Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: His Girl Friday

The next part in my series looking at Tarantino's allusions in Kill Bill: my argument is that he alludes like Milton alludes in Paradise Lost -- to reinterpret the whole history that came before, and set his work up as the culmination.


[Cary Grant says "I've always been kind of particular whom my wife marries.]


[in the opening to volume 2, Bill says to Thurman that he has always been kind of particular whom his gal marries.]

Here Tarantino is not, I think, making a serious link between Kill Bill and the Screwball romantic comedy. Kill Bill performs "transumption" on many genres, but the Screwball romantic comedy is not one of them. He is not trying to "out-do" the screwball comedy in Kill Bill, in the way he is trying to out-do the Western by exposing it to it's samurai roots.

In fact I might argue that this is not an allusion Tarantino is making at all. This is an allusion that BILL is making. BILL, the character, has seen the movie His Girl Friday, and is quoting the film to The Bride, wryly discovering a line from the film to be appropriate to his present position.

You could argue that Bill will shortly bring to the surface the depth of feeling the line hides in His Girl Friday -- the jealousy that Cary Grant does not want to show. But of course Grant also shows his real emotion by the end. Grant of course does a lot in the course of His Girl Friday to spoil his ex-girl's upcoming wedding, including kidnaping her would be new mother in law. And he is eventually successful. Bill's also does immoral things to ruin his ex-girls wedding, but he really leaves the Screwball genre completely behind. It is too silly to call his a raising of the stakes. It is a total game changer that shows Tarantino is not trying to comment on the screwball comedy.

There may also be something to the fact that the Kill Bill scene is in black and white. The "classical" -- as embodied in His Girl Friday, one of those movies that embodies the "silver screen" -- is about to get smashed to pieces. The allusion establishes a kind of status quo that, because we know the rest of the film is in color, we know is about to get wrecked. It is an allusion that serves to raise tension. This black and white world can only last so long. Color is coming. And with it, Tarantino.

Maybe the most you could say is that Tarantino is sort of "name checking" all the film genres, just to show that he has considered them all. But he is not equally attacking them all. I think in this case it is much simpler: on the way to building his masterpiece, he pays tribute to one of his favorite films.

Although: we will return to this scene at least twice more, as we get to allusions to The Good the Bad and the Ugly and The Searchers. HIs Girl Friday is directed by Howard Hawks, director of John Wayne's Red River, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado. I don't think it is a coincidence that Hawks is alluded to just at the moment we get to these other major Western allusions, but more on that to come.

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