San Quentin

by on Aug.21, 2009, under Movies

I am very, very excited to see Inglourious Basterds very, very soon. Until I do, I’ll have relatively little to say about it–consider that reticence an exception, not a rule–but here are a few observations and links to kick off the inevitable Josh-vs-Josh Tarantino side-taking.

Kill Bill as Parable of Redemption in Zen Buddhism Kill Bill was developed by QT in partnership with his muse Uma Thurman. Thurman’s father Robert is one of the foremost exponents of Zen Buddhism in the West. Und so weiter.

I made the strategic decision to wait until I could see both Kill Bills on the same day. We rented the DVD of Part 1, and as the credits rolled we dashed to the Vista to make the late matinee. If you don’t think you can handle a marathon, I recommend Kill Bill Parts 1 & 2 in One Minute in One Take.

(There’s no sense in discussing them as two separate movies. They are not separable. If you’re constitutionally unable to take the oceans of blood in Part 1, you could still enjoy Part 2, but you’re coming in in the middle.)

Also at The House Next Door, Keith Uhlich (pro) and Matt Soller Zeitz (anti) debate My Tarantino Problem–And Yours. MSZ discusses his unease with Tarantino’s violence:

That’s what bothered me even the first time I saw Pulp Fiction, although at the time I discounted those misgivings, and I shouldn’t have. When Marvin gets shot in the car, by accident, it’s very much like the rest of Pulp Fiction, and the rest of Tarantino’s work, in that it’s comical, and the sense of humor is superficially very Scorsesean. It’s bloody, savage violence, and the callousness with which characters address — or just as often don’t address — the violence is the source of tension and excitement in the movie. […] But Tarantino’s missing something about Scorsese […].

Marvin’s shooting is the sourest note for me in Tarantino’s entire body of work, and it led to an informal rule: I won’t call any movie an all-time favorite in which someone is shot in the head for comic effect. Sorry, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, though you too have considerable charms.

It’s possible to explain away the violence in Tarantino’s work by saying “It’s not about violence, it’s about movies”. That’s true enough, but it only gets you so far down the path towards understanding his work. I think of Tarantino as both a humanist and a film pastichist. He’s working without a net in a number of modes at once, and they aren’t always possible to reconcile.

I think Death Proof may go the furthest towards doing so. There’s a way in which movie-ness solves problems in Tarantino’s work. The scene in which Uma Thurman’s gangster moll asks John Travolta’s thug to the dance floor was the first time I noticed this–was really the first time I thought about metafictional conceits in film at all (so it’s kinda 101, aight?). She goads him to get up there; he’s not eager. She takes her shoes off (revealing the feet that got Antwone thrown into a glass house). He slowly takes his shoes off, taking his time, delaying the beginning. Can he do it? Can he dance? … Of course he can. He’s John Travolta.

Death Proof doesn’t take the everything-and-more approach of Robert Rodriguez’s companion Grindhouse piece Planet Terror. Instead, it’s relatively serious-looking and slow, alternating between talky longeurs that introduce us to and weight the characters, and action sequences. It’s divided into two mirror parts. In one, a group of confident, seemingly intelligent attractive women are annihilated by Kurt Russell’s stunt driver. In the second, a group of confident, seemingly intelligent attractive women who are also stunt drivers give him a taste of his own medicine. It’s a vengeance flick, in which the avenged and avengers have no knowledge of one another, and the secret weapon against the badguy is matching him on his terrain of movieness.

As for Inglorious Basterds, I’ll say this in advance. Two different, both wildly point-missing takes on the Holocaust might be, first, a movie in which none of the Jewish characters die (that’s an excerpt, here’s a pdf of the whole thing), and second, a movie in which the Jews do the killing. I’m kinda into the second.

CONFIDENTIAL TO J.M.: Yes, Tears of the Black Tiger was very good. I’m glad I saw it. Doesn’t change my mind.

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9 Comments for this entry

  • Joshua Malbin

    We’re never going to have a productive argument about Inglourious Basterds because I’m not going to go see it. I never went to see Grindhouse either. Just like I checked out on Woody Allen after the abomination of Deconstructing Harry, I checked out on Tarantino after Kill Bill Vol. 2. I know you loved it. I thought it was a boring stilted talkfest.

    I’m glad you liked Black Tiger, though. I also really enjoyed the Mythbusters where they tested whether Belle could have really punched her way out of that coffin and climbed to the surface (no).

  • Joshua Malbin

    I remember that long House Next Door debate. For me the key Matt Zoller Seitz point comes just before what you quote:

    What bugs me about his movies is the lack not only of empathy but of any genuine feeling of any kind — with certain exceptions that I’ve already listed — throughout his whole filmography. When I reviewed Kill Bill, Volume 1 for NYPress, I complained among other things about the fact that I felt like I was seeing too much of a series of set pieces, too much of a series of quotes, too much of a tour of his influences, and that the material was not transformed enough to stand on its own. It felt like a movie that needed footnotes. And I didn’t say a word about the violence, because frankly, it was so over the top, but so totally disconnected from anything real that it barely registered with me, apart from the way it was staged and shot.

    And then later:

    Compare Leone’s violence to the temple sequence at the end of the first Kill Bill. I really did feel as if I was watching someone else play a videogame. There were oceans of blood spilled, but I didn’t feel nauseous. I didn’t feel anything, really. I just looked at my watch.

    Yeah.

  • Joshua Malbin

    Those clips reminded me why I liked Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction okay, hated Kill Bill, and had no interest in seeing Jackie Brown.

  • Josh K-sky

    We’re never going to have a productive argument about Inglourious Basterds because I’m not going to go see it.

    I do hope you’ll reconsider. I haven’t had so good a time at the movies in ages. I’ll write something proper about it this week. Might have to go again. Come with?

  • Joshua Malbin

    Keeping in mind that I mostly don’t like what Tarantino does and even more dislike him as a human being, such that it would take very little for me to get angry for giving him any of my money, do you really believe I would like it?

  • Josh K-sky

    It’s a hard call to make when you put it like that. But if you think you can go in with an open mind, I’ll guarantee your ticket price. Even if you come out annoyed, I’ll know that you got to watch him put the camera on Mélanie Laurent, and I won’t be able to feel too bad for you.

  • Joshua Malbin

    No good. I’d still be responsible for money flowing into his pocket. How about I promise to see it when it comes out on video?

    Happy birthday, btw.

  • Josh K-sky

    Oh, crankypants. Sigh. And thanks! I’ve still got two minutes left of thirty-four on PST.

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