I recently saw Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. Let me first say that I haven’t, until now, really considered myself a Tarantino fan. Checking out his Wikipedia article I realized that he did far fewer features than I originally thought. And of the five features he directed, I am a huge fan of at least three: Death Proof, Reservoir Dogs, and Jackie Brown. Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown did some amazing things with film narrative and characterization, while Death Proof is a brilliant resurrection of the exploitation films of the 70s. And while I recognize the significance of Pulp Fiction as the reification of the independent film movement during the mid-90s, I could certainly live without it, and the same goes for Kill Bill (both volumes).
That said, I have always appreciated, albeit grudgingly at times, Tarantino’s encyclopedic knowledge of b-movies and unconventional education in the hallowed halls of an old school movie rental store. I mean, come on, Tarantino was instrumental in having Detroit 9000 re-released, enough said.
So, when I told a friend how much I liked Death Proof recently, he said he hadn’t seen it and after reading this review by Lance Mannion he was not necessarily inclined to. Here’s a bit from Mannion’s review that kind of sparked my new appreciation for Tarantino that I really didn’t know I had until I had something to react against (sorry Lance):
Tarantino doesn’t love movies. Not the way someone like Woody Allen loves movies. Or even Mel Brooks. Certainly not the way Truffaut loved movies. People who love movies love stories and characters. They love actors. Tarantino likes some of his actor pals, and he enjoys hanging with pretty actresses and working with them.
Tarantino doesn’t love movies as much as Woody Allen or Mel Brooks, not to mention the great Truffaut? What a ridiculous accusation this is. Why would anyone premise a review on the idea that one director loves film more than another. Who cares? Would it make any sense for me to argue that Jack Hill loved film more than Roger Corman? The elitism of traditional film criticism oozes from such a statement. What if I said that Fritz Lange loved film more than Leni Riefenstahl? Could this statement ever be separated from the politics each of these filmmakers (both technical masters) represent?
Perhaps the different political and cultural context of this statement might expose the absurd logic of such an accusation. Does the phantom fact that revered Fritz Lange might have arguably loved movies more than the infamous Riefenstahl begin to suggest anything about the political context in which both created what most critics consider masterpieces? Does an artist’s (or a film’s) greatness depend upon something other than its context? And does what an artist really thinks or loves ever play a role in their perceived greatness? I would argue no for both.
Death Proof is the film Tarantino’s “education” had been preparing him for all along. More than that, it came off beautifully. Kurt Russell was an awesome maniac, and his character in this film made me want to re-watch Escape from New York and The Thing yet again. It was a genuine exploitation film with some of the best moments of shock and schlock I have yet to see in this genre, not to mention some unbelievable stunts, an impressive resistance to over doing CGI, and a complete disregard for being “good.” Maybe Tarantino doesn’t love film, maybe he hates film to its very core. But I really could care less how he feels about film, for Death Proof was a gem.