Brandy & Ben See Django at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
In the ramp up to the release of Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated new movie, TIFF Bell Lightbox is screening Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Django. This movie might rightfully be subtitled: The patient zero movie that launched 30-100 not-quite-official sequels featuring the character of Django. But that would be a mouthful, wouldn’t it? At any rate, Django is the movie that launched a thousand imitations and homages, right up to Django Unchained.
Pretty Clever Film’s very own Brandy Dean and Ben O’Brian staggered into TIFF Bell Lightbox way too early to watch the movie that was once known as “one of the most violent movies ever made.” Here’s what happens when two over-articulate film fans see a gore splattered spaghetti western and have to confront the fact that sometimes dubbing trumps subtitles.
Django screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox from Friday, December 21 to Thursday, January 3. Check tiff.net for more information and screening times.
Image courtesy of Ben O’Brian.
Brandy & Ben Talk Django
Brandy: About 10 minutes into Django, I realized that I’ve seen some spaghetti westerns in my day, but what I’ve seen are the time-vetted, cinematically approved spaghetti westerns. This was something other than that. Spaghetti westernsploixtation? Sploixghetti western? While Django is, shall we say “influenced”, by A Fistful of Dollars, this movie is cheaper, faster, and gorier than any Leone movie. And while Franco Nero seems to have been chosen for his resemblance to a certain actor (hint: his name starts with Clint and ends with Eastwood), the character of Django doesn’t quite live up to his role model. But dragging around a coffin? That’s a nice nod to the surrealism of Leone’s best movies.
What did you think? How does Django stack up in the spaghetti western spectrum for you?
Ben: I think you are right that Django is something altogether different than a film like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon A Time in the West – even though its filmmakers apparently desire to have their movie mistaken for a western masterpiece such as these. Personally, I have never really thought of Sergio Leone’s films as “spaghetti westerns” as much as thinking of them as great films – even though they are westerns filmed in Italy. The spaghetti western always seemed like a pejorative term and may be better applied to cheaply made Leone knock-offs like Django. I usually don’t get much pleasure from films that trade in camp and cheese, but I quickly found myself enjoying the preposterous revenge fantasy of Django.
The surrealistic imagery you mentioned was something I admired about the movie. So many westerns can end up looking the same, and Django has a visual style that really stands out: the cowboy dragging the coffin through the mud, the general’s gang that wears red hoods to mask their faces and the scene when the gang cuts off a Mexican’s ear and then place it in his mouth. There was something almost dreamlike about these visual flourishes, and I feel like they helped set the right overall tone for the picture, veering away from realism into a hyperbolic exaggeration of a western.
During the screening, I noticed there was some giggling from our section of the theatre. Do you think the filmmakers would have been gratified or annoyed that some of the most violent parts in Django seem to elicit laughter from the audience?
Brandy: That’s an excellent question. If I were a betting woman I would say the filmmakers were being very, very serious and wouldn’t appreciate the giggles. At the time Django was released, it was considered one of the most violent films ever made and was even refused a rating certificate in Britain. The violence in the movie now seems almost quaint or, as you note, comical. But I guess cutting a man’s ear off and feeding it to him is pretty radical for 1966.
And of course, one of the giggle inducing features of Django was the atrocious dubbing, which a TIFF Bell Lightbox rep informed us was accidental for the screening. TIFF is planning on screening this movie with subtitles. I think this is a terrible mistake and the out of sync dubbing is part of it’s gloriously cheesy charm. I’ve been trying to imagine the effect of subtitles and I think it will make the whole affair seem way too serious. Would you want to see this movie without the dubbing?
Ben: I probably would have been able to still enjoy Django with subtitles but, for me, the voice dubbing definitely added to the overall entertainment value of this movie. The dubbed-over lines gave the western a ‘TV novella’ quality that made the preposterousness of the dialogue seem almost intentional. It’s understandable that TIFF Bell Lightbox would want to take the purist approach.Iit’s an Italian movie so it should have subtitles (and I am usually a bit of a purist about these matters myself). But it’s also an Italian film made with the English-speaking audience in mind, and I am certain the lasting cult status of Django has to do with the amusing kitschyness of its flaws – and that would include the dubbing.
Brandy: Ha! I would never have predicted that I would wish for dubbing either, but there you have it. With the bad dubbing Django becomes a kind of platonic ideal of a cheesy, gory spaghetti western. But without it…
Now obviously TIFF Bell Lightbox is screening Django to capitalize on the excitement of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The program notes for Django mention that this is the film that inspired 30 “in-name-only sequels.” IMDB puts it closer to 100. I wasn’t excited about the new Tarantino until I actually saw this movie. Since Pulp Fiction, I feel like Tarantino has done a lot of remaking and not a lot of transcending his inspiration, but we know that this particular genre has the potential to be great in the right hands – I’m thinking The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and the like. Are you planning on seeing Django Unchained? What would you expect Tarantino to do with this genre?
Ben: Like you, I wasn’t very excited about Django Unchained until I got to see the original Django – and now that my curiosity is peaked, I think it’s safe to say I will be buying a ticket. Quentin Tarantino once said The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is his favorite movie of all time. So hopefully we can see that reverence in Django Unchained when it comes out later this month. Ever since writing and directing Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s career has been defined by exploring the cult movie subgenres of his youth; kung-fu flicks inspired Kill Bill and grindhouse horror films were the motivation behind Death Proof. However, I think there is a world of difference between a piece of legitimately flawed, low-budget cheese like Sergio Corbucci’s Django and an intentionally unwatchable throwback like Tarantino’s Death Proof. In the case of Death Proof, the line between cleverly spoofing trash and actually making trash became so blurred that I no longer cared to try and tell the difference.
But I have cautiously higher hopes for Django Unchained. Perhaps this is because I feel like the violent fantasy of the spaghetti western is somehow more deserving of a slick postmodern treatment than the crass absurdity of a grindhouse double feature. After the screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox, we talked about one of the most memorable aspects of Django, the fantastic theme song and scoring by Luis Bacalov. I have since learned that Tarantino’s homage will include the main theme and aspects of Bacalov’s original score, as well as other appropriated western scoring by the great Ennio Morricone. The inclusion of both Bacalov and Morricone in the audio landscape of Django Unchained should go a long way to establishing exactly the right tone, atmosphere and sense of nostalgia. Whether or not the rest of the film works out, remains to be seen. How about you – do you think you will go see Tarantino’s latest in the theatre, wait for DVD or skip it all together?
Brandy: Hmm… I feel like I have an academic interest in seeing Django Unchained, but Tarantino still makes me nervous. Wait, who am I kidding? I’ve been singing “Djaaaaangoooo” since I left the theatre, so I’ll definitely see Django Unchained. I’ll probably also be scouring the internet for those 30-100 “in name only” sequels and my very own dubbed copy of Django.
Watch the Django Trailer