Christmas in Bundanyabba

outback hs

Two semi-lost films from the 70s surfaced this week in fine Blu-ray editions, which becomes my occasion in the New York Times to construct a semi-specious argument about influence, conscious and unconscious, of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” on the action cinema of that divided decade. Ted Kotcheff’s relentless “Wake in Fright” (released in the US as “Outback”) has been restored to its original sunburned splendor by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive — though perhaps the national tourist board would have paid more to suppress it — and released in the states by Drafthouse Films. And Richard Fleischer’s 1979 “Ashanti” — an international co-production that dropped out of sight after an initial release through Warner Bros. — is also back in a handsome edition derived from the original camera negative through Severin Films. It’s mid-range Fleischer — a crisply professional rendition of an undistinguished screenplay — but it is an excuse to bring up Fleischer’s great “Mandingo,” a movie that’s not getting nearly the credit it should for “inspiring” Quentin Tarantino’s rather tired “Django Unchained.” (Tarantino’s other major, unacknowledged source is the 1971 “Skin Game,” a movie that variously involved the talents of Peter Stone, Burt Kennedy and Gordon Douglas before it was finally signed by Paul Bogart).

65 comments to Christmas in Bundanyabba

  • Tony Williams

    Dave, Thanks for mentioning the merits of the neglected MADINGO, the subject of two great critical essays by Andrew Britton and Robin Wood. Yes, there are many “unacknowledged sources” in QT’s latest film and he has recently gone on record as voicing his hatred for John Ford as being a racist!

  • alex

    As both a boldly anti- plantation film, a film involving mandingo wrestlers and a documented favorite film of Tarantino’s, MANDINGO certainly is a major influence on DJANGO UNCHAINED. However, I’d hardly call QT’s DJANGO tired. Too much to be said for a film with the best American comedy since THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING — indeed — in its comedic first half — the best work QT’s done since PULP FICTION. (Once down on the old MSSSSPPI plantation the film does want for QT’s typical high invention — entirely after the fateful dinner and descent into a final ultra-violent blowout to evoke the excesses of DiPalme’s. SCARCFACE.)

  • Philly

    So Alex, DJANGO is a bold anti-plantation film huh? I wonder, is there a pro plantation film that exists for comparison? Even BIRTH OF A NATION doesn’t go that far and would be a tired response anyway. And to your point that Tarantino’s film is anything but tired, what does DJANGO show us that we haven’t seen from him since his KILL BILL movies? Apart from the fact this revenge true-life/fantasy adventure is for the boys this time (girls need not bother), there’s nothing new here. There’s not much to celebrate apart from some dark humor, which involves violence. Does that justify its existence?

    And did I miss something worthy about DiPalma’s SCARFACE? Like Tarantino’s work after JACKIE BROWN (my only preference since PULP FICTION), DiPalma’s movie was self-important, overblown and immature.

  • I rather liked DJANGO UNCHAINED although I thought its structural weaknesses began to override its formal qualities late in the picture. It contains two of my favorite shots of any recent movie: Django wielding the whip in slo-mo as he descends upon the Brittle brothers; Django taking shelter beneath the shattered armoire as he battles Candie’s men.

    However, I don’t give a damn about Tarantino’s silly interview behavior, except to concede that he’s getting more eccentric with each new feature. Maybe he’ll take some potshots at Shakespeare, Faulkner, or Bach? What difference would that make?

    Really looking forward to WAKE IN FRIGHT. I’ve only seen UNCOMMON VALOR, which I thought was pretty good, and FIRST BLOOD, which I didn’t.

  • Nagisa Oshima, rest in peace.

  • Steve elworth

    Farewell to one of the great masters of world cinema, an anti-auteur auteur, Oshima Nagisa

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘Farewell to one of the great masters of world cinema, an anti-auteur auteur, Oshima Nagisa’

    That is good description Steve. Oshima one of greatest Japanese directors, and greatest of any country. From entire career experimenting in each movie, almost each movie different from previous movie. And making great documentaries too. Most sad thing is not being able to make movie for many years because of illness. But Oshima has left many writings that will inspire other Japanese film makers I hope, because Japanese cinema needs revitalization.

  • Junko Yasutani, I agree about Oshima’s versatility. We screened his complete retrospective a few years ago, and I was amazed that Oshima never repeated himself. My favourites include GISHIKI, KOSHIKEI and ETSURAKU. I also like Oshima’s non-fiction (KYOTO MY MOTHER’S PLACE and A CENTURY OF JAPANESE CINEMA). Films such as NATSU NO IMOTO (MY DEAR SUMMER SISTER) may be understandable for the Japanese only.

  • Alex

    Philly

    Well, GWTW — the biggest grossing film of all time after adjustment for ticket-price inflation– seems essentially elegiac about slave-plantation world to me. BOAN likewise.

  • I got to see Oshima’s final fim, Gohatto, actually in Japan, in early 2000 — which is to say, smack-bang in the middle of what turned out being a brief, modest but undeniable golden age of Japanese cinema (say, from The Eel, Hana-Bi and Princess Mononoke to Blood and Bones, Howl’s Moving Castle and Nobody Knows).

  • Jim Gerow

    As Junko said, it’s sad that illness prevented Oshima from making more films in later years, but what an amazing run he had in the 60s and early 70s. MoMA just happens to be screening two of them, DIARY OF A SHINJUKU THIEF on Thursday, Jan. 17 and CEREMONY on Wednesday and Sunday as part of the Japanese Art Theater Guild series.

  • Mark Gross

    There is an very moving tribute to Oshima on the Criterion website, which links images from his films with quotations, such as the following:

    “Certain critics have picked up on a shot that for them was characteristic of my work, one where a flame burns in the dark. For me, this flame represents the lives of my characters. But it’s also an image of our lives. I often cite this maxim: ‘Just like the fish that dwell in the abyss, we cannot find the light until we ourselves shine.’”

    http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2626-oshima-in-words-and-images

  • Sad news about Oshima, but thanks, Antti, for sharing them.

    My favorite Oshima must be THE CEREMONY, an awesome achievement I would put on any Ten Best lists. Unfortunately I haven’t seen it in ages and it hasn’t been released on dvd in Finland. But now I’ll have a good reason to search for an internationla Blu-ray – to honor the film master’s passing.

    I also like THE CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH I saw only a few years ago for the first time. And, of course, EMPIRE OF THE SENSES made an unforgettable impression on a young film enthusiast visiting London cinema clubs for the first time in the 70s.

    His late work GOHATTO I thought good also. I’ll have to see that soon again, too, because I recently watched Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS – just to continue on the samurai theme I’ve always liked.

  • jwarthen

    I have a bootleg of Oshima’s BOY I have put-off watching out of dread that doing so might alter the impression it made in a gorgeous big-screen presentation at Smith College 42 years ago– especially its close, as heartbreaking as SANSHO’s.

  • mike schlesinger

    I always felt it was a shame that Stone and Kennedy left SKIN GAME, as the final result has a decidedly nasty tone that would not have been there had they remained.

    And I’d hardly call MANDINGO “neglected.” Apart from being based on a best-selling novel, it was a genuine box-office surprise smash (besting the much more anticipated DAY OF THE LOCUST; Paramount oddly opened both the same weekend), has had a huge cult following for decades, and I understand the Olive DVD has been one of their top sellers.

  • Thanks to Dave for the excellent news of Wake in Fright arriving on Blu-ray.

    I had seen Kotcheff’s DUDDY KRAVITZ when it came out (in Finland), but this one that he made before DUDDY and its reputation were a surprising find last year on the internet. I tried to start watching it on YouTube but got fed up pretty soon, not because of the film, though the copy was a wreck, if I remember correctly, but because some films just have to be seen BIG! So now there’s something exciting to look forward to.

  • Robert Garrick

    “Mandingo” (1975) was a moneymaker, but maybe that was part of the problem. American critics, when they gave the film any thought, generally despised it. And they haven’t given it much thought. On this side of the pond, the standard view is that it’s an exploitation film (that’s what Tarantino recently called it), an embarrassment, and possibly racially suspect.

    All wrong, of course. But a lot of normally smart people have whiffed on this one. Roger Ebert gave the film zero stars; Leonard Maltin rated it a “BOMB”; and Richard Schickel in Time Magazine hated it. The New York Times said that “Mandingo” was “a back-alley parody of ‘Gone With the Wind.’” (The poster for “Mandingo” is indeed based on GWTW.) Things haven’t improved over the years; currently, “Mandingo” gets a tepid 5.8 (out of 10) rating on the IMDB.

    Dave Kehr has written enthusiastically about “Mandingo,” and he’s cited on the film’s Wikipedia page. I used to subscribe to “Movie” magazine, out of England, and I was stunned to receive two consecutive issues (Sept. 1975 and March 1976) with coverage of the film. The 1976 issue included an interview with Richard Fleischer as well as the review by Andrew Britton, cited by Tony Williams, above.

    The sequel to “Mandingo,” 1976′s “Drum,” directed by Steve Carver, seemed even more like an exploitation film to American critics. I saw “Drum” when it was first released, and it was pretty entertaining. I don’t remember it well enough to provide a more detailed critical appraisal.

    I wrote in the last thread (Keaton) about the ephemeral nature of film criticism. What “Mandingo” evidences is that most critics look to cues and shortcuts, rather than to a close reading of the actual film, when they form their opinions. Just as Pauline Kael dismissively regarded “Phantom Lady” as a B-movie, and “The Birds” as a “mere” horror film, so most American critics looked at the sex, racial content, and boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton in “Mandingo,” and figured that it must be junk.

  • Foster Grimm

    Greetings

    This is OT, but, a) I need everyone’s advice and b}I’m playing catch-up.

    I signed up for Netflix’s 30 day freebe and was trying to track down interesting American films, mostly B, from the 30′s – 60′s. Are there any little gems I should add to my queue? This evening I watched ALLOTMENT WIVES (William Nigh, 1945) which struck me as MILDRED PIERCE done as a Monogram crime programmer. Kay Francis starred, produced, and supposedly had a hand in the script. She was the author of the film it seems to me. AW was quite entertaining,

    Speaking of actor auteurs, I finally caught up with Pickford’s SPARROWS. My question is – how much of its stunning visual glory can be attributed to Beaudine and how much to the three camera men?

    After our Tom Tyler digression last week I watched SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON for the first time in about 20 years or so. And Tyler was great. But I was also spurred to re watch BUCKING BROADWAY, which Dave K. mentioned some time back. (This time I watched on my bigger TV as opposed to a computer monitor.)
    Once again I was amazed how that even on his second film a good number of the familiar Ford tropes are there. And BB is visually stunning – the Ford vistas, and some amazing lighting effects. Thanks Dave for bringing BB to my attention

    Foster

  • About Mandingo, this may be of interest to some: the film was produced by Dino De Laurentiis, who loved the original novel because in his opinion it was very close to the Italian melodramas he had produced in the ’50s (“à la Matarazzo”). Sergio Donati worked (uncredited) as story-editor for the film, and according to his autobiography screenwriter Norman Wexler was quite happy with both Mandingo films, but when he read the Variety review for Drum (“correspondence-school script by Norman Wexler”) he was so humiliated he tried to kill De Laurentiis!

  • Barry Putterman

    No doubt Simone. But realistically, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Wexler to have taken out after the Variety reviewer? Not that I’m advocating the murdering of film critics mind you, but….

  • Foster, Ford was Ford, right back to the earliest films. Of some relevance, mentioned above by Tony, is Tarantino’s condemnation of Ford (as well as his stated preference for William Witney, which can be found here): http://www.theroot.com/views/tarantino-unchained-part-1-django-trilogy

    While I certainly don’t agree with Tarantino, QT evidently is familiar with the available literature, for in condemning Ford for in part “put(ing) on a Klan uniform for D W Griffith” he sets up the spoofing of the proto-Klan in his film: Don Johnson, Jonah Hill and others flailing in their hoods with badly cut eyeholes. This may well be a conscious reference to Ford’s comment that he could barely see when he rode with the Klan for Griffith –thanks to those same eyeholes. (McBride, “Searching for John Ford,” 81.) More to the point of DJANGO UNCHAINED as a revisionist western, the eyehole scene is right out of BLAZING SADDLES, with Don Johnson in for Slim Pickens.

    There’s a lot to say about DJANGO UNCHAINED, but as well as the two films Dave mentions, I would like to screen it some time right after screening BAND OF ANGELS (Walsh) and WHITY (Fassbinder). Fassbinder’s Spanish southern/western takes the palm over Tarantino’s as a commentary on old Hollywood. And Tarantino couldn’t conceive of a character as complex as that acted by Poitier for Walsh.

  • Tony Williams

    Gregg, Surely you can not watch a Walsh film due to his early appearance as “The Man who Shot Honest Abe” in Griffith’s “racist epic”? The same must go for any film featuring Lilian Gish, Mae Marsh, Edgar Clifith, Constance Talmadge, Bessie Love, Eugene Pallette, Miriam Cooper, as well as films by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell who ahave acclaimed Griffith so must be all supporters of the Klan in one way or another.

    QT has spoken and his followers must obey.

    Poor Pappy is damned for life for appearing as an extra in a Klan outfit (So too must Hari Rhodes in SHOCK CORRIDOR, a film by that racist director of WHITE DOG). We hear nothing about Ford’s complex depictions of black characters throughout his movies and certainly nothing about the Woody Strode of SERGEANT RUTLEDGE and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE nor of the complex and contradictory representations in THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT that a recent essay on the Southern background of the film in sensesofcinema.com has magnificently explored.

    It is not suprising since QT’s remarks in the interview demonstrate a high degree of ignorance and stupidity that not suprisingly characterize his films.

    Years ago, Bruce Willis once said at the Cannes Film festival, “Nobody reads anything any more in America. IF QT appears the exception to the rule in his browsing of Anthony Slide’s book he has read but not understood. Should he return to the text he will learn that Dixon turned against the Klan in his later fiction. Were he to read THE KLANSMAN he would find it more horrendous than Griffith’s films. And doesn’t any film need publicity to help it along? It was Woodrow Wilson who gave the Presidential seal of approval to the film, the very Democratic President who fired black civil service workers in Washington on gaining office. That is what you get with an academic in the White House as we see today with a former editor of the Harvard Law Review and expert on the Constitution breaking its very rules by issuing his own form of “fatwa’ on American citizens and changing Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” into “I have a Drone.”

    Tarantino acclaims the Witney of ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGIONS and I ESCAPED FROM DEVIL’S ISLAND (regarded by most Witney admirers as his worst film) to anything by the “poet of cinema.” Certainly evaluation and knowledge is not within his capacity. My knowledge of Witney is limited and I suppose limited by the fact that I have never seen ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGIONS. However, on my monthly visits to someone in st. Louis who was a friend of the late director and wrote a book about him long before QT ever wrote a screenplay or saw his first Witney movie I’ve been very impressed by the modest, subtle craftsmanship appearing in TV episodes he directed such as the two-part Mormon episode of BONANZA (one of the blandest TV Westersn series of all time) that featured Eric Fleming and Dina Merrill and represented a more successful attack on intolerance than anything QT has done as well as the episode where Little Joe breaks down and finishes a long friendship with his friend Richard Jaeckel in trying to restore his lost masculinity. These are great achievements but by a modest craftsman. A world of difference exists between Ford and Witney and discernment depends upon an objective evaluation of the achievements of both men rather than a “flame war” internet-type smear campaign by someone who is less accomplished than he actually believes himself to be.

  • Barry Putterman

    As they say in football, it is always the second guy to throw a punch who gets flagged. Little noted in this dust-up is the fact that Spike Lee had pretty much called Tarantino a racist before he gave that interview. Well, it would have been uncool image-wise for Tarantino to come back after Lee, so his response was to attack Ford as a way of denying the charge while keeping his street cred.

    Personally, I experience this as just another tiresome lard pail of blather from two relentless self-promoters. The issue of racism in American movies is worthy of serious discussion, but we are not going to get it from those two self-righteous clowns.

    As a very fine actress whose name I wish I knew is going to say in a commercial that I will see repeatedly during Sunday’s championship games; “game day bucket go boom.”

  • Barry Lane

    Tony,

    The things you’ve said needed to be…Witney is fine, but modest craftsman sets him up perfectly. And as a secondary thought: Are you still part of The James Jones Society…? If so, I hope we meet up this year in Robinson.

  • I agree up to a point with Jaime (not caring about “silly interview behavior”). It’s certainly true that anything QT says isn’t changing my opinion of Ford. But it’s also true that his comments don’t change my opinion of his film. I could write a long paragraph about what I like in DJANGO UNCHAINED, and another long paragraph about its failures. Neither paragraph would address the film’s racial/sexual/historical matrix, which will be the subject of long commentaries to come (none of them written by me, as putting “Tarantino” and “history” in the same sentence is self-evidently ridiculous). It’s a movie based on other movies, and pretty much them alone, and his interview is revelatory in only two ways.

    1) QT actually thinks he’s saying something in his film based in real history (and his interlocutor, the distinguished professor Henry Louis Gates, allows him to do this),
    2) QT’s comment in the third part of the long Roots interview shows just how apolitical Tarantino really is: “He’s not Spartacus. It’s not about him liberating everyone in shack row and them storming Canada together. He’s got one mission and one mission only: extract his wife from this hell. And nothing else means a damn compared to that.”

    Say what you like about the Mann/Kubrick/Douglas film, it was rooted deeply enough in Howard Fast’s politics that one is indeed meant to care about “liberating everyone in shack row.” The 1960 Hollywood epic is more radical than what Skip Gates calls “a postmodern, slave-narrative Western.”

  • Tony Williams

    Barry Lane, I’m not in THE JAMES JONES SOCIETY anymore but am re-reading his works and just received a book collection of his early unpublished early stories. It goes down to the fact that I’m rather jaundiced by academic societies and prefer to be a free agent working on my own.

    On Gregg’s previous post, it evokes something I’ve just read in a recent collection of essays UNAMERICAN HOLLYWOOD (2007) that contains a new version of “Red Hollywood” by Thom Anerson where he mentions Herbert Biberman’s SLAVES (1969) that really goes into the economic basis of slavery that no film did before or after. In Manchester UK Platt Fields Park has a statue of Lincoln that was removed from the city center to that area by angry cotton manufactures in the (19th angered at hom Lincoln affected their global business interests. I don’t think such issues can be properly dealt with in a postmodernist pastiche of an Italian western/blaxplotation with elements of BLAZING SADDLES. However, I do know that David Ehrenstaein (who does not contribute to this site) has openly called Tarantino a racist. My conscious dream is having QT in a class taught by Joe McBride and Tag Gallagher who might show him how comp,ex Ford really is.

  • Alex

    Ridiculous as QT’s Ford-Whitney comparisons is, it’s nice to see some single out Whitney’s ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGIONS — juvenile action with a very vital pulse –for praise.

    This Kubrick fan must say that he found QT’s “postmodern, slave-narrative Western” a lot more satisfying and –as popular film– politically telling than Kubrick’s one dull film, the politically very predictable “Spartacus.”

    As for this streams little QT-Ford rematch, as nice rematch would might consist of QT’s take on the 6th and 7th cavalry’s part in the massive North American genocide of native Americans or the mere 15,000-to-30,000 Native American deaths of the 1850-1890 Indian Wars. Alternately, QT might explore the role of the Indian War cavalry troops –under unaltered Indian War commanders– as the “Cossacks” of late 19th century U.S. labor union repression. (None more brutal until the rise of fascism, as documented in Michael Mann’s 1994 “Sources of Social Power, II” and Robin Archer’s 2008 “Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States?”).

    Oh, QT wouldn’t be as “complex” as Ford, but he’d certainly help to cast new light key, brutal side of Tara and the U.S. Cavalry. Whether he would be more historically accurate or serious I’m not sure: Ford not infrequently chose the “myth” over the fact.

    As critiquing violence within any framework reminiscent of the vengeance western has its limitations, QT might best return to the relatively realistic mode of his “Jackie Brown” to address the likes of Tara and the U.S. Cavalry –say to an adaptation of “Confessions of Nate Turner” or a John Sayles sort of film with pulse.

  • David Cohen

    Tarantino is vastly knowledgeable and incredibly passionate and makes many fascinating observations and connections, but I can’t take much of him anymore. He reminds me what someone said about Newt Gingrich last year, that he has five big ideas a day (some really good, some really terrible, some just OK) but can’t distinguish between them, so he just blurts them all out.

  • Tony Williams

    Salient comments, Alex, just as I went to amazon.com to access ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGIONS -”Over hill and dale, opposing whatever bad guys we see, Men of Zorro are we!” I know I’m misquoting here but a similar line is spoken in the film. This may be one of those serials that Lucas and Spielberg grew up on whose director they did not identify at the time.

    Yes, there is a wealth of relatively cinematically unexcavated American history to be treated cinematically but I dubt whether QT can do this is in a responsible manner without pouring on gallons of blood and wise-guy humor. We must also remember that Ford does not show the mutilated corpses of Ethan’s family in THE SEARCHERS but Lucas does in that derived scene in STAR WARS making the shock much less effective.

    However, attempts have been made. The opening ten minutes of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is the best treatment of those murderous “border ruffians” to have appeared on screen far better than the refined approach of Ang Lee in RIDE WITH THE DEVIL. Not until you read those historical accounts can you really understand Jeremy’s reservations in BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) of any Civil War guerilla being capable of chaning

    However, Ford did not always choose the myth and I notice your careful qualification “not inadvertently”. Certain exceptions occur even as early as STAGECOACH (1939) “They’re saved from the blessings of civilization” and Ford does hint at the dark role of the Cavalry in one significant part of THE SEARCHERS (1956) and does not Mike Mazurki’s drunken Polish sergeant refer to his role as equivalent to a “Cossack” in CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964), a film with veiled hints of genocide but unsatisfactory displaced on to the European figure of Fuhrer Karl Malden?

    A colleague who worked at the holocaust Museum before it opened found Nazi documents tracing the idea of concentration camps to Indian reservations (British practizses in the Boeur War) were also seized on.

    Historical accuracy went out the window with QT setting the Klan in the pre-war Civil War era. At least Sam Fuller always got his history right in his films.

    I also agree that SPARTACUS is Kubrick’s “one dull film” mainly because of the constraints imposed on him by Kirk Douglas to follow the well-meaning original novel and didactic approach of Trumbo.

    I’m afraid we may see little development in QT’s artistic trajectory because he has announced that he will stop directing in the near future because he does not want to become an old man working. Thus we will not be able to see those interesting variants as in the late films of Renoir, Lang, Ozu, and Mizoguchi as well as Ford in 7 WOMEN. But heavens forbid! In QT’s mind this is a “racist” film with Woody Strode (who played a Native American in TWO RODE TOGETHER) and Mike Mazurki in “yellowface” – a very unfair film in terms of depicting Chinese warlords and their ethic victims in the 1940s. I will also remain silent on Ford’s depiction of the Irish in THE QUIET MAN and his beloved archetypal Cavalry Sergeant Victor McLaglen.

  • jbryant

    I like DJANGO UNCHAINED, and QT in general, but he really put his foot in it with this Ford stuff. I’m guessing he’s never even seen THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (though it’s possible he could have rented the VHS from Eddie Brandt’s Saturday Matinee, where I once saw him purchasing stacks of Jackie Chan tapes). Maybe he’ll catch the upcoming Olive Blu-Ray and reassess Pappy’s complex treatment of racial and other social issues.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony “Fuhrer Karl Malden?” The character is one of a weak, conflicted man torn between his sympathy for the Cheyenne and his devotion to what he knows to be immoral orders from his American governmental superiors which he vows to follow in order to succeed to achieve his overriding personal ambition. His mishandling of the confrontation and subsequent collapse into drunken stupor only results in fostering an avoidable massacre and the destruction of his own career. As they might have said in the 19th century: “more to be pitied than scorned.”

    Tarantino does not want to become an old man working because it would threaten his intention to remain an eternal adolescent. Just like George Lucas. Which, I suppose, brings us to Steven Spielberg and his new film about Al “Fuzzy” St. John.

  • Tony Williams

    Barry, Thanks for your response. It demonstrates a complexity that QT will never find in Ford. However, I would ask why Ford had the Commandant be an American? It appears a convenient displacement mechanism here. Had he been able to do, despite the possible studio restraint, it would have made the character more relevant. Also the “subsequent collapse” is another problematic issue especially as those many films dealing with the last days of Hitler show have no sympathy for collapse after “fostering an avoidable massacre and the destruction of his own career.” It reeks too much of the American tragedy escape mechanism as seen in Hollywood depictions of the Viet Nam War and THE HURT LOCKER.

    The real people deserving of our sympathy are the dead and wounded Indians as well as those who trusted the white man and are again betrayed. Sympathy for the oppressor is always misplaced.

  • Tony Williams

    Barry, Thanks for your response. It demonstrates a complexity that QT will never find in Ford. However, I would ask why Ford had the Commandant not be played as an100% American? It appears a convenient displacement mechanism here. Had he been able to do, despite the possible studio restraint, it would have made the character more relevant. Also the “subsequent collapse” is another problematic issue especially as those many films dealing with the last days of Hitler show have no sympathy for collapse after “fostering an avoidable massacre and the destruction of his own career.” It reeks too much of the American tragedy escape mechanism as seen in Hollywood depictions of the Viet Nam War and THE HURT LOCKER.

    The real people deserving of our sympathy are the dead and wounded Indians as well as those who trusted the white man and are again betrayed. Sympathy for the oppressor is always misplaced.

  • Barry Lane

    Tony, It is my understanding that Cheyenne Autumn in many important ways is historically accurate including Malden’s character depiction.

  • Tony Williams

    Barry Lane, Please tell me more. I know that Carl Schurz as played by Edward G. Robinson is historically accurate but know nothing of the origins of the Malden character. However, if Ford took creative license in casting Hispanics as Native Americans he could possibly have made “Malden” 100% American. As it stands he looks like fitting into the “nativist” argument “That’s what happens when you let people from other countries in.” Making him an American, like Owen Thursday, shows where the real culpability lies.

  • Barry Putterman

    Tony, I don’t know why the Malden character is a Prussian. Maybe he was meant to balance the anti-Cossack Pole Mazurki. Maybe he was meant to balance the All-American Patrick Wayne who also only understands the Cheyenne as an abstraction before having to encounter his inner nature through confronting them. Maybe Joseph McBride or Tag Gallagher could shed more light on that decision.

    I will say that an understanding of and at times sympathy for the oppressor is part of the Ford complexity that Tarantino will never grow into

  • Tony Williams

    Again, I agree with you. Could we find any of this complexity in Tarantino rather than Ford’s more complex historically based texts that give rise to this sort of discussion?

  • Paul Fendley

    A quick comment: at the New Beverly Cinema in LA, Tarantino chose the previews before Django Unchained. One of them was Mandingo, so he’s not exactly hiding the connection!

    Others I recall: Gladiator Women, Take a Hard Ride, anyone remember any others?

  • nicolas saada

    Take a look at Ford’s female characters in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY or SEVEN WOMEN, and you’ll get an overall idea of the complexity and subtlety of his vision. Not tom mention Fonda’s biased, self loving, narrow minded Owen Thursday in FORT APACHE. How about the rape scene in the indian camp in WAGONMASTER ?

  • x359594

    “I don’t know why the Malden character is a Prussian.”

    Captain Wassels comes from Howard Fast’s 1941 novel “The Last Frontier” which served as an uncredited source for “Cheyenne Autumn” (and the Dodge City episode is drawn from Fast’s novel; it doesn’t appear in Mari Sandoz’s non-fiction account.) One of Ford’s later unrealized projects was “April Morning” from Fast’s historical novel about the American Revolution (there’s a TV movie version though.)

    As all the Ford biographies note, Ford was pressured into departing from his original conception of the movie where the Cheyenne would be played solely by Native Americans speaking their own language, and from the descriptions of that unmade version it would have had much in common with “Wagon Master” including black and white photography. As it is, “Cheyenne Autumn” is a movie where the parts are greater than the whole.

    Concerning Ford playing a Klansman, that story first appears in Peter Bogdanovich’s “John Ford” (Studio Vista, 1967) where Ford tells the credulous Bogdanovich that he played the Klansman wearing glasses; he had to lift his hood to see where he was going.

  • Steve elworth

    X. Is Ford in the Bogdanovich interview the only source of him riding with the Klan in Birth? I still have the feeling that this apocryphal story is too good to be true and too easy for Bogdanovich and QT to fall for?

  • Steve, the McBride biography I cited above describes a still from the film (of a Klansman riding awkwardly just as Ford said he had ridden awkwardly) as support for this story (p. 81) — and in the photo section includes the still.

  • If we can remove the pejorative sting from the word “idiot” I would like to redirect our discussion on Quentin Tarantino by labeling him an idiot savant. “Idiot” is rooted in the Greek “idios,” as in the Greek term for “private world,” “idios kosmos.” (As opposed to “koinos kosmos”, shared world). Tarantino’s films take place in an alternate, idios kosmos world only gesturally connected with our own. This is why social analyses of his defects, or praise for him for that matter, is always off the point. (For a celebration of “QT-world” as an alternative universe, see this Wired essay by Angela Watercutter: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/12/django-unchained-tarantino-universe/ Sample lines: “the different ending of World War II in [INGLOURIUS] BASTERDS has created an alternate timeline where the characters in many of his movies live” and “Tarantino’s early movies were just what he thought reality should look like and now he’s moving onto making films about what history should have been.”) Now it’s certainly true that there’s a Fordian universe, and other directors, as much as Tarantino, seem to create a world operating under its own rules. No one would want to look at SHANGHAI EXPRESS for the reality of China in 1934, but Sternberg used his idea of Chinese warlords merely as a backdrop to his story. By contrast, the horrors of the Holocaust or slavery are meant to be central to the Tarantino films. But he rewrites both of them with a happy ending! Hitler wasn’t blown up in a Paris movie house, and an ex-slave didn’t blow up a Mississippi plantation in 1858. If the latter had actually happened, it would have had world consequential effect, even as Nat Turner’s rebellion or John Brown’s raid did – whatever an historical Django had intended.

    Tarantino isn’t interested in a shared universe (which is actually the universe we’re all living in, solipsists or not), where private actions matter politically (““He’s not Spartacus. It’s not about him liberating everyone in shack row and them storming Canada together”). In the Root interview with Gates he discusses his voluminous, unpublished, film history and criticism, including a very long piece he’s completed on Sergio Corbucci. (He included a snow scene in DJANGO UNCHAINED in homage to THE GREAT SILENCE.) I’d bet that nowhere in his Corbucci essay does he discuss Corbucci’s politics, which were of course central to Corbucci’s films. But I’d imagine he’d have some astute things to say about Corbucci’s framing, use of color, and the like. Which brings us to the “savant” part of “idiot savant,” and the paragraph of praise I promised upthread I could pen on DJANGO UNCHAINED. The film moves with tremendous verve and panache from its opening scenes, and Tarantino’s creative use of zip zooms in the opening shots reminds us that even what is normally a hideous technique can, if used well, exhilarate and shock. There are visual felicities throughout the picture, as in the widescreen shot introducing the Mississippi portion of the narrative. I could go on for some time in this vein. As a filmmaker, then, Tarantino continues to impress, although in my particular view he remains more a director of scenes and moments, with only two films that pull together coherently as cause-and-effect narratives: JACKIE BROWN and the new film. Everything else? The good set pieces only sometimes outnumber the bad ones, and the maple syrup of his famous dialogue only gums up their works.

  • Alex

    It seems to me that Ford’s considerable complexity Re the Indian Wars in the CAVALRY TRILOGY and re Jim Crow (or is at least immediately psot-rewconstruction) DixiE in THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT requires some historical, if not necessarily artisitic qualification. The subtleties of the CAVALRY TRILOGY remain ones articulated from the perspective of the military community writ larger than the perspectives of its more fervent Warriors– the subtleties of THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT remain within the compass of Jim Crow culture (like say the segregationist quasi-liberalism of the pre-1956 R. P. Warren of as late as BAND OF ANGELS; and starkly candid, and compassionate but still segregationist Faulkner of INTRUDER IN THE DUST, which is not to say that the Fords of the early 1950s would have been anti-integrationist or a conscious contribuitor the the long tradition of Southern appologists nicely exposed by James McPherson’s 2001 “Southern Comfort” (NYRB and Gallagher and Nolan’s “The Myth of the Lost Cause.”)

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, the creation of a private world that revolves around the internal needs of its creator is pretty common stuff among sulky children. Occasionally you get cases where the seperation between the private and public worlds becomes confused and we sometimes read about such people in the tabloids. Occasionally you get a creative war between the superego and the id and a Jerry Lewis emerges. For the most part people, even Judd Apatow I hear, eventually recognize, however grudingly, that childhood ends and it becomes time to move on.

    One of the seduction of the movies, and American movies in particular is the opportunity to reconnect to that childhood world. Most film artists use the tension between that seduction and our shared experiences in creative ways. The only part of that equation that Tarantino understands and the only level on which his films operate is that seduction. That is why he, along with Tim Burton, can never get past recycling the films they saw as children.

    That Tarantino’s films do not correspond to our objective reality or commonly accepted history is not a problem for me. That they don’t correspond to anything else beyond the movies that they reference is. You experience parts of Tarantino’s films as artistically satisfying and I have no quarrel with that. I experience his films as little more than hollow, overblown pastiches of other people’s creative work.

    As the saying goes; you are only young once, but you can be immature forever.

  • David Cohen

    John Ford was 20 years old at the time of BIRTH OF A NATION, playing a small role at a time that very few people could have imagined that appearing in a particular movie would be considered a political statement. This particular role is the basis of Tarantino’s argument?

  • edo

    I haven’t seen “Django” yet, but I’m quite eager to see it. I’ve heard Jackson’s performance in particular is amazing.

    That aside, what disgusted me about Tarantino’s comments to Skip Gates was their self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory spirit. It seemed to me he was trying to curry favor with his interlocutor, and by extension The Root’s elite readership, by pandering to their condescending assumptions about racism in classic Hollywood cinema. “Of course, John Ford is a racist. He’s the guy who made all those westerns with John Wayne. How could he not be racist?” That sort of thing. It’s frustrating, because one wonders whether filmmakers like Ford will ever gain true admission into the treasury of American culture alongside, say, Melville or Faulkner. I don’t think such admission is necessarily important in and of itself, but what it guarantees is stewardship of the works. The fact is, right now, a film like “7 Women” languishes deep inside Warner’s vault. Will that ever circulate again? Is the only way people are going to be able to see it on laserdisc rips or prints from foreign archives with fading color and burnt-in subtitling? The only way to make sure a filmmaker’s oeuvre is taken care of is by bringing it into the public consciousness as something worthy of such care, such that the corporate entities that control those assets see it as economically worth their while to put the work in. Dismissive and (yes) ignorant comments like Tarantino’s just make it more of an uphill battle than it already is.

  • edo, welcome back. It’s been too long since you’ve posted. I agree with you about the spirit of Tarantino’s comments, which I hadn’t thought about as being gauged to his audience (Gates, and through him The Root). Of course you’re right.

    Barry, I tried to make clear that, culture and history aside, there are parts of DJANGO UNCHAINED which I liked, but there were also parts I disliked. I do very much like Tarantino’s willingness to foreground strong emotions (linking him back to silent cinema — and in particular Griffith) and to use “naive” images as bluntly as a Griffith or Borzage. I very much liked for example Kerry Washington’s apparational appearances to Django while he’s riding into Candieland.

    But as much as I liked those moments, I hated his direction of Washington at the very end, when Candie’s mansion is about to be blown up. She daintilly holds her fingers in her ears, like a cartoon character with nothing at stake. The gesture completely undermines one’s ability to take seriously the ordeal she’s undergone, and beyond that, the ordeals of slaves that Tarantino claims to be portraying honestly in his film.

    Let’s compare Tarantino with another director, comparable to QT in his willingness to take a pulp fiction approach to American history and ideology. The comparison unfortunately is very much to Tarantino’s disadvantage.
    – RUN OF THE ARROW versus DJANGO UNCHAINED, as a film about issues raised by the Civil War.
    – WHITE DOG versus DJANGO UNCHAINED, as a film about learned racism (as symbolized by violent dogs).
    – As mentioned above, SHOCK CORRIDOR versus DJANGO UNCHAINED, as a film about interiorized racism.
    Advantage in every case: Fuller.

    Finally, Spielberg versus Tarantino. In the current issue of Empire (a British film magazine) the interviewer quotes an on-set interview with Reginald Hudlin, one of the film’s producers. DJANGO UNCHAINED evidently originated in a conversation between Hudlin and Tarantino over the inadequacies of AMISTAD, which was (I paraphrase) “5 minutes of uprising and the remainder all courtroom scenes.” QT wanted to reverse that ratio. Well, flashforward 15 years. LINCOLN is criticized for depicting Lincoln giving slaves their freedom rather than their winning it out of their struggles. Well, guess who unchains Django? A white guy. Indeed, Tarantino devotes the third part of his long Root interview trying to talk his way out of the film being about a magical white guy (I’d compare King Schultz more to E.T. than to Spielberg’s Lincoln, myself). Well, he doesn’t succeed. If Spielberg’s Lincoln is as Dave asserts Al “Fuzzy” St. John, Christopher Walz’s King Schulz is Mel Brooks’ Professor Little Old Man from HIGH ANXIETY.

    Oh, and edo, Samuel Jackson’s performance in DJANGO UNCHAINED is pure “Uncle Ruckus” from the Aaron MacGruder tv series THE BOONDOCKS. Check it out.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I agreed with you when you said that social analysis of Tarantino’s films is besides the point, so I don’t really see the need for a comparison to RUN OF THE ARROW or AMISTAD. And since I haven’t either the inclination or desire to say any more about Tarantino than I did above, I’ll just reiterate that in my view, you attribute more weight to his sensibility than it deserves.

    Edo! Where the hell have you BEEN? Good to hear from you! I’ll just add to your point about 7 WOMEN that it is not the only one. The reason why I was so ready for the CHEYENNE AUTURM discussion is that I saw it a few weeks ago in a 70 mm. print at the Walter Reade Theater. And where did that 70 mm. print come from? One of the archives in Norway or Denmark or somewhere (Antti, help me out on this one) with subtitles at the bottom. Apparently we don’t have such a print in our country. And THE DAWN PATROL and CEILING ZERO aren’t out from Warner Archive either.

    Now Mr. Feltenstein, I’m not one to complain. You are doing God’s work over there and compared to what we are seeing from the other studios, it would be churlish to whine. And seriously, I really DO want to see COLORADO AMBUSH with a screenplay by Myron Healey. But a Johnny Mack Brown box set before 7 WOMEN, THE DAWN PATROL or CELING ZERO? What’s up with that?

  • Robert Garrick

    Tarantino’s great critical success remains “Pulp Fiction” (1994), which was an Oscar and film festival triumph (it won at Cannes) and which is still cited (some places) as one of the best films ever made. No doubt Tarantino enjoyed the feeling that came with all that adulation. When he followed up with a more serious and more mainstream film, “Jackie Brown” (1997), he got none of that kind of attention, though the film was well-reviewed. Instead, he got another kind of attention that he probably didn’t appreciate. He was called a “racist”–never a good thing for one’s career. Tarantino came up swinging, laying into Spike Lee on the Howard Stern show. But Denzel Washington (and others) also questioned Tarantino’s motives and sensitivity.

    Tarantino emerged from this, I think, a changed man, and not for the better. There would be no more serious films. Instead, there would be fancy exploitation films featuring politically fashionable groups, who were allowed to beat up and kill their oppressors. Women would slaughter men in “Kill Bill” (2003) and “Death Proof” (2007). Jews slaughtered Nazis in “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). And now, black slaves are slaughtering and blowing up Southern white people in “Django Unchained” (2012).

    Middlebrow America loves this stuff. Blacks love it too, by the way. Spike Lee wanted a boycott of “Django Unchained,” but 42% of the film’s opening day (Christmas) audience was black, and blacks have continued to support the film in huge numbers.

    Middlebrow America is not going to complain when Tarantino attacks John Ford either. Playing a Klansman in a movie sounds bad, as long as you’re not thinking too hard. Besides, who’s John Ford? Remember, Tarantino is no film scholar. He might have an exhaustive knowledge of Jackie Chan, but he only just found out about Josef von Sternberg.

    Tarantino’s historical knowledge is more than a little suspect too. “Django” begins with a card that says “1858″ followed by another one that says “Two years before the Civil War.” As every schoolboy used to know, the Civil War started in 1861.

    David Cohen, above in this thread, compares Tarantino to Newt Gingrich–they both have five ideas a day, some good, some bad, and they blurt them all out. I like a lot of what Tarantino says. He’s a film zealot, for one thing. To me, the death of film is the biggest story of the year, and Tarantino is one of the few industry people who is complaining loudly about it and doing something about it.

    But his career is a tragedy, because he has tremendous innate talent (both as a writer and as a director) and he could have grown into a pretty interesting artist. That doesn’t seem to be happening.