Quentin Tarantino's Thunder Bolt
Death Proof

Quentin Tarantino, 2007

A former stuntman kills women in car crashes for sexual thrills.

Orson Scott Card of all people actually did this story 25 years ago. His version didn't feature any selections by Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich, however.

Death Proof is not so much a story as it is a delivery system for things Quentin Tarantino considers cool. I imagine that how much you like it depends on the extent to which you share his predilections. It features:

  • An unusual narrative structure. I like unusual narrative structures! In fact, I am actually working on something that is not very far removed from this very one!

  • Many bravura moments. I like bravura moments! Tarantino would rather risk doing something ridiculous than do something boring, and that's a good instinct. Example: some of the girls in Death Proof have a bright yellow car. He could have had them just show up onscreen in their bright yellow car, and you would say, "Wow, that's a bright yellow car!" Instead, he switches to black and white for no reason whatsoever shortly before the car shows up. You spend many many minutes looking at this car thinking nothing of it. Then suddenly he switches back to color. And you say, "HOLY SMOKES! Now that's a bright yellow car!"

  • Sequences centered around songs. One of the most fun parts about working on a movie project this year has been looking at scenes and thinking about what songs would best accompany what the characters are doing. So while the actual songs Tarantino selects usually mean nothing to me, I endorse the principle. And every now and then his choice is inspired (as when April March's "Chick Habit" plays over the closing credits).

  • 1970s nostalgia. One reviewer wrote that Death Proof was "set in 2007 but somehow filmed in 1972," and that about sums up the look. The film stock, the cars, the music, the women's clothes, the posters in their apartments, everything screams 1970s, so when one of the characters breaks out her Nokia and dashes off a text message it is, well, one of those bravura moments. But Tarantino doesn't actually seem to have anything to say about the 1970s. He's just wallowing in his childhood. I'm eleven years younger than he is. Therefore I find it rather tedious.

  • Rambling, mannered conversation. A biiiiig chunk of this movie is devoted to the banter among a group of friends on the way to, and at, a bar. If you asked me to rank every place I'd like to visit via the magic of cinema, "a bar" would rank maybe one or two places higher than "a cancerous lower intestine."

  • Many blatant ass shots. I prefer the anterior aspect.

  • Many many shots of women's bare feet.

  • Car chases and ultra-violence. I looked at some reviews and even the most negative ones raved about what an awesome car chase it was at the end with that stuntwoman hanging onto the hood and everything. Me? Yawn. It's cars going fast. I don't care. Get on with it. Narrative information, please.

    And while the vroom vroom crap bored me, the violence was even worse. In the past I have excused Tarantino's penchant for gruesomeness by suggesting that it functioned as a corrective to movies that acted like video games in which the bad guys simply disappeared once shot. Tarantino's movies, the argument went, reminded a desensitized audience that violence actually does have painful consequences. Well, that's not what we've got here. When the stuntwomen start hunting down the serial killer, we are clearly supposed to be cheering them on, including when they are bludgeoning him to death in a long sequence full of freeze-frames. And that's, well, that's disgusting. Yes, he's a bad guy. Maybe you can make a case that he needed to be run off the road before he had a chance to get away and kill more women. But the moment you start taking joy in it, you are also a bad guy. Encourage audiences to cheer this business on and you are shifting the culture that much closer to Charles Graner territory.

    Call it an homage. Say that Tarantino was just fulfilling the requirements of the genre he was paying tribute to. But no. If those are the requirements, then it's a shitty genre and you shouldn't be paying tribute to it.

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