Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thoughts on Hateful 8

Quentin Tarantino is responsible for two movies that, if you wanted to give an alien an insight into the American Id, would be your first exhibits. "Django Unchained" is a revenge fantasy, a spasm of horrific, bloody rage towards all the injustice of slavery, and a long look into our deeply conflicted attitudes toward black masculinity. "Inglorious Basterds," also a revenge fantasy, goes back in time to rewrite history and exact revenge on behalf of the Jewish people. Both movies are a howl of impotence at the unfairness of the world, and both movies have an almost classical use of catharsis as artistic device.

If you're watching a Tarantino movie - you've gone to the theater and paid your twenty bucks, you've pressed play on Netflix or Amazon, you've flipped passed on cable and gone "Oh, hey," and then not pressed the channel up button on your remote - you usually have a pretty specific set of expectations, namely: funny, sometimes shocking dialogue; gratuitous, horrific violence; Samuel L. Jackson; feet; at least one really long monologue that ends with somebody getting their head blown off; repeated uses of the word "nigger." That's his schtick. I've written at length about other Tarantino movies, and it's safe to say I'm something of a fan.

I wasn't exactly disappointed by "The Hateful 8." I enjoyed it. I thought it was entertaining. It had a much slower pace than many of his movies (which is not a criticism), it was beautifully shot (I highly recommend seeing the 70mm Roadshow version if you can), the soundtrack was gorgeous (Morricone, scoring a western for the first time in years), and it checked off almost all of the bits on the list I mentioned above. That being said, it left me a bit cold. After such a great run with Django and Inglorious, I kept waiting for the story of eight terrible people shoved together in a cabin during a blizzard to open up into something more. It kept threatening to. The politics of race, slavery, and the Civil War kept coming up, but, in contrast to Django, they were used as motivations for characters, rather than a larger backdrop on which to hang the story.   Every time a new backstory was added, another character introduced, I found myself thinking, "Okay. Here we go. Now we're going to get to it." To borrow a phrase from John Crowley, I kept hoping it would signify, and it just kept on ramifying. 

There wasn't anything in particular I objected to. It just had the sprawl of a John Ford Western and the claustrophobia of an Agatha Christie drawing room mystery. It's a pretty traditional whodunit/crime film. Katie compared it to "Reservoir Dogs," which seems about right to me. 

So I'd classify this as a minor Tarantino movie. Here's the order, if anybody's keeping score at home:

1. Inglorious Basterds
2. Django Unchained
3. Kill Bill part 1
4. Kill Bill part 2
5. Jackie Brown
6. Pulp Fiction
7. The Hateful 8
8. Reservoir Dogs
9. Death Proof
10. Four Rooms

Just because Death Proof and Four Rooms are at the bottom doesn't mean I don't like them. I just thought they were trifles, is all. And IG and DU could switch places, depending on which I saw most recently. 

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