Saturday, November 19, 2011

Writting Off Script

A one minute twenty second trailer for a book I have an essay in. Totally BADASS that his book has a trailer. 

WRITING OFF SCRIPT Book Trailer from Morris Hill Pictures on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Hey! Jason Powell wants all your Claremont people to know about this thing, and goddammit that means I want you to know about it too:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hamlet Mash-Up, by Geoff Klock

And now for something completely different. I created a Hamlet Mash Up on YouTube: 65 clips from 65 different movies from or about Hamlet, and no clip longer than 23 seconds. Captain Picard, Billy Madison, Jack Skellington, and the cast of Gilligan's Island are among the 65. Enjoy, and share.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Grease

I continue to tell people that Kill Bill's debts to other films are totally intentional and interesting. Tarantino alludes to film history like John Milton alludes to poetic history. Because he wants to stake a big claim in the genre he is working in.


(from 1:00-1:10)

This is the song Grease Lightning from the musical Grease. Grease is a musical about a summer fling between a nice girl and a cool guy and whether than fling can translate into the rigid world of high school cliques in the 1950s.

About a minute in you will hear John Travolta call the car "a really Pussy Wagon." Thurman's car that she gets from buck is the prominently labeled Pussy Wagon.

Though the allusion here is slight I still think it worth talking about. For one thing Tarantino is obviously a huge John Travolta fan, and successfully revived his career for a minute in Pulp Fiction. Second, Tarantino is on record saying that people who do not like violence in movies are the same people who do not like dance sequences in movies. The musical is how he justifies his love of violence in purely aesthetic terms, just something very "cinematic," as he says. He is not making a social commentary. He is making a fun movie, a work of art, an aesthetic thing. So I think the allusion to Grease is actually kind of important given the orgy of violence that is about to follow.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


[From Troy Wilson!]

Comics legend, Stan “The Man” Lee, and Emmy award winning artist, Dean Haspiel, have joined forces to close out Panels for Primates with a bang. “Collaborating with Stan Lee is a dream come true,” says Haspiel. Their comic strip, Even Gorillas Have Pride!, viewable only at ACT-I-VATE from June 1st onward, can be found here:

Panels for Primates is a charity anthology of primate comics curated and edited by Troy Wilson and facilitated by Mike Cavallaro that has been updating with new material every Wednesday since October 2010 at ACT-I-VATE (, all to benefit the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, KY. Like every webcomic on ACT-I-VATE, the Panels for Primates archive can be viewed absolutely free. But if Panels for Primates readers like what they see, they are strongly encouraged to swing over to and make a donation.

Other prominent contributors include Fred Van Lente (Cowboys & Aliens), Mike Carey (The Unwritten), Rick Geary (Treasury of Victorian Murder series), Stuart Moore (Namor: The First Mutant), David Petersen (Mouse Guard), Colleen Coover (Gingerbread Girl), Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and Roger Stern (The Death and Life of Superman). In all, 56 generous creators from seven countries have donated 127 pages of all-new material for the cause.

The mission of the Primate Rescue Center is to alleviate the suffering of primates wherever it occurs by:

providing sanctuary or referral to appropriate facilities;

working to end the trade of primates both in the United States and abroad;

educating the public to the plight of primates caught in the breeder/dealer cycle;

assisting researchers and zoo personnel in finding appropriate placement for surplus primates;

encouraging compliance with applicable local, state, and federal laws and animal welfare statutes.

They currently provide lifetime care for 11 chimpanzees and over 40 monkeys.

ACT-I-VATE, the premiere webcomics collective conceived by Dean Haspiel, debuted February 2006, features original, serialized graphic novels, and is updated daily. ACT-I-VATE’s hand-picked artists produce their signature work sans editorial oversight and offer their personal comix for free to an ever-growing audience of loyal readers. The site is known for having lifted the veil between creation, creator, and reader by providing a forum for spirited dialogue between audience and auteur.

Stan "The Man" Lee has quite possibly exerted more influence over the comicbook industry than anyone in history. He created or co-created 90 percent of Marvel's most recognized characters, which have been successfully licensed and marketed since 1965.

His famous co-creations include Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Thor, and Iron Man, among many others. Lee, known to millions as the man whose superheroes propelled Marvel Comics to its preeminent position in the comicbook industry, first became publisher of Marvel Comics in 1972, and is presently the Chairman Emeritus of Marvel Enterprises, Inc. Lee is also the Founder, Chairman, and Chief Creative Officer of POW! Entertainment.

Emmy award winning artist, Dean Haspiel, created the Eisner award nominated BILLY DOGMA and the semi-autobiographical, STREET CODE. Dean has drawn many great superhero and semi-autobiographical comic books for major publishers, including graphic novel collaborations with Harvey Pekar, Jonathan Ames, and Inverna Lockpez, and illustrates for HBO's "Bored To Death."

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Lady Snowblood

Tarantino steals lots of stuff, sure, but in a good way. He takes from the past in order to write the future -- and Kill Bill is his bid for the future.


This clips has several other things mixed in as well, and the clips chosen are not always the best, but the Lady Snowblood ones are going to have to do. It is at 1:22, 2:22, and 5:21.

Lady Snowblood may be THE major influence on Kill Bill. The parallels are LOADS, some small and questionable, others FOR SURE. Here is a list

-- Female with a samurai sword hunting down several people for revenge one by one
-- she cuts someone's arm off
-- music
-- divided into chapters
-- the story is not told chronologically
-- the camera freezes at each bad guy, and they are labeled on screen with a name.
-- there is a hand drawn section
-- 4 figures, those upon whom she will take her revenge, loom in the exact same camera shot
-- a woman is having sex with a guy and kills him with a Samurai sword
-- there is a training sequence with an old man and a girl.
-- one guy begs for mercy because he has a daughter
-- she tells one of her victims "we have a little business to take care of" -- Thurman says "you and I have unfinished business."
-- there is a fight with her and the sword vs a bunch of guys and wire-fu leaps in order to get to her female prey.
-- the big showdown is at a party
-- she dies in the snow (sort of -- there is an epilogue where she gets up again, but it is clearly made to justify a sequel)

Some have gone as far as claim that Kill Bill is a remake of Lady Snowblood. This is going to far, but there are a lot of links.

Lady Snowblood is about a woman whose husband and son were killed and she was raped by three men. She gets revenge on one of them, but is sent to jail. In jail she has sex with everyone she can to get pregnant -- because her child will need to finish her revenge. That child grows up to be Lady Snowblood. She meets each villain and dispatches them but the first one has a daughter, and after she kills the last and is badly wounded in the process the daughter comes running up to her in the snow and stabs her. She dies in the snow but in an epilogue wakes up again because somebody smelled sequel.

Obviously Uma Thurman is Lady Snowblood in this equation. That is how we are to read the allusion. The parallels are numerous. This is Tarantino doing his version of Lady Snowblood. All the Kung Fu movies have this Japanese Chinese rivalry, and by aligning Thurman so heavily at the House of the Blue Leaves with both Bruce Lee and Lady Snowblood he is uniting Chinese and Japanese before taking both back to the American West for volume 2. Hence Lucy Liu's half-Chinese half Japanese American Army brat thing. It's like a metaphor for the whole movie.

But there is another way to look at the Lady Snowblood connection and that is to figure Lucy Liu as Snowblood. It is easy to forget but Lucy Liu's parents were killed and she took her revenge killing one guy in a bed while having sex with him. Lady Snowblood's parents were killed and her mother killed a guy in a bed while having sex with him. Also there is a flurry of Lady Snowblood references just as we begin the Origin of O-Ren as we see her face -- We see the four figures looming down at Thurman in a shot taken from Lady Snowblood, we the freeze frame on Liu's face and a label just as in Lady Snowblood, we transition to a hand drawn section just as Lady Snowblood does, and we get a chapter title just as in Lady Snowblood. And it is Liu in the traditional Japanese garb who will die in the snow as Lady Snowblood does (sort of), and who is killed by a woman she probably forgot all about, just as Lady Snowblood does.

In that second reading then the whole ramp at the House of the Blue Leaves, the battle with the crazy 88s and GoGo and more crazy 88s, all to get to Liu was really Tarantino fighting his way through all the movies that have influenced his project, taking each down quickly, before getting to the big one: Lady Snowblood. It is worth noting here the way Liu is killed -- scalped with a Samurai Sword. Again you get the Chinese-Japanese-America pattern -- Thurman, as the Avatar for Chinese Bruce Lee, takes down Japanese Lady Snowblood with a big American fuck you -- a scalping.

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.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Green Hornet

Quentin Tarantino has a point when he has bits of his movies look like other movies. He is remixing images with purpose, giving new life to things dead, reminding us of what is important, and making his story larger by connecting it to stories past -- while also revising those stories relationships to each other. John Milton did this is Paradise Lost with Virgil Homer and Dante and Tarantino does it with Bruce Lee, and Navajo Joe and Lady Snowblood.

You can here the song here:

Thurman's plane lands and the theme to the Green Hornet plays.

The Crazy 88s have masks like the one Kato wore in the Green Hornet. You can see this in the trailer:

This post is going to be a kind of placeholder. Though you are reading this in May I am writing in in January, just after the release of the Green Hornet movie. I cannot understand why the Green Hornet television show with Bruce Lee is not easily available on DVD. This is a bit worse than it normally would be because in addition to not being able to show you clips, I also have not seen the show. I would have skipped this one, but I think at least one connection is clear enough that I can talk about it without all the facts.

My sense is that The Green Hornet, the one from the 60s, is about a crime fighter whose sidekick is played by Bruce Lee. The sidekick's name in Kato.

Tarantino obviously intends to invoke the Green Hornet. The theme song for the show plays as Thurman lands, and the Crazy 88s all wear Kato masks. And of course when Thurman lands in Tokyo she becomes a kind of superhero -- a masked and costumed avenger taking down the bad guys.

A bit of an aside about the song. Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov originates in an opera from 1900. It is the music that is played as the prince is changed into a bumblebee to fly away and visit his father, who does not know he is alive. It is hard to imagine Tarantino quoting an opera through the Green Hornet TV show but that is exactly what he seems to be doing, as otherwise we will have to dismiss as coincidence that the big reveal at the end of the House of Blue Leaves sequence is that Thurman's daughter is still alive, though she does not know this.

The main point I want to make here is that obviously Bruce Lee is too awesome to be anyone's sidekick, and the reason he is a sidekick is obvious. There was a perception that people did not want to see an Asian guy in a lead role, but sidekick was ok. Lee found the role demeaning. He was so popular in Hong Kong the show was marketed there as The Kato Show, and even in America there was a TV series tie in coloring book called Kato's Revenge Featuring the Green Hornet. (Wikipedia is awesome).

The reason this link is so important I am putting it up with no clip and no experience of the show is that it completes a picture we have been putting together. Thurman is the avatar for Bruce Lee' spirit, as symbolized by the fact that she is dressed as Ultimate Bruce Lee, the Bruce Lee of Game of Death. As Lee, she fights many of the things that impinge on Bruce Lee's purity: fighters dressed as Kato the crummy sidekick; weak sauce Bruce Lee inheritor Jackie Chan as embodied by GoGo (who does the move Chan does in Shanghai Noon, a kind of total sell out movie). Thurman-as-Lee fights through settings and situations similar to those in Lee's movies (surrounded by the team of Japanese guys, fighting a Japanese Swordman, fighting in the garden -- as in Fists of Fury).

Thurman is linked to Lee because they share the same goal: the Takedown of David Carradine. She wants him because he shot her in the head. Lee wants him because he stole the lead role in Kung-Fu the television series from him, and maybe the idea for the show as well. And along the way all of film history -- from classic Samurai movies to Spaghetti Westerns to Italian Horror movies surround them, as they should. Because Lee DIED and CARRADINE GOT THE PART AND WAS TOTALLY SUCCESSFUL, and JACKIE CHAN IS FAMOUS, and LEE WAS KATO. If you imagine The House of the Blue Leaves as a kind of time travel story then what you are seeing is that in trying to go back and change film history to make Lee the winer (and of course to go back and change film history to make it into a ramp up to Kill Bill) THURMAN AND TARANTINO HAVE BROKEN TIME ITSELF and FILM CLIPS FROM MOVIES PAST ARE SHREDDED AND REARRANGED. This is the allegory of the House of the Blue Leaves.

Why does Tarantino need Lee to win? Because he needs Lee's power to defeat his own major influence -- Lady Snowblood. But that is for another day.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Yojimbo

Quentin Tarantino movies do look like he took scenes from other people's movies and put in a blender. But only if it is some kind of super-intelligent blender that does not blend randomly but places things next to each other to form a kind of careful commentary on where the foods are from and how they relate. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, also had such a blender.

A Japanese sword fighter looks out across the big road of a small town where dust swirls. He fights a gang. One guys yells and he yells at him and lets him run away. Here is the trailer:

Thurman fights and one of the Crazy 88s is revealed to her as very young. She spanks him with the sword and tells him This is what you get for fucking with Yakuza. Go home to your mother and he runs off.

Yojimbo is the story of a masterless Samurai who goes to a town where two gangs are at war. He pretends to be working with each of them, with the aim of getting them all killed and making the town a better place.

The scene above is from one of the last scenes in the film. Our hero is attacking the gang who have tortured him and hung up his only friend. Most of the bad guys are idiots -- particularly one guy, who yells "Mommy!" "Children shouldn't play with swords!" says our guy. "Go home to your mother and live a long life eating gruel."

This is pretty closely repeated in Kill Bill, as Thurman discovers one of the Crazy 88s is just this idiot kid and sends him back to his mother unharmed.

Tarantino may be sort of stealing the joke from Yojimbo, but in his hands the scene, while still a good bit of comic relief, is better -- because of course Thurman has missed out on raising children (she thinks) because the people she is revenging herself against took that away from her. The moment, while still broadly comic, fits into the story thematically, as it does not in Yojimbo.

Remember also that the Kill Bill clip above also alludes to Samurai Fiction -- a movie about a stolen sword, a movie that got the actual sword used in the filming from the legendary samurai actor Toshirô Mifune who is the star of Yojimbo. So there is a logic to going from Samurai Fiction to Yojimbo.

Yojimbo is also one of the great precursors for Kill Bill, just in terms of being this ground in which various genres and countries come into play. Yojimbo is a Japanese samurai movie with a plot very much in debt to Dashiell Hammett's Glass Key and Red Harvest, novels which were a big part of film noir (and also unofficially remade as Miller's Crossing, a film that as we will see is also alluded to in Kill Bill -- you see the same plot in Miller's Crossing, Yojimbo and Red Harvest -- the one guy who plays the gangs against each other). And I gave a long clip from Yojimbo above so you can see how much it is visually in debt to the cowboy films of John Ford. Then Yojimbo becomes the source itself for Clint Eastwood's Fist Full of Dollars. The hero in Yojimbo has no name, neither does Clint Eastwood's character in Fistful, neither does Thurman for most of Kill Bill. So Noir and Classic Westerns become Samurai stuff before becoming Spaghetti Western stuff. So anyone who wants to single out Kill Bill as being some kind of insane unjustified genre mash-up is pointed by Tarantino to Yojimbo -- and they are pointed to Yojimbo at a moment that also recalls Samurai Fiction and Highlander (a film which itself has a Scottish protagonist killing a Russian in New York City with a Japanese sword he got from an Egyptian working for Spain) -- JUST TO DRIVE THE POINT HOME. And of course Lucy Liu is SCALPED by a SAMURAI SWORD, the ultimate expression of east meets west. Film history has ALWAYS been one crazy mash up, Tarantino wants to say. He just celebrates the absurdity more than most.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Death Rides a Horse

Tarantino sure has seen a bunch of movies. And those movies often show up in his movies. They do so not because he does not have good ideas of his own. He does! It is just that, like John Milton in Paradise Lost, many of his good ideas area ABOUT the bunch of movies he saw. And so his film doubles as a commentary on the history of movies.

A note on the Death Rides a Horse clips -- the DVD was crazy low grade, like VHS taped off of formatted to fit your screen TV then transferred to DVD by monkeys. Sorry about that.

A group of masked guys kills a family while the youngest boy watches. One has a small skull necklace. They burn the place down and leave the kid alive. You can actually watch it all legally on Youtube: Here is the movie:

The family murder is in the opening minutes.

Lucy Liu's animated origin. A group of guys kills her family while she watches. One has a skull ring. They burn the place down and leave her alive.

John Law goes after Lee Van Cleef. Awesome music plays. They talk about the revenge Law wants and Cleef tells him Revenge is a dish best served cold. This scene is at 27 minutes in.

The same music plays as Thurman hacks off Sophie Fatale's arm.

John Law confronts a gambler. The screen gets shaded red and through the red filter you see the guy murdering his family. This is at 47:00

Thurman confronts Liu at the House of the Blue Leaves. The screen goes red and in the red filter we see her attacking Thurman in the chapel and looking down on her.

Death Rides a Horse is about a guy whose family was murdered in front of his eyes by a masked gang of bandits when he was a kid. So he grows up to get revenge. His name, no kidding, is John Law, not to put too fine a point on it. Meanwhile Lee Van Cleef gets out of jail and he also wants some payback -- from those same guys. Our hero and Van Cleef become mismatched buddies hunting down these dudes but it turns out that Van Cleef was actually part of the gang. Our hero decides not to kill him because he was so helpful and they part after everyone else is dead.

Death Rides a Horse is a major Kill Bill connection -- maybe, next to Lady Snowblood, the major connection. People talk about how Kill Bill is all about the Spaghetti Western, but Death Rides a Horse is the emblem of that genre for Tarantino. He will draw on Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good the Bad and the Ugly -- but it is Death Rides a Horse, a second string Spaghetti Western, that is the major representative of the genre, and a major structuring source for Kill Bill. As in his allusion to The Lodger rather than Psycho, he goes after smaller movies when he wants to suggest something big, a film that is more easily taken down.

The Death Rides a Horse allusions distinguish themselves in they way they combine with other allusions. Each allusion is an allusion to some other genre VIA Death Rides a Horse.

The first Death Rides a Horse scene above is the murder of the family at the opening. It is a dead ringer in a number of ways for Lucy Liu's origin. The family murdered while the child watches and survives to get revenge, one of the murderers wears skull jewelry and burns the house down. The scenes have the same running time. And a link is suggested between the Japanese school girl sword violence and the violence of the Western.

I grabbed, maybe stupidly, a moment where Thurman looks at a sword and thinks she can grab it in time, which happens in the same sequence of Death Rides a Horse above.

Thurman in Bill's house at the end goes for a sword on the TV. She eyes it before she goes for it, as in Death Rides a Horse.

That is probably too common to call an allusion, but again -- Samurai sword in place of the shotgun.

In the second scene from Death Rides a Horse our hero is chasing after Van Cleef to get info on the guys he is after -- guys they are both after. Van Cleef ditches him but not before giving him the same sage advice that appears in the epigraph to Kill Bill, the old Klingon proverb in Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan. Since Death Rides a Horse is a vital Kill Bill link, I can say with confidence that the epigraph filters Spaghetti Westerns through Science Fiction. This is one of Tarantino's big projects -- to link genres you would never link, to find connections between genres, to suggest a larger kind of history Kill Bill is a part of. Kill Bill thinks bigger than other movies. This is what makes it a "smart" movie. Very few movies think beyond their own genres.

But this is not even the only Kill Bill allusion in the scene -- nor the only allusion in the scene that asks us to link genres we would never normally link. The music that plays as our hero goes after Cleef in Death Rides a Horse is the same music that plays as Thurman calls out Lucy Liu and hacks off Sophie Fatale's arm. You will recall in an earlier post that I linked this moment to the Italian horror movie Tenebre. The Spaghetti Western is, of course, a cowboy movie filmed in Italy with Italian actors pretending to be Spanish, and Native America and whatnot. This moment in Kill Bill links up Italian Horror with the Italian Western. Kill Bill thinks about genres broadly, here connecting the violence in both genres to each other to justify his inclusion of both genres in Kill Bill.

And there is one more big Death Rides a Horse connection here. In the next clip I have above from Death Rides a Horse you see that when John Law confronting the first of the men who killed is family. The screen goes red and he has a flashback, in red, to the moment of the murder. He does this every time he first sees each those men again. The screen goes red and shows a flashback in red every time Thurman confronts someone on her Death List Five. Yet again another genre is suggested by the siren that goes off when the screen goes red -- the theme from Ironside that also appears in a Kung Fu movie.

So we get Star Trek, Tenebre, and Ironside (and the Ironside theme is coming via Five Fingers of Death) via Death Rides a Horse.

Tarantino is an especial fan of trailers -- in fact there is a Kill Bill allusion to Black Sunday that comes not from the movie but from a scene used only in the trailer. the trailer for Death Rides a Horse (which was not on the really low end disk I had), had a line like "The bandits who killed five defenseless people that night made one big mistake. They should have killed six."

The trailer is here:

Here the matching line from Kill Bill.

In the cartoon version of the chapel attack you see at the end of Lucy Liu's origin Thurman says they Kill 9 people that day, but they made one mistake: they should have killed ten.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Myth, Commerce, and Art in Julie Taymor’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

[An excellent guest-blog from Mitch!]

A couple of Sundays ago at the Foxwoods Theater, the Greek spider deity named Arachne kissed Peter Parker and asked, “Can you ever forgive me, Spider-Man?” Then, her immortal curse finally broken, she ascended into a pulsing cosmic projection of stars and simply blinked out of view.

So ended the run of Julie Taymor’s infamous, inscrutable, universally derided, dangerous, eccentric, and enthralling train wreck of a musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The 75 billion dollar money pit will return to Broadway for a June 14 opening, with many of Taymor’s more eccentric flourishes cautiously excised. Arachne’s mythological credentials are an apt example of the weighty theatrical pretension Taymor has smeared all over what could have been – and perhaps SHOULD have been – a by-the-numbers adaptation, so it is fitting that she, as Taymor’s in-story stand in, should ask for poor Spider-Man’s forgiveness; only it turns out she doesn’t need it. Healthy box office receipts suggest that the Spider-Man brand has survived Taymor’s bewildering machinations, and by the time the new movie comes out next year no one will give a second thought to the stylistic apocalypse he has endured (and inflicted upon others) in her version of the musical.

Which is actually kind of a shame to me, because even though it’s certainly a failure on practically every level, Taymor’s variation is the first purely artistic revision of the character in a long time.

Many mean things have been said about Turn Off the Dark, but few of its detractors have noted that it is at least genuinely fearless. And like with Ang Lee’s Hulk movie or Frank Miller’s Spirit movie, the utter lack of caution and external meddling is refreshing, even if the whole thing feels a little misguided. And it does. Much of the show seems to takes place in the space of a fever dream, where leaps in logic are common and events occasionally occur beneath Inception-like layers of illusion – Arachne uses her illusion-weaving talents to make Spider-Man believe a team of super villains have destroyed the world, but in actuality everything is totally fine. This seems to occur for no other reason than to prompt Spider-Man to first loose faith in himself and then regain it later. It doesn’t help that the super villains are introduced in the mode of a fashion show runway. All of this is justifiable, considering that Arachne is an illusionist (or “the only artist working today,” as she says on Taymor’s behalf), but makes a mess out of the stakes of the show. At other times, Taymor and co seem to have their story priorities confused. For instance, an entire song is allocated for Flash Thompson and the bullies to pick on Peter, but the only scene we get establishing Peter’s relationship to Uncle Ben and Aunt May is inter-cut with a scene about Mary Jane and her abusive dad.

Before I go any further I should point out two things. The first is that for a number of reasons, Spider-Man is an omnipresent figure in my own personal mythology. Despite this I have absolutely no emotional connection to him. Only a clinical, perhaps sadistic curiosity in how much he can endure as a piece of intellectual property. Something like Turn Off the Dark is exactly what I’m talking about. In the same way that Batman can be in the Frank Miller comic, the Brave and the Bold cartoon, the Christopher Nolan movies, and a porno parody of the Adam West show, Spider-Man, as a character, can appear on my infant son’s bib AND in a live stage show where he is seduced by an ancient spider deity with a shoe fetish without being wholly compromised. Spider-Man endures. This is mystifying to me. This durability just isn’t there in other licensed characters, I’m thinking of like Shrek, for instance. Hell, Green Lantern probably won’t even come out of his own straightforward movie adaptation unscathed.

The second thing is that I am also a theater critic, but not the sort of critic who usually has any business reviewing a multi-million dollar Broadway musical. I typically review non-linear, experimental performance arty things in small black box theaters downtown. In this case, I needed to speak up though, because Turn Off the Dark is just a few quirks away from a typical off-off-broadway performance piece, only with an inflated budget and a widely recognizable central property.

Being a theater person, I can see what Taymor is up to. As someone who probably never read a comic before, I suspect the only way she could wrap her head around the idea of Spider-Man was to think about it in terms of Greek mythology. Because if there is one thing we pretentious theater people love, it’s Greek shit. So what we get here is Spider-Man (and to another extent the “super hero” in general) as modern mythology – not necessarily a new idea, but one that Taymor runs with and never looks back. Contemporary manifestations and discussions of fate, obsession, the drive for immortality, and determinism litter the script, with mixed results. For instance, a discussion about free will is confused because one character thinks they are talking about the movie, Free Willy – a joke so adorably bad that you can’t help smiling about it.

So with that, I return to my previous statement, which might seem a little dramatic – that Taymor’s revision of the Spider-Man story is the most significant, purely artistic rendering of it in a long time. But if you look at every “new” version of Spider-Man in the past couple of decades and consider only the reason for each version, it becomes clear that each one was motivated only by sales or marketing. The “Ultimate” version of the character, for instance, was a successful attempt to bring in fresh readers. All the animated series and movies were in essence extended advertisements for licensed products. This is not to say that a significant amount of artistry and vision didn’t go into each of these adaptations, just that the motivating force behind them was commercial. I like the comic writer Dan Slott, but when it comes down to it his job is to write the most safely bankable Spider-Man book he can, so that people continue to buy and talk about the book. This is the jaded truth about Spider-Man, his real secret identity: Spider-Man is a mechanism that exists only to make money.

Taymor was certainly out to make money with Turn Off the Dark, having invested some of her own in the production, but clearly aimed much higher than mere blockbuster commercial success. Otherwise, why not just redo the first Spider-Man movie straight down the line? The flying and technical spectacles of the show, which despite the highly publicized difficulties are truly stunning to behold, would surely have been enough to make lots of money. Why not just do the “canonical” Spider-Man story? This must have occurred to Taymor, because she has a lot of fun with it in the narrative. Four characters known as the “Geek Chorus” narrate the story, debating throughout which of Spidey’s escapades warrant inclusion in their definitive Spider-Man story. Her conclusion seems to be that there is no definitive Spider-Man story – only an infinite number of riffs on a core myth. “Did Peter Parker have a special destiny or was he just like everyone else?” one of the Geeks asks, a question I have heard real-life geeks mull over. Taymor’s Geek’s answer is funny, pointing out the futility of such discussions: “He was more like everyone else than anyone else and that’s what made him special.”

Taymor has a stand-in in the Geek Chorus as well, in the form of the Geek’s only female member, Miss Arrow. At one point Miss Arrow casually invents a new villain for the story, a horrendously stupid robot-looking character called Swiss Miss, who is apparently some kind of mutant Swiss Army knife with breasts (played by a male actor, no less). “You can’t just make up a new villain, ” the other Geeks say, appalled. “I just did,” is Arrow/Taymor’s sneering response. She is obviously willing to kill a few fatted calves and break the pre-established rules to get to something new. Even Uncle Ben’s immortal line “With great power comes great responsibility” has been streamlined into the more ballad-friendly “Rise Above.”

Aside from Swiss Miss, the aesthetic is typically pretty immense and spectacular. In one scene at the beginning Arachne’s spider-girls swing back and forth on tapestries to weave this HUGE web out of fabric. It’s simple, but beautiful aerial choreography that goes on just long enough for you to appreciate it. Again – NOTHING to do with Spider-Man, but man did it look good. The cityscapes, which zoom in at hard, dynamic angles or open up out of each other like pages of comic books, and Spider-Man’s interaction with them, are equally impressive. The cast is mostly serviceable, with the exception of Patrick Page, who plays the Green Goblin as a vampy southern drag queen chicken-thing. I know how it sounds, but you really can’t take your eyes off of him. The music by U2 has gotten worse press than it deserves, I think. It’s fairly standard musical music, which always sounds the same to me unless it’s really, really good.

Overall, the experience was worthwhile, and trying to wrap my head around all the problems with the show led me down a lot of fun mental rabbit holes, like does the intent or motivation behind a piece of art really matter? The second Spider-Man movie, for instance, was made purely to make money and sell toys, but it still turned out pretty great. Turn Off the Dark was made to say something new about Spider-Man, to push the limits of theatrical staging, to consider the Super Hero in the context of Greek mythology, and a dozen other admirable goals, but turned out to be, at best, a parody of its own botched designs. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Ironside

John Milton quotes epic poetry and comments on the history of the genre in Paradise Lost, placing himself as the culmination of a tradition. Tarantino does the same thing in Kill Bill, except instead of quoting Homer he quotes, you know, like Ironside.

The siren wails as the opening theme music for Ironside. You can hear it here.

The same siren wails as she confronts Lucy Liu for the first time since getting out of a coma.

Ironside is a TV show in which Perry Mason plays a cop who gets shot and put in a wheelchair. I assumed that he was called Ironside because of the chair but it turns out, no, his name is just Ironside. So he get together a special task force of three people and ride around in a van and solve crimes. It is actually a lot like House, with the cranky with a heart of gold crippled team leader, a black guy and white guy and a white girl.

Tarantino ganks the siren theme song thing for the moment when Thurman sees her foes for the first time since getting out of her coma.

The shot and left for dead guy seeing revenge is the major link between Ironside and Thurman. But the standard thing Tarantino does when he juxtaposes Thurman with other heroes is to always point out how she is superior (except in the case of Bruce Lee). There is always a sort of a "Oh your guy can beat up ten guys? My girl can beat up 60." Mason is crippled and looking for revenge from being shot in the back. Thurman is walking around after being shot in the head. Mason needs a team of guys? Thurman needs no one.

As a side note like three years ago I saw a movie called Five Fingers of Death, a Shaw Brothers kung fu flick. When he confronted bad guys in that movie the movie stole the theme from Ironside which was used the way Tarantino used it. I am still working on getting that movie to see if there is more to say than this, but I just wanted to give a heads up.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jason Powell's Invader: I Hardly Knew Her: Kickstarter!

Hey -- do you guys remember when Jason Powell blogged like a million free blogs about the X-Men for you guys and you guys read them and he never asked you for money or anything and just did it out of the kindness of his X-Men obsessed heart? Do you remember Jason Powell wrote a musical that I totally reviewed? Didn't you wish you could have been in New York to support him by going? Wouldn't you support him now given the chance?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Fist of Fury

"Tarantino just steals from other peoples movies! That's bullshit." It's not bullshit and its not stealing -- it is allusion, in which one artist, John Milton in Paradise Lost for example, uses his work as a way of thinking though the whole genre again.

Bruce Lee fights a bunch of Japanese guys. He is surrounded by them, they make a circle, and he makes a flourish and they all flinch back collectively. You can watch it here:

Thurman is surrounded by Crazy 88s. They make a circle. She makes a flourish and they all flinch collectively. You can see it in the trailer

Bruce Lee fights a Japanese guy with a Samurai Sword and then exits into a garden. You can see it here:

Thurman fights guys indoors and goes into a Japanese garden.

Because of some wacky Three's Company style mix-ups the Bruce Lee movie clipped above is known by three titles: Fist of Fury and The Chinese Connection (and also The Iron Hand). The Chinese Connection was intended to be the new title of a different Bruce Lee movie, The Big Boss, to make it seem like the awesome Gene Hackman movie The French Connection (both are about drug connections), but something went wrong. Just to be extra confusing the Big Boss in the US was called Fists of Fury. The point is if you think you have seen all the Bruce Lee movies maybe you did not because the titles are super confusing to keep track of.

Fist of Fury is a Bruce Lee movie that takes place in the early 20th century. It takes place in an international settlement in Shanghai, which kind of confused the hell out of me. So even though Shanghai is a Chinese city, because of the weird politics, which I think have to do with the British taking over the world with the cunning use of flags, somehow the Japanese are a big deal there and can discriminate against the Chinese even though the city is in China. Anyway. Bruce Lee goes back to his martial arts school to marry his girl and finds the head teacher dead. Japanese students immediately show up and start insulting the Chinese. Lee goes to their school where he is super-cordial. Wait. No. He beats them all up single-handedly. The Japanese school retaliates and make Lee a wanted man. Lee goes on the run but also finds the guys who killed his master and hangs them, Spiderman style, from a lamp-post. The Japanese guys raid the Chinese school and kill dudes. Bruce Lee goes to the Boss's house for a showdown, where before he gets to the boss he fights a Russian Guy Mini Boss. In the end he turns himself in but then goes for a flying kick out the door and dies Butch and Sundance style.

In the first clip Lee is going over to the Japanese school to show them what he thinks of their insulting sign. In the second clip he is making his final assault on the bad guy compound.

As in Kill Bill (and Duel to the Death) in Fist of Fury there is a Chinese-Japanese rivalry being invoked. I went over the Chinese v Japanese thing in Kill Bill in the Duel to the Death post. Two more specific things stand out.

First the scene in which Lee is surrounded by Japanese fighters. They circle him, he makes a flourish, and they sort of all flinch. It is an overhead shot, and he is standing on squares, the practice mats I think. The scene in Kill Bill is very similar -- Thurman is surrounded by Japanese fighters there is an overhead shot, she is standing on squares (the lattice of the glass floor) she makes a stance and they all flinch. And if course the connection is stronger because she is dressed as Bruce Lee -- in Game of Death. I should have also let each clip run longer -- in both the heroes handle the large number of guys by getting down on the floor and going after the legs.

The second connection is much more weak I think. The space is similar. The fighting with lots of guys in the house with the big rooms before going to a very peaceful garden outside to fight one on one with a guy. (I should have gotten a better clip -- this clip is after the fight with the lots of guy but before the one on one fight with the Russian in the garden. I think I was trying to just get the transition, but I could have done better). The thing is the more I see these movies the more it seems like this kind of house setup with the garden is pretty standard, at least in movies, and of course so is the fight 100 guys, fight a mini-boss, then fight the boss structure. And the garden is a good place for a showdown. So maybe this is not as strong a connection as it could be. What does stand out to me is Bruce Lee vs a Japanese Swordsman. Thurman, Lee's avatar in the House of the Blue Leaves, of course also faces Japanese Swordsmen.

But the effect is that the House of Blue Leaves is permeated with the Bruce Lee -- Thurman is dressed as him, the scene reminds us of Bruce Lee fight scenes. Tarantino is not trying to overthrow Lee so much as he is trying to imbue his main character with Bruce Lee spirt as she starts her journey. Bruce Lee is like Virgil to her Dante, Obi-Wan to her Skywalker -- except Tarantino does not want the guiding spirit to be external. She embodies Lee, dressing as he dressed and walking where he walked, and fighting as he fought. With Lee only is there a bit of submission to the past -- but it is only temporary, as the Bride will leave Bruce Lee behind after the House of the Blue Leaves. He is but one master.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Tarantino steals from other movies, sure, but he has a GOOD REASON. He is using other movies to makes comments on the history of the film, the history of film leading up to his movie, which is retroactively figured as the best one in the new, Tarantino penned history of the worldwide action movie. Which is basically what Milton was doing when he quoted Dante and Virgil and Homer and the Bible right?

A woman dressed as a man fights in a tea shop with 15 guys for 2 minutes, making wire leaps to upper levels and at one point avoiding a dart with a red flag on it. Here is the fight:

Thurman avoids a dart with a red flag on it thrown by Lucy Liu

Thurman's fight with the crazy 88s. 50 guys. 8 minutes.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is about these two serious fighters with no time for love even though they love each other, and a young woman who wants to be a fighter and be with her non-parent-approved boyfriend. She knows martial arts because her woman in waiting is this major baddie our fighters are after. A stolen sword kicks the whole thing off, and it ends with our male fighter dead, never having loved, the baddie dead, and our young woman in some kind of magical ending that never made a ton of sense to me, but it seems sort of tragic and uplifting at the same time. There is a story that if you make a wish and jump of the cliff the wish will be granted, and our young woman jumps off. But this is a little confusing to me in a movie where people can basically fly, and also she asked someone else, the boyfriend, to make the wish (which I think was to be with her in the desert again), and we don't know what her wish, if any, was, and I don't think you can wish for yourself since I think your death is the price of the wish. I don't really remember this well enough to even be writing about it and there is no Kill Bill connection with this scene anyway so MOVING ON.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was this big thing, maybe you heard. Won a ton of awards, highest grossing foreign film in America, got everyone interested in martial arts movies (it was the first one I ever saw, but I was not that impressed -- I DID NOT KNOW ENOUGH TO WATCH MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE). It was choreographed by the guy who choreographed the Matrix -- and who went on to choreograph Kill Bill.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon seems to my untrained eye to be very Western, like a romance novel with martial arts in it. The whole "the most important thing is to shirk your responsibilities and follow your heart" thing does not seem at all like, say, Hero, which ends very PRO-STATE AND DUTY. I read a story once about how in China Bridges of Madison County was very well received. In America it was a tragedy about two people who had too much baggage to live their lives for love; the Chinese saw it as a moral and uplifting movie about two people who put aside personal feelings for each other to return to their duty. I don't really know enough about this to make definitive statements, but Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon just rings a little strange to me, and maybe this is why.

To start with the dart. In Kill Bill it seems like Lucy Liu has some samurai spider sense thing -- she senses danger even though there is no real evidence of danger and throws a dart with a red flag in the direction of the danger she senses. That same kind of red flag dart thing appears in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in the big tea shop battle, but there it seems more like a weapon. Maybe it was supposed to be a weapon for Lucy Liu as well and she just missed because the Bride leapt to the ceiling, because she has her own spider sense? I am not so sure what to do with this connection, if that is what it is.

In Crouching Tiger our young woman character runs away, dresses like a boy and gets into a fight at a 2 level tea shop with a bunch of guys. In Kill Bill Thurman dresses like a boy (Bruce Lee) and gets into a fight at a two level Japanese club thing with a bunch of guys. And both films feature that wire-fu thing where characters can make these lighter than air impossible leaps. That is of course a whole genre of movies, and we have already seen it in Duel to the Death for example, and Master of the Flying Guillotine. But because this is the only part of Kill Bill where Thurman does wire-fu and the setting looks so much like the Crouching Tiger tea shop, and Crouching Tiger was a big movie that introduced the wire-fu thing to American audiences, and the choreographer is the same on both films, it makes me think this is the link.

The fight scenes are similar, and my sense of it is that Tarantino is pumping up the volume on Crouching Tiger, making a similar 15 minute sequence where Crouching Tiger had a scene of less than 2 minutes. Tarantino says "lighter than air yeah, but also crazy bloodshed." He says "girl dressed as boy has fight with a bunch of guys in a two level club -- I can do that better."

There is a moment in the Crouching Tiger scene above where she cuts a guy in the mouth, an unusually violent moment in the movie and a uniquely violent moment in the scene -- no one else really bleeds I don't think or expresses pain beyond "Ooof! I just got hit." Tarantino of course also includes a violent mouth slice, one that he clearly connects to one of the most violent movies ever -- Ichi the Killer, as we have seen. Crouching Tiger was embraced by American audiences as a lovely date film because it has martial arts for the guys, but for the girls it not too violent and has a solid story of tragic love -- this is the classic formula for financial success in Hollywood: appeal to at least two of the four big groups: young men, old men, young women, old women. Tarantino juxtaposes this audience pleasing award winning classy film with a film that basically appeals to no one: Ichi the Killer is such a sadistic movie even I had trouble with it and I watch violent movies all the time. The point of the juxtaposition? Placed in Kill Bill we see that Kill Bill rises above both -- Kill Bill hits Crouching Tiger for a lack of blood and Ichi for a lack of human characters. Kill Bill of course has both -- in part because it has taken from both.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Duel to the Death

I continue in my quest to save Tarantino from the eight people in the world who say he is not a real filmmaker but a rip-off artist. It is my point that a Tarantino allusion is like a John Milton allusion -- a quotation you are supposed to notice, with an aim toward increasing the power of the work it is embedded into.

[A ninja leaps up in a room and grabs the rafters with his hands and feet so someone will not see he is there. He is like pressed into the ceiling]

[Thurman does this movie when GoGo goes looking for her]

a guy is unrealistically split in half with a samurai sword, cut from head to crotch so he splits into two even halves.

Thurman cuts a guy into two equal parts in the same way.

Duel to the Death is a 1983 Hong Kong movie about a duel to the death between a Chinese fighter and a Japanese fighter that the countries set up every ten years because they totally hate each other or whatever. If there is one thing I have learned from watching these martial arts movies it is this: The Chinese and Japanese, however much our pan-Asian cuisine may suggest otherwise, are not pals. Our Chinese guy is a nice guy. The Japanese guy way more intense. The Japanese powers-that-be send a bunch of ninjas, working with some Chinese, to rig the fight so their guy will win and kidnap some dudes. Our guys team up as mismatched buddies to fight for the honor of this duel, which they both think should be fair. They beat the ninjas, and then fight each other, and both are mortally wounded in the end. It is one of the better martial arts movies I saw, unrealistic in a fun way.

In the first clip above you see the hide in the ceiling beings move, which also occurs in Kill Bill. The Japanese guy is looking for one of the ninjas. In the second clip you see a guy cut down the middle with a sword head to toe, a move that also features in Thurman's fight with the Crazy 88s. That is the Chinese guy getting a ninja.

There is of course a general thematic Kill Bill connection here as Japanese sword-fighting comes into conflict with Chinese sword fighting. You will recall that Lucy Liu's character's half-Chinese status is a problem with a Japanese boss and she cuts his head off. You will recall that Gordon Liu is Chinese leading a team of Japanese sword guys. And you will recall that because of the Game of Death allusion Thurman is an avatar for the Chinese Bruce Lee who is in Japan fighting Japanese sword guys. Duel to the Death justifies the martial arts mix-up/mash-up, and the cultural one as well.

The hide in the ceiling thing is pretty common I guess. I am not sure how common but I have seen it before I would think. It may be too common to really make a point about.

But the splitting the guy down the middle thing is more specific. With the Paradise Lost examples from the introduction to this project we saw Milton arranging allusions in a line, allowing them to comment on each other. Homer's use of the metaphor of the leaves for example is placed against Isaiah's use of the leaves, and of course for Milton the Greeks no matter how awesome always lose to BIBLICAL FUCKING TRUTH. The clip above, which I showed last time, alludes to Ichi The Killer.

Ichi cuts a guy into two parts from head to crotch.

I feel strongly that it does. When you place it in with the clip from Duel to the Death a commentary on the films emerges. Ichi's uber-violence is placed in a context -- a context that includes martial arts movies. Something of Ichi's originality is lost when it is placed against Duel to the Death. Yeah the dude getting split in half is shocking, Tarantino seems to say, but it is not like no one did that before. Get over it. Of course this takes from Tarantino's originality as well (if you know your Bloom this move is called Kenosis) -- but as this is a split second in Kill Bill, and a major set piece in Ichi, Tarantino can take the hit that Ichi takes less well. And of course the argument is made -- Duel to the Death is used to weaken Ichi so Kill Bill will overtake Ichi in terms of being a kickass uber-violent movie. Ichi is one of a handful of films competing for this particular prize and this is how Tarantino handles it.

Advantage Tarantino.


This is not really a part two but detritus. When I started this project I was looking for predecessors for Thurman's walk in the hot sun, and found one in Duel to the Death. But it is kind of silly -- a million movies do that. Trying to talk about that scene as an allusion is like saying Spawn's cape is an allusion to everyone who wears a cape. It is sort of true, but such a standard genre thing it is kind of outside the scope of this project. I could collect 30 clips of guys walking in the hot sun, but I am not really sure what that would get us.

Samurai walks in the big lens flair sun across the desert toward the camera.

Thurman does the same.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Ichi the Killer

Tarantino makes bits of his movies look like bits in other peoples movies. He is not a plagiarist -- far from it. He wants to remind you of other movies because he is conversation with other filmmakers, often figuring how to trump them, even his buddies.

Special warning on this post: Ichi the Killer is famously one of the most violent movies ever made. The clips below reflect some of that.

a guy turns around and smokes a cigarette. he has big slits in his cheeks and the corners of his mouth are held together with piercing. When he blows the smoke out it comes out of the slits not his mouth.

A guy has a heel with a short blade in it. He does this fast move at this dude. The dude is shocked and says something brief. Then he unrealistically splits in two from head to crotch. You can see some of this here but be warned it is extremely violent:

In her fight in the House of the Blue Leaves with the Crazy 88s Thurman slices through a guys cheeks then immediately cuts a guy down the middle from head to crotch splitting him into two halves.

Ichi the Killer, directed by Takashi Miike, is a story of gang warfare. Ichi is a "murder savant" as my friend Tim puts it. He has a handler, who has him sort of brainwashed, and who sends him at targets, members of his old gang. Ichi can only get sexual satisfaction from sadism -- in one of the most crazy scenes the opening title rises from a pool of his ejaculate after he watches a woman get beaten and raped. Ichi kills a boss but it is cleaned up so it appears the boss disappears. The boss's right hand man Kakihara goes looking for him, by torturing lots of people, including people in his own gang. Kakihara is a very brutal sadist and a masochist who longs to be tortured as he tortures others. When he catches wind of Ichi he becomes very excited that this super killer could finally bring him the pain he wants. But their meeting is a total anti-climax as Ichi breaks down crying and Kakihara does not get the duel he wants. What happens after that does not make much sense (Kakihara hallucinates Ichi attacking him and kills himself, but then is alive later unhurt and someone hung the handler?). You watch it for the crazy killings.

The scenes above feature the first time we see Kakihara, as well as Ichi killing the guy who was beating and raping a woman. How he was able to inflict that wound with a blade in his heel that looks to be an inch long I really don't know, and it is part of what makes the scene funny. One of the things I don't like about Ichi is how it combines realistic violence such as women being beaten and raped, and this kind of wacky crazy violence. I want just wacky crazy violence thank you.

Tarantino really enjoys the films of Takashi Miike. I had not expected much of a connection to Kill Bill really -- Ichi is a violent film, Kill Bill is a violent film, and naturally there was going to be some coincidental overlap, as we have seen in past movies involving arm severing (Tenebre) and eyes bleeding (City of the Living Dead), both kinds of violence that show up in Kill Bill. But the Ichi connection turned out to be a real one, one that seems to me to be deliberate. The two most memorable things about Ichi the Killer are Kakihara's mouth slits and the dude that gets sliced in half top to bottom. So I don't think it is a coincidence that in the melee at the House of the Blue Leaves Thurman cuts a guy's cheeks open leaving him with slits in both (a very unusual and unexpected wound you would not expect in the scene), and then immediately and impossibly cuts a dude in half top to bottom. In a battle where she kills like 60 guys two examples of Ichi-trademark violence are right next to each other.

This re-incorporation of two images from Ichi takes a problem in Ichi and addresses it. Ichi is known almost exclusively for its violence. Tarantino takes what works in Ichi and gives it a context that works better than the non-voilent parts of Ichi. He gives it a story that makes more sense, with more human and believable characters. He takes what works in Ichi and leaves what does not work behind. He says "hey, I love me some splatter but wouldn't it be better if that splatter was a part of a movie that had more sympathetic characters, so you did not spend the non violent parts of the movie waiting to get back to the violence?" I think it is actually a very powerful revision, one that both celebrates Ichi and also demolishes it, which is kind of what I expect allusion to do when used properly.


There is to my eye another bit lifted from Ichi for the same reason:

A man in tortured -- his cheeks are pulled very hard away from his body by two people. The flesh is unrealistically stretched.

Thurman bites the lip of her rapist and the flesh is unrealistically stretched.

In the Ichi clip Kakihara continues to investigate what happened to his boss through torture. Tarantino takes and uses the stretchy-flesh violence in Kill Bill for a rape scene, which something Ichi returns to again and again. I feel like you don't see stretchy-flesh violence that often. Except Tarantino's revision of Ichi is that the woman is able to save herself, something that does not happen in Ichi, where the woman who is saved by Ichi is immediately and non-sensically killed by Ichi. Tarantino is all about having his women be in the same position as other film characters but giving them lots of agency and control and general kick-assery.

In Kill Bill Tarantino gives Thurman access to the kind of extreme violence Kakihara and Ichi inflict, as well as the violence that was inflicted on Kakihara. She is the inheritor and controller of a great tradition of extreme violence as Tarantino is.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Tokyo Drifter

Tarantino studies 101. First lesson. Tarantino allusion are like Milton's allusions: they have a point. And the point of an artist is always the same. To be the best.

A guy is escaping through like the bowels of this building that is a club. Part of the ceiling above him is glass -- the glass of the club where you can see people dancing. You see the soles of their shoes. Here is the trailer:

Thurman walks toward Liu in the dance club and there is a shot of her shoes from the bottom.

Tokyo Drifter is about a yakuza gang that disbands. The other side tries to hire our guy but he refuses, and lives the life of a wanderer. Assassins get involved, our man's former boss to whom he has absolute loyalty betrays him, more assassins, our guy kills everybody, and lives the life of a wanderer, ditching even his girlfriend.

In the clip above our man is escaping the a club where he was held captive.

Tokyo Drifter is a fantastically stylish movie, wacky 60s pop art style. Looks like this, often:

One of the stylish points is that the the club our man is at, Japanese obviously, has a see through floor not unlike the floor of the Japanese club in Kill Bill.

There is even a team of sword-fighters running around a place that looks a lot like The House of the Blue Leaves, but there seem to often be spaces like that in Japanese movies. The abstract use of color is a bit like the Highlander-SamuraiFiction thing in Kill Bill, but not really. At one point our guy goes into a Cowboy style saloon, so you could draw another connection to Kill Bill which also features Japanese swords and Cowboy stuff, but it does not seem crazy significant. Also modern music and sword fights I guess.

Modern music and a bunch of sword fighters in a space that looks similar to the House of the Blue Leaves.

The connections are not super strong, but there you go. I know the director is a favorite of Tarantino's, but I don't have much specific to say. I would love to say something about the linkage between Tokyo Drifter and Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger but I don't really have anything. They can't all be winners.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx

I continue my weekly look at movies that have influenced Kill Bill. It is my opinion that Tarantino positions his film in relation to these other films in canny ways.

[A samurai is attacked by three women and he quickly slashes at all three. When he puts the blade away they all three fall over dead. You can see it at 1:20 here ]

[Thurman faces off against three fighters at the House of the Blue Leaves. She strikes all three quickly and when she hits the hilt of her sword they all fall over dead. ]

[Samurai kills a guy getting his blood on the camera]

[Sophie Fatale's severed arm gets blood on the camera.]

Lone Wolf and Cub is a manga series as well as a series of movies about a disgraced samurai who used to be the Shogun's executioner. He was framed for treason and his pregnant wife murdered. But he was able to save the kid and now they travel together as he earns money as a freelance assassin, to eventually get revenge.

In the first clip above Lone Wolf is targeted for assassination by a clan of female assassins working for the guy who made it look like Lone Wolf was a traitor. In the second Lone Wolf carries out the assassination he was hired for.

Most of Baby Cary at the River Styx was used, along with some footage from Sword of Vengeance to make the American version Shogun Assassin. Shogun Assassin is the movie BB wants to watch with Thurman -- WAY to violent for a normal little girl as you can see. The intro from Shogun Assassin is also sampled at the beginning of Liquid Swords, the best of the Wu-Tang clan spin-offs, and one I think superior to Enter the Wu-Tang. Liquid Swords is produced by The RZA who did music for Kill Bill.

And of course Lone Wolf and Cub directly related to Kill Bill as it is about an assassin and child, which is what Thurman and BB are at the end. I have said that Master of the Flying Guillotine justifies Bill sequel as it features a blind killer and a one armed one, as Driver and Fatale are blind and one armed. Lone Wolf and Cub provides further justification for this point, as it features an assassin with a kid. And of course Tarantino has made the two males female as is his way.

The allusions in the clips above are both very arguable. As in Kill Bill three opponents are struck and then fall when the sword is hit (put back in the saber in Lone Wolf). Tarantino has reversed the genders of the characters involved, which is what he always does (and there are female Crazy 88s -- they are just not victims of this move).

Blood on the camera is not unique in cinema, but I grabbed it anyway, just because Lone Wolf and Cub obviously important to Kill Bill thematically.

If we do want to say this is an allusion, than it is a simple one -- part of that "establish that you have done your research thing" that is so pervasive in the House of the Blue Leaves.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Tenebre

My project of following Tarantino's allusions to other movies in Kill Bill rolls along. Tarantino's action movie surveys the history of trash cinema as Milton surveys the history of epic poetry -- through quotation, which is then interpreted.

Special note on this one. Normally I don't care about spoiling movies from the 80s but Tenebre is particularly awesome and has a particularly big secret, a secret revealed in the clip below, and in the discussion. And Tenebre only has a very arguable Kill Bill link. It is a hyper violent Italian crime movie in the DePalma mode. If you don't care move ahead, but I wanted to give you the chance to see Tenebre spoiler free.

Also I have never warned about the extreme violence in these clips I put up. Perhaps I should? I guess I assume if you are watching clips that relate to Kill Bill you expect to see violence, right? But extreme violence below.

[A woman gets her armed severed by a hatchet and blood sprays everywhere.]

[a detective looks around an empty room. He sees a handkerchief on the ground. When he bends down to pick it up we see that someone is standing DIRECTLY behind him and that he was blocking our view of that guy 100%. The guy kills him with an axe.]

Sophie Fatale is directly in front of Thurman, blocking Liu's ability to see her. She moves to the side and cuts her arm off.]

Tenebre is the story of a series of gruesome murders taking place in Italy. The murders mirror the murders in a popular novel and the novelist, who is visiting Italy, gets in on the investigation. It is directed by Dario Argento, who has been called the Hitchcock of Italy, though he seems to be more Brian DePalma to my eye, in part because DePalma uses some of his tricks -- including the trick in the second clip above, as you may remember from Raising Cain. These horrific Italian crime movies are called Giallos (Italian for "yellow" -- it refers to the color of the pulp books that inspire the genre). I did not expect to like them but they are awesome. Tarantino converted me to a fan of this whole genre.

The first clip comes at the end of the movie. The novelist's ex-wife is murdered by someone we don't see. In the movie the guy committing the murders is a journalist obsessed with the novel -- but when the journalist is killed brutally we are left in the dark as to who the killer could be. In the big twist it turns out our killer is the novelist himself, our hero. The journalist did kill lots of people because of the novel, but our novelist killed him and decided to keep going, killing his ex-wife and agent for sleeping together. Moments after he kills his ex-wife the detective arrives at the house and he fakes killing himself in front of the detective. When the detective steps out and returns he finds the body gone and then our novelist (magically) appears behind him.

The Kill Bill link is very debatable. A woman with a severed arm -- in both movies hacked off for reason of revenge. You have to think that is going to be sort of similar to another woman with a severed arm. The crazy excess blood spray. (I do not really know why I call it excessive. I have no idea how much you would bleed if your arm were chopped off. Probably a lot). I was going to not include it at all, except the reveal of our novelist behind the detective is an Argento trademark in the same scene with the severed arm, and the Bride reveals herself to Lucy Liu in a sort of similar way (emerging from behind a figure who blocks our view) just before taking her arm off. It's probably nothing, but I wanted to have it here for consideration.

If I wanted to make a thing out of it I would say that Tarantino revises the scene by having a character (rather than the audience) witness the "emerge from behind" effect.

It is notable that the City of the Living Dead allusion and the Tenebre allusion are both pretty weak. The whole Italian horror thing may just be a coincidence, based in the fact that all three directors are trying to be hyper-violent, and are coming up with similar stuff.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Kung Fu

Tarantino's Kill Bill often looks like other movies. Why? Because he wants to remind you of the past in order to re-write the past. Because when you get to re-write the past you get to control the future, and that is what Tarantino aims to do with his movie -- dominate the future of the action film.


[David Carradine kicking ass in Kung Fu: The TV show, which takes place in the old west. You can see an example here: ]

An even more famous allusion than Thurman in the Bruce Lee tracksuit -- David Carradine is the lead from the TV series Kung Fu. Like the Game of Death allusion this one seems minor but it is also crucial and there is more to it than first appears.

In Kung Fu Carradine plays a half American half Chinese guy who is trained by monks in China. When his master is killed and he kill the murderer in revenge he goes on the run -- to the American west, where he searches for his half brother, helping people along the way and moving along at the end of every episode.

The flute Bill plays when he is introduced in Kill Bill volume 2 is the one he used in Kung Fu, I am pretty sure. I read Carradine's Kill Bill diary, and I am pretty sure it is his flute. I have to re-check that.

Obviously, like Kung Fu, Kill Bill combines elements of Kung Fu and the Western.

Herbie Pilato's The Kung Fu Book of Caine: The Complete Guide to TV's First Mystical Eastern Western (1993) talks about the casting of Kung Fu

Before the filming of the Kung Fu TV movie began, there was some discussion as to whether or not an Asian actor should play Kwai Chang Caine. Bruce Lee was considered for the role. In 1971, Bruce Lee wasn't the cult film hero he later became for his roles in The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). At that point he was best known as Kato on TV's Green Hornet (1966–1967) (Kung Fu guest actor Robert Ito reports that Lee hated the role of Kato because he "thought it was so subservient"). "In my eyes and in the eyes of Jerry Thorpe," says Harvey Frand, "David Carradine was always our first choice to play Caine. But there was some disagreement because the network was interested in a more muscular actor and the studio was interested in getting Bruce Lee." Frand says Lee wouldn't have really been appropriate for the series — despite the fact that he went on to considerable success in the martial arts film world. The Kung Fu show needed a serene person, and Carradine was more appropriate for the role. Ed Spielman agrees: "I liked David in the part. One of Japan's foremost Karate champions used to say that the only qualification that was needed to be trained in the martial arts was that you had to know how to dance. And on top of being an accomplished athlete and actor, David could dance." Nonetheless, grumbling from the Asian community would have made sense, given the fact that major roles for Asian actors were almost nonexistent. James Hong, an actor on the show and ex-president of the Association of Asian/Pacific American Artists (AAPAA) says that at the time Asian actors felt that "if they were going to do a so-called Asian hero on Kung Fu, then why don't they hire an Asian actor to play the lead? But then the show went on, we realized that it was a great source of employment for the Asian acting community." In fact, Hong says, Carradine had a good relationship with the Asian community. (pages 32–33, via Wikipedia)

It actually goes farther than this. Bruce Lee's widow claims in her memoirs that the IDEA for Kung-Fu was from Lee and that Warner Brothers stole it.

Then, just to make things super-complicated in Kung Fu: The Movie Bruce Lee's son plays Carradine's long lost son -- named Chung Wang (which is the name of Jackie Chan's character in Shanghai Noon). Then in Kung Fu: The Next Generation Brandon Lee plays Carradine's great great grandson. In Kung Fu: The Legend Continues Carradine plays his own grandson. Crazy incestuous Kung Fu casting.

When you put the Carradine and Lee connections together a subterranean plot emerges in the House of the Blue Leaves. We don't have every element yet but Thurman vs GoGo on her way to Bill becomes Lee fighting Chan (marketed as kind of weak sauce Bruce Lee) on his way to get revenge on Carradine for stealing his role in Kung Fu.



[Closing Credits of Kung Fu -- Carradine walks across the desert toward the camera with the sun huge behind him]


[Thurman walking across the desert toward the camera with the sun huge behind her.]

Probably not a reference. The sun beating down on a figure walking alone across a dusty landscape is pretty common in Westerns and also shows up in Samurai movies. But it is worth pointing out that the closing credits of Kung Fu echo this moment in Kill Bill.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: The 36th Chamber of the Shaolin

Tarantino is obviously EXACTLY like John Milton, because both men quote the works of others, arrange those quotes in relation to each other and to the new work they are apart of, and they do so in order to achieve mastery over their influences.


[The opening credits to the movie. Gorden Liu does martial arts movies by himself. You can see it here: ]


Gorden Liu as Johnny Mo in Kill Bill. Thurman kills him on the balcony railing at the House of the Blue Leaves.


[Gordon Liu as Pai Mei, training Thurman to punch through a board from 3 inches away.]

You can see Liu in both roles in the trailer:

Gordon Liu is the main character in 1978 Shaw Brothers production The 36th Chamber of the Shaolin, which is the story of a guy who becomes a monk to learn Kung-Fu, so he can go back and help his people who are being oppressed.

The Shaw Brothers made a ton of the big 70s Grindhouse Kung Fu films that Tarantino loves -- which is why he puts the Shaw Brothers logo at the start of Kill Bill, even though Kill Bill is not really Shaw Brothers production.

36th Chamber, also called Master Killer, is also a favorite of Tarantino's Kill Bill collaborator The Wu Tang Clan's RZA, who wrote original music for Kill Bill. It is because of this movie that the Wu Tang Clan's first album is called Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), and one of their members is called Master Killer. The RZA spent a lot of time watching this movie, and movies like it in New York when he was a kid, and it was a big influence on him -- so much so that he does a full 2 hour audio commentary track on the DVD of the movie. And from the commentary it is clear he has seen this movie enough to memorize it.

Gordon Liu plays actually two roles in Kill Bill, one in each volume: he plays Johnny Mo (the leader of the Crazy 88s) and Pai Mei.

I am not 100% sure but I think the music that plays in the first Kill Bill clip above is by the RZA -- so the RZA is supplying fight music -- and death scene music -- for his hero.

On the Johnny Mo front it is interesting that Gordon Liu is Chinese, leading what is presumably a team of Japanese swordsmen. It would just be an uninteresting accident of the movie except that the movie itself goes out of its way to point out that a half Japanese half-Chinese American woman played by Lucy Liu is leaning the whole team. We will discuss this more as we go but the mixing of race here mirrors the mixing of genres, many of which are clearly identified with specific countries (Spaghetti Westerns, Samurai movies, Kung Fu movies, Giallo horror movies and so on). Race and Tarantino is a big subject -- from using the n-word in Pulp Fiction to casting a white woman as the incarnation of Bruce Lee -- that it looks like we will be talking about in the future.

On the Pai Mei front there is an even bigger Gordon Liu connection. 36th Chamber of the Shaolin is famous particularly for the lengthy training sequence -- it is basically the middle part of the movie, maybe a third or even half of the running time. All of act 2 is the training. Liu has to master 35 different chambers, each of which teach him something about kung fu even if he does not realize how. Like the training sequence in Karate Kid, he hits bells and carries water and so on. At the end of his training he is offered the position of head of whatever chamber he choses (except the 35th, which is old men doing some kind of very abstract philosophy religious thing). Liu rejects this offer and wants to invent a 36th -- a chamber where the training will be open to the public, not just monks, so that they can defend themselves in the real world instead of living in a monastery. For this he is banished -- though the RZA's take on it is that is a silent approval: the monks send him out into the world so that he can do what he wanted in the first place. If you know this, his role as Pai Mei takes on an added significance -- it is like a glimpse into the end of the life of Liu's character from 36th Chamber. As in 36th Chamber we see the master in charge of one skill -- here the punching through a board -- which must be mastered before you can move on, and we see the same kind of techniques: basically torturing people till they get it right.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Game of Death

Tarantino. Not stealing things. Re-interpreting. Tarantino smart like Milton not dumb like Rob Liefeld.


[Bruce Lee being awesome in Game of Death. He is in a yellow jumpsuit with black stripes down the side. You can see it here: ]


[Thurman on her way to the House of the Blue Leaves in a yellow motorcycle suit with black stripes down the sides. You can see it in the trailer]

This one is maybe the most famous and obvious of the Kill Bill allusions, but it is also pretty central to the House of the Blue Leaves, and a bit more complex than may first appear.

Thurman wears the outfit that Bruce Lee wears in Game of Death. Game of Death is a TERRIBLE movie. The whole movie is built around 11 minutes of footage of Lee from another movie he was unable to complete before dying. Lee's character is played by more than one other person in the course of the film, and the filmmakers take every opportunity to shoot conversations from far away and have the fake Bruce Lee's wear glasses, and beards, and dress like old men, or be in bandages after plastic surgery. Stock footage of Lee is intercut but it sticks out as the change in film quality is really obvious. Chuck Norris is in the movie sort of -- they just incorporated footage from Enter the Dragon to sort of shoehorn him in there without his permission. The character fakes his own death (he is an actor, basically Bruce Lee, trying to get away from some kind of mob-syndacate thing that is after him) and footage from Lee's actual funeral is used. At the worst point in the movie the main character is at his dressing table in front of a mirror and we see an over the shoulder shot of him -- and on the mirror they literally took like a cardboard cutout of Lee's face and put it on the mirror to make it look like that was the reflection of the guy in the chair.

There is also a weird moment in the movie when Bruce Lee's character is filming a scene and is shot with what is supposed to be a prop gun, but it has a real bullet in it, which is how Bruce Lee's son would die when filming The Crow.

The clip above is ACTUAL BRUCE LEE fighting, and it is pretty awesome. I could have shown you the scene where he fights Kareem Abdul Jabar, which is pretty cool, but this one has the better fighting.

The outfit has become iconic and is alluded to in lots of things, including Shaolin Soccer, Jet Li's HIgh Risk, and Revenge of the Nerds. It is also an unlockable outfit in a lot of video games, including Dead or Alive 4, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, and Street Fighter 6. (Wikipedia -- I use Wikipedia and The Internet Movie Database for a lot of the trivia you see in these posts).

The important thing to keep in mind about Tarantino's use of the outfit is that is does not simply mean "Bruce Lee." It means "Ultimate Bruce Lee," Bruce Lee at the top of his game, as he was when he died. This is important because there are many Bruce Lee projects being alluded to in the House of the Blue Leaves, and they are not all equal.

It is also worth pointing out that in the original project, the movie the Bruce Lee footage was intended to be a part of, he is climbing a tower defeating opponents who are weak because they rely on a single fighting style, whereas Lee combines them into a new whole. A bit like what Tarantino does as he combines styles to make a powerful film. You can see why he might be attracted to Lee for the battle with influence that is a big part of the House of the Blue Leaves sequence in Kill Bill.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Star Trek: Wrath of Khan

I continue to say hey this guy Tarantino may be up to something other than just stealing stuff. Like Milton. You quote stuff, reinterpret it, that kind of thing.


[Ricardo Mantalban in a spaceship says something like "Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that revenge is a dish best served cold? Well in space it is very cold."]


[The epigraph to Kill Bill: "Revenge is a dish best served cold. Old Klingon Proverb]

I talked about the epigraph to Kill Bill before, but totally failed to provide the clip from Star Trek. Here it is. [yeah this sucks without the clip but I am leaving this here as a placeholder. Sorry. More exciting things next week.]

Star Trek Wrath of Khan features Khan, a genetically enhanced survivor of the 1990 (!) Eugenics War, getting revenge on Kirk for banishing him to a wasteland which lead to the death of his wife. It is one of Tarantino's favorite movies, and is kind of awesome, although lamely Kirk and Khan never get face to face in the movie, which seems like a pretty big mistake.

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.