Friday, January 11, 2013
by Adam Hofbauer
2012’s two most visible films relating the experiences of African Americans were both made by white men. Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild fantasized a magical Mississippi Delta, where most of the magic seemed to involve ignoring any racial or post-Katrina related subtext and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained continued his increasingly Ouroboros like cycle of cinematic self-reference. Here is a superhero origin story for a man whose superpower is cultural reparations via bullet to the nuts, where the intended pleasure is escapist, bloody fantasy.
It is not these films’ treatment of race that raises eye brows, but their shared filter of wish fulfillment. Their creators seem to be using blacks in the south as set dressing for their own personal fantasies. Controversy over Django has been mostly limited to its use of the word “nigger”, with little question raised about its muddy approach to morality. That the film all but equates freedom with gun ownership seems to little trouble audiences and critics when there is so much bloody carnage to enjoy. Obviously, praise for Django has not been unanimous. The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb called into question many of the film’s issues, from its portrayal of slaves as “ciphers passively awaiting freedom” (a diminishing of populist slave resistance that finds echoes in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln) to its replacing of history with morally simplistic mythology. Of course, even a cursory viewing of Django reveals that this is its very intention, restaging the legend of Siegfried through the kind of lone wolf emancipator inspired by real life rebels like John Brown. Of course Tarantino is aware of his history. The issue is the wide spread acceptance of stories that reshape history and contemporary politics for the sake of emotional catharsis.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Just like everyone else in the film critic community, I've been slowly putting together my list of the best films I saw in 2012. This year, rather than publish a simple list, I took the liberty to create this video compilation including clips/images from the films. (Fair use!) Quality probably isn't great (and it's probably obvious which clips have been cobbled together from all-too-brief-shots-in-trailers) but I hope you enjoy it. I should note that I still haven't seen Almayer's Folly, Amour, or Tabu, all of which I look forward to seeing. I also should say a second look may have greatly benefited two particular films (David Gatten's The Extravagant Shadows and Dardenne's Kid With A Bike) that I like very much, but which slid off this list nonetheless. I may eventually write capsules and include a list in this post, but, for now, just the video. [Edit: a list is now included after the break.] Thanks to everyone for your continued readership and support of the site. Here's to more movies (and more publishing!) in 2013. Cheers.