Having quit school at 16 to take a job as an usher at a hardcore porno theatre, it's hardly surprising that the resulting grown-up is the one and only true enfant terrible of modern cinema. We've seen ears hacked off during torture scenes, Hitler has been pulverised to a soup of blood and bones at point blank range, and now, in Django Unchained, we have a display of genuinely distressing master-on-slave violence.
He is clearly no stranger to having a full spectrum of individuals taking exception to his work. But to this day he is characteristically very outwardly riled when critics accuse him of adhering to both racial and cultural paradigms for his own artistic and commercial gain - not least because those critics should hold a mirror up to their own motivations and realize how clear it is that they are just as bad as those of these paradigms they claim to be so against.
Ultra-violence has become Tarantino's trademark, but the difference here is that the film juxtaposes his classic cartoon-esque violence with an unusually brutal depiction of racial bondage - slaves are literally thrown to the dogs, and are forced to take part in 'mandingo' fights purely for their master's enjoyment. However, context is vital here - the violence our bounty-hunting pair instigate is cut throat, yes, but it's reasoned by the film's time period and the fact their victims are wanted criminals. The violence plantation owner Calvin Candie instigates upon his slaves however is brutal and horribly self-gratifying. The divide in the film between the two kinds of violence is clear - the former is boasted and aestheticized, whereas the latter smacks of authentic shame. So many films try to romanticise slavery, making out that masters were kind to their slaves, but being a director who is clearly not afraid of doing anything artistically, Tarantino has taken the issue head on and produced what is arguably the most shocking and graphic depiction of American slavery we have ever seen. The film itself was even shot on a genuine plantation, Evergreen, in Louisiana.
Not only this, he's made very generous use of the 'n-word' - 104 times to be precise. This was always going to provoke comment, but Tarantino maintains that the word has to be part and parcel of a truthful representation of life in the Antebellum South. Samuel L Jackson would agree on this point - he showed his own desire to see the word passing white lips in a recent interview: "There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the usage of the n-word in this movie," began Fox Houston's film critic Jake Hamilton. Jackson interrupted. "No? Nobody? None? The word would be ...?" He then refused to answer the question until his interviewer was prepared to fully pronounce the profanity.
In bowls Spike Lee. Not exactly each other's biggest fan, they have come to blows already over Tarantino's Blaxploitation film Jackie Brown, with Lee claiming that "Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made - an honorary Black man?". Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly) Spike Lee said to Jamie Foxx at the BET Awards that he would not speak out against Django Unchained, but lo and behold, he took to Twitter (of all mediums) to make his stand this time, claiming he believed the film to be "offensive to his ancestors" and that he would not be watching it. How then I ask, can he form an opinion so politically and culturally infused, without seeing it? If Spike Lee's problem is that he feels Tarantino has no right to artistically represent a horrific, shameful period in time because he's a white man and has no idea, the fact he's not even seen it flies in the face of his argument entirely. And if he felt so strongly about the film's employment of negative racial paradigms for commercial gain - and of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion - surely silence would have been a more appropriate accompaniment to the boycotting? By speaking out in the way he did, his name is quite literally everywhere.
The Connecticut shooting, in which 28 innocent people lost their lives, was the second deadliest in US history. Out of respect for those families involved, Tarantino's premiere of Django Unchained was canned. Tarantino clearly wasn't in agreement with this strategy, as he made clear at a press junket, as per the BBC: "I just think you know there's violence in the world, tragedies happen, blame the playmakers. It's a western. Give me a break." Likewise, when he was being no less than pummeled on Channel 4 News in an interview with Krishnan Guru-Murphy about on-screen violence, linking it to the shootings, Tarantino confirmed my point exactly: "I just refuse to repeat myself over and over again because you want me to for you and your show. And your ratings." Far from being disrespectful towards the situation, this nature of this response is undoubtedly rooted in a long-standing frustration and sadness at being dragged into this blame game around films and violence.
Rather than spending time hammering Tarantino for his use of violence in his films, how about we get the US government on the blower? They're the ones who insist on upholding a Constitution that allows gun ownership, which was put together at a time when people only ever owned muskets. Nowadays, we're talking AK47s - assault rifles with a full-auto burst rate of fire of a terrifying 100 rounds per minute. To put that in perspective, a musket has a rate of around eight rounds per minute, and that's only if you're extremely well practiced. The National Rifle Association has conveniently tried to place blame on violent films and computer games for the awful Conneticut massacre, and has suggested that moving forward the government should arm every single school security guard in the US. Funny that, given the NRA is funded entirely by big gun manufacturers. Laying any blame at all on great film makers like Tarantino for this terrible tragedy, claiming that he's using violence in his film for his own commercial gain and not respecting those involved is pretty rich, given they are simultaneously recommending that gun ownership levels actually increase.
The problem is, the more film studios bow to public pressure and do things like taking Django Unchained action figures off the shelves because they've been deemed to be 'offensive', the more these publicity hungry figures will chase directors like Tarantino down. The day I see a cultural commentator make a genuine and well researched statement against Tarantino's work for adherence to these paradigms for his own gain that's actually upstanding - I'll eat this blog post.
To read my full review of Tarantino's Django Unchained, please check out my blog - www.thisisafilmblog.com