Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003-4)


Kill Bill
holds a special place in my heart because it's the only one of Tarantino's movies that I can play the sourcery game with. I've seen just enough yakuza films and samurai films and Japanese action movies to get what he's doing with his references here, at least sometimes.

That interests me because with his other films I read reviews and essays detailing all the intertextuality and wonder if I'm really getting them. No, scratch that: it's not so much "getting them" I'm worried about as whether or not I'm having a valid experience of them. Like, the line on his films often seems to boil down to them being a postmodern thang, only truly existing in the interstices of the vortices of its multiplicitous referentialities. And unless you can correctly hopscotch among the referents, you can't hang with the big dogs. Not being a big dog myself, I've never been able to test that hypothesis. I've had to content myself with enjoying the many pleasures his films offer to those who don't get all the winks and nods.

But with Kill Bill I sort of get some of the winks and nods. So what does that do to my experience of the film?

Here's where my long studies of Japanese popular literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries come in. Intense intertextuality, art that's a mashup of gazillions of examples of prior art, is nothing postmodern at all: they were doing it in Edo. I find I appreciate Kill Bill much like I appreciate Eight Dogs: as something that works both as a story in its own right and as a catalog of all the stories of its ilk that came before it. I've seen Suzuki Seijun's Pistol Opera, and I love it, and after I got over the self-importance of knowing where QT got the yellow suit, I realized that still and all, Kill Bill is its own movie. I could identify every single one of its sources but that wouldn't mean I had understood this movie. More to the point, I could see every single one of its sources but that wouldn't mean I had seen this movie. It's its own thing, as well as being all those other things.

Maybe that's obvious. But it's nice to see it for myself.

Seeing this for the first time, when it came out, I was a little disappointed: after the amazing emotional depth of Jackie Brown had stiffed with audiences he seemed to be retreating to the mostly-surface shininess of Pulp Fiction. I saw it as an exercise in style, when with his previous film Tarantino had revealed himself capable of more.

Now I'm able to appreciate that this film has its own moments of emotional resonance - the final encounter between Kiddo, Bill, and their daughter just knocked me out this time. And that final scene with Beatrix bawling on the floor of the motel bathroom - that's not the work of a shallow filmmaker.

But more than that, Basterds is an undeniably serious film, and that means he's not in permanent retreat, which conversely allows me to enjoy the intoxicating stylistic experimentation of Kill Bill for its own sake. It's really the apotheosis of Tarantino's aesthetic, and he may never be able to top it.

In short: gawd, this is a cool movie.

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