ARTS

  /  

April 23, 2004

This time with feeling: Tarantino skimps on blood in poignant second act

Quentin Tarantino clearly has a foot fetish. Specifically, he seems to have a hard-core thing for Uma Thurman's feet. But if he can make movies as entertaining as the Kill Bills, then who am I to judge?

Kill Bill: Vol. 1, like The Passion, is a "talking point" movie, good for parties and water coolers thanks to its excessive violence, seemingly slim plot, and very talkative, media-friendly director. It's been obsessed over in the press and has become a box office (and DVD) success due to fanatical fans, aggressive detractors (though fewer of the latter than one would expect, considering the content of the film), and masses of generally pleased viewers. Embracing the joie de vivre of the preceding volume, the second manages to live up to its potential—though not in the way that Vol. 1 might have led you to expect.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was an ecstatic bloodbath. From its opening credits to its non-ending, it's the film equivalent of the adrenaline shot to the heart Thurman received in Pulp Fiction. The violence, as beautifully choreographed as it was derivative, left a pleasing aftertaste similar (but superior) to the feeling I used to get after playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for hours on end on Sega Genesis. Vol. 1 is a meticulous movie where every frame appears to be cared for, each reference over-analyzed, and each gush of blood preplanned. Even the goons seem to have been pondered over. What it lacked in dialogue and exposition it made up for with the warm and fuzzy feeling of accomplishment it left as I stumbled out of the theater. The Bride (Thurman) had kicked ass in Technicolor, slaughtering countless opponents, and was on her way to do the titular deed.

Not surprisingly, she does it in Vol. 2, but man, is this a different movie. Just as clever and carefully constructed, it provides the emotional payoff for the violence of the first film. Where the opening volume was an action flick, the subsequent one is more of a spaghetti western. The action is still there, but is toned down (a bit) to make way for wordy dialogue and a sprinkling of plot. The Bride gets a name, a daughter, and a bit of history. Bill transforms from a faceless Charlie to a flesh-and-blood charmer with a flute (David Carradine—y'know, the guy from Kung Fu), swords are exchanged and crossed, masters are killed and avenged, and the entire time Tarantino manages to slip as many looks down at the fair feet of Uma as he possibly can.

So many foot shots. One of the most memorable scenes in the first Kill Bill occurred when an atrophied Thurman, in the back seat of the Pussy Wagon, commanded herself to "wiggle your big toe." The long shots of Thurman's immobile feet sent a podophobic friend of mine into fits but were so quirky, kinky, and unusual that they stood out. After that, it was hard not to notice each time Uma's toes made their way onto the screen. It was impossible to take your eyes off of them. Acknowledging this, Tarantino gives Uma's feet a starring role in the second installment—but specifically, in one of the most memorable attacks to appear in recent mainstream film.

But it's not all feet. Tarantino clearly loves moving images of every shape and form. He sometimes loses himself in his endless referencing, but this is not a bad thing. Synthesis is just as valid a form of creation as any other, and Tarantino is a master of it. Part of the fun of all of his movies is the depth of the references that he stuffs into them. Through sheer force of will he makes referencing schlock an art form. It's nearly impossible to refrain from smiling as he adopts and subverts fading actors, forgotten songs (I'm still a little jarred by the Malcolm McLaren acid/trip-hop version of the Zombies "She's Not There"), and plays with different formats and colors in the process.

The final product is a smorgasbord of genres, with a little something for everyone (even if they don't like violence or feet). And of course there's more to come. When I left Vol. 1 a friend turned to me and said, "I can't wait till the second one comes out." After seeing the second installment the same friend turned to me again and said, "I can't wait to watch both movies on the directors-cut DVD."