• Reel Reviews

Bloody Spaghetti

written by: on January 7, 2013

Django_Unchained_2012There’s a moment, well actually there are a lot of moments in auteur Quentin Tarantino’s  Django Unchained in which an orchestral flourish allows one to pause reality as well as the movie to savor the flavors.

Due to their plurality, the effectiveness of each of these moments may vary depending on the listener; maybe it’s sublimely weird sound jungle Ennio Morricone thumbprints over the titular Django (Jamie Foxx) and his mentor Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) as they ride into the awe-stricken town of Daughtery, Texas to serve a warrant. Perhaps it’s the eye-popping slow-parade as Django, rotten-toothed villain Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a chain gang of Mandingo fighters traipse through a plantation to an apocalyptic, whistle-stomp Rick Ross tune “100 Black Coffins.” And maybe (no spoilers) the blaxploitation humor at the very end of the movie set to Franco Micalizzi’s “Trinity (titoli)” curls your lips upward one last time before the credits roll.

This is way of the Tarantino world. Where John Williams, Howard Shore and countless others have sought to bring orchestral triumph and connectivity to the movie-going experience,  Tarantino’s filmmaking is always pock-marked by a gleeful irreverence for tonal consistency. There’s David Bowie in Inglorious Basterds, Chuck Berry in Pulp Fiction or K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the ’70s in Resevoir Dogs, all of which point to Tarantino’s core filmmaking essence, the bizarre music choices conveying a mad scientist frantically tossing concoctions of ancient spells together and watching the cauldron erupt into something new. 

Django Unchained is no different.

Episodic, hyper-violent to the point of depravity (although, given the director, duh) and ruthlessly referential, the revenge tale, inspired in equal parts by spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation movies and German fairy tales, makes it’s living in artful moments between conversations where all other sound drops out, save the actors’ drawling voices.

When those ultra-artful moments do arrive, it’s up to Tarantino and music supervisor Mary Ramos to deliver satisfactory music to match the moment. Whether trumpet-laden Spanish flare or ’70s A.M. radio folk staple, every frenetic entrant into the movie is made with little thought to aesthetic continuity. Instead, Tarantino uses his encyclopedic knowledge of pulp to drum up perfect partnerships. In a way, Tarantino’s music choices resemble the sound collage of Girl Talk. By bringing together disparate genres, both seek to draw the audience further into the mind of the auteur, rendering them more susceptible to the storytelling.

This madcap chemistry experiment always works more than it doesn’t for Tarantino, even if Django Unchained dips a little bit too far into “genre experiment.”A true student of film, Tarantino can’t resist giving the movie at least two false endings, making sure to pluck fruit from each of the genres he planted earlier in the movie. Soundtracking goes a long way to help justify these moments, especially in the classic Tarantino “everything goes to shit” sequence at Candieland. For a while everything is music-less, as Tarantino allows the audience to stew and squirm in agony while a gory firefight takes place. Then suddenly, as if without warning, a bizarre but joyous mashup of James Brown and 2Pac blasts forward and the audience excitedly exits the scene, ignoring the pools of blood surrounding Django.

As always in Tarantino’s work, there’s a fair amount of abject silence when the viewer is given nothing to divert their attention from DiCaprio’s vile plantation owner logic or Samuel L. Jackson’s bug-eyed menacing puppet master. This determination to point towards his characters’ villainy without dramatic crutch is one reason Django Unchained fostered such vitriolic reactions from some moviegoers (that and the pervasive use of language that won’t be uttered here).

Soundtracking silence is just as important to the finished product as the ultra-dramatic moments though.

Like a horde of bumbling Ku Klux Klan members descending on Django and Schultz to a furious symphonic monstrosity, since it makes those gigantic moments all the louder and more important, when it slows down to a near crawl, and the Spanish guitars pluck ominously as Sam Jackson’s character is revealed to Django, we understand that Tarantino means for him to be more of a threat than KKK members who can’t even make white masks correctly.

Django Uncahined isn’t Tarantino’s best work (Resevoir Dogs), or his best scored work (probably Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill Vol. 1), but as a genre experiment in both the cinematic arts and the art of scoring scenes, it succeeds in producing moments of profound power and depth, an emotional resonance many of Tarantino’s former works did not come close to plumbing.