Kill Bill: Carradine, Revenge, and Uma Thurman as Pop Icon
Sean Collins-Smith: I didn’t know this until today, but there are deleted scenes from Kill Bill: Volume 2. In one of them, Bill fights this posse in the middle of a street while he’s walking with Beatrix.
Mike L: Oh damn, is that on the dvd? I’ve never seen that.
SCS: I guess its on there, but I’d never even heard of it until now. Here it is:
SCS: It’s so Tarantino-esque!
ML: This is amazing.
SCS: So over the top. I think its like the ultimate tribute to Carradine being the Kung Fu God.
ML: Seriously, as is his being cast as Bill to begin with. It’s like how Marlon Brando is really the only person who can be at the end of the river in “Apocalypse Now”. You’ve got these amazing mythic personas finally being cast as myths.
SCS: I think that’s where Tarantino gets his best work…he studies these myths and almost worships them to an extent, so when he can actually cast those mythical legends in roles he probably created out of their image in the first place, his work becomes even more iconic…it’s almost like a cinematic/pop-culture ouroboros.
ML: Definitely true, this shit rises to the occasion of “meta”…I think that’s interesting too, because his work sort of began being steeped in a kind of cinematic irony. I think as of “Kill Bill”, it transcended irony…there is a real genuine sense of hero worship going on in the casting, and it instills the mythology with this real kind of genuine energy. Or something
I’m also going to go out on a limb and say, out of his six feature films (seven if you count Kill Bill as two separate volumes), I think Kill Bill just might be his masterpiece (to steal a phrase from Brad Pitt a la “Inglorious Basterds”).
SCS: You could be right, in terms of pure entertainment and unadulterated brilliance in counterintuitive casting/writing, Kill Bill might have no competition. I mean really, can you think of any other director who would write such an engaging piece of pulp action and make the lead Bad-Ass Assassin a woman? And with none of the cliché feminine problems many mainstream directors/writers tack on to them?
ML: Yeah, I think his casting of Uma Thurman is beyond trendy and beyond geek horny, he’s genuinely in love with this character…and she’s genuinely a badass.
On top of all that, she’s a mom…she might be unparalleled save for Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens” in that her plight is both action-oriented and maternal. She’s not just a female character playing Rambo, there is a feminine touch to their ass-kicking. And honestly those two characters are more engaging than the majority of male action star heroes, I think. What i mean by that is I imagine it’s easier to copy and paste a female into the lead of a male-oriented action film, and pretend you’re progressive…much harder to actually write three-dimensional characters in this genre.
But, you know, Tarantino has sort of a track record at this point for writing really engaging female leads…funny that he started out with Reservoir Dogs, eh?
SCS: Honestly I can only think of maybe half a dozen male action heroes with as much depth as Beatrix, and two of them are played by Harrison Ford!
ML: Which two? I’m guessing Blade Runner and….
SCS: Well make that three! I was gonna say Indiana Jones and Han Solo.They’ve got the genuine wit, charm, and badassery of Beatrix, with the heart to boot…though admittedly not as much blood-soaked rage.
ML: That part’s critical! No I agree, those are wonderful characters (and that’s sort of why the new three Star Wars films sucked, I think…no Han Solo<—–RANT)
ML: But yeah, I always find the casting of women in blood-soaked revenge films interesting, because I think the genre is essentially conservative…revenge is a conservative, Old Testament notion (eye for an eye, and boy does Beatrix pluck an awful lot of eyeballs between these two Volumes). But I find the casting of female leads in traditionally masculine roles fascinating, because I think that’s pretty progressive…so I’m tickled pink by this whole Kill Bill thing.
Again, I think the difference is that there’s a genuine sense of rage and determination at the heart of this saga, it’s rooted in exploitation but (once more) it transcends that…it transcends irony, because to Tarantino, that’s just a vocabulary…I remember him mentioning in an interview that he worked really hard to make sure Beatrix is in a good place by the end of Volume 2, because he had fallen in love with her.
SCS: Wow that might show just how three dimensional her character is….Tarantino, the man obsessed with catharsis through the act of violence, revenge and murder, falls in love with the blood-soaked mother who essentially embraces her daughter over violence at the end of the film.
ML: One more thing I wanna mention about this whole progressive versus conservative ideology in revenge films: I think it really speaks to the intelligence of the Kill Bill films that they recognize the cyclical nature of violence, and I think that (maybe even more so than the casting of Uma Thurman) earmarks them as progressive works. Kill Bill Volume 1 spends an exorbitant amount of time explaining Lucy Liu’s violent, tragic background: forged in violence, she takes her revenge, then attacks Uma Thurman. When she is killed, it is cathartic, but also tragic.
Uma Thurman then goes on to kill Vivica Fox in front of her daughter, and as Tarantino has stated in interviews, that little girl will grow up and seek out Uma Thurman in an as-yet un-produced Kill Bill sequel. So the bride’s victory is in some ways only temporary, and I think it proves an interesting point: violence breeds violence, and there really isn’t any hope for these people as long as they continue down this path.
(Or, more specifically, if the victim succeeds in violently overthrowing their aggressor, will they in turn become the aggressor? etc.)
SCS: I remember witnessing that scene – when Uma Thurman kills Vivica Fox in front of her daughter – and thinking it was just plain awful. Not in a cinematic sense – the scene itself was, artfully, a “good” one. In terms of emotional toll, it struck me as an awful, painful experience. I almost hated Tarantino for that. It’s sick to a degree – this little girl’s mother is killed right in front of her, and Uma shows no remorse. (Which is funny, considering her pleading with the Asian assassin in Volume 2 to let her live for the sake of her child – and the Asian assassin obliges).
But, in a sense, I think your point invalidates my own disappointment with Tarantino in that regard. It’s a message: if you keep killing, it’ll catch up to you, no matter the reason. And your family, however innocent, will probably pay in the end.
ML: Yeah, and I think that’s really the undercurrent of the whole film (or any responsible revenge flick in general): this might be “fun” on the surface, but it’s really not. What we’re talking about is people paying for their past sins…but by making them pay, you inevitably torture the people close to them…and if they are anything like you, they will see to it that you pay later on as well. There’s something very Karmatic and haunting about the whole thing, and I think it’s as good an explanation as any as to why violence and war persist: old grudges die hard
And (here it comes!) revenge is a dish best served coooold. Booyah.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 or Volume 2?
SCS: So, Kill Bill Volume 1. Is it more enjoyable than part 2? Or just different?
ML: Well, lemme counter that with a question: is it fair (or correct, I guess) to divide them into two separate works? Or are they really just two halves of the same landscape?
SCS: I suppose like any series, it’s valid to look at it from two perspectives: One, from the idea that they could be viewed as they were released – separately and standing alone. Or two, the idea that they’re really a whole that, for practical reasons, were split into two parts. I think Kill Bill, more than many other films, actually does stand well on its own as two parts
ML: I’d agree with that…I honestly believe they were separated for practical reasons, but watching them individually (as they were released) has a fascinating effect.
SCS: Really, I guess the question is, if you were to sit down and watch one part of the film – or, maybe more provocatively, if you could only show one part of the series to a friend/family member – which part would you show?
ML: Well, I do have an answer to that, but I want to preempt it by saying they’re both excellent and really should be viewed together.
BUT! Having said that, I don’t think anyone can deny or downplay the cultural impact of Kill Bill Volume 1 as it’s own work of art…I think, maybe more than any other piece of pop entertainment of the last ten years, it is a meditation in perfection. It thumbs its nose at any sense of conventional narration, willfully destroys and manipulates arbitrary rules of cinematic construction, creates its own vocabulary of filmic references (both live action and animated), and ultimately has the geek-thrill impact of a fantasy mash-up: What if Hitchcock, De Palma, Argento, Bruce Lee, Charlie Brown, Star Trek, et al were all mashed together and then strung out against a fucking killer soundtrack? That’s Kill Bill Volume 1. Did i mention it’s got an animated sequence, and that half of the ending fight is in black and white? And it ends on a cliffhanger, for God sakes. Anyway, Volume 1 gets my vote
BUT! To watch it without seeing Volume 2 is really doing yourself a disservice (and I would even go so far as to say watching it without also watching the films it references is a disservice of equal proportion, but that’s another debate). How bout yourself?
SCS: I’m all for Kill Bill Volume 1‘s creativity, its unquestionable momentum (that climactic Crazy 88 fight scene followed by the much more serene fight between O’Ren and Beatrix), and its irregular story-structure-be-damned attitude. But, it all seemed so flashy and desperate. Tarantino throws so much at us, I almost wonder if he just figured he’d inundate us with as much candy as possible to create an endless sugar-rush high that would carry us out of the theater on our own personal chocolate-coated cloud. It’s undoubtedly fun, but it’s also undoubtedly noisy. In other words, it’s busy, busy, busy. (Not to mention protracted – the Crazy 88 scene is entertaining from beginning to end, but it’s also long as shit).
Kill Bill Volume 2 seemed, in many ways (to me at least), to be the antithesis of Volume 1. It’s succinct, it’s to the point, it’s – how do i say this – kind of quiet. The scene between Bill and Beatrix, even with the long build-up from the beginning of part 1 all the way to that moment, still exceeded my expectations. It was unabashedly Tarantinoesque, with super-hero metaphors, steely-eyed monologues, and some super duper sandwich crust-cutting action. Part 2 had more suspense (the burial scene), pared down (and more realistic) fight choreography (the killer Uma Thurman v. Darryl Hannah fight), and more story. It seemed, in essence, to be the Heart and Soul to part 1′s Kicking Ass mentality. If that makes sense.
ML: It does. I think that’s a perfectly valid argument, and i think it begs the question: if Kill Bill 1 is more important, is Kill Bill 2 actually a better movie? But, again, I think all this comes at the peril at splitting the two apart…I think it’s worth mentioning that Kill Bill 1 makes all that sugar coating seem so effortless…it has an effect similar to dreaming awake, and is one of the most encouraging films I’ve ever seen as a struggling filmmaker: that this kinetic, effortless fantasy is possible. I think it’s more similar to “pure cinema” in that sense: a lot of action and music, whereas Kill Bill 2 has a lot more dialogue.
It also makes you do the work a little more, and is ultimately more challenging (and perhaps more rewarding?) but, again, together, they really shine, because all of a sudden the forest is visible through the trees: this is the crown jewel in an auteur’s crown, because he’s literally doing EVERYTHING in these two films. It’s like a cinephile’s wet dream, and i’m always perplexed when people claim to dislike either or both of these films (and i must confess the fight between darryl hannah and uma thurman is my favorite part in the entire saga…again, this whole literal “eye for an eye” thing really gets my goat).
Tarantino: Quintessential Americana Director?
SCS: That’s true, this is a series that literally does everything. One of the things I love about Tarantino is, using your aforementioned word, how effortless he makes it all seem. To some degree, I think he makes the casting look effortless, and he’s certainly one of the most diversified directors in the industry right now. He casts both genders quite brilliantly, and he covers the entire canon of race. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, chinese, japanese, hispanic, australian, whatever – he includes the whole gamut. In that sense, I almost wonder if his films, Kill Bill especially, are some of the most genuinely representative films in American film today. He doesn’t do it necessarily to make a point on race OR sex, but he does it, a lot of the times, just because. And I love it.
ML: Yeah, i think he really is an all American filmmaker in that sense; moreover, his films are sort of a fascinating cross-section of modern culture in general. They’re a snap shot of the way things are, with a keen eye on history…in fact, his films are sort of like a filmmaker’s text book; they’re veritable indices of all kinds of films that have come before, sort of like a gateway drug, mashed with the tidal wave of where culture is heading today; that, plus these films in many ways are STEERING the culture…so yeah, this is a pretty incredible body of work
I mean, hell, Tarantino made being a geek cool again, before all this retro-hot topic/old school nintendo fashion thing…plus he had the foresight to allow the guy who directed HOSTEL to kill hitler…props! But yeah, Tarantino’s films are wonderfully diversified, Jackie Brown being a prime example: the original badass female action heroine Pam Greir (how could I forget her when talking about Sigourney Weaver and Uma Thurman earlier?) starring in a movie that sort of defies classification. It’s a crime drama, to be sure, it has its roots in blaxploitation but it really isn’t, and it’s a romantic drama? Very cool. (And that’s neat too, speaking of progressive things: the first real American female action star of any clout was also black? Fills me with patriotism!)
ML: Ah, you should, it’s neat, it’s sort of a line of demarcation in his work: separating the male-centric Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs from the later Kill Bill and Death Proof (or really, separating irony from genuine genre-reverence…or something.) Plus, you’ve gotta see Coffy and Foxy Brown if you haven’t, those flicks rule!
SCS: You seem to have more of a filmic background in racial cinema than I do! You’re blacker than me!
ML: Haha, oh shit! O_O You figured out my secret (the secret being that I’m black…late second act twist).
SCS: And of course, that twist will be shown in black and white just to get the point across even more.
ML: We’re gonna telegraph this thing as to not lose our audience.
Tomorrow: part 2 of 2 of our discussion touches on the best scenes from both Volumes, as well as why White Males seem to be the Dominating Dickheads in both Kill Bill films.