Favorite Screenplays: Death Proof part 3

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Part 2 of Death Proof begins with the "Psycho scene," where an "authority figure" declaims, for the audience’s benefit, the subtext of Part 1 — Ranger EarlMcGraw tells us what we’ve already grasped, that Stuntman Mike is a dangerous psychopath who crashes his "death proof" car into women’s cars for his sexual gratification. The scene is a gentle dig at Psycho‘s famously inept coda, but Tarantino adds a couple of icky layers to it: first, he includes Dr. Block, a character from Death Proof‘s co-feature Planet Terror, and gives her a weird, violent reaction to kindly, wizened Ranger McGraw, a reaction that can only be appreciated by watching the other movie (Dr. Block having her own problems with men). Then, after McGraw has finished his spiel on Stuntman Mike and his sick pathology, he announces that he’d rather follow the Nascar circuit than investigate Mike’s crimes, placing Mike’s MO in the broader context of a national malaise: there are millions of people who find some level of gratification watching stock cars smash into each other.

Now, it’s 14 months later and the movie almost switches protagonists. Stuntman Mike pulls into a convenience store in Tennessee in his new car, a Charger, and happens upon Group 2, a passel of women who strongly remind him of Group 1: there’s a Famous One, a driver, and One In The Back Seat With Her Feet Up. Since his experience with Group 1 ended so well, Mike is strongly attracted to Group 2, mistaking their superficial similarities for sameness.

Because, while Group 2 shares a lot of characteristics of Group 1, there are fundamental differences in them. First of all, they are all employed, and thus are markedly less dependant on men for their sense of well-being. Second, the driver, Kim, is no carping Shanna, with a leering father and not much to do — she is, importantly, a stunt driver, a fact that Mike would have done well to discover before deciding to pick on them. Kim, in addition to literally having Mike’s old job, also drives a muscle car and, in addition, carries a gun: that is, she has stolen Mike’s power, and wields two penis substitutes to his one. She’s got him out-matched before the match has even begun, and the narrative hasn’t even brought in its protagonist.

Two Kill Bill references.  Click to enlarge.

(Kim has named her yellow Mustang the "Li’l Pussy Wagon," one of a number of Kill Bill references in the movie. In Kill Bill, the Pussy Wagon is the car that The Bride steals after she kills the man who raped and tortured her while she was in a coma, transforming it from a symbol of male oppression to a symbol of female empowerment. Kim has taken the Bride’s power symbol and made it her own. Later on, we’ll learn that Abernathy has Elle’s whistling theme for her cell phone ringtone, and earlier, we saw that Jungle Julia had appropriated the Kill Bill poster for one of her billboards — female vengence is very much on the minds of the women of Death Proof. We could extrapolate from this that Julia, the most empowered woman of Group 1, didn’t "have it coming" as much as Arlene did but had the misfortune to align herself with Arlene, a passive woman entirely dependant on male desire for her sense of self-worth. And, regarding Abernathy’s cell phone ringtone, Elle is one of the "bad girls" in Kill Bill, a woman who gladly sets out to kill the Bride in order to curry favor with the dominant male of her narrative. Abernathy, we will learn, is the one woman in Group 2 who is willing to sell out a sister on the slightest pretext.)

Just as the women of Group 1 lose themselves in the music of the bar’s jukebox, Lee, one of the more "modern" women of Group 2, loses herself in the music on her iPod — a more subtle form of empowerment. The women of Group 1 must bend to the paternal whims of Warren the bartender to get their groove on, but the women of Group 2 can take their favorite tunes on the road with them.

While Group 1 has an alpha female, Group 2 has a slightly different dynamic: Kim is more like a mother, who drives the car, buys the groceries and makes the rules. When Zoe shows up, Kim becomes a husband to Zoe’s wife. While the women of Group 1 seek only sisterhood, Group 2 is has a more fluid, shifting sense of family roles.

Mike scopes out the women of Group 2 and peels out when they "make" him. Abernathy and Lee snigger after him and chide him for his "little dick," when obviously they don’t know the half of it.

Abernathy goes into the convenience store to get money and buy fashion magazines (Lee is in the new issue of Allure, an analogue to Julia’s billboards in Part 1) and Tarantino makes a point of showing her getting money out the ATM — this woman is dependant on no boyfriend or lecherous father for her kicks.

(There’s an odd moment between Abernathy and the convenience store clerk, who sells high-end fashion magazines "from his own collection" under the counter. I’m guessing the clerk is meant to show a different sort of male in the Death Proof world, one obsessed with fashion and more "female" than male — not a patriarch like Warren, a hillbilly scumbag like the Jasper to come or a sociopath like Mike. The sad thing is that Abernathy originally sees the clerk as the threat, even though he’s secretly an ally, and dismisses Mike as a wet firecracker.)

Group 2 pick up Part 2’s protagonist, Zoe, at the airport, unaware that Mike has already marked them for death. Zoe, like Kim, is a stunt performer, something Mike has plenty of time to learn (he eavesdrops on their lunchtime conversation for at least ten minutes) and, the complete opposite of Part 1’s Arlene, has no interest in male desire. Rather, she goes straight for the source of Mike’s power: a 1970s Detroit muscle car. Her desire to drive a while 1970 Challenger because of its role in Vanishing Point is key to why she lives and Arlene dies — while Arlene (and Abernathy, and Lee) spent their adolescences watching Pretty in Pink, Zoe (and Kim) apparently hung out in second-run houses watching action-exploitation movies. What Death Proof suggests is that this detail, in and of itself, means the difference between life and death. Watching Vanishing Point and its ilk has prepared Zoe for an encounter with Stuntman Mike, while Lee’s brainless appreciation of Pretty in Pink condemns her to being thrown to the proverbial lions.

(In Group 1, Julia climbs over men to become famous, but Group 2’s Famous One, Lee, notably dates "downstream" — it’s Abernathy who’s angling for the hip young director, movie-star Lee is dating grips and electricians. One exploits male desire for gain, the other toys with men for pleasure.)

In the diner (interestingly, Part 1 begins in the afternoon and heads into a late night of partying, while Part 2 begins in the early morning after a late night of partying and heads into the late afternoon), Abernathy tells a story of "Zoe the cat," who takes death-defying falls as a matter of routine and comesthrough without a scratch. This is both a useful bit of exposition to explain how Zoe survives her initial encounter with Mike, and an interesting note that lends another aspect to the phrase "death proof." Mike, the impotent, washed-up stuntman, must spend time and money on his car to give himself the illusion of immortality, but Zoe seems to have it as a matter of birth — she is blessed. I also note that she, unlike all the other women of Death Proof, never mentions any male relationship in her life — she is not scheming to land a director (like Abernathy and Julia), nor dallying with crewmen (like Lee), nor wrecking homes (like Kim). She is her own woman.

Which does not mean that she is sexually frigid. No, the surprising thing about Zoe is that she, like Stuntman Mike, fetishizes 1970s Detroit muscle cars. We learn that she doesn’t merely want to drive the Challenger, she wants to "do Ship’s Mast" on it: that is, she wants to lie spread-eagled on the hood while Kim drives fast down a deserted road. This has obvious sexual significance for Zoe (and implies that she is secretly, or not so secretly, in love with Kim) and makes her a weird kin to Stuntman Mike. If not for his hatred of women, Mike and Zoe might have made a perfect couple — he could have driven the car while she rode on the hood, and both would end up satisfied.

(For what it’s worth, the plot of Vanishing Point involves a hopped-up speed freak who puts himself on a pointless (sorry) suicidal rampage from Denver to San Francisco. Although it’s a good movie, I can’t find many points of comparison between it and Death Proof, except the desire for self-annihilation via car-crash.)

In Act II of Part 2, Zoe takes her posse to Jasper, the most stereotypical "man" of Death Proof: a leering, unkempt, uneducated, slovenly hillbilly named Jasper, who is suspicious but easily fooled. She deals with Kim to play Ship’s Mast on the Challenger while Abernathy schemes to be taken along on the ride by whoring out the unconscious Lee to drooling scumbag Jasper. So, mid-way through Act II of Part 2, Abernathy plays a trick on Lee, just as Julia had played a trick on Arlene in Part 1, the difference being that Julia’s trick is intended as a gift and Abernathy’s trick is intended as a trick. Abernathy even hypes Lee’s sexual prowess to Jasper, lying to him that she’s a porn actress who will give him anything he wants. This is the most shocking, discomforting aspect to Death Proof, and Tarantino doesn’t let the audience off the hook. We don’t cut back to find out that Lee is secretly a kung-fu master or that she can talk herself out of Jasper’s predations, or that Jasper is secretly a gentleman and Rhodes scholar who wishes only to share with Lee his collection of American poetry (which would bring us back to Frost). Tarantino even makes it a sick, uneasy little joke that poor Lee wakes up and finds the enormous, grinning, slathering Jasper towering over her. For Zoe to pursue her car-related sexual gratification, there must be a sacrifice, and that sacrifice is Lee. And yet we can’t lay the blame entirely at Zoe’s feet, because Zoe and Kim specifically wanted to leave both Abernathy and Lee behind to deal with Jasper, and we can see that Abernathy is smart enough to at least take care of herself. No, Abernathy betrays Lee in order to be one of the "cool kids," to participate in Zoe’s and Kim’s sex game. The fact that that sex game is joyful and electrifying instead of sick and terrifying doesn’t make Abernathy’s betrayal any less difficult, but Tarantino seems to be willing to let that question of "how far have these women come?" linger after the credits. And Abernathy has further to go before she, too, becomes a monster.

Narratively speaking, why does Abernathy even need to come along on Zoe’s and Kim’s trip? I think it’s to be an audience surrogate, to witness third-hand the unique relationship Zoe and Kim share. We don’t know that what Zoe and Kim are doing is weird until Abernathy’s face registers that it’s weird. And so, as the Ship’s Mast game gets underway, Abernathy is appalled and terrified, but then, when the joy of it becomes apparent, Abernathy’s fear turns to ecstasy, as she sees a whole new horizon of sexual gratification open before her. Just as the women of Group 1 find their state of grace zooming down an empty road with no boys and the music cranked, the women of Group 2 attain their state of grace via a car, a car with a stunt performer on the hood, being driven by a woman carrying a gun. Kim and Zoe, Abernathy sees, have found a way to live by completely circumventing men altogether — they merely co-opt men’s tools of power, their sexual signifiers, for their own use.

Maybe that’s why, when Mike attacks Group 2, he does so from behind instead of from head-on (since he sees them as closer to being men than women). And maybe that’s why, after wrecking their car and driving them off the road, he’s prepared to let it go at that. Maybe Mike doesn’t feel the need to kill Group 2 because he sees them as equals and has developed a respect for their practices — he sees that they are enlightened as to his radical sex life.

Whatever his state of mind, Kim has other ideas, and another sexual signifier, up her sleeve, and shoots Mike in the arm. And for me, the funniest moment in the movie is when Mike pulls off the side of the road to tend to his wound, howls like a toddler with the pain and screams "WHY?!" Mike is utterly baffled as to why these women would try to hurt him after what he had just done with them.

Death-proof Zoe miraculously survives her run-in with Mike without a scratch, as chipper and unfazed as could be, and with great joy in her expression, suggests that the bunch of them go give Mike a taste of his own medicine. She grabs her own penis-substitute from the side of the road (a metal pole) and, for Act III of Part 2, the women of Group 2 proceed to get medieval on Mike’s ass, so to speak. And yet, in spite of Kim’s sexualization of their encounter, the long, second chase of Death Proof doesn’t feel like an extension of Mike’s pathology — Tarantino is careful to make it feel joyous and comedic, almost a lark, an expression of great release after a buildup of such tension.

Once Group 2 gets Mike cornered and dead to rights, they remove him from his death-proof car and show him how death-proof he really isn’t. "I didn’t mean anything!" wails Mike, an outrageous statement in context, almost as funny as "WHY?!" Group 2, led by doesn’t-need-men Zoe, are able to encounter Mike and give him what he deserves, while Group 1, led by needs-and-fears-men Arlene, never had a chance.

Tarantino ends the movie at their moment of triumph, then, a few seconds later, adds a horrifyin coda. The women of Group 2 have meted out justice, but now Abernathy, the betrayer with the biggest sexual hang-ups of Group 2, uses her formidable foot (the same foot Mike was fetishizing in Act I) to bash in his face with a stunning axe-kick. To bring Mike to ground is laudable, but Abernathy pushes justice too far and becomes a murderer. That Tarantino just kind of tosses that in as a grace note is stunning, and points to Tarantino’s whole aesthetic — you could say that Death Proof, like every Tarantino production, is "only a movie," meaning that it doesn’t take place in the real world, but only in a kind of movie-world, but Death Proof takes great care to make the lives of its characters seem very real, the greater to heighten the tension when events turn surreal. What happens to Abernathy after the credits is anyone’s guess, but, like Lee’s situation in the back woods with Jasper, Tarantino wants you to keep thinking about it after the movie’s over.

Of course, Tarantino is not one to let a foot of film go to waste, so he includes yet another signifier in the credits. Where today’s video machines have "color bars" for the editor to assess hue and saturation, film used to come with a color pallet at the head of the reel, and these pallets invariably came with an image of a pretty girl’s face, so that the color timer could accurately judge flesh tones, and Tarantino punctuates the credits of Death Proof with a number of these images. The point he’s trying to make, I think, is that film, like Mike, also seeks to objectify and capture women, that that is partly its very purpose. Like Mike’s grin in Part 1, the credits of Death Proof slyly implies, its messages of empowered women aside, that the viewer has just participated in something dedicated to reducing women to objects.  


38 Responses to “Favorite Screenplays: Death Proof part 3”
  1. samedietc says:

    1) (and implies that she [Zoe] is secretly, or not so secretly, in love with Kim)…Mike and Zoe might have made a perfect couple

    Ah, so Kim & miKe are mirrored?

    2) I remember the queasy hope that we’d get to Lee after everything and remember when the coda that should have been about Lee’s triumphant return to the group was actually about Abernathy’s triumphant (?) getting in the game. But I don’t remember the color pallet faces, which raise for me another question I wanted to ask, particularly given the casting of Kurt Russell and Zoe Bell as Zoe–in what ways are films proof against death?

    I mean, on one hand, Stuntman Mike has been passed over by history, but Snake Plissken, Wyatt Earp, Captain Ron–these characters are immortal (maybe not Captain Ron). There seems to me to be something interesting in the turning of stuntwoman Zoe Bell (someone who you wouldn’t recognize) into a character that is recognizable–someone who gets her face photographed (as opposed to all the times when she’s stunt-doubling for another actress, where the point is that her face must be hidden).

    (Some of this comes from the oscillating anxiety/relief I had during the ship’s mast chase scene–it was very exciting at first, but then I relaxed when I remembered it was just a movie, until I realized that this is what Zoe Bell actually does in movies, captured as if for the first time. Casting a stuntwoman playing a stuntwoman and capturing that character doing a stunt seemed to build and collapse a lot of distinctions.)

    3) I’ve always liked Tarantino, and I’m interested in the way he uses boredom to manipulate the audience (e.g., the long split-screen in Jackie Brown which goes on for a while before showing what’s important in both scenes). I wonder if you have anything to say about the use of boredom in films outside of Tarantino’s.

    • Todd says:

      I have found that Godard, Jarmusch and Tarantino all effectively use “nothing in particular happening” in an interesting, dynamic way. Jarmusch in particular, I generally get bored and restless during a first viewing of a Jarmusch movie, and then on a second viewing it all seems to be going much too fast.

      • I have that reaction to all three of the directors you mention.

        Thanks especially for this piece — I am somewhat fond of Death Proof, but found the final section of Act II, and in particular the ending, problematic and disturbing beyond the point of offensiveness — the idea that the women must become as monstrous as Stuntman Mike in order to destroy him (when in fact they could walk away) and ultimately become outright murderers themselves, with the apparent support of the film itself. I know the film makes it pretty clear that if they didn’t destroy Mike, he’d keep doing this to women, but THEY DON’T KNOW THAT, and it goes beyond any point where “it’s only a movie” can be seen as a good excuse.

        You make a good case for the film NOT really being on the side of this final turn (I like your interpretation of the “China Girls” during the end credits — it’s probably important to note that among the real, period ones he uses, he has created new ones that move, including ones featuring the actresses from his own film). I still have massive problems with the way the leaving behind of Lee with Jasper is dealt with — I don’t think it can ALL be laid at the feet of Abernathy; Zoe and Kim are also complicit, and show a kind of evil that can’t be rationalized away.

        Is there any moment in any of the male/female relationships mentioned or seen in Death Proof where there seems to be “equality” between the sexes, apart from that moment after Group 2 first fights Stuntman Mike to a standstill? Do the women of Group 2 then choose in some way to become objects for male fetishization — becoming male-like “tough girls” rather than remaining real women, by taking on the worst aspects of men (and, for that matter, aspects that generally only exist in “movie men”)?

        Thanks for looking at this film. I’ve had an uncomfortable relationship with this one — feeling on one hand it seemed like a regression for QT (and a morally offensive one, at that), but on the other hand like it was in some way I couldn’t define his deepest, most experimental work. You’ve touched on ways that favor this second hand. I think a great deal is still encoded in the patterns of film stock, cutting, and photography — this was the first film on which QT acted as his own DP as well — that’s left unexplored, but this helps open it up a lot.

        • Todd says:

          I knew that Death Proof was unique when, the Friday that Grindhouse opened, a friend of mine, a very strict, sensitive feminist, sent me an email telling me to run, don’t walk, to see “the new Tarantino movie.”

          The fact that Tarantino explores “women’s issues” without making judgments or drawing easy conclusions is what makes Death Proof such compelling drama. If Group 1 were “all repressed” and Group 2 were “all modern” would be boring and didactic — Tarantino is after something deeper and more interesting here. The movie is very funny, yet, as you say, also very discomforting in a way that doesn’t let the audience off the hook.

    • blake_reitz says:

      I’ve got to second your thought about the chase scene. My automatic reaction was “She’s fine, it’s a stunt double.” followed by “She IS the stunt double! Oh no!”

      The thought that the actor is not really in danger because it’s another person, even if that person would really be in danger, well, that’s kind of a strange feeling.

      • Todd says:

        My thought on the chase scene is “She’s fine, there are cables holding her in place that have been removed by computers.”

        • blake_reitz says:

          What!? The used computers in these so-called “Grindhouse” films? I for one, am outraged, and shall send an angry letter to…someone…on the internet. Post haste!

          • greyaenigma says:

            They even used a Computer Wearing Tennis Shoes.

            • Todd says:

              The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes was the first Kurt Russell movie I ever saw. Later, I was surprised to learn that he made his film debut kicking Elvis Presley in the shin in It Happened at the World’s Fair.

              • greyaenigma says:

                I think mine was probably The Strongest Man in the World.

                It all comes back to Elvis. We need a Six Degrees of Separation game with him where you try and get more than a couple of steps from an image of Elvis.

  2. 55seddel says:

    Do you think that it is significant that QT chose Kurt Russel to play Mike?

    • Todd says:

      Everything is significant in a Tarantino movie.

      • Anonymous says:

        Believe it or don’t, QT wanted Mickey Rourke to play Stuntman Mike but they had a falling out during filming and the details remain a mystery to this day.

        QT does have some quote somewhere about having a lot of respect for Russell and not wanting him to be seen as a “pussy for appearing in hockey movies and crap with Dakota Fanning” (paraphrased?).

  3. frankenchris says:

    An interesting read. I was waiting for someone to point out the implications of Lee as possible (or quite probable) rape victim. I’m also surprised that anyone even ventured to figure out what Tarentino was trying to say with one of his films. I was always taught that Tarentino had nothing to say.

    • Todd says:

      They teach that about the Coen Bros too.

      • frankenchris says:

        I’ve read that the Coen Brothers resent any in-depth interpretations of their work. Do you think it’s possible for a screenwriter to state absolutely nothing in their work?

        And when do you think directors like Tarentino or the Coen Brothers will be taken seriously? I read a critique for The Big Lebowski that stated it had no plot. That just makes no sense to me.

        • Todd says:

          Well, now that the Coens have won an Oscar I’m guessing they’ll be taken seriously. But anyone who says The Big Lebowski has no plot has no understanding of what plot is.

  4. Anonymous says:

    A brilliant, enlightening analysis, as usual.

    Lee’s being left behind with Jasper and Abernathy’s death blow to Stuntman Mike are crucial to what Tarantino is saying and keep Death Proof from being a pure revenge fantasy. Also, I agree with your take on the end credits, which a lot of viewers probably just saw as a cute piece of nostalgia.


  5. rxgreene says:

    I had a different take on the photos at the end – I thought they were pics that Stuntman Mike had taken of his victims over the years, At first, headshots of women (Hey, I can get your career going, I worked on Wagon Train!) then as those stopped satisfying him, he moved on to more creepy/horrible stuff.

    • Todd says:

      I might have thought the same thing if I hadn’t worked as a projectionist in my youth — it always amused me to see those color-bar shots at the top of the reel, because the images used were always at least fifteen years out of date.

  6. lupa says:

    This is a wonderful breakdown. I really disliked this movie when I saw it but couldn’t express why back then – now, from this, I know. But I’ll start with a bit of triviality:

    “Abernathy and Lee snigger after him and chide him for his “little dick,” when obviously they don’t know the half of it.”

    *cackle* Half of it??

    The sad thing is that Abernathy originally sees the clerk as the threat, even though he’s secretly an ally, and dismisses Mike as a wet firecracker.

    I find this to be the underlying component that Tarantino is suggesting, which is the reversal, within the movie, of male and female perception of gender roles. In Abernathy’s mind, for a woman to fetishize the trappings of femininity is fine; for a man to do so is not. This is despite the fact that, as you say, Zoe and Kim fetishize the trappings of masculinity and have no hangups about it, and Abernathy tags along with them, puppy-like, wishing to be like them. This is also expressed in their whole conversation about the director who makes the mix tape – Zoe and Kim understand that emotions and sex are decoupled, but Abernathy takes offense that the director would sleep with a starlet after courting her, even though she did something that could be regarded as rejecting him. She’s a game player, and in that way Abernathy is a reflection of Julia – representative leg and all.

    Like Mike’s grin in Part 1, the credits of Death Proof slyly implies, its messages of empowered women aside, that the viewer has just participated in something dedicated to reducing women to objects.

    And that includes the women. Abernathy’s embodiment of Julia’s revenge, in using an objectified leg to render severe judgement, can also be the reflection of her own self-hatred… whether for her tacit participation in that objectification of herself, or for the outright peddling of poor Lee.

    It wasn’t until you outlined this that I realized that what bothered me most about the movie is that most people viewed Arlene and Abernathy as the reflected protagonists. I prefer your POV, where Arlene’s reflection is much closer to Zoe. That completely disarms my disgust, because while Zoe is culpable in Lee’s predicament, her desire for the car is her driving force and thus her dismissal of the danger makes more sense.

    • Todd says:

      To make it more disturbing, the director Abernathy is after isn’t dating a starlet, he’s dating a starlet’s stand-in. And, now that you mention it, Death Proof is rife with stand-ins, one thing or person standing in for another thing or person.

      To be even more precise, the director is dating Daryl Hannah’s stand-in, Daryl Hannah being the recent co-star of Kill Bill, and her character’s theme from that movie is Abernathy’s ring tone.

  7. leborcham says:

    Fascinating notes on a pleasing but troubling, divisive movie. I thought it was a bit talky, but Ben HATED it.

    The most troubling aspect is Lee’s abandonment, but I kind of assumed that since she was the most dependent of Group 2 she had to be sacrificed to the gods of lust.

  8. greyaenigma says:

    Re-watching this, I feel bad for Lee.

    It’s not just that she gets betrayed by her friends (or friend), but most of the fun her friends have with her is at her expense. Or at best, simply excluding her.

    Another thing that occurred to me was Zoe’s popping up after the crash. It takes a looong time for her to pop back up and be fine. Was she unconscious? Doesn’t seem so. Could she have been just messing with her friends and making them suffer needlessly?

  9. greyaenigma says:

    A-ha! In the section with the first two photos, I thought you meant two Kill Bill references in the first photo (and name of the car, and the coloration of the car itself matching the Bride’s jumpsuit), and didn’t even look at the second.

  10. marcochacon says:

    Something that I think is evident from Death Proof is that it’s a movie in the Tarantino-verse that Jules and Vincent would go and watch. I think this is intentional and pretty clear (and the Tarantino character from Pulp-Fiction is playing a bit-role as the bartender in this Tarantino-verse movie).

    I think the way Death Proof shows product-placement shots (the styrofoam drink that one of the girls the beginning has, the shot of the cigarettes, and so on). Tarintino remarked that Kill Bill was the kind of movie guys in his shows would pay to go see. Death Proof is another one.


  11. stormwyvern says:

    I’ve been away on vacation, so forgive me if any of this has already been covered.

    I had wondered about why Tarantino chose to “cut out” the footage of Mike getting a lap dance from Arlene, particularly since he doesn’t seem to be playing with the idea of “old film” nearly as much as Rodriguez does. My first thought was that it’s because neither party really gets fulfillment out of the act: Arlene still lacks the true power that could have kept her from becoming a victim and Mike won’t get sexual gratification until he kills Arlene and her friends with his car. Later on, I considered the possibility that putting the scene in would ruin the idea that the only remotely sexual acts the audience sees in the film are car-based.

    I know you’re looking at the film on his own here, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about the order the two Grindhouse films were shown in. I’ve been trying to figure out since I saw them whether it would have been better to show Death Proof before Planet Terror, partly because at least part of Death Proof takes place prior to the other film, and partly because the audience could be more awake for the slower moving Death Proof – particularly the first half – and then be kept awake by the far more energetic Planet Terror.

    A fun side note: my father told me about two back-to-back interviews he saw with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino when Grindhouse came out. He told me how Rodriguez came off as very calm and relaxed, while Quentin Tarantino was…well, Quentin Tarantino – full of energy, giving rapid fire responses that bounced from one subject to another, operating at level 10 the whole time. This struck me as funny in light of the fact that Rodriguez;s film is the one that’s going a mile a minute and is completely over the top, and Tarantino’s – while I wouldn’t call it “calm and relaxed” – is definitely more of a slow build of tension and more inclined to take its time.

    • Todd says:

      Tarantino needed to cut something, so he cut the lap dance. The way he puts it is that, when it came time to cut the movie for Grindhouse, he put on his “producer” hat and cut everything that wasn’t “plot.” Once Mike requests his lap dance and Arlene grants it, that “plot point” is served. And the “missing reel” gag also provides Grindhouse with one of its better jokes: Tarantino has built the lap-dance up so much that the audience is practically on Mike’s side by that point — boiling with sexual tension.

      As for the running order, I know that there are people who love Planet Terror and hate Death Proof, but, while I enjoy Planet Terror plenty I think Death Proof is unquestionably the “better” movie. Planet Terror is a good-time goof, Death Proof has a lot more going on in it.

      I’m guessing that the running order was decided long before the movies were shot, but the fact that Death Proof begins with forty minutes or so of women talking about boys is bound to create an excitement hole after the delirious climax of Planet Terror, then the hysterical fake trailers immediately preceding it. The movie builds the audience up and up and up, and then says “And now here’s the main event of the evening, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof! And then gives you a bunch of chicks sitting around talking. Which, obviously, is not what the audience is expecting. Even though, by this point, you’d think an audience would be trained to expect the unexpected from Tarantino. The fact is, it’s tough for an audience to switch gears and start a whole new narrative after sitting through nearly two hours of other narrative. There’s a kind of depression that sets in after you’ve built up tension, released it and then ask them to start the process over again. I don’t know if the relatively lightweight Planet Terror would seem quite so sprightly after the white-knuckle climax of Death Proof.

      As for the contrasting personalities of Rodriguez and Tarantino, I’ve never met Tarantino, but yeah, Rodriguez is like that. He is, I like to say, the coolest guy I’ve ever met in show business. If his house was on fire, he would already have an escape plan worked out in his head and would get to it as soon as he finished his beer.

      • stormwyvern says:

        Unfortunately, I think Planet Terror kind of steals the thunder of the “missing reel” gag in Death Proof by having the missing reel contain both a sex scene, but events that cause all Hell to break loose. (Plus there’s the added potential joke that some audience members, before it becomes clear how much time has passed, might thi8nk that the two character just had sex so hard that the building caught on fire.)

        I wasn’t aware that you had met Rodriguez. It’s nice to know that your impression of him pretty much fits with the vague one I’ve formed of him from afar.

      • leborcham says:

        >>>There’s a kind of depression that sets in after you’ve built up tension, released it and then ask them to start the process over again.

        You know that’s exactly how I felt the first time I saw SIN CITY!

        • Todd says:

          I don’t know why that didn’t happen with me and Sin City. Instead, at the end of the first part of Sin City, when it turned out there was more movie I was just thrilled: “Wow, there’s more?”

  12. Anonymous says:

    It’s also interesting how Tarintino (the writer/director/auteur) plays Warren, the character who is in a postion to ‘call the shots’ for the girls, is also the character who gives the order to turn on the dramatic lighting in the parking lot for Stuntman Mike’s car’s big introductory shot.

  13. nangke says:

    There are two pieces of faint consolation with regard to Lee: 1) when they’ve been joined with Zoe at the airport, Lee takes some steps en pointe, which hints at ballet lessons and thus a certain amount of strength and pain tolerance, and 2) the actor playing Jasper also played the trucker in Kill Bill, who purchased time with the comatose Bride, and we know how she woke in time to defend herself.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Just a couple of reference notes: Li’l Pussy Wagon is Tarantino’s own car, if I remember correctly, which seems to turn it into some kind of meta-narrative, and the feet on the dashboard, comes from Tarantino’s own foot fetish – which raises the question as to whether he’s actually addressng hs own sexuality in a unique manner. As well, Dr. Block might be a reference to Dr. Susan Block, a sex therapist – which would render her reactions as yet another layer of the ssue of sexualty and control.

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