By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Review: Attempting to review ‘Django’ seriously is the equivalent of giving a restaurant style review to McDonald’s: I’d just be criticizing something that was never intended to be quality, and that misses the point entirely.
This spaghetti western never wanted to be “good” in the traditional sense. We aren’t watching it for any lavish production value — the set is one of the filthiest, muddiest and bleakest ever constructed. We aren’t watching it to enjoy normal spaghetti-western-grade music — it’s pretty forgettable with the exception of a completely out of place pop song detailing the main character’s plight. We aren’t here for the actors, who are all foreign and obscure, or for the plot, which is a rip-off of ‘Fistful of Dollars’ (and yes, I am aware that ‘Fistful’ stole its plot as well).
We are watching ‘Django’ for the sole reason that the main character’s weapon of choice is not a standard six-shooter, but a machine gun (yes, a machine gun) that he carries inside a coffin (yes, a coffin) that he drags around for no real reason. And when he uses it, oh boy, does all hell break loose.
It’s ridiculous, anachronistic, shocking, completely out of place, and, for 1966, absolutely awesome.
‘Django’ is pop-cinema at its rawest; it’s a movie that relies on a gimmick to sell, and it works. It works so well that it’s still talked about, lampooned, and paid tribute almost fifty years after it’s release. If you want proof, a little filmmaker by the name of Quentin Tarantino is currently shooting a film titled ‘Django Unchained’. Considering that it was a cheap, obscure Italian film, that is quite an achievement.
I understand why critics and film buffs readily pass up this film, not granting it a serious examination. ‘Django’ just isn’t a film of great depth. Heck, even I said at the beginning of this review that it never wanted to be a good movie. But what it does have, and why this film is ultimately worth checking out, is attitude. Even in the days of the modern action picture, when something like a machine gun is no longer quite so shocking, you can still watch ‘Django’ and get a sense of edginess. You can still feel a twinge of amusement at the thought of some cheap 60’s Italian film studio, making a movie about a place they’d never been in a thousand miles of, and just saying (in Italian of course) “Screw it, give ‘em a machine gun. It’ll be fun.” No worries about history, or film codes, or critical panning; just a desire to give audiences something they hadn’t seen before.
It’s the willingness of B-movies to do gimmicks like that, to take chances on something new, to shake up a formula ever so slightly just so it can be a little different, to put real attitude into their films, that I admire so much. Even if ‘Django’ is objectively pure trash in all other ways, it at least had the attitude, the audacity, to go somewhere others hadn’t. It’s an attitude that inspired the likes of Lucas, Spielberg, and, of course, Tarantino, and frankly, we could use a lot more of it in the film industry. So, despite its flaws, I have no choice but to recommend ‘Django’ to the world. For once, it might do us all some good to take off our critical hats, grab a bag of popcorn, and just enjoy some machine-gun-induced spectacle.