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2007.04.13

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» Tarantinos "Death Proof" from cine:plom
... Filmbrain analysiert schon richtig, wenn er in Death Proof nur noch ein Ausleben kindisch-pubertärer Geek-Obsessionen des Regisseurs zu erkennen vermag. Der Film funktioniert auf keiner anderen Ebene mehr als einer genüsslichen Geste der Selbstverliebthei... [Read More]

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Ketan L

Where did you get that Death Proof script? Can you post it please?

Keith Uhlich

I hope you'll come over to The House Next Door, Filmbrain, and take in Matt and my Tarantino conversation, freshly published.

http://mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com/2007/04/my-tarantino-problem-and-yours.html

I'm in love with "Death Proof" (and Tarantino in general), and while I see all your points here (many of which Matt echoes in our convo) I get the sense this is more a review of Tarantino's script than his final product, which I think is much more complicated than his, admittedly, problematic descriptors. He does himself no favors with his public persona, but I think his movies show him to be much smarter and intuitive than perhaps even he himself realizes.

I explain my feelings about "Death Proof" and QT in the convo; hopefully with more insight than in the recent reviews you've read. Be well.

Filmbrain

Synchronicty, Keith. I just minutes ago finished reading that wonderful dialog between you and Matt. Great stuff. I'll comment over there.

Filmbrain

Ketan - some kind soul emailed it to me. I thought about posting it, but I honestly fear the wrath of the brothers W. Drop me an email if you'd like me to send it to you.

Justin Slotman

Doesn't Kim and Zoe's story about the ditch mark them as hedonists as well? Plus the whole car-surfing and joyriding. Just hedonists with a different set of superpowers, which gave them the ability to take down Stuntman Mike.

I found Lee really perplexing. I mean, I never thought a Tarantino movie would wander into Kevin Smith territory but there she was, an actual Pretty In Pink-loving woman in the Reservoir Dogs diner scene. (Yeah--there's a million car movies referenced in that scene, plus the very not-"grindhouse" Pretty In Pink. How odd.) She's the dimmest of the second set of girls; she's the only one who doesn't get to avenge the first set's deaths, and she's actually getting sacrificed so said vengeance can take place; she's the only actress among the second set--everyone else is a behind-the-scenes movie professional. I'm not sure it all adds up. Obviously Tarantino wants to invoke cheerleaders movies, with all the buttshots and crotchshots and closeups in the first half and Winstead's costume in the second, but I feel like he wants to invoke them just so he can dismiss them, via the slasher genre in the first half and the female revenge picture in the second. (Her actually saying the word "gulp" I thought was the funniest bit in Death Proof, by the way.)

Filmbrain

Interesting comments, Justin.

Kim and Zoe are, in a way, like The Bride from Kill Bill: women with great ass kicking/survival skills, though they use it legitimately in their employ (as opposed to being part of an assassination squad).

Tarantino has only two types of female characters: the "pretty girls" (read: victims), or tough women (i.e., every woman in the Kill Bill saga.) You'd think he could come up with something else.

What bothers me about the Lee character is that, unlike the "pretty girls" of the first half, she's nothing more than a cheap plot device -- a way for the other two three to get the car.

You're right -- it just doesn't add up.

Donna Fadoushbag

QT probably does need a girlfriend. But with that puss of his, it may never happen. He looks like a mongoloid fuck baby. And he's jittery to boot. Not exactly the beau hunk you want to take home to meet mom and dad.

sleeper

(spoilers - and apologies for the long-windedness)

Is it giving QT way too much credit to suggest that maybe Zoe et al.'s cavalier thrill-seeking is meant to be a wee bit troubling underneath the surface pleasures it provides to the audience?

Is it entirely off-base to suggest, for example, that the other three's willingness to ditch Lee with the horny redneck dude is meant to cast them in a not-entirely-flattering light? And that this is in keeping with their (esp. Zoe's) unequivocal excitement (amusing, but also disturbing) about chasing down their attacker and getting lethal revenge? Notice how Zoe never seems particularly *angry* after she's nearly killed - she seems happier than ever, like she's been given a chance to do something she never thought she'd have the opportunity to do.** Notice also how the women, in their single-minded pursuit of their "prey," seem pretty clearly at one point to cause the death of a hapless motorcyclist who's in the wrong place at the wrong time (looked like a fatal accident to me, anyway). And, of course, notice how readily and premeditatively they're willing to beat a man to death in the name of revenge. I'm not seeing anger during that final scene - I'm seeing joy. During that final "yay!" freezeframe, I may be amused and even elated, but somewhere underneath I'm also disturbed, and I think that's intentional - it's something you see in one way or another in most, if not all, of the violence in QT's films.

QT clearly idolizes these women, but I think he's also shared shitless of them. I think he probably feels the same way about black men, honestly. And about violent people and violence in general. And I think consistently throughout his filmography you can see his attempts to grapple with these kinds of conflicting feelings, if only somewhere on the periphery, and with varying degrees of success. He covets the things he fears, and vice versa.

Also, I gotta ask: have you (Filmbrain) watched RESERVOIR DOGS recently? That diner scene at the beginning...yeesh. Placing it next to its gender-switched doppelganger scene in DEATH PROOF does the former no favors at all. Attractive stuntwomen talking about VANISHING POINT may have an element of geek fantasy, but at least there's an attempt being made there to establish real characters at the same time that QT gets his rocks off; on the other hand, I can't watch that DOGS scene and see anything but QT thinking "No one ever wants to hear me talk about possible interpretations of 'Like a Virgin,' but they'll listen if it's a badass snappily-dressed gangster!"

**I also see this in the PULP FICTION scene of Bruce Willis choosing and rejecting various weapons before settling on that samurai sword. He's not just going on a rescue mission - he's enamored with the sudden opportunity to actually Kill in the Name of Justice, and he's carefully choosing the weapon that best completes the image he has in his mind of himself kicking ass. On the one hand, to quote UNFORGIVEN, "it's a hell of a thing, killing a man," but on the other hand...well...killing a man must be quite something. And I think Tarantino is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who acknowledges the validity of both feelings.

Filmbrain

Sleeper -- there are some directors who skillfully use the art form to grapple with issues they are conflicted about -- who create films that pose questions/challenges not only to the audience but to themselves.

I've never thought of Tarantino as one of them.

You may very well be right about QT, but I don't see it. I see nothing but a man-child indulging in whatever he finds cool and/or interesting at the moment. If there is fear on his part -- of powerful women, violence, or black men -- then he's doing a tremendous job of hiding it.

Just as I don't think Tarantino "gets" women, I feel the same way about his approach towards black people. Isn't Kim really just a female version of Jules from Pulp Fiction? Several times in the Death Proof screenplay, Tarantino uses the following line:

Kim does her Sam Jackson pimp laugh

Can he not think of any other way to describe it?

To answer your question, no, I haven't seen Reservoir Dogs in quite some time, but I still think there's something wonderful about a scale of masculinity that ranges from Steve Buscemi on one end, to Lawrence Tierney on the other, discussing tips and Like a Virgn (among other things). There's an absurdity to it that's absent from Death Proof.

sleeper

Also:

"Tarantino has only two types of female characters: the "pretty girls" (read: victims), or tough women (i.e., every woman in the Kill Bill saga.) You'd think he could come up with something else."

Where, other than DEATH PROOF, does Tarantino set "pretty girls" up as "victims" per se? I'm running through his other films in my head, and I can't think of any examples. Melanie in JACKIE BROWN is ultimately murdered, but it's kind of a stretch to say that reduces her entire character to a mere "victim." Fabienne in PF certainly isn't anyone's idea of a "tough woman," but what exactly is she a victim of?

I'm not being facetious here, and I'm not saying the "pretty [or maybe more accurately, 'girly'] girls" / "tough girls" accusation is entirely unfounded. (Although I'm curious what side of the dichotomy you'd put Mia Wallace on.) It's just that this "pretty girls (read: victims)" thing is something I don't see in any of his work prior to DEATH PROOF.

Filmbrain

Sleeper --

Honestly, I only had Death Proof in mind when I wrote that comment -- I should have qualified that.

But now that I think about it, I wonder how much of Pulp Fiction come from Avery. Could (or would) Quentin write a Fabienne on his own? I wonder...

Putting aside Jackie Brown, which is an adaptation, leaves only KB and DP. Is there a single female in KB who isn't a killer? Oh yes, the aptly named Sophie Fatale, the tri-linguist who has most of her limbs chopped off.

Looker

Great critique, Mr. Brain.

Filmbrain

Why thank you, Lawrence. I also enjoyed your post about the pre-Disneyfied Times Square. Glad to know your first experience on the Deuce ended well. Mine, in 1979, ended with me and my friends getting mugged in front of the army recruiting station. Yet even that wasn't as horrifying as the Italian cannibal film we had just emerged from.

Steve

You guys are all missing the point. The second half of DEATH PROOF is really an elaborate metaphor for QT's desire to get pegged, especially by black women. Think of all the anal sex references aimed at Kurt Russell.

sleeper

Filmbrain - just so you know, even though I'm going on at such length here, I'm really not trying to be combative, and I hope it doesn't come across that way (you haven't said anything to indicate it does - I just get paranoid). Honestly Tarantino isn't even close to one of my favorite directors - all his films are to some degree compromised by their self-indulgent unevenness (interesting though I may find it - just 'cause something's interesting doesn't mean it works), although only RESERVOIR DOGS fails to "work" for me overall. It's just that I just saw DEATH PROOF last night, and its structural and tonal oddities got me thinking more deeply about what he might be trying to do - in that film, and by extension in all his films - than I have in the past.

"there are some directors who skillfully use the art form to grapple with issues they are conflicted about -- who create films that pose questions/challenges not only to the audience but to themselves."

I don't think any of his films are expressly created to pose these questions. I think it's just something that's happening, unobtrusively, along the way. I think at heart the guy just wants to entertain - but at the same time, it seems as though he does want the food for thought to be there, if you look for it (except in KILL BILL - I don't really see that one as saying much of anything about anything). I'm not sure that he's even aware he's doing this, but it's certainly something I've felt in his work, and I'd like to think that's valid - I don't feel like I'm coming to his work predisposed toward liking it. If anything I'm always surprised to find I like his stuff - based on my general tastes in film, I always kind of expect to find his films insufferable. In a way, I wish I did - then I wouldn't have to do this much thinking about them to figure out why the hell I like them.

"I see nothing but a man-child indulging in whatever he finds cool and/or interesting at the moment."

I see that man-child, too - it's impossible not to, really. The up-front-ness is part of what fascinates me, I think - I can't think offhand of another director who's simultaneously so blatantly, embarrassingly, grotesquely self-indulgent and yet so committed to and fascinated by the sheer craftsmanship of filmmaking. It's like some unholy amalgam of Alfred Hitchcock and Kevin Smith. (I can't stand Kevin Smith, by the way - that's a case where I look and really can't see anything beyond the man-child, and it's just icky.) Picture Hitchcock deciding to make some kind of JAY-AND-SILENT-BOB-STRIKE-BACK-style meta-sequel starring Tippi Hedren and Anthony Perkins as their BIRDS and PSYCHO characters, *and* actually making it work to some degree, and I think that's the kind of mindset you're looking at when you look at Tarantino. Sort of.

"If there is fear on his part -- of powerful women, violence, or black men -- then he's doing a tremendous job of hiding it."

You say "hiding it," I say "sublimating it," I guess.

"Just as I don't think Tarantino "gets" women, I feel the same way about his approach towards black people."

I agree, but again, I think that's something that's acknowledged in various ways within the work itself. Look especially at Robert Forster's character in JACKIE BROWN. There's a reason that performance is more deeply felt - more real - than any other in the movie. He's struggling to tell himself he's comfortable with Jackie - who is a woman, and black, and tough, and ultimately quite a badass - that he could see himself as her equal, and be with her as an equal - but in the end he's too much in awe of those qualities, and finds her about as approachable as the monolith from 2001. He's not up to the task.

"Several times in the Death Proof screenplay, Tarantino uses the following line:
Kim does her Sam Jackson pimp laugh
Can he not think of any other way to describe it?"

I haven't read any of Tarantino's scripts, and it's quite possible they'd "ruin" the movies for me to some degree. I know that my increasing dislike of DONNIE DARKO stems at least partly from listening to Richard Kelly's commentary track, and hearing how lame and dopey his explanations of the film's intended "meaning" are. Since you've read the script for DEATH PROOF, it makes sense to me that you look at the finished product and see, well, Kim doing her Sam Jackson pimp laugh - and it is certainly dispiriting to hear it referred to that way, the same way it would be to discover, say, a script direction in TOUCH OF EVIL calling for Charlton Heston to "really Spic it up" or something like that. I guess Tarantino is just somehow a more interesting director than he seems capable of being or even "deserves" to be - a Tom-Hulce-in-AMADEUS kind of deal. Not that I'm even remotely calling Tarantino a modern-day Mozart - let's not get crazy.

Did you read the script before or after you watched the film, BTW? Just curious.

"But now that I think about it, I wonder how much of Pulp Fiction come from Avery. Could (or would) Quentin write a Fabienne on his own? I wonder..."

A very good question (I always forget about the Avary factor, as most people seem to). I guess watching KILLING ZOE might provide some clues, but do I really want to do that? Somehow I can't muster up much enthusiasm...

Anyway, thanks for bantering with me about this - it's given me some stuff to think about. If nothing else I feel as though I should re-watch that opening scene in RESERVOIR DOGS.

Justin Slotman

"Not that I'm even remotely calling Tarantino a modern-day Mozart - let's not get crazy."

sleeper, you may enjoy the first paragraph of Walter Chaw's Grindhouse review in light of that statement (if you're not already referencing it. One of Walter's best, though I think he's way too hard on Planet Terror.)

Filmbrain

Sleeper --

Not to worry -- I don't take it as combative at all. I've really enjoyed your comments.

I think ultimately our feelings about Tarantino aren't that different. I'll be the first to admit a love/hate relationship. I get terribly angry at his films, and frustrated, but I own them all on DVD. I admire his craft -- the man does have talent. I just wish there was something that could help distance him from work.

Jackie Brown is easily his most mature work, and I'm sure that has to do with the fact that it's an adaptation. Perhaps he should do a few more of those before trying something original.

It's as if he wants to please everybody -- fanboys and cinephiles alike -- and that's where he runs into trouble.

As for Kevin Smith, at least he's honest about who he is: a grown man who still finds dick and fart jokes a riot. So be it.

To answer your question, I saw the film before reading the screenplay, which I'm happy about. My guess is that in the new cut, at least the cut of Death Proof that will be at Cannes, will probably re-instate many scenes in the screenplay that were (thankfully!) left out.

A quick rundown of other cultural references in the screenplay that didn't make it into the film:
Tyra Banks, Sammy Hagar, Junior Bonner, Ibsen, T. S. Elliot, The Jeffersons, Moesha.

Ibsen and Elliot -- QT's gettin' all highbrow!

There's also a foot-fetish scene where Stuntman Mike secretly strokes the feet of a sleeping Abernathy, and a ridiculous bit of dialog about buying a copy of Italian Vogue that is truly awful.

John Figler

I sketch out an observation or two about Tarantino's lousy movie, particularly its dialogue, here:

http://figskin.blogspot.com/2007/04/does-grindhouse-cheat-you-fair.html

I put the failure down to bad acting, not worse-than-usual writing.

mike

off topic but rest in peace to Barry Nelson one of the great character actors of all time. Mr. Nice guy.

Donna Fadoushbag

Barry hired Jack to look over The Overlook.

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