Thursday, October 28, 2010

Miltonic Allusion in Kill Bill: The Epigraph

Ok I am reposting this from like a year ago but I need it in place before next week, when we start diving into clips.

Kill Bill opens with an epigraph: "Revenge is a dish best served cold." After a beat the "source" is revealed: "Old Klingon Proverb."

"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 think 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. This is transumption -- Tarantino alludes not just to previous art, but to art that alludes further to still other works of art.

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.


James said...

I'm going to repost my comment from like a year ago: since Kill Bill is in Tarantino's "movie movie" universe, it's possible the epigraph is attributed to the Klingon proverb because this is part of the same world as Star Trek, just 300 years prior.

jennifer said...

transumption. made my day. i love this idea.

Geoff Klock said...

glad everybody is having fun. Is this Jennifer Jennifer?