More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
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Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004)
I’ve only just confirmed for myself that Quentin Tarantino counts Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 as one film in his “The N-th film by...” schtick. If I sat through 2hrs of Vol 1 on release, watching and paying for a separate film, *Quentin*, then you’ll count it as well, damnit. pic.twitter.com/o03sUmDFQ2— Jim Ross (@JimGR) July 16, 2019
In Kill Bill, Tarantino has set himself not only making a revenge story into a film, but also one where he has delayed addressing what happened that gave rise to it at least until the beginning of Vol. 2 (2004) - even if he does not completely do so until Beatrix Kiddo ('The Bride' / Uma Thurman) has tracked down and confronted Bill (David Carradine), whom we do not even see until Vol. 2.
The only reason I’m that bothered is I rather liked Vol 2, after thinking Vol 1 was a scattershot festival of self-indulgent homage.— Jim Ross (@JimGR) July 16, 2019
Suspending the full account for what we have seen for around four hours (since Vol. 1 (2003) is very nearly two hours, and Vol. 2 is longer) puts an especial need to represent the 'chapters' of the film (and parts of them) in a way that makes them varied and discrete, because Tarantino has to maintain our interest in what we see, without our really knowing why we are seeing it.
Not having seen The Kill Bill film(s) at the cinema, @JimGR, I remedied that in Cambridge with, er, a double-bill, and think it not only essemtial that Tarantino stylize the various assassinations, but that he does it in Vol. 2, too— THE AGENT APSLEY #ScrapUniversalCredit #JC4PM2019 (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) July 22, 2019
In Vol. 1, Tarantino cannot resist the bloody fountains that are loosed by decapitation (Boss Tanaka / Jun Kunimura) or severing an arm (Sofie Fatale / Julie Dreyfus), and, whatever anatomical truth there may be in such depictions, he knows that he needs to keep the imagery fresh : so, for example, he switches into monochrome during the onslaught by The Crazy 88s ; when O-Ren Ishii first witnesses killing, he has it rendered in anime ; and The Bride’s first meeting with Hattori Hanzo¹ is quirkily in the style of a picture-story.
There is humour here (as well as passion), but there is more in Vol. 2, and it is more overt - for example, Gordon Liu (who headed The Crazy 88s in Vol. 1) as the amusingly tetchy Kung Fu Master Pai Mei. What remains covert and unexplained – and just as a given (apart from when alluded to in the edgily hilarious stand-off with Karen (Helen Kim) and the pregnancy-test) – is the exact purpose of Bill's having, at his disposal, the killers of The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad : because Tarantino wisely does not flesh it out, and Bill appears both a dilettante and fairly irrational, it seems to operate not as a commercial venture, but a vanity-project. (Which seems quite fitting.)
When, as if to make a statement by their full deployment (though, for the reasons given, it is unclear what that statement would be²), they attack The Bride and her wedding-party, the squad comprises three other women and Bill’s brother, Budd (Michael Madsen). By the time of the opening of Vol. 1, two remain active (O-Ren (Lucy Liu) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah)), so it is not as if this is an outfit that one can never leave, because Budd (Michael Madsen) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) are in forms of domesticity, and, in Vol. 1, The Bride indeed meets (and kills) the latter in a stage of motherhood that is consistent with having quit from working for Bill soon afterwards.
[before he qualifies his utterance]
As we would expect with Tarantino, by Vol. 2 we have looped around on ourselves in this respect, and dialogue has forearmed us, at least, that The Bride’s daughter also survived the shooting (now called B.B., and played by Perla Haney-Jardine). (We know no more than that, or how Bill brought about the current state of affairs, but it must have been the influence of money - as in Chinatown (1974), a film-reference that has greater relevance below.)
Even without knowing the film itself, we may well doubt whether Bill’s influence as a parent is for good when we hear that one of those from which B.B. makes a choice, when she asks if her mother will watch a video with her, is Robert Houston and Kenji Misumi’s Shogun Assassin (1980) : at the same time as Tarantino also appears to be evoking the dubious battle, in Chinatown, for Evelyn Mulwray’s (Faye Dunaway’s) daughter Katherine, born to her own father (Noah Cross), he somehow satisfies us, at the end of the film(s), that The Bride and Bill have wholly different motivations, and that her motherhood will be very different from his fatherhood.
For all the deceptions that Evelyn Mulwray practises on J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), and his indulgence of them (not patiently borne), perhaps we have good reason similarly to believe that she would have been kinder to her daughter than Noah Cross will be…
A questionable assertion - better, say, than #lagrandebellezza ? - but Locke (2013) does share an interest with Kill Bill : Vol. 1 (2003) / Vol. 2 (2004), which derives, inter alia, from The Matrix (1999) et seq. :— THE AGENT APSLEY #ScrapUniversalCredit #JC4PM2019 (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) July 23, 2019
Physicality, and what is the nature of the physical world pic.twitter.com/2JTIMIaDdi
As co-creator with Tarantino of the character of The Bride, Uma Thurman carries us along with her.
Not unusually for the genre of revenge in film (or for its motives unfolding slowly and backwards), this story of a suffering figure, whom we see bloody and beaten, resembles the opposite of hagiography, or of the purpose of an allegory such as that of Constance in Chaucer's Clerk's tale in (The Canterbury Tales), because The Bride expressly endures to kill those who would have killed her and for that motivation :
She is identified strongly with motherhood only towards the end of Vol. 2, and, despite her having a daughter, killed Vernita Green (albeit not as intended) in Vol. 1. Vernita talks of somewhere else to go for a fight (as, later, Bill does), but means it only as a distraction from their murderous plans, whereas, in moonlight and unexpectedly fallen snow, O-Ren provides another an unexpected venue for their fight to the death (although, as she admits, she expected to have tired The Bride out indoors, with The Crazy 88s).
Ashen when, Christ like, The Bride defeats the grave and cheats death, but still slogs it barefoot to rendezvous with Budd and Elle, she stands for some different force : driven by retribution, and, although she is calm, her serenity does not resemble that of The Annunciation from the predella of an altarpiece by Veneziano³, but the bloodiness and brutal energy of the deeds in A Miracle of St Zenobius, which, accompanying the former, helped form part of one whole :
As if abiding by some code of honour (and in a scene that involves too much screeching⁴), we have seen Bill persuade Elle not to kill The Bride in her sleep. Yet, as we find at the close of Vol. 2, it is not, except on his terms, a sense of fairness such as suits him (as does her being in a coma, and the humiliations to which it subjects her ?).
The familiar Orwellian allusion will not escape us when we see that Bill is in Room 101 in the complex where The Bride finds him - just as, by firing a dart at her, he does not allow her to escape saying that she did not believe that marrying Tommy Plympton would actually work out.
Although the immobility of The Bride's bottom half is alluded to by Buck (during his coarse briefing to the sex-client who wants to sleep with her), she is arbitrarily still accorded use of her arms and torso. Having freed herself from Buck, she is seen exerting herself to retire to the back-seats of his Pussy Wagon, and willing strength to exist and make itself manifest in her lower body - a scene that Tarantino and Thurman's characterization has given such emphasis (through voice-over and her repeated injunction to her big toe) that we know, and should keep recalling, how extraordinary are the powers, now and later, with which she gains control of her physical body.
Talking to The Bride at the close of Kill Bill, as well as saying – an understatement ! – that he over-reacted when she disappeared, Bill claims that motherhood was not going to change her nature as a killer.
By the incidental bite of a mosquito (as she is a form of Sleeping Beauty), The Bride woke to a full and vivid awareness of the enormity of the horror of what happened to put her in a coma⁵. We have since seen her screw her energies to kill all those who denied her motherhood and would have stood in her way, as it turns out, of getting not only to Bill, but to her daughter.
The conundrum that the film poses is whether, by doing all that she did, she has actually proved him right.
As a film-adaptation of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) ?— THE AGENT APSLEY #ScrapUniversalCredit #JC4PM2019 (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) July 23, 2019
'#KillBill Vol. 3’ Not Dead Yet: Quentin Tarantino Says He’s Still in Talks With Uma Thurman https://t.co/s9vPoKSyxP pic.twitter.com/Zfzm5VOJQR— IndieWire (@IndieWire) July 22, 2019
¹ It is just ‘one of these things’ about Kill Bill that The Bride is so easily able to enlist the services of Hattori Hanzo (Shin’ichi Chiba (Sonny Chiba), who also tutored the cast) just by alluding to the debt that he owes because of his former disciple (whom Hanzo himself readily identifies as Bill) – presumably, this is why he went into retirement, and breaks a sacred vow to come out of it (Bill, yet only through expedience, is surprised that he did).
² Beyond, that is, the impact in the internal world of the film(s), although voice-over tells us that, in news-reports, the killings went by at least two names – despite hearing the police chief’s pronouncements at the scene, we are simply not invited to consider in any detail what it would actually have looked like for four weapons to be used against less than a dozen unsuspecting people.
In the first film, we not only see the devastation, but also the plea from The Bride to Bill ; in the other, after the two have talked, the camera retires to a safe distance, up and to the left of the chapel, when the four assassins are entering, so that the episode becomes aural, not visual (as we have already seen, what was to be seen).
³ Domenico Veneziano (Domenico di Bartolomeo da Venezia) (1400-1461) ; painter ; Italian artist. Church of Sta. Lucia dei Magnoli, Florence : both panels are now in The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
⁴ The 'marked-on' nature of Daryl Hannah's attire signifies more than it may seem. She may come good in her last couple of minutes on screen, but otherwise, unless Tarantino saw something in her in The Tie That Binds (1995) (or her role as Morticia Addams), she both seems an odd choice (as Sean O'Hagan put it, in The Observer, Tarantino's latest chosen candidate for career resurrection), and nearly did not carry it off. (Nonetheless, Kill Bill may have led on to other things for her.)
⁵ Although Almodóvar’s Talk to Her (Hable con ella) (2002) may look more like coma-care ?
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)