Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has never been one to shy away from potentially controversial projects that, in turn, end up being… well, controversial. The director’s Oscar-winning Django Unchained, for example, draws from the spaghetti western and blaxploitation genres, for its story about a former slave-turned cowboy who sets out to rescue his wife in the pre-Civil War American South. However, the themes it explores (institutionalized racism, self-hatred within the black community) are perhaps more timely than ever, in the present-day.
The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s new film, will likewise be arriving at the the perfect time, given the ongoing national discussions that are being had about troubling matters like lingering attitudes of white supremacy in the U.S. (and the rise of movements such as Black Lives Matter). The filmmaker has said that although he wrote his Hateful Eight script before such events started to dominate news headlines on a frequent basis, his new movie touches on many of the same issues.
As Tarantino pointed out during his recent interview with Vulture, though, this isn’t anything new; the Hollywood western genre has always evolved and adapted so that it better reflects the attitudes of the genera population, throughout film history. Here’s your history lesson on the matter for today, courtesy of the Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill filmmaker:
One thing that’s always been true is that there’s no real film genre that better reflects the values and the problems of a given decade than the Westerns made during that specific decade. The Westerns of the ’50s reflected Eisenhower America better than any other films of the day. The Westerns of the ’30s reflected the ’30s ideal. And actually, the Westerns of the ’40s did, too, because there was a whole strain of almost noirish Westerns that, all of a sudden, had dark themes. The ’70s Westerns were pretty much anti-myth Westerns — Watergate Westerns. Everything was about the anti-heroes, everything had a hippie mentality or a nihilistic mentality. Movies came out about Jesse James and the Minnesota raid, where Jesse James is a homicidal maniac. In Dirty Little Billy, Billy the Kid is portrayed as a cute little punk killer. Wyatt Earp is shown for who he is in the movie Doc, by Frank Perry. In the ’70s, it was about ripping the scabs off and showing who these people really were. Consequently, the big Western that came out in the ’80s was Silverado, which was trying to be rah-rah again — that was very much a Reagan Western.
Hateful Eight takes place at some unspecified time in the last quarter of the 19th century – a time when the memory of the American Civil War and what it represented should weigh heavily in the minds of the film’s characters – as people that range from the ex-Union soldier Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) to the ex-Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern) all wind up stuck in the same Wyoming cabin together, during a blizzard. Tarantino told Vulture that while an influential western like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly also takes place against a similar historical backdrop, his movie is “about the country being torn apart by [the racial conflicts of the Civil War], and the racial aftermath.”
Tarantino also explained that again, while timeliness is on his side, he penned Hateful Eight before protests against police brutality towards blacks (and other minorities) started making major headlines around the U.S., explaining that:
It was already in the script. It was already in the footage we shot. It just happens to be timely right now. We’re not trying to make it timely. It is timely. I love the fact that people are talking and dealing with the institutional racism that has existed in this country and been ignored. I feel like it’s another ’60s moment, where the people themselves had to expose how ugly they were before things could change. I’m hopeful that that’s happening now.
Tarantino’s comments on Hateful Eight‘s racially-charged themes are (of course) a way of stirring up more publicity for the film. However, there’s a good reason that director F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton has struck a chord with the public and is currently sitting atop the U.S. office, while having prompted many a debate with its own take on racially-charged social issues and related problems. The benefit of a western throwback like Hateful Eight is that such issues get to be further explored through the lens of a fictionalized, Tarantino-helmed, historical feature film – one boasting as much crackling dialogue and dark humor as the director’s previous work, no less.
Armed with intriguing subject matter and beautiful-looking cinematography – with a talented storyteller and an enjoyable cast (rounded out by such folk as Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth, among others) – it seems fair to say: like Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds before it, The Hateful Eight is a movie that the general public (film fans in particular) should be talking about, by the time it reaches theaters.
The Hateful Eight opens in U.S. theaters equipped with 70mm capabilities on December 25th, 2015. It goes into a wide theatrical release on January 8th, 2016.