Posts Tagged ‘Quentin Tarantino

02
Feb
15

Buried Alive With The Bride

I remember the first time I saw Kill Bill Vol. 2 in the theater in 2004. I remember it vividly because it contained one of the scariest scenes I had ever seen. I physically reacted to the scene in which Budd (Michael Madsen) buries The Bride (Uma Thurman) alive. But that scene was scary for me not just because of what was happening but also because of how director Quentin Tarantino shot the scene:

From The Bride’s point-of-view, as she lays tied up in Budd’s truck bed, we see Budd and his hired hand digging up a grave, obscured in darkness. An open coffin, with a rotted corpse tumbling out of it, lies next to them. This point-of-view shot is an extended take (it lasts maybe a minute), and it’s a long shot (the perspective is from several yards away). The camera never cuts or provides close-up’s as it might do in a standard horror movie that usually shows every last horrible thing that’s happening in minute detail from all angles. This POV shot provides a deepening of identification with The Bride character as well as a sense of dread, helplessness, and uncertainty; we think we know what’s coming. But do we really know for certain and can we control it?

Kill Bill long shot

This shot reminds me of another repeated shot, which also creeped me out. In Roman Polanski’s The Tenant, Trelkovsky, played by Polanski, sees strange human figures, including one that resembles himself, staring back at him from the bathroom window across the apartment courtyard.

Tenant

The next Kill Bill Vol. 2 scene then shows The Bride in a wooden box (it’s a close-up profile shot of her that will not cut away for awhile). Budd is hammering the box’s lid shut. He has given her a flashlight, which she accidentally drops, and then the screen goes dark for a pretty long time. At this point, we only hear what’s going on: Budd and his helper lower the box containing The Bride into the ground. They shovel dirt one clump at a time onto the box, and drive off. The Bride is now alone except for the flashlight, which she eventually finds and turns on. In addition to the lack of visuals for an extended period, the other remarkable aspect of this scene is that, like the wedding chapel massacre scene (from Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2) and the Japanese massacre scene (from Kill Bill Vol. 1), it’s black and white. Why? Does the use of black and white tie these scenes together? What do these scenes have in common?  They are all “iconic” scenes narratively and stylistically, as well as character-defining moments for The Bride in both films. They also play up the stylization of Tarantino’s homage to genre films and showcase the beauty of black and white. However, while emphasizing the stylization of Tarantino’s use of violence, the use of black and white also paradoxically dilutes the gratuitous amounts of blood and violence.

Kill Bill box shot

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15
Oct
14

When Weeds Went Tarantino

I’ve been binge-watching the Showtime series Weeds over the past few years. I’m up to season six of this bizarre yet entertaining show about Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker in a Golden Globe-winning performance), a widow who becomes a drug dealer to keep her family afloat. Spoiler alert: The show’s sixth season finds Nancy, her two teenage sons (Silas and Shane), and her brother-in-law (Andy) on the run after Shane has killed the publicist of Nancy’s drug-kingpin husband, Esteban. This season’s criminal plot element and this particular episode (“A Shoe for a Shoe”) have underscored some interesting (possibly intentional?) connections with director Quentin Tarantino.

In an act of retaliation, Shane has been kidnapped by Esteban’s henchmen. In an effort to find Shane, Nancy shoots one of the henchmen, Cesar, with a crossbow in a skee-ball hall of fame museum. In its size and emptiness, the museum resembles the abandoned warehouse in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. In Dogs, criminal Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) ties up and tortures a police officer in the warehouse. Elsewhere in the film, criminals Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) hold guns on each other. Keitel is standing up, while Buscemi is lying down; this is the same formation as Nancy (standing with a weapon) and Cesar (lying down but without a weapon).

Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs

Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs

The Weeds director, Michael Trim, also seems to mirror Reservoir Dog’s famous truck shot, in which we see three of the criminals open a car trunk from the point of view of the cop inside the trunk. Tarantino, who proudly and frequently borrows from other films, also uses trunk shots in his work, including in Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Basterds. In the Weeds episode, we see Nancy open her trunk from the point of view of the crossbow she has stored in there. These trunk shot also seem to pay homage to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and has become pretty standard in other films and television shows, including Breaking Bad’s final season.

The trunk shot from Reservoir Dogs

The trunk shot from Reservoir Dogs

Much of the episode takes place in a diner, another consistent setting throughout many of Tarantino’s films.

The Weeds episode even has a reference to its fellow Showtime series, Dexter, when Silas talks about becoming “a serial killer who kills serial killers.”

26
Oct
10

Revenge Best Served…?

"The Virgin Spring"

In honor of Halloween, I’ve come across three revenge films that have the same basic premise but different ways of exploring (exploiting?) their plots, characters, themes, and questions about guilt, justice, redemption, and female empowerment and subjugation. Warning: This post will contain spoilers in order to fully discuss the implications of these elements.

“The Virgin Spring” (1960), directed by Ingmar Bergman, follows a young 14th-century Swedish girl as she is raped and murdered by shepherds in the woods. When the shepherds unknowingly seek shelter with the dead girl’s family, the father, who has discovered what the shepherds have done, kills them to avenge his daughter. Although shocking for its time, the film’s violence and lack of nudity is tame by today’s standards.

“The Last House on the Left” (1972), Wes Craven’s directorial debut, is a loose remake of “The Virgin Spring.” Here, two teenage girls are attacked in the woods by escaped convicts and their accomplices. When the criminals stay the night at the home of one of the girls, her parents brutally kill them. As graphic as “Last House” is in its violence and nudity, “I Spit on Your Grave” (1978) takes everything to a whole new level. Directed by Meir Zarchi, “I Spit on Your Grave,” also known as “Day of the Woman,” is a variation on the women’s revenge plot rather than a direct remake of anything. Its nudity and violence are so extreme and disturbing that in his original review, Roger Ebert gave it zero stars, an “honor” which he usually reserves for films he considers morally irresponsible, and shared the disgusting reactions of his fellow audience members. This film caused a physical sensation of sickness in me that the others two films didn’t, a feeling I haven’t experienced with a movie since watching “Caligula” (during a Malcolm McDowell film festival at Lincoln Center. Malc didn’t show up for that one.) But I didn’t stop watching “Grave”, so what does that say about me?

“The Virgin Spring” is almost presented like a fairy tale, supported by its 14th-century bucolic setting, its beautiful heroine, the magical setting of the woods (which is subverted here), and the spring that mysteriously emerges from where the girl’s body lays. These fairy tale elements are not found in the other films. Here, redemption is found through New Testament forgiveness; in the latter films, redemption is found through Old Testament revenge. In “Last House,” the teen girls are hardly angels, breaking the stereotypes of the pristine maiden and more reflective on 1970s American culture. “I Spit on Your Grave” presents an independent (no family and friends to protect her), creatively vibrant, single female writer (Jennifer) who is renting a summer house in the country. She is attacked by country bumpkins who seem simultaneously attracted and repulsed by her big-city sophistication and independence.

While the crime in “The Virgin Spring” is painful to watch, Bergman has a purpose of showing it: to introduce those philosophical questions that will come into play later in the plot. “Last House” and “Grave” have left those higher questions behind to focus more on entertainment and voyeurism. Although both films bring up issues of feminism, they verge on exploitation because of the over-the-top amount of nudity and violence for no purpose other than to titillate. In both instances, the women are chased and captured like prey and punished for their independence and rebellion against gender and family roles. What is shown onscreen in “Last House” and “Grave” is therefore simultaneously a reflection and backlash against 1970s feminism.

In the second half of each film, the revenge sequences start to highlight the female empowerment of each film in ascending order. While the father primarily enacts the revenge in “The Virgin Spring,” the mother participates in “Last House,” and Jennifer does it all on her own in “Grave.” After her rapists have torn up her manuscript, she tapes it back up, finding her “voice” again.

Female empowerment aside, are we rooting for the parents and Jennifer when *they* go on *their* killing sprees? If so, are they no better than the criminals? Are we no better than the criminals for watching and finding fulfillment from the actions of our onscreen surrogates? And the boundaries aren’t so clear anymore because in each film, the director uses moral ambiguity to make us question our initial allegiances. In “The Virgin Spring,” a child, the son of one of the shepherds, is a confused and innocent onlooker, but the father still kills him and later regrets it. In “Last House,” a woman is an accomplice, although that doesn’t exempt her from guilt and punishment in this context. In “Grave,” one of the culprits is mentally challenged, so although he did technically participate, he was manipulated by the others, making his murder by Jennifer questionable.

Although inherently chaotic, “Virgin Spring” and “Last House” are firmly grounded in family units. Even the shepherds in “The Virgin Spring” and the criminals in “Last House” are alternative families which each include a father and son. As a career woman, the heroine of “Grave” has made sacrifices of family and friends.

“Last House” and “Grave” have both recently been remade, showing how they are still attractive to certain filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino, and moviegoers and have contributed to the prevalence of today’s “torture porn” movies.