It’s difficult to not have a strong opinion about Quentin Tarantino, but such is the burden I bear.
I’m disengaged from the erudite literary debates on his cinematic stances on slavery, the Holocaust and, yes, sexy feet, but I also don’t really give a shit about the torrents of blood, dismemberment and general chaos on which he’s built his reputation.
Basically, I just feel like he’s made some pretty good movies.
(At this point I’ll confess that once, when I was a freshman in high school, I destroyed the social credibility of a friend who was brave enough to admit that he’d never seen Pulp Fiction. But that was less me honestly loving that movie and more me wanting to play the role of a person who loved that movie. It was high school.)
So today, when I overheard someone talking about Guardians of the Galaxy say that it made them feel like a little kid at the movies again, I tried to think back to the last movie that truly made me laugh — and I mean laugh earnestly, with genuine surprise and admiration for what I was watching, the whole experience of it all. And I was surprised to realize it was a Tarantino.
Two Christmases ago, Django Unchained tore through theaters on its way to winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It predictably produced a fractured critical response that ranged from modern masterpiece to white-guilt slavery fantasy.
Again, I just felt like it was a pretty good movie.
But one scene in particular lit me up with a happiness that lasted the rest of the movie and most of the ride home.
Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Schultz has just freed Jamie Foxx’s Django from a lifetime of captivity, turning him into a badass with all the attendant equipment. And over it plays Jim Croce’s “I Got A Name.”
Now, I understand the poignancy of a contemplative song with that title playing over a former slave’s first moments of freedom. Entire posts have been devoted to that. Cinematically, it symbolizes the moment where the seesaw tips and the momentum falls in Django’s favor. It’s the moment he gets ready to kick ass.
It’s also really, really funny. Croce is unexpected, out of place. He’s the soft ’70s highwayman, the gentle prairie companion. And maybe some of it was the rum Dustin and I nipped during the previews, but hearing that voice start to croon that song as Django mentally prepares to earn his lethal stripes was too much for me. I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. It reminded me of watching movies as a kid — before my brain caught on to movie formulas and ruined surprises for directors — back when I just sat and enjoyed.
In the above video, some of that humor is lost along with the context of the scene. But enough is still there to make me smile and appreciate Tarantino’s ability to make different people feel different emotions when experiencing the same thing. That’s real, true art.
Even if it is just pretty good.