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• Over a shot of our two heroes on a plain backdropped by a snowy mountain, these words scroll up the screen: “And after a very cold and very profitable winter, Django and Dr. Schultz came down from the mountains and headed for…”

• The word “MISSISSIPPI” scrolls across the screen in huge letters, a reference to the opening title of Gone With the Wind. The letters are scrolling over two lines of slaves being herded in opposite directions. They’re picking their way through thick mud, similar to what we saw in Daughtrey. The mud is a callback to Corbucci’s Django and also Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django, which both take place in settings of unrelenting muddiness. The mud is there to deromanticize the Western, telling us that this isn’t the sort of Western that celebrates freedom and the open skies, but rather one that deals in mucky business. There’s more about this in Bilge Ebiri’s highly knowledgeable post at Vulture, tracing the roots of the spaghetti Western and its cynical take on American history. Several of the slaves are wearing slave collars, which are hideous-looking things indeed. The camera cranes down and takes in our two heroes riding past them.

(SMTX)FTW-300x250-NOV17too much delight in visiting violence on black people, while Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress was closer to the mark when she said it was too easy to present the evils of slavery being blown away by one guy with a gun, or even two guys with guns. Real social progress comes from the sort of compromise that we see celebrated in Lincoln, she said. Fair enough, but while moderation is what I choose in the real world, in the movie theater I choose what gives me pleasure. At The Root, Lawrence Bobo (a powerful thinker on the subject of race and film) hailed the movie’s depiction of the brutality of slavery as outstripping that of any other mainstream film on the subject. Of course, Tarantino himself has admitted that any film including his own falls short of depicting what was really done to slaves. Maybe the most unsettling point was made by Michelle Orange in a superb post at Capital New York, when she asked why we want to see the evils of slavery resolved by a guy with a gun. What does that say about us? Nothing too flattering, probably. I’ll leave you with this reminder of the way retributive violence has always been intertwined with the narrative of slavery: Frederick Douglass said that he traced his freedom not to the moment when he made his way to the free North, but to the moment when he struck an overseer who tried to whip him. Food for thought there.

• Back in the movie, a defeated Veseppi collects his coat, walks up to the bar, and orders a tequila. As Roscoe pours him one, the Italian asks Django (sitting next to him) what his name is. Django tells him and, at Vaseppi’s request spells it out. “The ‘D’ is silent,” he said. “I know,” says the actor who once played Django. Veseppi leaves.

• Calvin tells Moguy to find Big Fred a soft bed and send him a pony (an attractive slave woman) to “lick his pole.” Gee, is Big Fred going to be in the mood for that after having just beaten a man to death? Even if he’s not, he’ll probably appreciate the sentiment. Calvin tells Big Fred they’re leaving for Candyland tomorrow. Stopping by the bar, Calvin orders a tall beer from Roscoe for Big Fred. As the bartender hands the beer to the fighter, Calvin says, “You enjoy that, boy. You’ve earned it,” as if Big Fred needs his permission to take pleasure in the beer. (In Calvin’s mind, he probably does need permission.)

• The camera pans back to take in Django, as Calvin finally notices him. Calvin asks his name, but this time Schultz jumps in and introduces him, saying “a fortuitous turn of events” brought them together, which isn’t untrue. Calvin addresses Django with the rumors that Django is unimpressed with the local fighters. “I’m curious. What makes you such a Mandingo expert?” Django’s first words to Calvin are, “I’m curious what makes you so curious.” Butch leaves his pool game and starts advancing on the mouthy black man, but Calvin calls him off without taking his eyes off Django. “No offense taken.” Schultz takes this chance to say that Calvin’s inquiries should be directed at him. Finally leaving Django’s stare, Calvin suddenly snaps to his manners and offers Schultz a drink. Schultz orders a beer while Calvin asks Roscoe for a Polynesian pearl diver, “do not spare the rum.” I found this recipe for the drink, and I think I gained a couple of pounds just reading it. Calvin goes back to Schultz’ concerns, saying that he’s trying to ascertain if Django might be taking advantage of a newcomer with a fat wallet and little experience. Schultz responds that he’s here to buy a fighter, not for Calvin’s advice. “Now I was under the impression that when you granted me an audience, it would be to discuss business.” Calvin dodges this one, saying they were merely discussing his curiosity. He then dismisses Roscoe and Coco, bidding Sheba stay there. The drinks arrive, with Calvin’s in a coconut shell. Schultz toasts him with “Prost!”, and Calvin insecurely notes that that’s German. Calvin asks whether Django and Schultz are indeed a team in this deal. “He does the eyeballin’, you the billfold? Is that it?” Schultz agrees, pouring his beer. Turning to Django and addressing him as “Bright Boy,” Calvin asks, “Moguy tells me you looked over my African flesh and you was none too impressed, huh?” Django says, “Not for top dollar.” Calvin doesn’t see the point in continuing to negotiate, but Django says, “He don’t wanna buy the niggers you wanna sell. He wants the nigger you don’t wanna sell.” Leaning in, Calvin says, “Well, I don’t sell the niggers I don’t wanna sell.” Injecting a note of diplomacy into this, Schultz says, “Well, you won’t sell your best. You won’t even sell your second best. But your third best? You don’t want to sell him either, but if I made an offer so ridiculous that you’d be forced to consider it, who knows what could happen?” Calvin asks him to define ridiculous. Django offers $12,000, which makes Butch stand up straighter and makes Calvin slurp the last of his drink through his straw. “Well, gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.”

• On what appears to be a blazing hot day, we get our first glimpse of Calvin’s sizable entourage on the road from Greenville to Candyland, with slavedrivers on horseback and slaves (all powerfully built men) on foot. Django and Schultz ride up on their horses to the barouche that’s carrying Calvin and Moguy. The carriage’s upholstery and Calvin’s outfit are both deep red, a color that the movie associates with him, signifying perhaps that he’s the Devil. Calvin offers Schultz (but not Django) a ride in the Victoria. (A possibly accidental anachronism, since the term for a carriage of this description wasn’t used until 1870.) While Schultz ties Fritz to another horse in the retinue, Calvin tips his hat to Django.

• We flash back to Calvin at a fancy restaurant in Greenville discussing phrenology, the pseudoscience that was in vogue in the 19th century, holding that specific areas of the brain performed specific functions. In some cases, it even said that a person’s personality could be determined by examining the shape of their head. It was all junk science, but a number of influential doctors and psychologists subscribed to it. Its main legacy is some funky diagrams, but it was used to reinforce gender stereotypes and racial prejudices. Calvin is holding forth on the subject, saying that unlike other phrenologists, he believes that black people are capable of higher intelligence. “Say, one nigger that just pops up in 10,000. The exceptional nigger.” We’ll revisit that line.

• “Bright day, huh, Bright Boy?” asks Calvin on the road. Django affirms that the sun is up. “Shinin’ on all of us,” says Calvin. We see a stocky and exceptionally angry-looking slave named Rodney (Sammi Rotibi) spit on the ground.

• Back at the restaurant, Calvin names Django that one in 10,000 and opines that such will become more frequent. Calvin’s actually rather enlightened compared with other slaveowners, but this only makes him more dangerous, as we’ll see.

• One of Calvin’s overseers, Hoot (Brian Brown), tells Django “The name of the game is keep up, not catch up, nigger.” The other white men laugh, but Django’s only reaction is to casually walk over to Hoot and pull him and his horse down to the ground. Before Butch or any of the others can get their weapons out of their holsters, Django has already drawn his, threatening them with death if they touch their guns. Calvin stands up in his carriage and appeals for calm. “I saw the whole thing, and no harm done.” Calvin’s supervisor Billy Crash (Walton Goggins) starts to protest, but Calvin loudly repeats “no harm done.” He orders his guys to take their hands off their pistols, especially Butch. “Everybody stop antagonizing my guest.” Django twirls his gun before holstering it. Calvin orders Hoot back on his horse, but Hoot moans that his collarbone is broken. Calvin just asks someone to help Hoot back up on his horse, which elegantly demonstrates that the master doesn’t care much about the white people who work for him, either. Billy taunts Django, “You are one lucky nigger.” Django tells him to listen to his boss. Billy says, “I’m gonna go walkin’ in the moonlight with you.” Django asks, “You wanna hold my hand?”

• As the caravan starts moving again, Rick Ross’ “100 Black Coffins” plays on the soundtrack. The whistling motif fits the Western genre, but it’s the march tempo and the grim lyrics that make us feel like this is a ride into the heart of darkness. “I need a hunny black coffins for a hunny bad men. / A hunny black graves so I can lay they ass in. / I need a hunny black preachers with a black sermon to tell / From a hunny black Bibles, while we send ‘em all to hell.” The sunglasses hide Django’s reaction as he has a vision of Hildy, wearing a resplendent yellow Empire-waisted dress, walking beside him. She disappears behind a tree.

• Django spots Rodney walking on the other side of his horse, glaring at him and spitting on the ground. He asks, “You got a problem with your eyeball, boy?” Rodney turns his glare straight ahead and says no. “You want a boot heel in it?” asks Django. He then issues a general threat to the slaves. “I’m worse than any of the white men here. Get the molasses out your ass and keep your eyeballs off me.” Seeing this, Calvin turns to Schultz and says, “He is a rambunctious sort, ain’t he?” Schultz asks to stop for a moment to consult with Django.

• There’s a clumsily inserted scene with our two heroes standing and talking quietly over Django’s horse in the middle of the road. Schultz informs Django that he Calvin has told him Hildy is indeed at Candyland, which we haven’t seen, but it’s borne out by later events. The real point of the scene is that Schultz calling out Django for his misbehavior, namely antagonizing Calvin and abusing the slaves. “You are going to … get us both killed, and I, for one, don’t intend to die in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, USA.” He’ll change his tune about that later. Django responds just as forcefully that he’s intriguing Calvin with his behavior and acting as a black slaver would. He brings up the earlier incident with killing Smitty Bacall in front of his son. Schultz admits this and seems to make peace with Django’s tactics, leaving to retake his seat in the carriage. Django gets back up on his horse and says, “All right, niggers, back at it.” To Billy, he says, “That means you too, Moonlight.”

• This next scene is much more powerful at demonstrating the moral murk into which Django’s revenge quest is descending. A slave named D’Artagnan (Ato Essandoh) is trapped in a tree by three vicious dogs. Calvin asks why D’Artagnan has run away. The slave says he can’t fight anymore. Calvin says, “Yes you can! You might not be able to win, but your ass can fight.” Calvin then roughly orders Mr. Stonesipher (David Steen), the tracker who has control of the dogs, to shut them up. Another tracker removes the dogs from the tree. The other fighting slaves are watching, and Moguy shoots a loathsome look of disapproval at D’Artagnan while Calvin mournfully asks the slave to get down from the tree. D’Artagnan does. Moguy opens the door so Calvin can disembark from the carriage, and he walks through manure as he goes over to D’Artagnan. Calvin then asks Stonesipher how long D’Artagnan was gone, and Stonesipher’s reply is well-near unintelligible because he’s so bad at speaking. It’s a funny note in a grim situation. The humor in this movie is, like much else about it, pretty vexed. Give a read to Cord Jefferson’s post at Gawker about the “Django moment,” and remember that Tarantino’s movies have been inspiring inappropriate reactions since Day 1, when a screening of Reservoir Dogs made someone in the audience call out “Sexy!” as Mr. Blonde was cutting off the cop’s ear.

• Calvin establishes that D’Artagnan was supposed to fight on Friday, but he’s in no shape to do so now. D’Artagnan weeps piteously as he pleads, “I ain’t got it in me no more.” Calvin cuts him off: “No playin’ on my soft heart.” His tone is gentle and stomach-turningly condescending as he points out that he paid $500 for D’Artagnan and hasn’t got his money’s worth. “You gonna reimburse me?” he says to the slave, pointing out that D’Artagnan probably doesn’t even know what the word means. Most of the white men laugh at this, but Schultz stands up in the carriage and announces that he’ll reimburse Calvin. There’s another whip pan on Calvin’s amazed expression as he turns around to face Schultz. “You gonna pay $500 for a practically one-eyed old Joe who ain’t fit to push a broom?” Django interrupts, “No, he won’t. He’s just tired of you toyin’ with him, is all. Matter of fact, so am I. But we ain’t payin’ a penny for that pickaninny. Ain’t got no use for him.” Schultz, back in character, agrees, puts his wallet back in his pocket, sits back down, and takes in Moguy’s disbelieving gaze with a look that says, “What?” Calvin turns to Django and says, “You’ll have to excuse Mr. Stonesipher’s slack-jawed gaze. He ain’t never seen a nigger like you in his life.” Stonesipher spits and says, “That right.” Calvin says, “For that matter, nor have I.” Walking up to Django, he takes a moment to stroke the nose of Django’s horse before staring at him and asking whether Django objects to Calvin meting out punishment. Staring evenly back at him, Django says, “He’s your nigger.” Without taking his eyes off Django, Calvin tells Stonesipher to sic the dogs on poor D’Artagnan. The dogs run at the slave in slow motion, while the trackers cheer the coming bloodlust. Amid D’Artagnan’s screams and the sounds of flesh being torn apart, we see the other slaves looking solemn and not surprised, Schultz looking horrified, Calvin continuing to stare down Django, and Django staring back with the slightest trace of mournfulness in his eyes. Finally Calvin looks around, sees the expression on Schultz’ face, and notes to Django that he seems ill-suited to be in the fight game. Django replies, “He just ain’t used to seein’ a man ripped apart by dogs, is all.” Calvin asks if Django is so accustomed. The reply is, “I’m just a little more used to Americans than he is.” Schultz has been making fun of Calvin’s affectations throughout this by exaggerating his French accent when addressing “Monsieur Candie,” but Django really exaggerates his as he says, “Now, Monsieur Candie … we rode five hours so you could show off your stock. Let’s get to it, ‘cause as of now, if [D’Artagnan]’s an example, I ain’t impressed.” Calvin leaves, the dogs drag away what’s left of D’Artagnan, and Django puts his sunglasses back on and signals his horse to start walking.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This REALLY is pointless. So many more critical issues facing the world and our community which need attention…………..

  2. This is very well written. I enjoyed it very much along with the anecdotal bits I never knew such as the actor that played Django in a previous film.

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