A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015)

The title, The Hateful Eight, is pretty clearly an homage of sorts to such films as The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960), The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1967), and even The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969).  And it's well to remember how all of those films were once criticized for excessive violence and The Wild Bunch was once threatened with an NC-17 rating. None of them contained anything like the violence of The Hateful Eight, which is visited on all of the characters, but most memorably on the one woman among the eight: Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is subjected to torrents of blood, vomit, and blown-out brains along with repeated blows to the face and a final drawn-out hanging. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino and his defenders excuse the excess of violence by arguing that his cinematic violence is a metaphor for racial and sexual violence in America and an expression of the revenge mentality that undermines the due administration of justice. As Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) argues in the film, "dispassion is the very essence of justice. For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice." That Mobray is using this argument to forestall any actual dispassionate justice meted out to him only reinforces its irony -- a kind of postmodern irony that some will argue tends to lead us into spirals of self-defeat. That's why Tarantino's films often feel so nihilistic, despite their wit and technical prowess. At more than three hours, The Hateful Eight is about an hour too long, which I think is a fatal flaw, considering that the suspense lags as the slow revelation of its plot twists emerges. The wait for the eruptions of violence that we know are coming produces a kind of prurience, but there is no cathartic release when they arrive. The movie is well-acted by Leigh, Roth, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Bruce Dern, and Michael Madsen as the eight, and Channing Tatum gives a remarkable performance in his late surprise appearance. The music by Ennio Morricone won a well-deserved, long overdue Oscar, and the cinematography by Robert Richardson makes the most of the shift from spectacular mountain scenery to the claustrophobic setting of the major part of the film. But Tarantino has settled into predictability, and I want him to show us something new.

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