Thursday, May 26, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Navajo Joe

Tarantino's Kill Bill is almost like a collage of other movie moments. But not like a high school girl's best friends collage. Like one of those collages from early 20th century art or whatever by like Picasso or somebody (did Picasso do collages?). Like smart so that seeing all that shit arranged in that way really makes you think, you know?

Music plays at the start of the clip. Navajo Joe confronts Duncan, gets shot and throws a hatchet at him from like ten feet ending him. Different music plays to the end of the movie. You can hear the final music and see the hatchet here:

Thurman Kills a Crazy 88 by throwing at him the hatchet he threw at her.

Bad guy Duncan and his team massacre an indian village and scalp people. Navajo Joe, played by Burt Reynolds, kicks their asses. He also saves two hookers who know about Duncan's plot to collude with the town doctor to steal the town's money arriving by train. Navajo Joe will protect the town from Duncan and his men for money in exchange for scalps. He goes back and forth with Duncan but manages to steal the train, return it to the people, then go after Duncan because Duncan, it turns out killed his wife in the initial massacre. They kill each other. The end.

The scene above is the end of Navajo Joe, in which they kill each other. In that scene are three crucial things from Kill Bill.

For starters there is the hatchet, which shows up in Kill Bill. If you think it is a coincidence, notice this -- why would that one dude in the Crazy 88s even HAVE a hatchet when EVERYONE ELSE has samurai swords. The hatchet stands out and it stands out to bring up this movie at this moment. And it is only one of many Navajo Joe overlaps with Kill Bill.

The music at the start of the Navajo Joe clip above you can here more fully in this clip, which is an earlier scene where Duncan's men wait for Navajo Joe's attack:

The music from the start of the Navajo Joe clip above plays as Duncan's men are about to be attacked.

Just as it is used twice in Navajo Joe, it is used twice in Kill Bill -- both times in vol 2. It anticipates the showdown with Bill in the first Kill Bill clip from the opening of Vol 2. And it IS the showdown with Driver in the second clip.

The same music plays as Thurman narrates from her car at the opening of Kill Bill vol 2.

The same music plays just before the final clash of Driver and Thurman.

Let's talk about why. Take a look at this clip between Duncan and his Brother:

Duncan's brother calls him a "half-breed" and he smacks him.

Navajo Joe also kills Duncan's brother, and Duncan wants revenge. This is why Budd wants revenge on Thurman -- because she hurt his brother Bill. But there is something more important to notice here -- the accusation of "Half Breed." It echo's Lucy Liu's sensitivity to someone bringing up her mixed race status -- in both instances, if you bring it up you bring violence on yourself.
And just as Navajo Joe kills this half breed guy who killed his woman, so Thurman will kill her mixed race antagonist who robbed her of her child. And just before she confronts this mixed race woman we get a Navajo Joe reminder with the hatchet. And how is the mixed race Lucy Liu killed? She is scalped (by a Samurai sword).

But there is one final major Navajo Joe allusion left. The music that Navajo Joe ends with you can hear more fully in the opening credits, where Duncan scalps Navajo Joe's woman.

The music that ends Navajo Joe also starts it -- it is used in the opening credits as Duncan scalps a woman.

Watch where the Navajo Joe music gets used again.

That music plays as Bill walks out into his garden to die.

Navajo Joe music opens and closes Kill Bill Volume 2, and both the opening and closing music of Navajo Joe appear in Kill Bill. The music that ends Navajo Joe is the same music that ends BILL.

Why? Because Like Liu's character, whose death is preceded by a Navajo Joe reference, Caradine is also mixed race, and so we get the music that is used to end the mixed race guy in Navajo Joe to end Bill. Why does Bill's race matter? Because it was a big reason that he worked in Kung Fu the Television Show -- he is American enough, foreign enough. Unlike Bruce Lee who was far too foreign for American audiences. Now look at your killers. Thurman, a white woman who in volume one is the avatar for the Chinese Bruce Lee. And BURT REYNOLDS AS AN INDIAN. In both moments the mixed race actors, mixed race characters and/or cross race casting is an issue in both movies.

I hope I have sufficiently impressed you up to now, because honestly I am not quite sure where to go next. On the one hand I can see a narrative that involves Pure Bruce Lee vs Mongrel whatever, but as much as Tarantino is on the side of Bruce Lee he is really on the side of MIXING EVERYTHING, crossing cultural, racial and gender lines as he builds COOL. And I am reminded that accusations about Tarantino using the N-word in Pulp Fiction had a lot to do with this idea that he thought he could get away with the cross race thing himself, using a word reserved for blacks. Crossing these divides, for this white guy who loves Blacksploitation movies, is the marker of cool, of being with the in-crowd. I am not quite sure how this factors into Kill Bill, but if you will forgive a weak ending, I will promise to keep thinking about it. And of course you might want to help me out in the comments section.


jennifer said...

yes, picasso made collages. interesting post. i like the train of thought about the "mixed breeds". i am trying to think of someplace to bring the conversation. i will let you know when i get there....

jennifer said...

by the way, man, i wish i saw this movie with you. maybe you don't know, but i am always interested in seeing portrayals of american indians. always. if you have any other movies to watch with portrayals of american indians, you better call me!!