War is hell, and it’s never more fun to watch than through the safety and comfort of the silver screen. Hollywood’s love affair with the war film is well known amongst both cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. It’s no secret to historians that the victor in war is the one who writes the history, and it is difficult to argue that America is top dog in the business of winning wars. What is interesting is how American war films choose to portray its prolific history of armed conflict. More often than not, the typical American war film portrays its military in the most positive light it can manage, or the studio risks losing all cooperation from the real military itself in providing fighter jets, rifles, aircraft carriers, servicemen and equipment to the production in the hopes of not only saving money and conveying realism, but more importantly winning the approval of the most powerful and advanced armed forces the world has ever known. On the other hand, this has not stopped a handful of maverick filmmakers from exposing the painful truth of many American wars; that despite all the good the United States believes it does, reality is not so black and white, and occasionally history looks at us* as the bad guys; the aggressors, the tyrants, the invaders, the Great Satan.
Archive for the Film Essays Category
Abraham Lincoln is arguably the most popular, beloved, hated, and talked about president in American history; yet for some unknown reason there are astonishingly few feature films that center exclusively around the 16th president of the United States (not including documentaries). In the typical civil war film, he is only seen for a brief moment or barely mentioned in passing, if at all. In fact the disparity is even greater with George Washington. When’s the last time anybody made a movie about the founding father(s)? The only hypothesis is that filmmakers just don’t like making movies about dead presidents. The majority of filmed entertainment featuring a portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is either television shows or a few cheaply produced made for TV movies. Half of the time it’s in the form of a comedy skit where Abe Lincoln fraternizing with Bill and Ted on their excellent adventure is the entire punch line.
In the pantheon of legendary Westerns, few films subvert our expectations and push the envelope as far as Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012). Compared to the classical westerns of say, John Ford [Stagecoach (1939) or The Searchers (1956)], or spaghetti westerns like Once Upon a Time in The West (Sergio Leone, 1968), Django Unchained is like, one hundred trillion times better because it’s not as boring as those old movies. Nah I’m kidding, those old movies are good too, but the purpose of this essay is to talk about how Django is in another ballpark entirely. It’s really something new and exciting. To put it succinctly, it represents the pinnacle of post modern revisionist Westerns. For those not in the know, a post modern film is anything made after 1994. Okay, all joking aside, let’s cut to the meat of it shall we? The central theme underlining the bold direction of Tarantino’s latest effort is simple and sublime; classical Westerns are racist. Tarantino has not just redefined the Western for a new generation of filmgoers, but also spawned the birth of an entirely new sub-genre: the Southern.