Thursday, February 03, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Highlander

I argue that Tarantino does not just steal from other movies but repurposes them, as Milton did with epic poetry and as you might with magazines, if you were making some kind of letter indicating you kidnapped some dude.

[The end of Highlander. Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown sword fight in a warehouse. The Warehouse is dark and they guys are not super well lit. There is a big window behind them and the only thing you can see through the window is blue light. You can see it here: CLICK HERE]


[Thurman fights guys against a background of abstract blue squares at the House of the Blue Leaves. She and the other fighters in in silhouette. You can see it in the trailer:


So last time I said that Tarantino was not doing much with the Samurai Fiction allusion, other than just sort of using it because it looked cool. But one thing he does do is change the color from red to blue. It seems like an inconsequential change -- until you see the final battle from Highlander.

Highlander is the story of a handful of sword-fighters, who can only be killed if their heads are cut off. They battle throughout the centuries till there is one left, till they get "the prize," which turns out to be like mystical knowledge to help humanity or something. We actually only see five immortal fighters in the movie, and two are throwaway characters. The Sean Connery character is really just a mentor for Christopher Lambert's Highlander, to teach him so he can defeat evil Clancy Brown in New York City. It was written by an undergraduate for a UCLA screenwriting class and then bought for $200,000. If you are writing a screenplay "Immortal unless the head it cut off" is the perfect rule to justify modern day sword-fights.

Clancy Brown, by the way, is also the bad guy from Carnivale. His satanic bad guy thing is really undercut by the fact that he a) has a distinctive voice and b) provides that voice for Mr Crabbs on Spongebob Squarepants.

Highlander is weirdly a predecessor to Kill Bill. You wouldn't think of it so much, in part because it is a fantasy movie, but there just aren't that many movies taking place in modern times where people are having massive sword fights, with Japanese swords, as Kill Bill and Highlander do. Like Kill Bill, Highlander has a rock and roll soundtrack -- HIghlander's is provided by Queen. Like Kill Bill, with is half-Chinese half Japanese Lucy Liu sword-fighting a white woman, Highlander is also cross cultural -- in the clip above Christopher Lambert is a Scottish guy using a Japanese sword he got from an Egyptian serving the Spanish court to kill a Russian.

Just after the lights are turned off in Kill Bill but before we go to the full on silhouette over colored squares thing, it does look a lot like the scene above in Highlander, which is the final battle: the dark figures fighting against a background of blue squares. Tarantino transitions through the very end of highlander Highlander, before filtering it through the very start of Samurai Fiction. He uses Highlander to justify coloring Samurai Fiction blue.

He connects Highlander, Samurai Fiction and Kill Bill as rock and roll samurai sword movies. Brothers in a way.

It certainly is not the most interesting link. This seems to be another instance of Tarantino incorporating references to other movies just to pump up the density, just to make the House of Blue Leaves be as encyclopedic as possible. The House of the Blue Leaves sequence, which you keep having to remind yourself is chronologically Thurman's fight, has something in common with all those doctoral dissertation introductions, where you survey the work done by scholars thus far, before bringing your thing to the table.

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