On what for many people is the last real “work day” of the year, the very best piece of film criticism of 2012 may have just been published. In response to Spike Lee’s attack on Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” (which Lee says he refuses to see) the brilliant film critic Steven Boone wrote this piece for Matt Zoller Seitz’s “Press Play” site in which he vigorously defends the film and argues that Tarantino is “the better filmmaker, by many miles”.
What’s perhaps surprising is that Boone convincingly argues that Tarantino is not merely bolder, funnier, and more imaginative, but that with “Inglourious Basterds” and now “Django Unchained” Tarantino has become the more overtly political of the two as well.
To briefly recap, “Django” has been controversial since well before its Christmas Day release, due to the inherently incendiary subject matter: the story of a freed slave who goes on a mission of revenge against various white slave-owners in the pre-Civil War south. Conservatives were freaked out by the idea of a film where the hero is a black man who kills a bunch of white people.
Meanwhile some liberals thought the idea of an “Inglorious Basterds” style anti-historical take on human chattel slavery was too flippant a treatment for such a grave subject. And once again the subject of Tarantino’s constant deployment of “the n-word” in both its end with an “er” and ends with an “a” variants and coming out of the mouths of characters both white and black became a controversial issue.
Lee already voiced his displeasure with this particular tic of Tarantino’s dialogue regarding 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” but with “Django” his objection seemed to be to the mere existence of the film to begin with, saying ” “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”
Boone’s essay is a beautifully written, far-ranging rebuke to Lee’s pre-emptive takedown of a film which Lee says he refuses to see. As one commenter says, “This piece weaves together as many reference points as a Tarantino movie, and flows like a fever dream.” Read it now.