Thursday, March 21

The Life in Between

When I was putting together the Django post, I happened to dig up this old interview with Quentin Tarantino. He's not known as a prolific film maker, like the way Woody Allen or Steven Soderbergh average a movie a year. Tarantino takes at least three years in between movies, or seven years between Jackie Brown and Kill Bill. And it's not because he's lazy: 
"I want to make movies. I have to make movies. The reason I don't make more movies is that I want to live life in between. I give it all to the movies, and it's like I'm climbing Mount Everest every time. When I get off the mountain then I want to be able to enjoy some time in the chalet at the bottom.
When I make a movie it's an adventure, but when I get through with it then I get back to my friends I've put on hold for a year. The opposite sex, adventurous travel, sleeping late, watching mindless television, reading a novel, trying to go to sleep at night - they all become very appealing again.
But the real, real reason I don't make more movies is that I'm a writer, and I always have to start with the blank page and that's hard. You are starting from scratch every single time. Nothing you've done before means a damn when you've got to start all over again."

Tarantino acknowledges the difficulty in trying to balance work life with real life. Whenever one is involved in a project, it takes up all your time and everything else takes a backseat until it's done. With movies, from concept to writing to production and roll out, it's a year and a half. With television, it's at least 3-5 months in preparations and another 3-5 months or however long it is on air. 
Then when you're done, it's the only time you get to breathe, hang out with your friends. And only then, it's only borrowed time until the next project comes along and you disappear again. In the interview, an unnamed friend of Tarantino's is quoted: "It takes a pretty special kind of girl to give up her life to watch kung fu movies with him for a year and a half." I think I was actually more surprised that he dated Margaret Cho than the revelation how difficult it is to carve a life when one is in the middle of a project. So I guess this means either you find someone who understands the grind or just date Margaret Cho. 

Tuesday, March 19

Tarantino, Unchained

Poster by Federico Mancosu.

Django Unchained reminded me why we should watch movies in theaters, in the company of friends or strangers, where the distractions of real life melt away in the dark. 

It's the most fun I've had at the movies all year. To be fair, I've only seen  4 of 23 movies in a theater*, and the rest at home on a television or computer screen. I had the option to watch Django during that rush before the Oscars, when bets were being hedged and screeners ran aplenty. But something told me to wait for the theatrical run, and I am very pleased that I didn't give in to instant gratification. Because Quentin Tarantino created a visual spectacle, and it's the only way to appreciate it is to see it 
the way it was intended.

Django Unchained is part spaghetti western, only set in the American deep south. In a 2007 interview with The Telegraph, he talks about his plans to make a "southern":
I want to explore something that really hasn't been done. I want to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to. But I can deal with it all right, and I'm the guy to do it. So maybe that's the next mountain waiting for me.

It's also a road movie that involves the unlikely journey of two men on a mission. It's a revenge fantasy that takes on something that about a country's past that is so shameful, it could only be talked about in a big, sweeping serious historical epic. *coughLincolncough* 

But Tarantino was never interested in an historically accurate depiction of the slave trade or racism in the Midwest or the deep south. This is the guy who made an alternate universe where a Jewish girl and a band of basterds separately plotted to take down possibly history's greatest villain. Of course, it's going to be funny, it's going to shoot people in the knees and then poke in the wounds repeatedly, and there will be blood--lots of it. For every sweeping mountain vista, with our guys making off like Marlboro men, we get a scene where Schultz teaches Django how to be a good mark by shooting a snowman. 

The movie's trailer bandied around Leonardo diCaprio's participation, yet his Calvin J. Candie only showed up halfway through the movie. I didn't mind. The most interesting relationship was between Schultz and Django. Why does a white man, a bounty hunter at that, take interest in what becomes of a freed slave? 

Christoph Waltz's character Dr. Schultz** could have parted ways with Django after they had successfully hunted the Speck Brothers down. Schultz replies that he has never handed anyone his freedom before, and because of that, he has become invested and interested in how things turn out. Schultz rode with Django side by side, reminding everyone they encountered that Django was a free man, and must be treated as such. He taught Django his trade, trained him to shoot, and said nothing when Django picked a bright blue suit as his outfit. Let a man wear what he wants. 

So when Django told him he wanted to get his wife back, Schultz could not let him do it alone. Django couldn't just waltz in a southern plantation and get her back, could he? Or maybe they could, but they needed a ruse, an elaborate one that was hinged on the flattery of a greedy plantation owner, a francophile who couldn't speak French but loved his slave girls in French maid's uniforms. 

While watching the movie, I was actually surprised that except for the exaggerated blood spurts from shoot outs, it was relatively tame for a Tarantino movie. But I spoke too soon. He saved the bloodbath and the big boom for the finale. When Candieland went up in flames and Django and Hildy rode off into the horizon on their horses, you got a sense of fulfillment. Their story was the exception. In reality, it would be a few more years before the American Civil War and slaves are granted their freedom. It would be a hundred more years before the color of one's skin stopped dictating what one could do. 

If this is how Tarantino takes on the questions of history, first with Inglourious Basterds which I loved to bits*** and then this, I want to see what he does next. Perhaps an irreverent take on the Revolution, or chicken pox, the Mayflower, a ship crossing the ocean to the New World? Or maybe he would jump ahead a few years, decades, centuries and worlds into the future. Whatever journey it is, wherever he's headed, I want to go to there. Just make sure the blood doesn't get on my popcorn. 

*2 of 4 movies involved Nicholas Hoult wearing hoodies and one involved torture by live singing and being forced to stare at Anne Hathaway's pores. Surely, there are better reasons to watch movies. I need to get out more. 

**Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter in Django + his Jew Hunter in Basterds = evidence he can pull off the mercenary who grows a conscience role swimmingly. 

***True, I had a moment of doubt somewhere between Kill Bill Pt. 2 and Death Proof, but Basterds restored my faith in Tarantino. 

Wednesday, March 13

Kilig Theory: How to Open the Stone Cold Heart

We know that figure well: The One Who Keeps to Herself, The Ice Queen, aloof and mysterious, doesn't say too many words, and when she does talk it's in a voice that's usually small, and then commences an even more  more awkward silence.

In theory and in story, it's the distance and silence that makes her alluring. This is why she is pursued, and for every step forward that allows a glimpse of What Goes On Inside That Head, where we see the slight shadow of a past hurt, we are forced to take two steps back. There might be whispers of What Went Down: a spectacular breakdown uploaded on YouTube, the beloved who met an untimely end, a heartbreak so devastating that the only response is to build a fortress and not let anyone in.

Sometimes the hurt is shaded by Words and Acts of Cruelty, a General Meanness that is sometimes viewed as a quirk, ie, if her feet are hurt by uncomfortable shoes, then she forces the boy to switch shoes with her. And then have him march around in public, with an escalation of humiliation. But we are told to see this awful treatment of other human beings as adorable. That is she is merely a sassy girl or a shrew who can be tamed into possession later on, or perhaps he's a sparkly vampire boy who is only avoiding you because he doesn't want you to be his next meal.

The only way to get through The Armor of False Strength is by wearing her down with your Constant Badgering Presence. If meanness is shown, accept it. Endure it all the cruelties. If she asks you to go away and leave her the fuck alone, do it. But keep her in your mind. Learn new skills that will impress her later on. Or you can annoy her with your own quirk: a passionate assertion that music will heal the soul, or that John Hughes' entire ouvre can be summed in that last scene where Judd Nelson raises his fist at the end of The Breakfast Club.

In real life, the mystery of the silent one can only be endured for so long. It will most likely annoy and frustrate you to no end. Why don't you call? Why won't you text me to tell me you will be late instead of making me wait for the better part of the day? Disappearing will no longer be a quirk but a dangerous fault. Camels burying their heads in the sand are charming only if done by camels or if accompanied by an ironic statement in 42 point text.  Like Beca in Pitch Perfect, the shutting out is a passive-aggressive tactic: a blanket offensive, a defensive move to protect oneself and not targeted at a specific person. 

It is never easy to open up to anyone, ever. It doesn't matter if Madonna offers to "give you love if you turn the key." Nobody wants to display their vulnerability out in the front lawn. Badgering can only make things worse. But at the same time, it is only by persistence that one can get used to someone else's presence.

Someday, after she has succeeded in shoving out everyone who ever cared for her, she will remember that annoying assertion and watch all the movies and listen to all the songs. Only then, when she has processed it all by herself will she be convinced that somehow, you were right. This is the start of The Conversion.

She will begin to reach out and open a shutter to her locked out heart. A sliver of light will creep in and the thawing of her cold, cold heart will begin. The cause of the hurt that drove her to be mean will be revealed, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

She will reciprocate your feelings by echoing your formerly annoying assertion in song, by mashing up that song in the end credits in the middle of a playlist made for public singing. Or the crowd will part in a crowded train station and the two of you will be reunited. And it will be revealed that you were meant to be together all along.

You can never force open a broken heart that's been sewn shut. The sutures will bleed if it has not healed yet. The ice will be smashed to pieces with the use of force. One can only wait. And thus, if one wants to pursue The One With the Stone Cold Heart, the One Who Keeps to Herself, the one requires extreme amounts of patience. It will be difficult and frustrating to keep up with this one step forward, two steps back. But if one endures, when trust is earned, it is only a matter of time before the ice begins to thaw, before a word is said and war wounds would have healed. Then all that's left is the scar and the story behind it that begs to be told. And so we hope that this will be proven to be true in real life as in story.