Saturday, 12 January 2013

Gulp, friction: testy Tino whacks the Guru

So, director Quentin Tarantino has fired off some verbal shots on Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy while discussing his latest film Django Unchained.

A tense exchange escalated into barbed responses from Tarantino after being asked if real violence could be causally linked to cinematic violence.

Tarantino testily refused the question, insisting he's already covered this issue ad nauseam over the past twenty years.

Let's recall what he's been saying:
 To say that I get a big kick out of violence in movies and can enjoy violence in movies but find it totally abhorrent in real life - I can feel totally justified and totally comfortable with that statement. I do not think that one is a contradiction of the other. Real life violence is real life violence. Movies are movies.
Tarantino doesn't put much stock in the familiar argument that movie violence causes actual violence. For him, they exist in entirely separate realms. ''I have no problem with screen violence at all,'' he said, ''but I have a big problem with real-life violence.''
And after the Newtown killings:
Tarantino: Would I watch a Kung fu movie three days after the Sandy Hook massacre? Would I watch a Kung fu movie? Maybe, because they have nothing to do with each other.
Gross: You sound annoyed. I know you've been asked this a lot.
Tarantino: Yeah. I'm really annoyed. I think it's disrespectful to their memory, actually.
Gross: To whose memory?
Tarantino: To the memory of the people who died to talk about movies. I think its totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously the issue is gun control and mental health.
Thus, Tarantino's reiterations to Guru-Murthy might not have been all that surprising, even if the manner of his refusal was arrogantly delivered:

“I haven’t changed my opinion one iota … and I am shutting your butt down.”

Perhaps Tarantino shouldn't be castigated for despatching his quizzer given all those well-recorded statements. Maybe Guru-Murthy could have made his pitch in more original ways.

Yet, are we merely to accept Tarantino's assertion that screen violence and actual gun culture has no ongoing or useful validity in such a discussion?

Who should call the content shots in such an exchange: probing journalist or publicity-seeking director? Or does Guru-Murthy's soft liberal pushings and Tarantino's acid evasions give a clue to the much deeper questions on America's wild-west gun culture not raised in this prickly 'stand-off'?

Alex Jones's recent assault on Piers Morgan offers another, more neurotic, take on the interview 'hit', with the latter screaming that the proliferation of guns has no bearing on the mass gun violence afflicting America.

The scary part here is not Jones's rambling salvo, but, even following Newtown, the still wide public endorsement of gun law. More particularly, there's no mention from Morgan of the key corporate forces driving that culture of consumerist fear.

To his credit, Tarantino does see a basic distinction between the cinematic depiction of guns and the actual need for gun control. Yet he still asserts in the exchange that "it's not my job" to engage that need through the prism of his work.

In the interview, Tarantino also contradicts himself in saying that Django does deal with real issues of violence - the violence of slavery, while also insisting that what's portrayed in the film isn't actually real: "it's a fantasy." So, which is it to be?

Of course, it's artistically permissible to experiment with both. But does this give a director artistic licence to render the core subject matter of his movies - violence - out of discussionable bounds?

Tarantino further claims that people are now suddenly engaging the issue of slavery now that he's released his movie.
"I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way that they have not in thirty years."
That's quite a precocious claim in itself.  The cultural discussion of slavery in America, as in that generated by a Hollywood idiom, has never moved beyond specious gloss like Spielberg's Amistad and The Colour Purple or the TV contrivance Roots. Is Tarantino's movie really likely to advance that debate or understanding?

One of America's principal products, and it's most notable export, is violence: political, economic, militaristic and, as derived from Hollywood, cultural.

The corporate motives and propagandist purposes of such output should - like Tarantino's own recorded statements - need little elaboration - just think of who profits and gains from ideologically-loaded films like Dark Zero Thirty.

Perhaps if Tarantino was making critical artistic representations about those kind of power-connecting issues, he might not be so readily invited for interview or celebrated by his industry - and certainly not Oscar-nominated by an academy which knows the limits of 'critical' liberal cinema.

Which is where, whatever its cinematic merits, Django Unchained  - like the other Oscar-shortlisted DZT - ultimately sits as a 'radical' entertainment product.

All of which informsTarantino's own principal purpose in the interview:

"Cause I'm here to sell my movie. This is a commercial for the movie, make no mistake."

And just for good measure, he pumps another emphatic round: "This is a commercial for my movie."

Now, just imagine Guru-Murthy using that opportune moment to engage Tarantino on the subject of violent commercialism.

Might any interviewer from the corporate-run media have the nous to initiate or develop that line of questioning, as in: do you think America is a society indentured to capitalist cultural demands or enslaved to wider corporate violence? 

Imagine either figure, journalist or director, proposing a proper enlightened movie and serious open review about that 'taboo' issue.

The most likely response from dismissive media editors or movie producers:

 "I am shutting your butt down.”

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