Kill Bill-Vol. 1

October, 2003, Thriller

Kill Bill, Vol. 1

Violence in the movies? It's fun, it's one of the coolest, funnest (sic) things

for me to watch.

I steal from every movie ever made.

Quentin Tarantino

At 40, the maker of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction is a bit old to remain the 'enfant terrible of American directors, but how else to describe the obvious glee with which he visually attacks his audiences? Like an aging Orson Wells on speed, Tarantino dazzles the eye while debasing the soul as he parades one orgy of violence after another across the screen, selecting the very cheesiest devices from the world of B-grade cinema and investing them with a thrilling vibrancy that dares his voyeuristic audiences to look away. (Indeed, in the Kips Bay theater on Manhattan’s East Side where Sarah and I saw this film, applause could be heard at the goriest parts of the movie.)

If his debut as a director, Dogs astonished audiences with its contemporary re-working of the film noir genre, and his third outing, (Pulp) remains grist for those grad students studying popular culture. This effort, (pompously subtitled "The 4th Film by Quentin Tarantino) represents a paean to the kind of schlock flicks that used to comprise the double-features in grubby Times Square theaters before the clean-up of that area drove the peep-shows and all night grindhouses over to 8th Ave. Whether that spectrum of mass media culture, (from spaghetti Westerns, through Hong Kong kung fu/martial arts epics to Japanese anime) deserves this type of high-end salute may be debatable, but the director's homage to it contains some of the most visually inventive and stylish work to visit theaters in years. As America's foremost proponent of kinetic style, Tarantino has no peer working in film today; if you accept director Sam Fuller's paraphrased dictum that "actors moving on a moving set being filmed by a moving camera are what movies are all about", then Tarantino has made a brilliant picture indeed.

The director's also shrewd enough to mock as he parades this homage across the screen, using archly deadpan dialogue-often with great comic effect-and a string of veteran actors whose presence reprises characters they played more seriously in the originals the director so blatantly plunders.

Utilizing the same deliberately non-linear storyline technique he deployed in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino presents the first half of a typically convoluted tale of revenge here, with Uma Thurman in the lead. Near death after an especially violent assault as the film opens, the audience soon learns that Thurman has suffered through a long coma following the loss of her daughter. Now back on her feet, she punctuates her recovery by producing a pile of corpses as she seeks revenge on the trained assassins responsible for her earlier traumas. Bill, (David Carradine) the soft-spoken leader of the soulless thugs who attacked her isn't seen in this portion of the tale, but he repeatedly coos on the soundtrack to his female accomplices, goading them into action against Thurman's avenging angel. As Thurman wades into combat, she displays a dazzling array of hand-to-hand skills that eliminate scores of villains whose names and wardrobes come right out of the funny papers. She her most effective techniques involve the severing of various body parts, which Tarantino orchestrates to show geysers of arterial blood spurting from severed limbs. (The great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa used this technique to great and appropriate effect once--at the end of Yojimbo, the 1961 samurai film that inspired the spaghetti Western genre; here, Tarantino's inexplicably excessive utilization of it becomes so repetitious it constitutes the only lapse in his ability to surprise.)

The second half of this film will be released sometime early next year and it's hard to determine whether the sequel will provide anything more than a higher body count, delivered in ever-escalating spasms of Tarantino's bemused excess. If that's the case, the drift to increasingly explicit depictions of violence in main-line American films, (hinted at in Bonnie & Clyde, (1967) and begun in earnest with Sam Peckinpah's 1969 The Wild Bunch) will have attained near pornographic status, a dubious distinction indeed for someone with skills as obvious as Tarantino's.  

It's time for this obvious talent to deliver a film whose substance matches its style.   

Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus