Archive for Quentin Tarantino

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.

Quixotic/Chaotic

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2020 by dcairns

What’s wrong with Terry Gilliam? Just as he’s supposed to be promoting THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, his decade-in-the-making dream project as it finally comes to home video — and after its merciless critical thrashing, it NEEDS some promotion — he comes down with a kind of ideational Tourettes, trashing his reputation with a cascade of ill-considered jibes and blurtings aimed at pc culture and the #MeToo movement.

A central plank of the sunken sloop that is Gilliam’s “argument” reminds me of an awkward moment in Bologna when Kathryn Sermak, Bette Davis’s former PA, made a similar embarrassing statement confusing rape and assault by producers with the old-fashioned casting couch. Everybody had turned up prepared to adore this woman who was the Great Bette’s confidante, and then we kind of didn’t know where to look or what to say. Nobody picked a fight over it, because we still wanted to hear about her recollections, and we now wanted to hear as little about her opinions as possible.

I don’t know what it is — are people schooled in the workings of Hollywood so inured to the casting couch concept that when they hear about producers taking unfair advantage of actors, they can only process it in terms of a transactional sex-for-stardom arrangement? So, when they hear the word “rape” they assume what we really mean is “woman sleeps with producer for role and then feels bad about it”? But I think the accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior are fairly unambiguous.

Gilliam says he could tells stories about actresses who got ahead by bedding the engorged mogul, and I have no doubt he could — he was forbidden to cast Samantha Morton, perhaps because she hadn’t shown Harvey the proper obeisance. But just because sometimes Harvey slept with women and gave them roles, or failed to sleep with women and denied them roles, doesn’t mean all of his activity was consensual. (And even here he took things beyond the usual limits, trash-talking women who had rejected him to sabotage their careers even at other companies.) Insiders like Ben Affleck and Quentin Tarantino apparently knew he was an abuser. (Hey, one might observe that the scene in GRINDHOUSE/PLANET TERROR where Tarantino and Rodriguez joke about raping Rose McGowan hasn’t aged well, but it was horrible THEN.) People generally in the industry but not tied to Miramax or the Weinstein Company knew Harvey was a bully, but not the depths of his viciousness.

It’s possible Gilliam doesn’t really believe in rape as a thing. Which would make him very reactionary indeed. Is he nervous about his own past behaviour? I’ve never heard anything against him so I don’t see why he should be taking the part of sex pests. He seems certainly to be arguing that the #MeToo movement is worse than the crimes it’s sought to expose and prevent, which is an odd one. Perhaps there are some men who have been unjustly accused and had their careers damaged? Perhaps, but not that many. The doubtful Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are still making films. I don’t know about James Toback, but he’s escaped legal consequences for the multiple offenses he was accused of. Geoffrey Rush has certainly suffered some distress, but if you read the Wikipedia account of his trial, he seems to have been cut every possible form of slack, and anything further from a witch hunt is hard to imagine.

I would like to be able to argue that Gilliam is being true to the contrarian spirit of Monty Python by alienating his own constituency (aging liberals who like films and comedy and care about humanity) but it feels more like he’s made that sharp turn to the right that crepuscular revolutionaries are always performing.

Does this matter? I have the Blu-ray of THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE in my Amazon shopping basket. I haven’t bought it yet because I’m annoyed with Gilliam, and because I wonder if someone so seemingly incapable of coherent thought, so mindlessly contrarian, can make a good film?