[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.