Thursday, September 24, 2009

How to Start: Punch Drunk Love, Night Ripper, and Kill Bill

The first 2 minutes and 40 seconds of Punch Drunk Love are pretty well amazing.

You learn everything you need to know about the movie's universe in those first 2 minutes and 40 seconds: This man is lonely (the shot puts him in the corner, and nothing adorns the empty space), smart (he figures out this company has a coupon reward thing that rewards more than the product is worth), and he lives in this world where no one cares (the guy on the other end of the phone is apathetic), and where violence can come out of nowhere (at the crack of dawn this weirdly peaceful moment is broken as an SUV just flips over disastrously, careening off camera and it is never returned to). But his salvation is there as well: out of nowhere, in this cold and violent place, this quirky funny old beautiful instrument just APPEARS, a herald of the salvation, the old fashioned old testament GRACE (which you do not do anything to get but which is simply thrust upon you) that he will find in quirky Emily Watson. Before the movie starts you get the whole thing in micro.

Girl Talk's Night Ripper: check out the first 30 seconds of the first track

See, I'm the man of this town,
and I hope you wouldn't mind it
if I showed you around
so when you go to certain places
You'll be thinking of me
We got people to meet
and many places to see

Well that just sort of announces the project doesn't it? Girl Talk is confident, and is going to show us around a lot of songs in the next hour (at least 150 -- we will see many places and meet many people. And like Bloom's strong poet he threatens to usurp them of their power by appropriating and revising them: when you hear them, you will be thinking of HIM, rather than appreciating them in and of themselves: something I can attest happens now: when I hear songs he has sampled on the radio I mentally fill in the other song he has mashed it with. I don't hear the song so much as I use it as a springboard to imagine his mash.

And the first 20 seconds of Kill Bill:

"Revenge is a dish best served cold" is an epigraph that introduces the theme of the movie, obviously, but also says something about Tarantino's confidence in his own technical skill. (Technical skill is often described as "cold" in directors because we associate precision with lack of emotion; Kubrick is most often described as cold. Tarantino certainly has some serious skills, and he has also been accused of being insensitive in his use of violence, cold to its consequences. I hardly thing this makes him dispassionate but since his passion is more for other films than anything else, with an emphasis on style, his films have this feel to a lot of people, people for whom film is lesser part of life maybe, rather than in continuity with it).

The epigraph also says a lot about the upcoming film just by being an epigraph -- this is a film that is epic enough to need a "literary" start (and will be divided into "chapters").

Most importanly is the reveal we get a few seconds later: "-- Old Klingon Proverb": which sends the whole epigraph into a tailspin. This is not a quote from Dangerous Liasons, but from Star Trek. That is funny in itself -- in a movie that will quote Samurai movies THROUGH their remade status as American and Italian Westerns, this one quote sets up a chain of references: just as we can go Kill Bill --> Man With No Name --> Yojimbo, we can go Kill Bill --> Star Trek --> Dangerous Liaisons. The quote is also revealing because it is not just a chain of reference but one that crosses high and low culture, and revels in the continuity rather than bemoaning it as a degeneration or even a copy.

The whole movie is almost entirely set up right there but there but all this would be true if Kill Bill began "Revenge is a dish best served cold -- Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan." But it does not say that. It says "Old Klingon Proverb." There are only two groups of people that would refer to that phrase in that way: the characters in the fictional world of Star Trek (Klingons and whatnot), and die-hard fans who talk like that because they WISH they lived in that world. (Howard Moon on The Mighty Boosh often ends his sentences with "sir" -- what makes that super-dorky? Because like a lot of nerds he is nostalgic for some time in which people spoke like that -- a time suggested to him more from fiction than from history.) In 20 seconds Tarantino establishes his ambition, his talent, chains of reference that link up high culture and low culture, shows his unironic love of trash, and where all this comes from -- his status as a FAN.


Jeflee said...

Really enjoyed the breakdown of the Klingon quote. Tidbits like that are the reason I started reading this blog way back.

Telosandcontext said...

Good stuff Geoff. Smart enough to be engaging and informative. Not too nerdy to be esoteric. And I think you've made a convert in me apropos Girl Talk...

Geoff Klock said...

JeFlee -- thanks for saying that. I am trying to get back to why I STARTED the blog in the first place.

T -- thanks.

James said...

YES. I never got the crash at the beginning of Punch Drunk Love.

"There are only two groups of people that would refer to that phrase in that way: the characters in the fictional world of Star Trek (Klingons and whatnot), and die-hard fans who talk like that because they WISH they lived in that world."
That first group is relevant too, right? Because this is one of Tarantino's "MOVIE movies" (a movie that characters from his "real world" movies (Pulp Fiction etc.) might go and see).

James said...

Haha, just found this, it's a hilariously exhaustive explanation of the above.

Geoff Klock said...

James -- that is a good point and a great link. I saw that once a few years ago and forgot all about it.

Streebo said...

Geoff - I hope you don't mind that I cross posted this to our blog. I want to keep track of this discussion!

Geoff Klock said...

Streebo -- sounds good to me!