Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Citizen Kane

I continue my look at Kill Bill's allusions to other films -- "Miltonic" because like Milton, when Tarantino alludes to something, he does not do so to simply pay homage, but to interpret, revise, subvert, and reorganize, and make himself, as the inheritor, the man who stands above it all.

FROM CITIZEN KANE (embedding and sound on this one is not allowed by YouTube, but you don't need the sound anyway):

[the opening of Citizen Kane -- the camera slowly moves forward to the latticed windows of Kane's room and we see him in profile in near silhouette on the bed with the window behind him. Snow blows. The light changes slowly. He dies and a nurse comes in to check on him. Start at a minute in here: CLICK HERE]


[Opening credits to volume 1. Thurman is in profile near silhouette on the bed, with a lattice window behind her. The light comes up slowly.]

The opening of Kill Bill visually recalls the opening of Citizen Kane: The slow fade in, the slow change of the light, the light slowly growing in the window, the still figure in profile.

Citizen Kane has this romantic reputation as the greatest movie in movie history. "It's not Citizen Kane" is shorthand for "That movie is dumb" -- the point, of course being that no film wants to invite comparisons with Citizen Kane. It is like a comparison to Shakespeare or Einstein. You always lose.

Tarantino is going to allude to 100 movies in Kill Bill. And like the insanely confident auteur he is, he is going to start out, seconds after quoting god-damn STAR TREK, by alluding to the greatest movie of them all. For starters the allusion is not comedic -- Tarantino is dead serious. And it is not coy and it is it oblique. Tarantino's START recalls Orson Welles' START in a BIG WAY because he wants his WHOLE MOVIE to recall ALL OF Citizen Kane. He is BEGGING for the comparison everyone else would go out of their way to avoid. "It's not Citizen Kane"? NO! Tarantino, says, this IS my FUCKING Citizen Kane. THIS WILL BE THE GREATEST PICTURE EVER SEEN, is his opening boast, made over the opening credits.

Other images in the Citizen Kane opening will figure later in Kill Bill -- the nurse, the flurry of snow. And both of those images, images at the END of the life of Charles Foster Kane, are images at the BEGINNING of the revenge quest of Thurman -- Elle Driver dressed as the nurse is one of the first conflicts Thurman must survive, and the snow falls during Thurman's first (chronological) battle in her revenge.

Citizen Kane begins with the end of its main character. We start with his death. But the death-like state of Thurman is ONLY THE BEGINNING of Tarantino's protagonist. Where Orson Welles' main character ends Tarantino's main character BEGINS. Kane is dead but Thurman only LOOKS DEAD. Advantage Tarantino.

In one of the ballsiest moves I can imagine, Tarantino figures the Death of Charles Foster Kane as one of those comic book cliffhangers where it seems like someone is dead -- and then at the very beginning of the next issue BAM! they were only faking it! Tarantino figures Kill Bill as issue 2 of Citizen Kane. Uma Thurman rises for her revenge, now possessed -- now BLESSED -- by the dying breath of Charles Foster Kane, and Citizen Kane, Patron Saint of All Films. And as she rises for her revenge, Tarantino begins his revenge on the movies that came before him. And like Thurman fighting Lucy Liu, he starts with the biggest and most obviously dangerous opponent. And also like Thurman, he appears to have no fear.


Mikey said...

I am enjoying these so much.

Geoff Klock said...

I am totally glad, especially since I have like 70 more clips in the que and more going up every week.

neilshyminsky said...

Echoing Mikey, these are crazy fun to read.

Geoff Klock said...

Neil -- Good!

Geoff Klock said...

Also -- Citizen Kane scrambles time to tell its story, as Kill Bill does.

plok said...

Oh man, I thought you were done! Fantastic that you're just getting started -- I live for long-form blog essays like these.

Geoff Klock said...

current clip count uploaded to youtube: 104