Clothes Maketh the Man; or New Silver-Screen Western Hero Django Unchained

Two pics from Django, Unchained are seeding the Wild Western Web. Be still, my beating heart. You’re making me type typos. 

One is of Leonardo DiCaprio wielding a hammer and Mephistophelian eyebrows, the devil with a red suit on, degeneracy signified by not only a cigarillo in a holder (instead of tucked into the corner of mouth, a la Eastood) but also a common utilitarian object. Yes, there will be blood, hammer style.

Hate me, hate my hammer.

The other!!!! Ah, the other. The sheer handsomosity of Jamie “Unchain My Heart” Foxx aside, what this carefully calibrated photograph portrays is western-myth making, 2012 style. Whoot!

Love me, love my hip green pea jacket.

Two manly men striding along, shoulder to shoulder. Men. West. Etc.

But there is more. In the story Schulz (Christophe Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) are business partners of sorts (not to cut a complex story into a byte-sized piece. OK, I will). But visually, equality is nowhere to be seen. And it’s not the slave/bounty hunter relationship I’m talking. The heft of the saddle swings Django’s chest out, sets his shoulders back, puts a swagger in his step. Without any doubt, he is Silver-Screen Western Hero material.

Let me count off the ways.

Readiness. Silver-Screen Western Heroes are coils of energy, capable of leaping into action at the click of a hammer going back on a gun. But fuhgeddabout introspective heroes like Alan Ladd’s Shane, who always seems to be looking far in the distance or dreamily at his friend’s wife. This Django’s gaze stabs at the middle ground, where trouble will soon erupt.

Like me, like my small but epic stature. Alan Ladd as Shane. The Everett Collection

Preparation. Who carries a saddle around but a Silver-Screen Western Hero? He doesn’t need any dumb telephone booth, just a fleet steed ready to go.

Style. Low-key is the word in 2012. No flashy 1980s cowboy here. In the real world, less is more because it has to be—we’re all counting pennies. In the reel world, less is awesome. The gun is minimal. The hat has a low silhouette, its concessions to style the high roll of its brim and the simple studded band. The coat collar is not too wide and not too narrow, avoiding both excess and ostentatious austerity. But this isn’t going to be the usual mud-and-guts kind of western. Django’s green coat glows jewel-like in the muddy frame. Compare this with the staged photos of Silver Screen heroes of yesteryear, the Stewarts and Waynes, sweat stains on the brims of hats and dirt in the very pores of their buckskin coats. What we have here is less a working-class cowboy than a mod creative class bucko.

Hug me, hug my sweat-stained clothes.

Presence: Casual yet aware. He strides along as if a humble bit player on the stage of life, but every Silver-Screen Western hero knows that all eyes are on him, or will be, as soon as this film hits theaters. Rangy and intent; compare this cowboy with the middle-aged Silver-Screen Western heroes of old, who fulfilled more of a patriarchal role than a sex-symbol standard.

Love me, love your father. Hopalong Cassidy

But, big question, how will it play out on screen? Foxx said in an interview that they were going for a Richard Roundtree / Clint Eastwood vibe. I beg to differ; his expression pulls from the tradition of Charlton Heston (Foxx probably couldn’t sustain the Clint Eastwood squint), which, unless Tarantino’s wanting Foxx to be Moses next, will hopefully play out as dogged stubbornness (Heston in Will Penny) and not wooden acting (Heston in everything else).

We can haz beefcake?

But a note to Tarantino—next time, show the cowboy boots! Sheesh. I mean, spurs or no spurs? Pointy or squared-off toes? High stirrup-worthy heels or low practical heels? Inquiring minds need to know!

 

Only a real man can wear these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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