Confessions of a myopic cinephile

As someone reared on movies like Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout and Escape from the Planet of the Apes, N4N has long had an appreciation for high and low cinema. So naturally this tends to manifest during my channel-surfing. These are some of the movies that I tend to watch until completion if I stumble upon them on the television:

Road House

Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy (actually a great satire of broadcast news)

Fever Pitch

Reruns of The Shield, The Sopranos, and The Wire (ok, so TV shows are included, too)

Animal House

Kill Bill, Vols. I + II

Considering the perceived dubiousness of some of these -- particularly Road House -- Mrs. N4N doesn't share my enthusiasm. But one of the great things about cinema is how different people see different things.

For example, consider how Slate critic David Edelstein wrote about Kill Bill, Volume I:

I don't think the movie is totally empty—it's just, well, on the elemental end of the dramatic spectrum. It's about as thematically complex as its title. .... Kill Bill is about nothing more (or less) than its director's passion for the mindless action pictures that got him through adolescence. It isn't sex without love: It's an orgy with just enough love.

While Mark T. Conard, writing at Metaphilm, sees a whole lot more going on:

Tarantino doesn’t simply revisit the films and genres of his youth, he recreates them in significant and original ways. First, he fuses the genres into a kind of postmodern collage that has a storybook fantasy feel and wildly exaggerated confrontation scenes and violence. Imagine if, as an adult, you took from your childhood and adolescent memories the images and sounds that had the greatest impact on you—a childhood lived vicariously through movies, remember—and condensed them into a two-hour experience. In the exaggerated and fantastic way children view the world, scenes would play out in the bewildering, confused manner in which the adult mind recalls ancient events, fusing disparate events and images into a seamless picture. The result would be something very like Kill Bill: Volume 1. It’s short on plot or development, and is rather made up of a series of spectacular individual scenes—just like the conglomeration of your childhood memories probably would be.

And Tarantino’s changes go beyond simply fusing movies and movie genres. His most important alteration is his use of women in the leading roles. In Kill Bill: Volume 1, women are now both the heroes and the villains. True enough, it’s Bill (David Carradine) who pulls the strings, and more about that below, but every member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (DiVAS—an acronym that obviously suggests femininity), save one, is a woman, and the man (Budd, played by Michael Madsen) hardly appears in the film at all.

Not only are the main roles filled by women, Tarantino also plays with traditional gender expectations and stereotypes. O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is the head of Tokyo organized crime, in a reversal of traditional Japanese sex roles. Even more interesting is Gogo (Chiaki Kuriyama), the hot, young Japanese schoolgirl, the object of our fantasies and our porn, the epitome of passivity and little-girlish taboo sexuality. Only here she’s empowered, strong, and aggressive. Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) dresses in a nurse’s uniform—again, a typical male porn fantasy, except that she’s an assassin. Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) plays the traditional housewife and mother role, but is likewise strong and self-assertive, protecting her home and family in the way that a husband might—with violence and physical strength.

Despite these reversals, the film bears an apparent underlying conservatism about gender and sex roles. Note that the Bride (Uma Thurman) is pregnant and is thus poised to take on the traditional roles of wife and mother. It is when she is prevented from doing so, by her attack, that she becomes enraged and pitiless (“It’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness I lack, not rationality,” she says to Vernita Green), as if taking on those traditional roles is what would have made her happy and complete. And Gogo may be strong and self-assertive, but she’s also psychotic. She asks the Japanese businessman if he wants to penetrate her—knowing the answer already—and then penetrates him with her sword, suggesting that there’s something terribly deforming that happens when a woman becomes too much like a man, which goes hand in hand with psychosis.

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