Wiseman closed his mouth
Madman closed his fists
Young man shows his age
Judge man called it sin
At first glance, they read like the lyrics of a lost Marty Robbins gunfighter ballad. What they are in fact are the opening lines to “Wiseman” a masterpiece by Frank Ocean, who wrote the tune for the Quentin Tarantino rifle-as-reparation western Django Unchained. If the Grammys had an “under-the-radar song that knocked people out upon being released through social media” category, this song would surely win. Tarantino, unable to find a scene for the song, left it out of the film and off the soundtrack. He explained his reasoning in a statement (via Pitchfork):
“Frank Ocean wrote a fantastic ballad that was truly lovely and poetic in every way, there just wasn’t a scene for it,” said Tarantino. “I could have thrown it in quickly just to have it, but that’s not why he wrote it and not his intention. So I didn’t want to cheapen his effort. But, the song is fantastic, and when Frank decides to unleash it on the public, they’ll realize it then.”
When I first heard the song, it struck me as everything that the film was not. While entertaining and further proof that Christoph Waltz can be a great leading man and Samuel Jackson will always be a dangerous scene-stealer, the film lacked the depth and whip-smart editing of every Tarantino film of the last ten years. (To be fair, Tarantino was working without his longtime editor, Sally Menke, who died while hiking in extreme heat in the hills of Los Angeles in September 2010).
Beyond the scenes of Jamie Foxx’s Django walking in chains in the cold Texas night and a few flashbacks of his time on the plantation, I never felt Django’s primal pain or fully understood his thirst for revenge. It was more implied – slavery sucks and this dude is pissed off. It took the lyrics of Ocean’s song to lend a poetic prism to reflect on Django’s timeless struggle:
The beast will crawl this earth
Then fall in the dirt to feed the crows
They’ll rip apart his flesh
Till all that’s left is glorious bone
And the bridge goes deeper than any of the film’s flashbacks:
Primate sharpens tool
To survive and thrive in the jungle
Maybe hearts were made to pump blood
Maybe lungs were made for flood
I won’t blunt my blade for cut these chains
Rather let my limbs be drug through mud
You’re my brother but your eyes are cold
You’re my sister but your womb is bare
I bet our mother would be proud of you
Ocean, often a man of few words in the age of micro-blogging, released the song on his tumblr with the concession “Django was ill without it.” But still, the movie would have been much richer with its inclusion. It is a great example of a three-minute song saying more than a nearly three-hour movie.
“Wiseman” will also be missing from the Grammys this year. Ocean heads to the ceremony this Sunday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles nominated for six awards including “Record of the Year” for “Thinkin Bout You” and “Album of the Year” for “Channel Orange.” He’s also slated to perform, albeit with one hand on the piano.
In a rare (for R&B crooners, that is) bit of life imitating lyrics, madman Chris Brown closed his fists in a dustup with Ocean last week outside of a Los Angeles studio. Ocean reportedly injured a finger in the fracas but is still scheduled perform this weekend. As to whether or not he will press charges on Brown, Ocean posted this on his tumblr:
“As a child I thought if someone jumped me it would result in me murdering or mutilating a man. But as a man I am not a killer. I’m an artist and a modern person. I’ll choose sanity. No criminal charges. No civil lawsuit. Forgiveness, albeit difficult, is wisdom. Peace, albeit trite, is what I want in my short life. Peace.”
As the song says, I bet your mother would be proud of you.