Saturday, January 2, 2016

On Tarantino's "Hateful Eight" and New Yorker film criticism

Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" obviously touched a nerve with New Yorker critics, generating two serious, unfavorable treatments this week from Anthony Lane and Richard Brody. I don't know whether these will bring New Yorker readers to the theaters to see the film or keep them away. Brody's is Brody as his best, but I'm gauging from his review that he was somewhat torn between being entertained by the film and being troubled both by its graphic violence and by the notions of American history and culture it suggests. Consider the following:
The deceptions mount and fall and the masks pile up and come off, in order to reveal unbearable truths of violence and hatred. It’s as if he were howling, film-long, that the Civil War is still the central and unhealed wound of American history, that racial violence filled with sexual implications is the mad hidden lava running beneath the surfaces of American society, that the law as currently constituted is little help and the absence of law would help less, and that—because of the enduring hatreds of racism—American life, with its systems and regulations, is nonetheless an endless and unresolved death trip. The idea is so serious and so significant that it holds attention even when the dramatic and cinematic material that embody it don’t—yet Tarantino’s approach to the subject isn’t just playful; it’s frivolous and callow. He films like a perpetual adolescent who’s making mud pies (or blood pies) with history.
I haven't yet seen the film. But I have to consider whether Tarantino, via Brody's characterization above, isn't too far off, primarily because he's succeeded on two fronts: entertaining movie goers and agitating talented critics.

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