Sunday, 8 June 2008

Update and Django

'And that brings up one of the most important character traits of strong Omaha high-low players - patience. Waiting goes against the grain of impatient players... After awhile, all hands seem to have potential and they begin entering pots with rags. You'll hear them say, "Who can tell what a good Omaha high-low hand is anyway?" And you'll see their stacks shrinking like mud in the desert sun.'  Shane Smith, 'Omaha High-Low: How to win at Lower Limits'

Lovely turn of phrase by Smith there. Well I'm no longer stuck on 13 bucks as I've dropped back down to $10 and it could have got worse. Mostly through what Shane Smith describes, I started off, didn't catch anything and then got a bad beat which sent me on delusional tilt going in with a nut flush possibility and nothing to back it up and catching nothing. My other mistake was to sit down on tables with a maniac or two. This challenge means I have to minimize the luck factor, play it safe unless I have the nuts, which means loose aggressive guys destroy my play... which pisses me off... which leads to tilting... Lesson, hopefully, learned.

Released: 1966
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Written by Sergio Corbucci, Piero Vivarelli, Bruno Corbucci, José Gutiérrez Maesso, Franco Rossetti
Music by Luis Enriquez Bacalov
Starring Franco Nero, José Bódalo, Eduardo Fajardo

Django. Cult film. Benchmark in the progression of the Spaghetti Western and one not directed by a man named Sergio Leone. A spawner of supposedly hundreds of sequels. This is how it starts:

We open with a man, Django, dragging a coffin behind him, he's wearing Union army issue trousers. He comes to a point overlooking a rickety bridge over some quicksand and spots a woman, Maria, being whipped by Mexican bandits. She is saved by some red necker-chief wearing men who then plan to burn her on a cross with heavy Klu Klux Klan overtones. At this point Django intervenes and saves her by killing the men. He promises Maria that so long as she stays with him, she'll be safe.

He takes her to a nearby town, a desolate place whose only inhabitants seem to be a bunch of whores who cater to both Major Jackson's Confederate throw-backs and General Hugo's Mexican bandits and the bumbling inn-keep who provides lodgings for the girls. Django's arrival is soon reported to Major Jackson by his spy the town preacher Jonathan. 

Jackson leaves his sport of shooting Mexicans like clay pigeons to go investigate Django. A confrontation at the inn leads Django to shoot yet more of the Major's men before demanding the Major bring all of his remaining, 48, men to town for a gun fight. After an implied love scene with Maria, Django drags his coffin out and sets up behind a fallen tree trunk in the main street of the town. As the Majors men approach he pulls a machine gun out the coffin and mows the men down, leaving Major Jackson alive.

Next the Mexican bandits ride into town and despite an initial confrontation it turns out that the Mexican leader General Hugo is an old friend of Django. They hatch a plot to steal a large sum of gold, to buy more machine guns, from Fort Charriba in Mexico. The plan is successful but Django grows wary when Hugo is not forthcoming with the gold.

Django, alone, devises his own plan to steal the gold from under Hugo's nose and is successful to begin with even when Maria demands to come along. However the gold is lost in the same quicksand we saw at the start of the film and Django almost drowns trying to get it. Maria tries to rescue him although she gets shot by Hugo. Django is lassoed and dragged out of the quicksand, his hands are crushed and trampled under hoof and he is left for Major Jackson to discover and finish off.  

The Mexican bandits are ambushed and gunned down by Major Jackson with reinforcements from the Mexican army Hugo stole the gold from. Jackson himself puts several bullets in a defiant Hugo to end his life. 

A bloodied Django manages to get Maria back to the inn where the inn keep is preparing to leave. The inn keep promises to help keep Maria alive. Django vows to kill Jackson, so that he and Maria can finally be free, and tells the inn keep to give the man a message, that he'll be waiting for him at the cemetery.

Major Jackson and the remaining five members of his posse arrive in town and shoot the inn keep but fail to notice Maria. They head to the cemetery to finish off Django. Against all odds, Django bits the trigger guard off his pistol and, leaning on a wooden and iron cross, manages to gun down Jackson and his five men in just six shots.

The End 

The Good: Franco Nero, as Django, is great. Nero shows some great maturity in his physical acting considering he was fairly young when he starred in this. I’ll note especially his dragging of the coffin, a potent symbol, but he doesn’t overdo it. Nero drags that coffin and his steps are measured but he doesn’t ham it up and struggle with the weight.

The mud. I love how muddy this film is, from the muddy streets of the town that Django and splash their way through (lovely focus on Django’s muddy boots as they enter the inn), to the (thankfully not overplayed) cat-fight in the mud between a few of the town whores, to the cesspit quicksand that brackets most of the major movements in the film. It makes a change from the idea of wind swept dry plains and brings the film down to the grimy and seedy level that I think Corbucci was aiming for.

The sadism. From Major Jackson’s use of Mexicans as human clay pigeons and his sidekick Ringo’s simplistic gunning down of the Mexicans before they’ve even run from the ‘paddock’ to his Klan style hooded men and racial violence we know these are bad people. The Mexican bandits, from General Hugo cutting off the preacher’s ear and making him eat it before shooting him to their capability for self serving violence we know these are bad people. Django, ‘This is Django, a thief, a murderer and an outlaw...’ is a self serving man capable of extreme displays of violence and disregard for human life, he is a bad person. Together they make a melting pot of hatred and violence and it works so well in helping usher in the age of the Spaghetti Western. No man is good, no ‘hero’ is selfless.

Even the use of the machine gun from the shock and awe as he first whips it out of the coffin and guns down all of Major Jackson’s men to the almost proud way he demonstrates it to the Mexicans by shooting all the liquor bottles on the bar, there’s almost a fetishising of the gun itself the instrument which makes the quick drawing cowboy of yesteryear obsolete and welcomes the dirty fighting Spaghetti Western protagonist.

I also enjoyed the acting of Brother Jonathan, the town preacher, and felt that out of all the other actors he had the best interplay with Nero. His neat trimmed beard, clean face and flitting gaze is a nice opposite to Django with his dirty stubble and focused stare.

The musical score is also enjoyable with my personal favorite being the Mexican bandit approach mixing the crashing sounds, that movies have trained us to mean imminent danger, with a light Mariachi style riff.

The Bad: There’s a weird sense, or lack thereof, of spatial awareness with the cutting of this film. For example, when Maria and one of the other women look out the window of the inn and the action moves to Major Jackson gunning down Mexicans on what, I guess, is his personal fort on the outskirts of the town and when that action finishes it moves back to the women and we’re told he’ll be coming to town. The women’s observation makes it seem like the Major’s actions were in eye and ear shot of them but the scene with the Major seems shot in another place entirely and it comes across as very jarring and disjointed.

There is some attempt to flesh out Django’s story, in a graveyard conversation between himself and the inn keeper Django claims that Major Jackson killed someone he loved and he was too far away to help. This seems sort of let down to me as I preferred Django the cryptic quite man, who claims the only thing in his coffin is a man ‘and his name is Django’. Maybe it’s another false claim by the duplicitos Django, in which case this point is moot, but this tacking on of a revenge motive for Django seemed unneccesary and goes against the character that develops as a self motivated lone wolf. It strikes me that the cross Django leans on in the final scene, and the one where he leaves his gun, could have been the woman he loved. I'm unsure if this is a nice underplayed touch or something that should have been sign-posted a little more.

Maria, I didn’t feel there was enough character work for her. She may be the only truely redeemable character in the film. In a one off line it’s noted that she’s half-Mexican, half-American and with the worst traits of both. Half-cast, outcast, she never really gets any sort of development character-wise with people too busy asking her why she ran off with or from the Mexicans to which they get no reply. I feel I wasn't as moved by her plight and shooting as I should have been. 

The Extras: The Argent film DVD release has some nice extras. The menus are well designed athough the extras menu is a bit grating because of the looped machine gun fire sound they stuck on it. The extras include:

-An interview with Franco Nero, who comes across as charming and has some interesting stories to tell about the part.
-An introduction to Django by Alex Cox. Despite being called an introduction there is a warning that the piece contains spoilers for the film. Cox is fairly interesting but the intro is only 10 minutes long and he never really gets to develop the points he wants to make about the genre.
-Django Theatrical Trailer
-Trailers for 'Keoma', 'Django Kill', 'A Bullet For The General' and 'Texas Adios'

If you are a Spaghetti Western fan and haven't seen this film I highly advise you do. Django is packed with lovely set pieces and Nero is a great anti-hero coming close in stature to Clint himself.

1 comment:

Daniel F. Le Ray said...

I like the 'coffin as death-dealer' idea. And I guess that if Jackson had killed someone Django knew, then it's a symbol for that too: the irredeemable anti-hero bent on revenge archetype.

I'll have to check it out...