Django Unchained

January 24, 2013

In Inglorious Basterds (2009) Tarantino burns celluloid and explodes cinema. In Django Unchained (2012) he explodes himself. Along with the medium, so too burns on-screen history and the physical, tactile imprint of the past. And now, a return to ‘the death of the author’.

Whilst it might be beyond accepted and indeed popular to call Tarantino an auteur, Django marks a new distinctly new direction for the writer/director. To re-examine his oeuvre is to discover a fascinating trajectory from voice to image. Rather than expressing a world-view through his work, Tarantino presents, re-invents and interpolates. From homage, to self-reflexivity, postmodernist practice, pastiche and back again, Tarantino presents images and ideas from the past, present and future together; blending aesthetics and history until it becomes a pulsating palimpsest on screen.

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Or at least that is how his films feel as though they are communicating. But if viewed as myriad instead of tapestry, Tarantino ceases to be cinema’s contemporary enfant terrible, presenting instead of connecting, and perhaps someone to be seem as a type of cinematic decouper.

Tarantino details who, where and when for the audience as if context were an object to be decorated. These details are written in words rather than read through images. That cinema’s abilities to ellipse time and space has long been a central distinction between it and other art forms matters little to Tarantino. For him, these details become the permanent, unmovable object around which to create. Everything else within the picture is decoration; fluid and itself subject to semiotic ellipse.

We begin; “1858, 2 years before the Civil War, Somewhere in Texas”. Context firmly and as literally as digital can, painted onto the screen. The only thing we can be certain of in this establishing sequence is where and when we are. What happens next is decorative addition; through history, myth, legend, collective memory (and here too through the construction of popular mediums such as film, where Tarantino gives his audience a game of film reference bingo), and of course aesthetics.

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In fact, it is largely in the aesthetic that Tarantino’s departure from pastiche and movement towards a more decorative mode of filmmaking can be located. Where some of his earlier films including Jackie Brown (1997) and Inglourious Basterds, but most specifically here, Death Proof (2007), went to great technical lengths to ensure they worked within historically specific aesthetic forms (rendering the form a choice rather than a given and in doing so rescued themselves from postmodernism), Django not only ignores historically specific aesthetic form but goes out of its way to show how it is not important for the film. For the most part Django‘s aesthetic is contemporary; mixing a range of styles to create a non-specific “look”, one that can simultaneously encompass the deep South and the far West. There are too flashback images to the ‘past’ (within the narrative), given a grainier quality and colour washed with a yellow hue. The tint (or taint) of the past is intensified and heightened with intent to highlight artifice and to negate any quality of aesthetic historical authenticity. Moving away from pastiche, Tarantino demonstrates a very deliberate fluidity in style, but also in story, and one that might for some achieve a disharmony between visual spectacle and the narrative imaginary.

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No doubt there are moments of historical truth in Django, but mine is not to discover what is and is not subject to that o’erbearing harbinger. My questions is, if Tarantino presents himself as absent from this linear, causal narrative film, and if everything except context is added decoration, whose story is Django?

Story too changes and moves with fluidity throughout the film, passed from character to director to viewer and back again until all ethical viewing becomes sutured into the story in really a most fascinating and arresting way.

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The deep South, ‘afore the Civil War, a foreigner, and a freed slave become our object, decorated by Tarantino with great effort and gusto, gorgeous and gaudy at once. The “story” then belongs to us all. Beyond pastiche, we are presented with a burden and a beauty, shared.

Django Unchained (2012) is released in Australian cinemas Thursday January 24, 2013.

Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.

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Experimental Shorts

August 3, 2010

It is important when discussing experimenta and avant-garde modes of cinema to remember that one of its most significant and defining qualities is that it necessarily situates itself outside of, though still in conversation with, its “mainstream” counterpart. This year’s MIFF selection of Experimental Shorts was in many ways a typical, “balanced” program of its kind. What I mean by that is not necessarily negative, rather that the programming team clearly took into account that a relative portion of its audience might well be approaching experimenta from a “first time” perspective and, as such, the program includes a carefully considered breadth of experimental filmmaking.

Flyscreen (2010) / Richard Tuohy / Australia /8 min.

Working with 16mm film using the rayogram technique and optical sound, Richard Tuohy (part of the Artist Film Workshop) creates a successfully claustrophobic and atmospheric work. The flyscreens themselves simile the individual frames that make up the moving image and the optical sound of the screens emulate both the buzzing of an actual fly and the low drone of a film projector. It’s refreshing and exciting to see that there are still filmmakers out there who care about and are interested in experimenting with actual film.

Friedl vom Groller  (2009) / Austria / 8 min.

Passage Briare: A silent, black and white document of a middle-aged heterosexual couple reveals the simplistic beauty behind the human experience of (an)other.

Hen Night: A group of six women staring at the camera represent the reflected artifice and construction that appear in cinema and everyday life alike.

Wedding: A naked couple sit by one another facing the camera in what is shown to be a moment of “honesty”, transcending “seemlessness”. Simple yet beautiful.


Kitchen Horror (2009) / David Short / Australia / 4 min.

Using science and mathematics to inform its representation of the horrors hidden within a typically domestic space, Kitchen Horror is most interesting for its use of sound in illuminating the extraction of spacial ideological anomalies.

Palm D’Or (2009) / Siegfried A Fruhauf / Austria / 9 min.

The blurring of a fractured, fragmented crowd of people and places set to a sort of “white noise” soundtrack disorient and remove the viewer from a process of identification with the subject in this well executed black and white short.

Parallax (2009) / Inger Lise Hansen / Austria & Norway / 5 min.

A simply yet cleverly inverted image shows how the earth struggles to achieve its “natural movement”; suffering under the unnatural weight of human industry.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog (2009) / Johann Lurf / Austria / 3 min.

Through framing film frame and showing sound, Lurf confronts his viewer with the very nature of the object they are viewing.

Long Live the New Flesh (2009) / Nicolas Provost / Belgium / 14 min.

Using CGI (computer generated imaging) to alter and enhance visceral sequences from famous horror films, Provost creates a new texture – or “flesh” – for the image. From conventional suspense horrors such as The Shining (1980) and Drag Me to Hell (2009) to Cronenberg body-horrors like Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986), Provost takes an experimental art form and makes it both contemporary and accessible to wider audiences. Although some of the images are quite beautiful the medium itself is disappointng; pixelation and computerised sound ultimately render it more like to a computer game than “film”.

Flag Mountain (2010) / John Smith / UK / 8 min.

Presenting a strong image of a liminal border space, Flag Mountain looks at a literal and ideological imprinting of nationhood upon the physical landscape.

Strips (2010) / Felix Dufour / Canada / 6 min.

Segmenting the image into “strips” we watch a woman “strip”. The cutting up of the woman and the image hark back to Laura Mulvey’s seminal article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Nothing new, but effective nonetheless.

Still in Cosmos (2009) / Makino Takashi / Japan / 19 min.

Matched to a soundtrack by Jim O’Rourke, Still in Cosmos shows scratched and deteriorating images that reflect the universe. Distorting the original photography it slowly reveals glimpses of nature and straddles the boundary between a Kantian understanding of beauty and the sublime.

Finally, whilst the program could be described as Austrian-heavy (hardly surprising when Austria is where pretty much most of the most interesting and cutting edge experimenta comes from), what was (pleasantly) surprising for me was to see Australian experimenta not only feature but contend in such an established program.

Here Shop and Gallery, situated on Stoke’s Croft, central Bristol, though a sizably small space, tidily houses a plethora of printed images, illustrations and photographs published in and on just about every type of trendy paraphernalia that might be saleable; zines, books, bags, toys, stickers, badges, et al. But despite the fact that everything is for sale, Here Shop and Gallery remains a space one can visit just to look at artful things – something of a rarity in these highly commoditised times. Entrance is at ground level and immediately positions the visitor well within the ‘Shop’ section of Here. Down an extraordinarily narrow staircase is a space no larger than a public toilet which then constitutes the ‘Gallery‘ section.

The gallery is a rentable space which means it costs the artists a flat fee for exhibition in addition to the commission Here Shop and Gallery take from sales of their works. Factoring in the costs to the artists, the works themselves are (for the most part) reasonably priced; items in this particular exhibition span a price range of £3 to £350.

The current exhibition, titled Land & Sky, showcases the work of illustrator Lizzy Stewart and mixed media artist Christopher Bettig. Stewart’s work consists primarily of detailed line drawings of Victorian houses alongside bears, wolves, birds, and other such woodland creatures. From humans with animals coming out of their heads to animals with houses coming out of theirs, Stewart’s designs are imaginative and charming if a little sentimental.

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Certainly there is a great level of skill here and every third or fourth print offers something of a pleasurable cynicism towards contemporary human existence; one particular drawing of fine directional lines reveals a human silhouette accompanied by the words, ‘They Are on The Insides of My Eyes’.

Christopher Bettig’s works complement Stewart’s illustrations by bringing collage and mixed media, adding a third dimension to the visitor’s experience of the space. Bettig’s main works consist of latex paint, spray paint, paper, plastic and thread on paper or wood. In addition to these more traditional mounted artworks there are several printed synthetic fabrics sewn into ‘flags’ and displayed on string, much like bunting, and installed across the centre most space of the room.

Non confrontational geometric shapes, mostly circles, wheels and fans, are transposed onto squares and rectangles. Subtle rather than abrasive, the shapes in Bettig’s work are contemporary and recall modes of graphic design that are most often seen in high street fashion and Paperchase stationery (it is no coincidence that Bettig’s CV boasts designs for Urban Outfitters).

Paper, thread & spray paint on wood.

Most works to appear in the Here Shop and Gallery (past, present and future), will likely fit the adjectives aforementioned; imaginative, charming, subtle and contemporary. Here Shop and Gallery occupies a popular local niche; situated amidst the hub of all things PRSC and all things ‘community’, as it were, Here Shop and Gallery sells and exhibits the types of artworks its customer base can/do create themselves; and what better way to ensure its support and purchase than through the commoditisation of narcissism?