Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Archives Project: STL #16 (unnumbered)

Title: "I love you Bill and I always will"
Description: None. The topic is Kill Bill Part One
Publication Date: 15 October 2003

This one is less pretentious than I remember, but still a very mixed bag. I excised some factual errors, but left in the misidentification of the klaxon-y hospital theme as an original. I later discovered this theme in Female Convict Scorpion, a cited influence. Note the crucial role of the horizontal rule in this piece.

I should do a new piece on Death Proof. I actually sought out and watched two source, Vanishing Point (really good) and Crazy Larry and Dirty Mary (good performances by Vic Morrow and Adam Roarke, but gratingly annoying turns by the title characters played by Peter Fonda and Susan George.)

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

Kill. The Verb. Imperative. The highest degree of brutality. Bride's reason to live. Slamming a rapist's head in a door until he is dead. Blood spouting from the stump of a neck. Stone Cold Revenge.

Bill The Direct Object. A twist, a rhyme, a tiny deviation. A name sketched on a window pane. A wry smile. A love that extends from metaphysics to typeface. The #29 song of 1969 ("Bill, I love you so, I always will/I look at you and see the passion eyes of May/Oh, but am I ever gonna see my wedding day/I was on your side Bill when you were loosin'/I never scheme or lie Bill, there's been no foolin'/But kisses and love won't carry me till you marry me Bill")

There's a fine line between silly and perfect.

Quentin Tarantino is a major force behind the ascendency of the geek's cultural status in the 90's, along with comics geeks working in film and television like Joss Wheedon and Kevin Smith. Actually, a more significant force would probably be the scads of money that ran after computer geeks, and the cultural fetishes like comics and genre films of the 70s jumped to prominence incidentally. If that's what we have to thank for QT's ability to make movies, that's fine. But it seems there's a more intricate connections between commercial and cultural strands of geekdom: both feature obsessive attention to detail (computer code simply won't work if you mis-strike a key; if you don't know "Switchblade Sisters" you won't appreciate Darryl Hannah's eyepatch), both are concerned with protocols and procedures. On the other hand, both have the tendency to live in sealed-off world, whether it's dreaming in Perl (I actually overheard someone say this once) or handicapping fights between the Hulk and the Thing (pick 'em).

At this point I could proclaim myself a film geek and take rightful possession of Kill Bill as my own. But I can't quite do it. I don't know about Darryl Hannah's eye patch first hand, and even worse I can't remember if it was "Switchblade Sisters" or something else. Instead of endlessly replaying Shaw brothers' kung-fu movies I do things like my job and be married. Sure, I recognize some conventions, like the subtitles using the common thick yellow type favoured by vintage Hong Kong movies, and the unnecessarily thick lines dividing split screens as a similar nod to 70s film technology. I also get the devotion to the rituals of taking out the Crazy 88 killers one by one, or the ceremonial importance of acquiring your weapon. But these things are almost archetypes by now; Tarantino I'm sure has done a lot more in mining the dross of 70's exploitation cinemas for its gold. You get the impression the this film is a distillation of the best of a whole hidden culture. If it meant that I could enjoy this movie more, I wish I had become a full-fledged film geek.

What I do love about Kill Bill is Tarantino's love of artifice: we see it in the shuffled chronology of the narrative, in a striking animated sequence, in a rogue answering machine that disguises the Bride's name (to preserve her mythological status), in the switching to b&w, in the absolutely beautiful use of color in the House of Blue Leaves chapter (including the pool that turns from blue to red, the silhouetted fight against blue screen, and the Bride's bright red and yellow entry into the icy garden to duel O-Ren Ishii).

There's also a dark humour at work here; what's more it's a real humor that doesn't require recognizing the Bride's track suit as identical to Bruce Lee's, but is based on pacing and human interaction, like the fight with Vernita Green. Remember, Tarantino isn't only the obsessive video clerk who translated City on Fire into Reservior Dogs, he's also the only director who's ever got the patterns of Elmore Leonard's snappy exchanges onto film, in Jackie Brown. But, then again, he's also the guy who got us to laugh at Thurman sitting up stock straight with a giant hypo sticking out of her chest. As you'd expect, some of the humor comes from the absurdity of the carnage, but this is where QT encounters his strongest criticism: is all this stylized violence, this savvy collage of pop culture, this snappy dialogue just to quicken the pulse of a generation sunk a quagmire of pop culture, delighting in their recognition of minutiae? I don't really have a problem with that. If he can compete with the artless violence of Jerry Bruckheimer, for instance, he might teach a jaded audience something about pattern, about knowing a tradition, about, gulp, the rewards of loving art.

I wrote about Sofia Copolla's divergence from auteur-ness two weeks ago. While Tarantino remains firmly in that camp, he has at the same time reached out to assemble some admirable talent. I enjoyed all the perfomances, particularly Uma Thurman's, which might be the most rugged woman in film history. Sonny Chiba goes from clown to grave warrior at the drop of a sake cup. Behind the scenes, Yuen Wo Ping's fight choreography is of course beautiful (and beautifully framed by QT), and the music lingers in the memory: in the hospital, in the tea house, and what I think is a RZA (who else but the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan could score this film?) original, the burst of klaxon-like notes signifying the church (it reminds me somewhat of RZA's score of Ghost Dog in its minimalism).

Since Kill Bill is only half over, maybe I'm being too hasty with my praise. Maybe being the distillation of the best of grindhouse cinema ain't that great. But I'm more than half-willing to start training as a black-belt film geek to be able to judge.