NEW YORK -- Quentin Tarantino enters a West Village Italian restaurant through the back, a quiet arrival for a filmmaker who is anything but stealthy.
More than most any other director working today, Tarantino's movies are propelled by a ceaseless urge to entertain, both the audience and himself. In richly comic dialogue, gleefully splattered violence and vibrant bombastic color, they announce themselves brashly.
His latest, "Django Unchained," a kind of Spaghetti Western set in the antebellum South, is brazen even by Tarantino standards. Starring Jamie Foxx as a slave taken under the wing of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), the film's strange mix of surrealist comedy, bloody action and brutal depictions of slavery make "Django" arguably Tarantino's most audacious movie yet.
"There is a committed showman aspect to my film that I relish in," says a sweatshirt-clad Tarantino as he settles in behind a table. "I want the audience to have a wild experience at the movies and know that they left their house and did something with their night. I like torturing them from time to time but also getting them off."
"Django Unchained" not only plunges Tarantino back into the racially sensitive territory that has brought him criticism in the past, it essentially explodes it. The N-word is used more than 100 times in the film. Two especially violent scenes of slavery -- one a Mandingo brawl, the other involving a dog -- even Tarantino calls "traumatizing."
It's a revenge fantasy that, depending on your perspective, makes this either the rare film to honestly present the ugliness of slavery, or one that treats atrocity as a backdrop for genre movie irreverence. It's probably both.
"If the only purpose of this movie was to make a shocking expose about slavery .<!p>.<!p>. that would be well and good. You could definitely do that," Tarantino says. "But this movie wants to be a little more than just that."
It's ironic that Tarantino is now unleashing a movie boasting of historical realism after his last film, "Inglourious Basterds" (the hit of his career, with a global box office draw of $321.5 million and eight Oscar nominations) rewrote history by killing Hitler. "Django" similarly revels in the catharsis of seeing the evildoers of history get their comeuppance.
"With black audiences, they laugh, they just get it," says Tarantino. "Part of the humor is stemming out of: 'We were afraid of these idiots?'<!p><#148>
Tarantino's two-part "Kill Bill" and "Death Proof" were also revenge tales, only for women hunting patriarchal stereotypes. Yet from the banter of "Pulp Fiction" to the romance of "Jackie Brown," race has clearly emerged as a dominant theme in Tarantino's films.
"It's the most important subject in America, both from a historical perspective and in our day-to-day lives," says Tarantino. "There are a whole lot of white filmmakers that might wish to venture into this area, but they're afraid. They're afraid of being criticized."
Tarantino was memorably chastised by Spike Lee after the N-word-laden "Jackie Brown" for being "infatuated" with the expression. Tarantino says he was "done wrong" by Lee and that while he doesn't care what Lee thinks of "Django," liking it would be "a nice olive branch."
"Django Unchained," which the Weinstein Co. will release Tuesday, has made an effort to reach out to the black community. Three of the film's stars -- Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio (who plays a villainous Mississippi plantation owner) and Kerry Washington (Django's wife in need of rescue) -- grace the cover of a recent issue of Vibe magazine. Oprah Winfrey has endorsed it, though she also called it "provocative" and "twisted."