Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 25, 2015 4:51 am 
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Agatha Christie Western

Returning to something of the confinement of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino's deliciously complicated 8th movie nearly all takes place inside one big cold drafty place, Minnie's Haberdashery [sic], a way station in the Wyoming mountains en route to the town of Red Rock where some travelers hole up to wait out a blizzard. There are a few spectacular snowy landscapes, but for the most part this is a mystery, like Agatha Christie, suspicious characters confined to a room. Old fashioned trappings include chapter divisions, an Intermission, and a splendid score composed by Ennio Morricone. But the action is pared down (sort of) to its essence: the dialogue (is there ever anything else?) -- and the violence. For this is a Western and before it's over, as in any classic shoot-out, most of the characters (and more) will be dead -- though not before horror-movie gore and threatening speeches delivered while in horrible pain. It's 6 or 8 or 12 years after the end of the Civil War and bounty hunters collide with charlatans and knaves during the howling storm. Minnie is nowhere to be found, and a Mexican called Bob (Demian Bichir, the drug lord mayor of Tijuana in "Weeds") is in charge. They spend a lot of time introducing themselves to each other. You could fill a handbook with the back stories. Later a lot of the them will turn out to be false.

The sense of danger and suspicion in a confined space is something Tarantino explored in Inglorious Basterds' risky basement card game, and the hiding under the floor theme also is essential to that film's drawn out opening dominated by Christolph Waltz. Skillful rearranging of point of view and chronology, which are key here, first appeared memorably in Pulp Fiction. And incidentally the foregrounding of an under appreciated or neglected actor (Waltz, Travolta, Grier et al.) happens here notably with "Sheriff" Chris Mannix, a role that will give Walton Goggins new stature. Newcomers to the QT stage but vets on screen are Bruce Dern as Confederate General Sandy Smithers and Jennifer Jason Leigh as unrepentant murderer Daisy Domergue, who is horribly abused throughout but never seems to mind, or be fazed. The stark authenticity of Dern's line readings contrasts with the tongue-in-cheek charm of Jackson, Goggins, or the fake-educated officiousness of Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray, an alleged traveling hangman. Daisy is to be hanged in Red Rock, and she's being delivered by John "The Hangman" Ruth (a very bewhiskered Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who insists on delivering his captives alive -- a policy Major Marquis Warren (a typically splendid Samuel L. Jackson) strongly disagrees with. Marquis Warren begs admission onto the coach with several dead ones, saying "Bringing guilty men in alive is a good way to get yourself killed."

For the fortunate, all this can be seen at theaters capable of so presenting it, in super-wide screen 2.76:1 ratio projected in 70 mm. as shot, on 65 mm. film using antique Panavision cameras, on film, and presented in "Roadshow" style with an Overture and an Intermission. The "Roadshow" version will be shown in many US cities and in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, Canada. Tarantino's respect for film tradition and film history and his mastery of the medium are things that set him apart from the rest.

Of course, his relation to tradition is "problematic." His use of the N-word is more troublingly copious than in previous items in his oeuvre, even Django, which, being about slavery in the Deep South, was more clearly critical of white racism. It seems bizarre that while the ever-angry righteous, and conservative black film critic Armond White has published a diatribe against The Hateful Eight, on opening day in New York representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement stood in front of a theater in support of Tarantino's criticism of police. Perhaps the best one can say is that Tarantino is Tarantino.

It is always enjoyable to watch and listen as his dialogue and his plot lines unfold. According to the "Roadshow" brochure, The Hateful Eight began as a staged reading at a Los Angeles theater by Tarantino "regulars" in April 2014 that was to be "a standalone event," and an "overwhelming response" led to its being committed to 70mm. It is theatrical in conception, and shows a baroque, decadent turn, if that is not redundant for an artist who's always had those qualities. The Agatha Christie-style structure leads Tarantino to grow verbally and visually expository in the latter segments -- arguably, to a fault. And did we really need so many N-words, so brutally delivered, or so much gore?

The Hateful Eight, 168 mins., premiered in Los Angeles 7 Dec. 2015. Limited US release 25 Dec., further releases in Jan. 2016.

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