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The 'Django Unchained' Cheat Sheet: 10 Things That Will Help You Understand Tarantino's Referential Bloodfest

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 25, 2012 at 1:32PM

On the surface, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" is nothing more than a bloody revisionist western. As always with Tarantino, however, there's a lot more going on beneath the surface that connects the movie to its precedents in film history as well as Tarantino's own unique career.
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Django and Broomhilda are the great-great-great grandparents of John Shaft. Or something like that. In another scene that acknowledges the movie's ridiculous premise, Dr. King learns that Django's wife is a German-speaker named Broomhilda von Shaft, otherwise known as Hildi and played by Kerry Washington. This is a direct reference to "Shaft," the seminal blaxploitation movie. Just as that movie and others like it empowered black characters in the action genre, so too "Django Unchained" does it with Western motifs.

What's with DiCaprio's skull speech? Near the end of the movie, DiCaprio's racist plantation owner Calvin Candie delivers a prolonged monologue in which he slices open a skull and delineates certain physical properties as exclusive to black people. According to Tarantino, this speech was DiCaprio's idea, but he didn't come up with it from scratch: The character's description draws on a racist form of false science known as phrenology. According to interviews, DiCaprio gave a book about phrenology to Tarantino as a means of fleshing out the character's ideology.

Tarantino shows up toward the end of the movieā€¦ as an Australian. You might be so focused on the director's cameo that you don't notice his Australian accent, which he uses in his brief role as one of three slave-trading Aussies whom Django encounters near the end of his adventure. Since Dr. King's character already made this an international affair, it's not so strange to see these other countries get some play. But why Australia? Tarantino has spoken recently about interest in shooting an upcoming project there, and since his movies tend to reflect his restless inspiration, this short bit may point to the director's next move.

Why didn't Jonah Hill have a bigger role? Originally, Tarantino intended to cast Hill in a bigger part, but the actor had to drop out due to scheduling that required him to appear in "The Watch" (one of the biggest duds of the year -- so Hill's probably kicking himself for that). Since he couldn't commit to a longer production period, Hill surfaces during the funniest scene in "Django," as a goofy member of the Ku Klux Klan unable to fit his mask right (Tarantino also cameos here).

Franco Nero isn't the only spaghetti Western hero with a cameo. Well, not really, if you look beyond the people in front of the camera. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone (who scored Corbucci's films as well as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly") co-wrote a new, solemn melody with vocals performed by singer Elisa entitled "Ancora Qui." Listen to it below.


 

This article is related to: Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Sergio Corbucci, Jonah Hill, Features







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