Thursday, August 27, 2009

'Prophet' or 'Misguided Fanatic ?': John Brown (or Quentin Tarantino)





Not to give away spoilers, but by this point it is surely not news that Quentin Tarantino has re-written the rules of the World War 2 movie. Surreal, a spaghetti western on steroids, comic, arch, bizarre and thoroughly entertaining, Inglourious Basterds may pave the way for enormous changes at the last minute (to quote Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine) in historical film-making. So, it was interesting that NY Magazine reported on Tarantino's appearance on Charlie Rose last week, where he discussed plans to make a film about John Brown, an American abolitionist, and folk hero who advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to end all slavery. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856 in Bleeding Kansas and made his name in the unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Even President Abraham Lincoln said he was a "misguided fanatic" and Brown has been called "the most controversial of all 19th-century Americans."

This is not exactly news, since Tarantino had discussed this intriguing concept on an earlier Charlie Rose with Robert Rodriguez in 2007. A the same time, Martin Scorsese was reputedly working on a script based on "Cloudsplitter" by Rusel Banks. Well, Tarantino has been working on Inglourious Basterds since the time of Jackie Brown, so with his latest udner his belt, one can only wonder "What hath Quentin wrought?"

John Brown, wiki facts and factoids: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_(abolitionist)From 2007:

The 2007 interviews:

Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and John Brown:
http://abolitionist-john-brown.blogspot.com/2007/04/martin-quentin-and-john-should.html

On April 5, 2007, Quentin Tarantino was interviewed with fellow filmmaker Richard Rodriguez on the popular PBS program, The Charlie Rose Show. Toward the end of the program, Rose asked Tarantino about his future film ideas and--to our shock--he declared his desire to do a film about our man Brown. Here is an excerpted transcript from that interview:

QT: I would one of these days love to do the John Brown story, he's one of my biggest heroes of all time; and I'd actually like to play John Brown because I think I kind of look like him a little bit. But I'm actually thinking that may be the last movie I'll ever make--I'll be 59 or 60, I'll look the right age, I'll be the right age. And so, that's like an Unforgiven thing--

CR: Why is he such a hero?

QT: Because he pretty much ended slavery all by himself. And like all great patriots, was tried for treason [laughter]. I mean he's the only white man that's ever earned a spot on black history calendars, alright, and there looking you in the eye. Nobody saw slavery the way he saw it, and "if we have to start killing people to stop this then they're going to know what time it is." I just love him. He's just my favorite American.
-----

To his credit, of course, Tarantino expresses a very positive view of Brown, something that we desire in any filmmaker who takes on the John Brown story. Hollywood has long produced films about Brown (or including him) that always made him look like a madman and villain. If Tarantino sees Brown as a hero, perhaps we will finally have a popular conception of John Brown promoted--one which does not conform to the older, biased, negative images that have prevailed throughout the 20th century. Admittedly, Tarantino is not a historian, so his inaccurate remarks about Brown may be forgiven; but if he portrays Brown both as a caring human and humanitarian, we might finally get closer to the John Brown who lived.

On the other hand, Tarantino's films are controversial for their violence and vulgarity, and in some respects it seems unfortunate that he would take up the John Brown story when his portrayed values seem so remote from the biblical values for which Brown lived and died. Of course there is fighting and violence in Brown's story; but our hope is that this violence is contextualized and explained, and not simply processed in a Kill Bill or Grindhouse manner of sensationalism.

from NY MAGAZINE 2009: Will Quentin End the Civil War Early?

With the $65 million international weekend gross for Nazi-scalping, WWII-abbreviating adventure-comedy Inglourious Basterds proving a huge demand for movies in which true events are delightfully reimagined by Quentin Tarantino, the question now is, Which part of history will he tackle next? Why not American slavery? In a pretty great interview on Friday's Charlie Rose, Tarantino reiterated his plans to one day make a movie based on the life of abolitionist John Brown — the guy whose unsuccessful attempt to start a slave revolt at Harper's Ferry in 1859 fueled the movement that helped start the Civil War — who Tarantino told Rose is "my favorite American who ever lived."

Tarantino's been talking about this for a while as something he'd like to do later on, possibly for his final movie. But in light of Basterds' runaway success, doesn't it sound like something he should start working on now? (Maybe he could even make Cannes next year!)

"I wouldn't go the dreary, solemn, historical route," he said on Charlie Rose, just in case anyone actually thought he would. "I just don't like that musty thing." Two weeks ago, a counterfactual Brown biopic following his successful seizure of an armory and subsequent slavery-ending, Civil War–preventing uprising (starring Christoph Waltz as an evil huge-pipe-smoking plantation owner and featuring a seventies soul soundtrack) would've sounded like a stupid idea. Today, though, it might just be the best one Harvey Weinstein's ever heard. We suppose we'd rather watch that than one of those hypothetical Basterds prequels.


You can download video of 2009's Tarantino interview on Charlie Rose here:

http://www.slashfilm.com/2009/08/25/votd-quentin-tarantino-on-charlie-rose/
Skip to about 42 minutes in for the John Brown stuff.

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