Monday, 16 July 2007
Dir: Sergio Corbucci
From the very beginning of Django’s opening credits you know you are in for a very different western experience.
The overpowering mood from the outset is sombre, dirty, almost gothic. The theme song, though wonderfully kitsch, is a lament; a melancholy overture to the litany of misery and brutality about to unfold. Django, his dark clad form weighed down by the saddle he carries on his shoulders and the coffin he drags behind him through the muddy trail, struggles on foot into a town filled with an aura of forbidding desolation. Even Clint Eastwood’s solitary amble into San Miguel astride a mule in Fistful of Dollars looks jaunty by comparison.
The symbolism seems clear. Django trails death behind him wherever he goes; unable to escape its weighty burden. As if he and death had melded into some kind of walking spectre, inseperable, inevitable. Indeed when asked if there was anyone in the coffin his reply is simply "Yeah, his name is Django."
If Leone introduced a new kind of anti hero in A Fistful of Dollars, Corbucci introduced a new kind of violence in Django. Excessive both in its quantity as well as its sadistic nature violence is a constant in this film. The plot, such as it is, often appears merely as a vehicle to link one exhibition of brutality with another. The opening scene finds Django happening upon a woman being whipped by a gang of Mexican Bandits. These bandits are set upon and gunned down by a second gang of outlaws, ominously sporting Ku Klux Klan type headgear, who rather than save the girl set about preparing to burn her on a cross. It is at this point that Django intervenes and dispatches the outlaws with his pistol. The film is five minutes old and the body count is already at nine. It escalates from there.
Indeed, once Django's machine gun is aired the bloodlust reaches epic proportions. Entire armies of men are cut down with ruthless efficiency while individuals, including ultimately Django himself, continue to be brutalised to envelope pushing levels.
Yet despite this seemingly mindless level of violence Django is far from being a mindless film. Rather, the brutality is offered as a manifestation of an underlying, all pervading sense of horror. A living hell where the sins of men, and women, are paid for ad infinitum. A limbo state where Django is imprisoned, acting as both avenging angel and sacrificial lamb.
Just before the film's bloody climax Django and Maria, while attempting to escape from the town and the pursuing bandit gang, arrive at a broken down rope bridge across a quicksand pit. This bridge looms with signicance for Django. Like a path out of Hades. He urges her to take the wagon through another pass to safety while refusing to go with her himself. "This time I've got to face that bridge." The bridge, however, remains an uncrossable barrier. With Django's stolen gold disappearing into the depths of the quicksand, his chance of a new life, of forgetting that he was ever Django are also swallowed up and lost.
For a film made on a very low budget, with no real script to speak of shot on a dilapidated set Django is a testament to the possibility for a creative sum to be greater than its individual parts. It's failings, like the erratic character of its protagionist and a disjointed narrative structure, fail to dominate one's pervading memories of the film. Sergio Corbucci's direction, Luis Enrique Bacalov's inspired score and Franco Nero's sombre portrayal of the central character all combined to make Django one of the most influential and enduring examples of the Italian western. Inspiring along the way a dizzying array of pseudo sequels and rip offs which started appearing within a few months of its release and continued to appear for years after. Movies with no relation to the original, or even containing any character carrying the name, began to feature the word Django in the title in an attempt to benefit from its fame and noteriety. But more importantly, this haunting and ultra violent film proved that an italian western could be entertaining, influential and thought provoking without being made by Sergio Leone.