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Kill Bill (#110 of 14)

Review: Adilifu Nama’s Race on the QT: Blackness and the Films of Quentin Tarantino

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Review: Adilifu Nama’s Race on the QT: Blackness and the Films of Quentin Tarantino
Review: Adilifu Nama’s Race on the QT: Blackness and the Films of Quentin Tarantino

Aiming to confront “the racial frankness in [Quentin] Tarantino’s films and not the man himself,” Adilifu Nama’s new book offers close readings of the writer-director’s eight feature films (and additionally, True Romance) in order to unveil the complexities of racial interest and formation as they occur within the Tarantino oeuvre. Nama takes this charge as a corrective to critics like Armond White who view Tarantino’s films as “pop sleaze without the politics,” or Stanley Crouch, who’s compared Tarantino’s interest in race with novelist Ralph Ellison’s. Nama falls somewhere in the middle, wishing to lift the “hackneyed claims that Tarantino is a racist,” while stopping well short of hagiography, stating “at most [Tarantino’s films] serve as catalysts for discussions around black racial formation across the public sphere.” The latter assertion is well taken, since the totality of Race on the QT provides ample, perceptive examinations, but almost exclusively along narrative and character lines, with little attention paid to form or aesthetics, rendering several of these readings useful, but only up to a point.

Nama’s best insights come in the book’s first chapter with analyses of Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, where clever approaches to dialogue and each film’s implicit critiques will make even the most ardent viewer want to revisit them. Nama is particularly on point with Reservoir Dogs, which he deems “a visual analogue of the type of hypermasculinity and extravagant violence rapped about on top of 1970s funk samples.” That is, Nama meticulously mines each of the film’s white characters’ racist views on blackness (of which there are plenty) and positions them in relation to Holdaway (Randy Brooks), the film’s sole black character, since he’s “a formidable tactician and the principle architect for bringing down [the] crime organization.” By recasting Reservoir Dogs as a “racial revenge narrative,” Nama acutely displays the film’s ties with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, films that utilize this kind of narrative far more explicitly. However, Nama’s discussion of these films proves largely unsatisfactory, since here he’s adamant and repetitive in his assertions that Inglourious Basterds is a “science-fiction fantasy” and Django Unchained a “Gothic horror film.” These categorical imperatives detract from Nama’s stated interests in reading for blackness.

A Cut Above: An Interview with Django Unchained Editor Fred Raskin

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A Cut Above: An Interview with <em>Django Unchained</em> Editor Fred Raskin
A Cut Above: An Interview with <em>Django Unchained</em> Editor Fred Raskin

By all accounts, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a massive film in both scope and scale, boasting a large ensemble cast, a story that spans years, and a mix of locations and climates. The job of assembling all of this was given to film editor Fred Raskin, who, while working closely with Tarantino, cut the film to a final run time of two hours and 45 minutes, leaving almost two additional hours of footage on the cutting room floor.

A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Raskin honed his craft working as an assistant editor for Tarantino’s late editor Sally Menke, aiding her on Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. He then moved up to the position of editor with director Justin Lin, working on three Fast and the Furious films: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, and Fast Five. After Menke’s tragic death in 2010, Raskin got the call from Tarantino to take the lead on editing his new Spaghetti-Western-meets-blaxploitation flick.

After spending nearly a year assembling Django Unchained, Raskin, who is now armed with a BAFTA nomination, opens up about his work on the Oscar-nominated film, the job of a film editor, and working with one of his cinematic heroes.

Back in the Saddle: An Interview with Kevin Stoehr About the Film Western

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Back in the Saddle: An Interview with Kevin Stoehr About the Film Western
Back in the Saddle: An Interview with Kevin Stoehr About the Film Western

“It was Chico Marx, of all people, who uttered one of my favorite lines, ’I’d like the West better if it was in the East,’” says Kevin Stoehr, a professor of humanities at Boston University. It’s an hour into our interview and we’re finally back on topic. After all, the whole reason I made the long journey to Stoehr’s seaside condo in Portland, Maine was to discuss his acclaimed new book, Ride, Boldly, Ride: The Evolution of the American Western, which he co-authored with Mary Lea Bandy. But the professor, a conversationalist without equal, has been on a roll.

In the past half hour, this master of the non sequitur has discussed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the hidden homoeroticism in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the origins of kick boxing, Rod Steiger’s unforgettable performance as Mr. Joyboy in The Loved One, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And if all that weren’t enough, he’s treated me to a killer imitation of Truman Capote in Murder by Death.

Now it’s back to cowboys. And it suddenly occurs to me that the ruggedly handsome Stoehr bears more than a passing resemblance to one. He’s a strapping six-foot-four, the same imposing height as western icons John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. When I suggest that the professor wouldn’t look at all out of place outfitted in steel spurs and leather chaps, he blushes and is for once totally speechless. That sort of compliment may be a bit too Brokeback Mountain for him. But he recovers quickly.

“This project has been a genuine labor of love for me on so many different levels,” Stoehr says of his comprehensive study, which has been earning rave reviews. Dave Kehr of the New York Times calls Ride, Boldly, Ride, “a sweeping, insightful account of this most rich and resilient of movie genres.” In celebration of the book’s publication, the Museum of Modern Art recently held a month-long film series and invited Stoehr to introduce screenings of two rarely seen silent westerns, D.W. Griffith’s The Battle at Elderbush Gulch and John Ford’s Straight Shooting.

Poster Lab: Nurse 3D

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Poster Lab: <em>Nurse 3D</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Nurse 3D</em>

Here’s a new one: Nurse 3D, a horror thriller that goes full throttle with the Kill Bill vignette of a whistling Daryl Hannah, is inspired by the photography of Lionsgate’s chief marketing officer Tim Palen, who’s certainly made his mark in the world of gorno advertising. If you’ve never heard of Palen, you’ve no doubt seen his work, which has ushered in the splattery installments of the Saw and Hostel franchises. It’s Palen you have to thank if you got a kick out of the severed, Swamp-Thing fingers on the Saw II poster, or the close-up shot of raw boar meat that promoted Hostel: Part II (Palen bought the meat from a butcher and photographed it in his home). How one gets from there to a film about a killer nurse is uncertain, but there’s something intriguing—and, yes, artful—about Palen’s story and aesthetic, which both seem shrewdly perverse. The meat poster for Hostel: Part II is terrific, and the one-sheet for the first installment, whose image Palen plucked from the daguerreotype collection of a medical photographer, isn’t too shabby either. This is a true designer who knows the power and value of iconography, even if his interests have a way of turning the stomach.

Bringing Slight and Dishonor to Action Games Samurai Warriors 3

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Bringing Slight and Dishonor to Action Games: Samurai Warriors 3
Bringing Slight and Dishonor to Action Games: Samurai Warriors 3

Remember those side-scrolling, beat-’em-up arcade classics? The ones we’d play at places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or laser tag joints, and they usually featured X-Men or Ninja Turtles? We can all agree they’re oldies-but-goodies, and every once and a while, the greatness tries to be replicated. Samurai Warriors 3 for the Nintendo Wii could have been such a game. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t cut it. And there’s a lot more missing than a pizza grease-slathered joystick.

In the latest installment of Tecmo Koei’s Samurai Warriors series, the action/adventure story takes place smack in the middle of a war in feudal Japan. Choose from a variety of famous warriors to control (including a ninja modeled after Hattori Hanzo, a real-life ninja from the 16th century who was honored in the Kill Bill films) and fend off attacking forces. In Story Mode, each level begins with a mission outline, explaining step-by-step objectives you need to accomplish, like defeating a certain foe or protecting a certain lord. You can replay missions in Free Mode, and in the unique Historical Mode, you participate in reinterpretations of actual battles.

Music Video: Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé, "Telephone"

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Music Video: Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé, “Telephone”
Music Video: Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé, “Telephone”

Last fall, while everyone was going gaga over Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video, I found myself scratching my head. I had already paid penance and proudly secured my seat on the Gaga train, but the crowning of the pop singer as the music video medium’s new queen seemed premature at best. Directed by the always reliable but often unremarkable Francis Lawrence, “Bad Romance” was like 2001 meets Alien meets an Alexander McQueen runway show; from Gaga’s outlandish couture (dig that pre-coital polar-bear-rug getup) and a plot ostensibly warning about the dangers of hatching hot alien babes and trying to mate with them (which admittedly sounds pretty awesome on paper), the clip was a mishmash of ideas that simply didn’t gel.

The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part Two

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The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part Two
The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part Two

JASON BELLAMY: Well, Ed, after a few days off we’re ready to move into decidedly fresh territory, because now Inglourious Basterds has entered the conversation, and it has done so with a bullet, or a baseball bat, or something. I have seen the film twice now and I’m ready to proclaim it the most thrilling picture of the year thus far (and, just so you know, that’s a carefully chosen adjective). But what does that really mean? Pretty much nothing. So, with another tip of the cap to My Tarantino Problem, and Yours, the April 2007 give-and-take between Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich, let’s dive into the deep end once more.

At the end of Tarantino’s World War II (revenge) fantasy, Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine looks straight into the camera and says: “I think this might just be my masterpiece.” He’s referring, of course, to a freshly carved swastika, but I wonder if—like so many characters before—Aldo might just be speaking for the filmmaker behind the camera and behind that carefully chosen line. And so, Ed, I ask you: Is Inglourious Basterds Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece?

The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part One

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The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part One
The Conversations: Quentin Tarantino Part One

JASON BELLAMY: Ed, I am daunted. Let’s get that out of the way. This is the last subject I ever expected us to cover—Quentin Tarantino. What a thoroughly thankless assignment! It’s not that there isn’t anything to say about the oeuvre of this 46-year-old filmmaker. Hardly. Since 1992, when his Reservoir Dogs became an indie sensation, Tarantino has inspired as much chatter as one encounters in his tongue-powered films. Diehard film fans from both sides of the aisle have dissected his influence and influences. They’ve celebrated his distinctive style or ridiculed it. They’ve called him the greatest filmmaker of his generation or a plagiarist, and sometimes both at the same time. They have suggested he is a heroic preservationist of film history, a filmmaking Indiana Jones, or they have suggested he is film history’s archenemy, a Nazi-esque figure using others’ masterpieces as kindling for his bonfires. I could go on. Tarantino’s films may be original, brilliant, witty, exhilarating, hilarious, childish, nauseating, offensive, brazen, pathetically derivative, or some combination of the above, but they are always something. Everyone, it seems, is somehow affected by Tarantino. Everyone, it seems, has a take on Tarantino.

Against this wall of noise, what are two more opinions worth? Ed, we’ve never gone into one of these discussions with the attitude of creating the preeminent analysis of the subject in question (neither of us is that arrogant), but in this case I’m not sure we can even hope to produce the most illuminating two-person debate of Tarantino to appear at this blog. As longtime readers of The House Next Door already know, Matt Zoller Seitz and Keith Uhlich set the bar extremely high with the transcription of their live QT debate in April 2007 that they called My Tarantino Problem, and Yours. It was that piece, incidentally, that made me leap at the chance to bring our conversations series here to the House. I’ve read it start to finish at least a half-dozen times, and it never ceases to engage me. And thus it’s that piece that made me think that Tarantino wasn’t a topic worth our time. Save for bringing to the table QT’s seventh—depending on how you count—major directorial effort, Inglorious Basterds, which as of beginning this discussion we haven’t seen, what more is there to say?

Yet, at the urging of our editor, here we are. I’m excited as usual, but, yes, I am daunted. I’d like to think that our conversation can tread lightly on some of those oh-so-familiar Tarantino battlegrounds in an attempt to find some mostly unexplored terrain, but, as simple as that sounds, I am doubtful. I am reminded that at the heart of every Tarantino discussion is a debate over Tarantino’s depth, or lack thereof. And so I wonder: What if in trying to look beyond the surface of Tarantino’s controversial reputation we find that there’s nothing more there? Could it be that the most compelling element of Tarantino’s filmmaking has become our inability to collectively define it?

The Conversations: Overlooked, Part One—Undertow

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The Conversations: Overlooked, Part One—Undertow
The Conversations: Overlooked, Part One—Undertow

Jason Bellamy: For our third installment of “The Conversations,” we decided to each select a film from the past 10 years that we thought was unfortunately overlooked and/or unfairly maligned. Serendipitously, we selected films that the other person had yet to see. You elected to champion 2004’s Undertow. I selected 2002’s Solaris. These films have few similarities, and so there will be no attempt to connect them beyond our feeling that they are deserving of increased discussion and praise.

Thus, we begin with Undertow. Prior to seeing this film, I knew exactly four things about it: 1) Its director is David Gordon Green; 2) Its star is Jamie Bell (or as I usually call him, “The kid from Billy Elliot”); 3) It’s set in the South; 4) Roger Ebert loved, loved, loved it. That’s it, and that’s all. I vaguely remember the film coming out and being interested in it. Yet somehow I never got to it until now.

If Undertow was maligned (I’ve avoided checking Metacritic to this point), I don’t remember that. Overlooked seems right. Mention of Green usually inspires reference to Undertow predecessors George Washington and All the Real Girls. I’m sure you and Ebert aren’t Undertow’s only fans, but I can’t say I remember anyone else so much as mentioning it.

Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill

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Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill
Blooming Lotus: Redemption and Spiritual Transformation in Kill Bill

Not since Stanley Kubrick defused psychological interpretations of his adaptation of The Shining—by defining it as simply a ghost story—has a director so decisively discouraged theoretical analysis of an intriguing work. Yet, Quentin Tarantino has preempted similar inquiries with respect to Kill Bill by taking every opportunity to define his four-hour saga only in terms of its influences, while reducing it, without elaboration, to a singular and obvious theme of revenge. In spite of Tarantino’s recalcitrance, I’m unable to quell my suspicions that there may be more here than has been claimed.

Anyone can imitate anything; it is my sense that Kill Bill is more than an imitation, revision or reconsideration of Seventies grindhouse and western cinema. And it contains too many cues that it is more than “simply” a sprawling homage or the story of an angry woman’s revenge.

Let’s be honest. The young viewers who will be most influenced by Kill Bill won’t care, initially at least, that a particular scene “refers” to Dressed to Kill or that the character Pai Mei is an artifact from Shaw Brothers films (and before that, a historical figure); if they are in the midst of that miraculous courtship that viewers enjoy with films that rapture the imagination, they will naturally ask themselves the same questions Tarantino, as an impressionable youth, likely asked himself about the works that took his breath away: Why do I like it? What is this film about? What drives my favorite characters? Is there some less-than-obvious meaning here to be gleaned? In addition to those questions, one I sometimes ask myself when faced with a work this ambitious—and in some mysterious way obsessive—is, Why was it so important to this director to tell this story?