Monday, December 10, 2007

Death Proof

[This post would be a guest blog, by my friends Ximena Gallardo and Jason Smith, but they do not have time to write it up. So this is more of a report of a conversation we had the other day about Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. To read my original posts on Grindhouse click the label at the bottom.]

I did not really like Grindhouse -- I did not think it worked very well as a package -- but I really liked Death Proof and picked up up on DVD as soon as I could. I wanted to see how I would feel about it, and its games with pacing, seeing it when it was not 2am with a restless audience, who had already sat through trailers, a movie, and more trailers. I took the DVD to my friends Jason and Ximena's house because they are the only people I know who know a fair amount about grindhouse revenge pics.

I was disappointed by their first reaction, which was that Death Proof was nothing special. They noted that, as in the typical horror film, all of the people who are about to die are all engaging in "bad behavior" for which they will be "punished" -- drinking, dancing, and smoking pot. This was too much and too obvious in their opinion. They also noted that, in the second wave of protagonists, the conversation sets Rosario Dawson up as the "virgin" -- she tells her friends that she has a relationship with the director of the film they are working on but that she refuses to go past hand-holding and kissing because she wants to really date him and not become one of his throwaway tramps. This is, as Ximena said, about as close to the "virgin" character as we are going to get in a contemporary movie. And, as is common in horror movies again -- it is the virgin, the "good girl," the "pure" one, who survives and who delivers the killing blow to the big bad. Both Jason and Ximena were not impressed by the total breakdown of the male aggressor either, since, it turns out, such a breakdown in common, in rape-revenge films of which this is a kind of revision (as it is also a kind of revision of the horror film).

Later however, Ximena grabbed me to let me know that they had continued to think about the film in the days that followed. She wanted to know what it was that set the second group of women apart from the first, what allowed them to survive. What she came up with was this -- the girls in the first round are all standard horror genre victim types. Their fate is sealed. But the second group are not stock characters -- they are, in opposition to the first group, "real people." What makes this interesting is the way Tarantino conceives of "real" -- they are "real" because, in Tarantino-world, the "real" people are the movie people -- the actress, the make up artist, the stunt woman (who plays herself and does her own stunts of course). As "real" people, as "movie" people, they stand above petty genre characters like the first wave of women and antagonist they face -- which is why they are able to turn the tables on him so fast and so thoroughly, much to his shock.

In an e-mail Jason had this to add: And now, seeing the discussion summarized like that, it occurs to me that Tarantino has (once again) made a movie about movies -- or more specifically a film that engages its own means of production (pun intended) and, simultaneously, how cinema has impacted the "real world." Postmodernism. Feedback loop. Baudrillard. Zizek. Yadda yadda yadda. But seriously, that we tell stories at all is the essence of "human" (we are the only mammals with a concept of before and after beyond a few moments). Other mammals can communicate "I am hunngry" but no other mammal communicates "I was hungry yesterday and that really sucked." So, if narratives make us who we are, then what Tarantino is "playing at" how we, as humans, are redefining ourselves through film (a relatively new narrative genre).

UPDATE: see the comments: I did not represent Jason and Ximena fairly here.


scott91777 said...

I have to say, I liked Grindhouse better as a package complete with the trailers. Death Proof was the one that I had the most trouble with. While everything you are saying is true about Tarantino's revision/deconstruction of the genre, I just can't get passed the pacing... especially since the DVD, as is my understanding, is about an hour longer. Of the two, I found Planet Terror more compelling just because it is such an over the top parody and is so much more fun (I think my championing of Miller's more over the top stuff might make more sense to people now) and more interesting visually to watch. I do love the car chase sequence with the actress on the hood of the car. It was very intense, mostly because, these days, such a scene would have used CGI or something to be accomplished. Tarantino's insistence on the old school technique enahances the 'realism' of the experience and makes it that much more tense. Oh, another thing worth pointing out is that the stuntwoman playing herself in the role is another homage to grindhouse films where stuntpeople (mostly stuntMEN as is my understanding) would often play themselves in movies as a showcase for their own talents (Jackie Chan would make a career out of this).

Geoff Klock said...

I should say it really is the last sequence that makes me love Death Proof, and I am not at all sure the extra footage makes for a better film. The problem is that the last sequence is so good that it leaves me with a great feeling -- and I remember the film as maybe better than it is as a whole. I do still like it over-all.

Mitch said...

This is a GREAT observation, all. Bravo.

Geoff- I just recently watched Kill Bill 1 and 2 back to back. In the special features I learned that the same actor plays the sheriff and Esteban- my mind was BLOWN.

scott91777 said...


I just wanted to add that I think you're right about the analogy of two guys agreeing to shave their head and one backing out, however, I think a more accurate analogy would be like when, a few years back on Halloween, I was going to be the Edge and my friend was going to Bono. I show up, I totally look like the Edge: black skullcap, goatee, stratocaster, red t-shirt (Elevation era) but my friend, while he was still SUPPOSED to be Bono didn't really look like it. So, I think Rodriguez was more like "We were supposed to do a parody/homage" and Tarantino was like "But that's what I DID" ... If that makes any sense whatsoever.

scott91777 said...

I just thought of another way Tarantino might have trumped Rodriguez: While Rodriguez sould to do his homage on a single genre, the apocalyptic zombie movie; Tarantino managed to combine not just the horror/slasher/revenge flick but also the car chase/stunt movie. Hell, if he'd managed to get some Nazis in there it could possibly be the greatest Grindhouse movie ever!

FPFP said...

i totaly agree with scott91777 in that it does seem that both films are a very different interpretation of the same idea, although RR seems to have made a far more lighthearted flick (if you can a zombie plague movie lighthearted)than death proof, for me, thats part of the charm. although id have been interested if QT had also made the "party" movie that RR made

and i think that the guest bloggers initial take on the movie is pretty trite, to knock QT for playing with the building blocks of these genre movies is missing the point surely? The assumption that its another film about a film is correct but i think ultimately its more than that, i thought it was, in its own way, kinda beautiful, not just on a visual level but the heart of the movie stands alone as one of his better films imo

and for the record, id have liked planet terror a lot more if RR had taken the dumb motorbike joke out, while i laughed at the time, it popped me right out of the movie "..POP!.."

scott91777 said...

To echo a previous bloggers comments about All Star Batman and Robin, I think, Deathproof is far more interesting to talk about than actually watch (whereas I feel Planet Terror is more interesting to watch than talk about).

Geoff Klock said...


fpfp -- I think their point was that he was not playing ENOUGH. And I am recording for posterity a first reaction that maybe should not be preserved. This was just what they said when the thing was on.

Geoff Klock said...

I just talked to Jason and Ximena. Ximena DID like the movie -- that it repeated patterns in other movies was not meant to be such a serious complaint, or even a complaint at all -- and in fact it is necessary for the old movie vs "real people" thing she thought the movie was about.

To add to the discussion above, Ximena also said the old movie vs real people (or old movie vs new movie) can be seen in how the pops and scratches and missing reel stuff from the first half of the film drops out in the second.

scott91777 said...

I also noticed the cessation of the the pops and scratches, I had contributed it as more of a transition from Rodriguez's film but it was a good catch on Ximena's part to notice exactly where it ends in relation to Tarantino's.