America if the colourful piece of I.P. were placed in a novel and unattractive new context, such as CAPTAIN AMERICA GOES TO THE LAVATORY, but it’s not something that’s going to happen so we needn’t concern ourselves with it. The character is permanently fused to a certain kind of entertainment and so the punter knows exactly the kind of thing s/he is going to get.

The thought that struck me is that the studios responsible for the Marvel and DC “cinematic universes” have, in a sense, recaptured the power they had before Olivia DeHavilland made her bid for freedom. Back when there WERE stars, in the 1940s, the movie studios more or less owned them. There were a few independents, like Cary Grant, but in order to become stars, most aspirants signed longterm contracts with the studios and had to do as they were told. Refusing a project meant going on suspension, which meant your contract was extended by the amount of time the refused film would have taken to shoot. So, essentially, a star had to take the jobs offered or else potentially stay under contract forever. And when your contract was up for renewal, maybe the studio had the right to renew it built into their original contract, and unless your career was looking VERY secure, you might be reluctant to strike out in search of sound stage pastures new.

So, in effect, the studios used to own their stars.

Now they own, or have a deal for the use of, their I.P.

You can make Captain America do whatever you want. And you can recast him at will, as we have seen with the Hulk-shaped revolving door at Universal/Disney. Having Michael Keaton or Christian Bayle as Batman is equivalent to having Dick Sprang or Carmine Infantino drawing him in the comics: the fans appreciate each incarnation and can tell the difference, but it’s all Batman, which is the main thing.

We have cycled back to the kind of slave-owning the majors used to enjoy, only now, just as the sets may be digital constructs rather than physical objects, the stars aren’t flesh-and-blood at all, but inventions, name + costume + backstory + powers.

One could, of course, get into a debate about whether the old stars were strictly speaking people at all — they were IMAGES, certainly, based on or around people. They had names, often assumed; they admittedly changed costumes more than Superman, who has only two main ones; they had their own backstories, often quite as fictional as Peter Parker’s; they had powers, but we called those “star quality.”

Hitchcock said he envied Walt Disney, who, if he were dissatisfied with his leading man, could physically tear him to pieces. One has to imagine that Jack Warner, that old vaudevillian crook, would see something to envy in the modern studio’s ability to hold the copyright of its stars, a whole indentured firmament of them.

(Kudos to Mackie for actually daring to say something interesting: I hold the admittedly cranky view that the press should never interview anyone who has a film coming out, since people in that position are contractually forbidden to say anything honest.)

Cox’s Orange Pippins: A Fistful of Djangos

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2022 by dcairns

DJANGO & DJANGO is a documentary about Sergio Corbucci by Luca Rea. You can see it on Netflix.

It’s not bad. It chooses to examine only Corbucci’s westerns, which is wrong — at least giving the viewer more of an inkling that he made other kinds of films, some of them successful, would have been good. But it has a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and decent amount of archive interviews with SC. The clips from the westerns are well selected.

The three main talking heads are Franco Nero, who is affable but doesn’t have a huge amount to tell us, Ruggero Deodato, former AD to Corbucci, who is invaluable in giving us first hand accounts of the man’s character and strong insights into his films, and Quentin Tarantino, who gets the lion’s share of the screen time. The movie begins with Corbucci’s role as an offscreen character in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (and his expanded role in QT’s novelisation) and ends with his influence on DJANGO UNCHAINED. So it’s very much a film about Tarantino too.

QT is enthusiastic as ever — on his new podcast, The Video Archives, this enthusiasm reaches exuberant heights as he’s joined by old pal Roger Avary, and the fanboying becomes quite tolerable, even adorable, as it’s a way for these two eternal adolescents to express their affection for one another. Hearing Tarantino hold forth alone — with the “awright?” tic adding to the hectoring effect — can be wearing.

As autodidact, Tarantino’s tendency to mispronounce names and words should be forgiven, though there’s a CREW, somebody could tell him it’s not “Doosio” Tessari, or “Caliglia” — though stepping in the path of QT’s gush could be perilous. The weirdest one is “tenter tantrums” or possibly “tenner tantrums,” which is spoken so many times there can be little doubt that Tarantino really believes that’s the expression. He’s known to be a very bad speller — I think that’s the secret behind INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS’ title — possibly dyslexic, so having seen the phrase written down wouldn’t necessarily disabuse him of his misconception.

But we do get evidence of a critical mind. It’s not just sadism and fannish worship. While Alex Cox sees SONNY AND JED as horrible and problematic, symptomatic of Corbucci’s increasing misogyny, Tarantino performs a mental flip on it, recasting the protags as the bad guys — Charlie Manson and Squeaky Fromme — and Telly Savalas’ relentless, maimed hunter as another of Corbucci’s martyred heroes. That seems workable. Of course both interpretations are very much in character, with Cox being concerned about sexism and Tarantino welcoming in the darkness. So there are insights, if you can take it.

Cox’s Orange Pippins: “…and lose the name of ACTION!”

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2022 by dcairns

Quite enjoyed DJANGO THE BASTARD — the other vengeful ghost spaghetti western. Anthony Steffen is quite a compelling wraith-hero. As with this film’s unofficial twin …AND GOD SAID TO CAIN, there’s a certain loss of tension when your hero is an unkillable ghost and everyone else is a baddy. Best of the bad men is bleach-blond epileptic madman Luciano Rossi, doing the Kinski thing, as “Hugh Murdok.”

Director Sergio Garrone made a bunch of westerns and also some of those noxious Nazisploitation films. I was inclined to hate him, but couldn’t quite manage it in the face of his sheer misguided enthusiasm for wanky directorial gimmicks. His direction is lively but random. Cox picks, as an egregious example, an aerial view tracking Steffen’s hat — a shot that must have taken considerable trouble, and is over before it’s made an impression, replaced with something equally throwaway and meaningless. But I like the hat shot — it’s attractive. Some of Garrone’s other angles are just silly, but as I say, they’re lively. The kind of thing I get cross with Kenneth Branagh for doing in HAMLET, but can accept in something that is after all called DJANGO THE BASTARD.

Then we watched KEOMA together on our larger screen and that was… kind of impressive. My first Enzo G. Castellari film. I don’t know why but Tarantino’s championing him always put me off, somehow. QT’s enthusiasm can be sort of repellent, but in fairness the films he enthuses about are usually at least interesting. (I think BLOW-OUT is a poor film, personally, but it’s not devoid of interest, even just from a pathological viewpoint.)

Enzo is having fun with this very late spag western — it barely rates a mention in the Cox book because he takes the view that there are no good post-1970 Italian westerns, but this is very nearly a proper movie. Castellari’s flourishes are better-motivated than maestro Garrone’s, as when hero Franco Nero holds up four fingers in front of four opponents, a moment you can enjoy in the lengthy trailer.

Weird hearing Nero with his own accent, especially since Keoma is a halfbreed Indian. With his beard and bare chest and wolf-cut hair, FN is a new kind of gunfighter for a new-ish kind of western. Bits seem post-apocalyptic, prefiguring the genre Castellari and all the other genre hacks would dabble in after MAD MAX, other bits seem medieval — there’s a plague ravaging the land, ffs.

Woody Strode has quite a bit to do and has an extraordinary last scene — it is possible that Castellari was a bit too uncritical of his performers, or else urged them to “give it both knees” in Billy Wilder’s phrase when more restraint would have been advisable. But it’s the kind of mad choice that seems acceptable in a nutzoid oater like this.

Spaghetti westerns, unlike most of their American counterparts, always TRY to be progressive about race, though they often slip up in hilarious/uncomfortable ways, due to naivety — the spaghetti west is all like Kafka writing the Statue of Liberty with a sword in her hand: EVOCATIVELY WRONG — and a certain insensitivity that comes with the genre.

The era of Morricone and Morricone-influenced scores is over, as we also saw in FOUR FOR THE APOCALYPSE. This one also has songs — a female vocalist warbling at a high pitch like the bastard daughter of Joan Baez and Tiny Tim, and a gruff, growly man (Nero himself) who mainly sings about what is actually happening in front of us, which gets very funny. (“How did I get in this meeeeeessss?”)

KEOMA — which also has supernatural-Gothic-Shakespearian vibes — led us to JOHNNY HAMLET, originally developed by Corbucci and intended to star Anthony Perkins, but was passed to Castellari and Andrea Giordana. The real star turn in this one is Gilbert Roland, as “Johnny Hamilton’s” chum, “Horace.” The first time Horatio has been the coolest and most impressive character, and the only time a real Mexican appeared in an Italian western (according to Cox — seems legit).

A Perkins Hamlet, even a wild west one, would have been something. An Andrea Giordana Hamlet is just fair. His green eyes look good in Leonesque ECU — this is an insanely colourful film at times — the dream sequence in which the ghost appears is pure Corman, or impure Bava. Funny how Castellari, seeking to present the sequence in a way that doesn’t violate genre conventions — no ghosts in cowboy films — except the aforementioned ones, and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and Elvis at the end of FLAMING STAR I believe — and he ends up with a sequence that has absolutely nothing in common with western aesthetics.

Elsewhere, there’s a cemetery in a cave — comedy gravediggers seem ready-made for an Italian western, with the strong antecedent of the coffin-maker in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS.

Castellari mounts the camera on a wheel as Johnny H realises the time is out of joint —

There are capering actors, so that we can have snatches of the bard, and an anticipation of Agnes Varda —

Kind of funny how the Shakespearian character who can’t make up his mind becomes this angst-ridden action hero who’s constantly shooting people and getting in punch-ups. Most of this action doesn’t much advance the plot, but neither do the Shakespearian soliloquies they replace (WH Auden observes that Hamlet is unusual in that the big speeches are all standalone bits of philosophising that work just as well out of context). It’s also funny to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern transformed into sadistic henchmen from the rather ineffectual stooges of the original. What “Claude Hamilton” needs in his camp is a deadly Laertes type, but none is forthcoming, though there is, instead, this guy:

A major spaghetti trope I haven’t mentioned — DISGUSTING EATING. Leone’s giant mouth closeups in DUCK, YOU SUCKER! are the apotheosis of this, but in both THE BIG SILENCE and this one, men deliver dialogue through half-masticated facefuls of chicken. There should, now that I think of it, be a spag western called A FACEFUL OF CHICKEN. In this movie the chickenlover is a Mexican bandit called Santana who seems to have no connection to the source text, which means he can do what he likes, so he does.

Johnny, like Steffen in DJANGO THE BASTARD, has just returned from the Civil War, fighting on the side of the South. Cox observes that this is unusual in Italian westerns, which aren’t suckered by the lost cause myth. Cox then embarks on his worst bit of pontificating, throwing out the right-wing talking point that the War wasn;t really over slavery, but over the southern states’ right to secede. I assume somebody fed this line to Cox and he didn’t question it further. But, as sf writer Theodore Sturgeon advises, we should be prepared always to Ask the next question. WHY did the southern states wish to secede? Turns out maybe the Civil War was about slavery after all…

This Hamlet does not go mad, or feign madness, nor does he (spoiler alert) die at the end, though most of the other characters do. These departures from the source text make this not really a version of Hamlet at all. One wonders if Corbucci, who conceived the idea, would have been more faithful, not so much to the play, as to the IDEA. What’s the point of doing Hamlet as a spaghetti western, after all, if you don;t actually follow through? And, while the opening dream sequence (deleted in America) is wonderfully outside the stylistic Overton window of the genre, an insane hero and a tragic ending (as with THE BIG SILENCE) seem perfectly suited to the revenge western. In place of all this, Castellari has his hero crucified — a ballsy move in a production of Hamlet, but rather standard for an Italian western (see also DJANGO KILL! and, in fact, KEOMA) — so that he has to tie his pistol to his hand for the final shootout, a variant on DJANGO. A shame — instead of throwing overly-familiar business at us, under the guise of a Shakespeare update, Castellari could have used the concept to hit us with material that would be genuinely unfamiliar, but perfectly in keeping with the revenge western format. A miss, a very palpable miss. But EGC is a fun stylist, and I’m perfectly willing to see more of his stuff now.