Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kill Bill, Vols. I and II

This film is way too big to be dealt with in a mere blog post. It deserves comprehensive, book-length analysis of the kind that I'm in no way equal to. So, at the risk of tragically oversimplifying its brilliance, I'll just say that it strikes me that Kill Bill is pure opera: it's too big, too much, too wide-ranging, and all intentionally so, to make the point that this is what relationships feel like. Those who dismiss or belittle Tarantino as doing nothing more than playing stylistically clever headgames aren't watching with their hearts open. If there's anything "clever" about the moment when Beatrix rounds the corner and lays eyes on her four-year-old daughter for the first time, I'll eat my shoe. Likewise, have these critics who deride him for formal trickery never been in a situation when a conversation with a former lover takes on the emotional tenor of being armed to the teeth in a zero-sum contest that absolutely has to end in bloodshed? The stakes are almost comically high, sure, but dude--the stakes of life are comically high, no?

Anyway, I'm getting grandiose and defensive and testy, mostly on account of the fact that I just read the first few paragraphs of Entertainment Weekly's review of Inglourious Basterds, where Lisa Schwartzbaum writes, "But Tarantino's gleefully assembled spectacles are inextricable from his frustrating emotional limitations: Everything is a game." Bluh. I mean, I guess if you've only paid attention to his films long enough to parse their intertextual references, maybe they'll read as games. But, one of the biggest sources of pleasure for me in rewatching his films these past few weeks has been feeling the warmth of his heart. Dude loves movies and he loves language and he loves his actors and he loves this act of cinematic creation. It's kind of unfathomable to me that anyone could miss that, if they're truly paying attention.

Which sort of leads me back into the primary question that I have about Kill Bill: I'm having a hard time remembering how it was received upon its initial theatrical release. I have a vague feeling that it's considered one of his lesser efforts, which seems absurd given both its cinematic and emotional scope. I think it's going to be a while before we see its like again, and that's emphatically including Uma Thurman's performance. If the film as a whole reads like a shuffle-version of trash genres, her performance likewise is downright encyclopedic in terms of the range and depth of feeling she conveys about the Experience of Being a Woman. She has certainly never looked better onscreen; as blogger Kasia Xavier so accurately observed [link NSFW], "I think Tarantino knew exactly what he was doing. You take a born-pretty girl and you dress her up in pretty things, curl her pretty hair and she becomes empty. Vacuous. The only thing she can claim as a self identity is her one dimensional beauty. But take a pretty girl and throw some shit on her, and make her fight her way out of it and she'll grow to be other-worldly radiant and a force to be reckoned with."

It also made more sense to me upon this re-viewing than it ever has before why, duh, of course, O-Ren Ishii's childhood backstory had to be told in animation. Sure, it's homage to yet another beloved Asian cinematic genre, and sure, the subject matter was way too disturbing to film with an actual child actor, but it was also a tonal doorway through which we have to pass to transition into the "cartoony" violence of the big House of Blue Leaves fight sequence. It seems so obvious to me now, but realizing this was kind of profound in its formal, functional elegance.

I sat down to watch this the other night, telling myself I only needed to watch Volume I, but as soon as it ended, I thought, "there's no fucking way I'm not going to finish the whole thing tonight." It's just that absorbing and engaging, despite the length (which really isn't that bad, all things considered). I mean, even when you get into those loooong monologues at the end delivered by David Carradine (God rest his soul), they're every bit as thrilling as that first, manic showdown between Thurman and Vivica A. Fox. Not to mention that I was fresh off a two-day silent meditation retreat at the Zen Buddhist Temple I attend here in Chicago, so those scenes of Beatrix using the power of her brain to reanimate her own limbs or persevere through that intense martial arts training or focus intensely enough to dig herself out of her own grave all hit me with a unique resonance.

I mean, I know I'm a crazy, unapologetic Tarantino fangirl and all, but this film is so much more rewarding than I think most people give it credit for being. It honestly contains multitudes. I'm not even scratching the surface.


Anonymous said...

Talking about Tarantino's emotional limitations has become one of those critical crutches (like Jerry Lewis only being funny in France) that we may never live to see the death of. Nicely done here, cutting against that myth.

--ctla, "unapologetic Tarantino fanboy"

Donovan said...

Hey hey. As we know I am always on the fulcrum with QT, and while I may have some nitpicking this-and-that with Kill Bill, your sensitive and keen eye (and total unapologetic positioning as lover of his work [this is a good thing!])has done wonders to restore my faith in his artistry.

So I'm really excited to have a conversation about Inglorious Basterds. I'm...almost too scared to see it; it seems to be crafted to meet my critical disposition--be it prejudice or personal aesthetic--headlong. My skin crawls thinking about the premise of this movie. I'm already angry with the man.

And yet I always think this emotional state shouldn't be wiped clean, but part of my experience with the film--the wrestling (aha!) with QT's mashup of identity politics and cinematic lore...

anyway, long-ass comment done. Looking forward...


Michael O'D said...