Tag Archives: quentin tarantino

Didn’t She (Blow Your Mind This Time)

As soon as I learned that the subject of this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot” was Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997), a thought struck me: “I’m probably going to choose an image of Pam Grier being a badass.” And here we are! The above is part of a rat-a-tat-tat shot sequence, timed down to the millisecond courtesy of Tarantino’s late editor Sally Menke. Jackie scans a list of tenants and dials the number for Bridget Fonda’s Melanie, whose voice snaps out of the intercom: “What?” Jackie retorts with her own name, as if reciting a password. That sharp delivery, the way she sidles up to the intercom during this roughly two-second shot… it’s become cliché to call Tarantino’s characters “cool,” but I don’t know another word that would fit her so well.

That coolness has a special power here, too, because Jackie Brown is by far the lowest-key of Tarantino’s movies. Although he’d already aestheticized the bullshit small talk of L.A.-area criminals in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, here that inclination toward the mundane is pushed even farther. Stylized dialogue and genre movie homage—the latter represented mostly by Grier’s mere presence—take a backseat to scenes of Jackie and bail bondsman Max Cherry doing business, killing time, and awkwardly getting to know one another. This is a very autumnal story, one that’s frank as can be about the ages of its stars, so moments of intense cool like this take on a new significance.

In light of the weariness that pervades Grier’s performance, right up through that heartbreaking lip-sync to “Across 110th Street” in the final scene, shots like this come to feel like anything but movie star posturing. This is Pam Grier: genuine badass. Her image is burnt into the composition, with her matching red nails and dress balanced against the muddy blue of the intercom. The shades suggest glamour, mystery, while the glint of her gold earring and the hair flowing out toward the edge of the frame put me in mind of classical sculpture. Jackie Brown may break down the iconography of Grier’s 1970s performances, but as she leans against that intercom you can see it rising stronger than ever before, phoenix-style, from the ashes.

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Here Comes the Bride

I wrote about the Kill Bill movies for Press Play. I also noticed a couple of Easter eggs in them. First is the reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (left) at the end of Volume 2 (right) as the Bride and B.B. curl up in bed, bathed in red light… not unlike Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot, the latter of whom is another B.B.

The second is the repeated references to cereal across both Kill Bills: Vernita’s box of Kaboom, the Lucky Charms in the motel room at the end, and of course the “Silly rabbit… Trix are for… kids” line during O-Ren’s battle with the Bride. This motif calls childhood to my mind. It’s that act of sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday morning, bowl of sugary cereal in your lap, having your mind shaped by whatever trashy movie happens to be on.

Distant memories, immaturity, channel surfing. Yeah, that sounds like the whole Kill Bill saga in a nutshell.

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Link Dump: #87

This week’s kitty is from the prestige drama Notes on a Scandal, which has some terrific work by Judi Dench (and her poor sick kitty) but left a bad taste in my mouth with its aggressive homophobia. Anyway, kitty. And now links:

Two weird, bestiality-themed search terms this week: first the relatively prosaic “beautiful boy fuck sheep” and then the “Whaaaat?”-inducing “pussy girls fucking horse monkey zebra camel etc.” Whaaaat? indeed.

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Link Dump: #83

Japanese staring-you-in-the-eyes KITTY!

We’re baaaack! After a November hiatus, new content is finally returning to Pussy Goes Grrr. More to come over the next few weeks, too, as we wrap up 2012 and see what the new year has in store. In the meantime, we have a kitty for you—this week’s ominous feline comes from Kaneto Shindo’s spooooky ghost story Kuroneko, which literally translates into Black Cat—and some links!

Finally, some recent/disturbing search terms: “convinced sister to have sex with me,” “constantly worrying if baby is alive,” and “ten men dum in one pussy.” On the more amusing side, “lustoffuck.” Which, I guess, is “lust of fuck” condensed into a single word?

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Horror is everywhere (4)

Over the past couple years, I’ve written repeatedly about how “horror is everywhere”: how horror iconography slips across genre boundaries, turning up in surprising places; how savvy filmmakers employ traditional horror imagery—vampires, witches, ghosts, etc.—even in “straight” dramas, often to shocking effect. So now here are five more films, all plucked from the TSPDT “1,000 Greatest Films” list, and their scariest moments…

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

I’m certainly not the first to point out that Frank Capra’s “beloved Christmas classic” is also one of the darkest films to emerge from 1940s Hollywood, tearing as it does into American ideals like family and the free market with severe emotional precision. But the darkness extends beyond the film’s sociopolitical implications: when Clarence lets George experience the world if he had never been born, it’s visually coded as an actual horror movie—an anti-ghost story, if you will. George investigates his and Mary’s would-be house, but nobody lives there; in this reality, it’s an unlit, decrepit building with graffiti and broken windows. And it’s haunted, sure enough, by George and his now-false memories of his wife and children. Capra uses cobwebs and shadows right out of Gothic horror to give George the ultimate “Be careful what you wish for.”

Easy Rider (1969)

Long before he became an avatar of cackling grotesquerie in The Shining and Batman, Jack Nicholson was on the other side of horror, as a victim of redneck violence in Dennis Hopper’s hippie picaresque. Although smoking pot and riding motorcycles may sound like fun, a cloud of southern “good ol’ boy” bigotry hangs over the film. When free spirits Billy (Hopper), Wyatt (Peter Fonda), and George (Nicholson) stop off for lunch in a small Louisiana town, their mildly rebellious looks and behavior stir up rage and jealousy in the local men, leading to a late-night ambush on the hippies’ campsite and George’s death by beating. This bloody turn of events directly anticipates a whole wave of horror movies (DeliveranceThe Hills Have Eyes, Pumpkinhead) wherein rural folk assault unwanted outsiders. (See “Getting Even,” the third chapter of Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws for more on this “city vs. country” strain of horror.)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Really, what isn’t scary in Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian classic? In its futuristic England, no amount of locked doors can keep out psychopathic thugs, whose ranks include the protagonist, Alex. The film follows two different home invasion subplots, one of which segues into a rape-revenge narrative, while the other ends abruptly when Alex cracks the homeowner’s skull with a penis statue. The only reasons, I’d say, that A Clockwork Orange isn’t categorized as pure horror are 1) because of its sci-fi setting and 2) because it’s from the POV of the monster. And what a monster! Malcolm McDowell’s performance stretches the definition of “human” as he gibbers, lies, and beats his way through adolescence. Just listen to his low, chuckling delivery of the closing line, “I was cured all right.” Absolutely spine-chilling.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Watch the last 10-15 minutes of Coppola’s war epic without sound or context. Then tell me it doesn’t look like the kinkiest, most homoerotic art-horror movie ever made. A soldier, wearing little more than sweat, fog, and shadow, breaks into a temple and—symbolically cross-cut with the ritual slaughter of a water buffalo—stabs an older man to death. By now, they’re both possessed by “the jungle” (i.e. by the film’s still-colonialist conception of the Southeast Asian wilderness) and far from the pseudo-civilization of the American military. That soldier, Martin Sheen’s Willard, has refashioned himself as something more like the primordial Creature from the Black Lagoon than a war hero. And the coup de grâce he delivers is edited to feel more like an orgasm than an assassination. “The horror, the horror,” indeed.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino routinely makes visual nods to obscure horror movies—see the references to Dario Argento and Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell in the first Kill Bill, for example—but when Pulp Fiction‘s “Gold Watch” chapter (my favorite of the bunch) descends into Maynard’s basement, its horror is more than just an allusion. It becomes a short, sharp recapitulation of that same “city vs. country” horror found in Easy Rider (or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), as a pair of Angelenos are bound and gagged by a coven of pro-Confederate hick rapists. Butch and Marsellus get their grisly revenge, of course, but they can’t unsee what they’ve seen: that L.A.’s horrors go so much deeper than the criminal underworld they’re used to.

This lesson applies equally well to moviegoers, too: you may think you know what genre you’re in, but horror could be lurking just around the corner.

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Why copy-editing is important

Exhibit A: Entertainment Weekly‘s headline about the prizewinners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Exhibit B: the profile supposedly for The Fighter director David O. Russell from the L.A. TimesOscar nominees Cheat Sheet. What do they have in common? They’re both from the websites of major print publications, and they both reveal fairly shocking editorial laziness. Granted, I’m just some penny-ante blogger who edits a biweekly college paper, but even I know to double-check the spelling of words in a headline before making it visible to the public. I mean, seriously: the article was about Sundance. But I won’t belabor the point; it pretty much speaks for itself.

The other example is, I suppose, more acceptable, because I don’t know how they go about changing their Cheat Sheet from year to year. Somehow, somebody fucked up and accidentally left behind Tarantino’s information from last year. (Better yet, Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary‘s last name is misspelled in it, too!) However, it’s still pretty disappointing when days pass and, as of this writing, they still haven’t changed it. You’d think maybe they’d glance at their own website once in a while, to check for mistakes like this? EW thankfully changed theirs pretty quick, although as you can see, the URL still says “Sudance.” [Cue sad trombone.]

I’m sorry, David O. Russell, but according to the L.A. Times, you’re just another incarnation of Quentin Tarantino.

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“I blame society!”: Repo Man and punk satire

[Watch out for spoilers, and for irradiated Chevy Malibus.]

I rewatched Alex Cox’s cult classic Repo Man (1984) last Thursday, talked about it briefly on a radio show on Friday, and still have some ideas about it that I want to mull over. I first saw it on New Year’s Eve a couple years ago, and an additional viewing reinforces the reasons I enjoy it: its muddled rebellion, its raw charm, its defiance of genre conventions, its je nais sais punk. It earns its “cult” status because it captures in amber a specific moment of cultural history, with all its youthful anger, ideological chaos, and quirky stylistic confusion.

Let it be said: Repo Man is above all a film of its time. This was a time when its star, Emilio Estevez, was about to appear in The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, a time when Ronald Reagan was about to be reelected in a landslide, and a time when the Soviet Union had less than a decade left of existence. Sid Vicious, the subject of Cox’s next movie, had died five years earlier; the explosion of the Iran-Contra affair was just around the chronological corner. I may not have been around, but all available clues suggest that the mid-’80s were a prime era of disillusionment, of young people trying to piece back together who they were and what they could believe in. Repo Man‘s Otto (Estevez) is offered no end of solutions, and responds to most of them with an instinctive “Fuck you.”

I recently caught up with The Breakfast Club at last, and the contrast between Estevez’s roles in the two films is startling. The opening quote of the John Hughes film (from David Bowie’s “Changes”) asserts that it’s a movie about “these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds”; throughout the story, the five stereotyped teenagers from suburban Chicago attempt to reconcile their identities, their futures, and their relationships with their parents. In the end, they conclude that the world of high school is tough, and cliques are unfair, but that in each of them is a brain, jock, etc., and they’re not so different after all. Much soul-baring goes on, and it leads to a comfortable set of answers.

Otto, meanwhile, never quite pulls together a coherent question. Unlike his Breakfast Club counterpart, he’s not concerned about whether he’ll grow up to “be like [his] parents,” since they’ve sold out his future for a greasy televangelist’s false promises. (Between Reverend Larry, the television he’s on, and their shared blunt, this scene literalizes a lifestyle based around “opiates of the masses,” akin to Brave New World‘s soma vacations.) Otto’s crisis isn’t that he’ll sink into the shallow, bourgeois mold of his parents, but that he – and by extension, America’s youth – has no older role models who aren’t hypocrites or symbols of crass consumerism.

Early in the film, after an unsatisfying party with his punk friends, Otto walks along railroad tracks, singing Black Flag’s “TV Party“: “We’re just dedicated to our favorite shows! Saturday Night Live, Monday Night Football, Dallas…” The punk creed espoused by the film is that the mass of Americans have been reduced to brain-dead drones – like Otto’s coworker Kevin, who obliviously sings a 7 Up jingle – and that any past ideals have been co-opted by Corporate America. Opportunity knocks, however, in the form of Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a hard-assed old-timer who initiates him through deception into the world of repoing cars. “Repo man is always intense,” explains Bud.

For Otto, the life of a repo man is an alternative to both conformity and punk nihilism. It’s a lifestyle positioned on the edge of the law, a career based on glorified grand theft auto. Bud dresses “kinda square” so that he’s viewed as a detective, and this hints at some of the film’s noir roots (as do references to Kiss Me Deadly and The Big Heat). By joining with Bud and the other repo men, Otto can find some common ground to rest his feet on, even if he shares it with loners from decades past. It’s a chance for him to ply a trade, but a trade that amounts to lying and stealing – the repo men don’t make anything, they take prized possessions away. Theirs is a job that prospers amidst economic decline. Instead of buying into the American dream, Otto gets paid by commission to repossess the dreams of others.

As you’d imagine, many of Repo Man‘s conversations revolve around cars. “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are,” posits Miller, the burnt-out holy fool who hangs around the parking lot; it’s an absurdist epigram whose possible truth informs much of the film’s frantic driving. Due to Miller’s supposed madness, he can question such a mainstay of 20th century American culture, rejecting a fact of life (that is, automotive transportation) that every other character takes for granted. Miller’s crazy idea is even implicitly accepted by the film’s big MacGuffin, a “1964 Chevy Malibu” worth $20,000 if repossessed, which is slowly killing its lobotomized driver. Its trunk contains something (a neutron bomb? Alien corpses?) that vaporizes human bodies in an instant. Through this sci-fi symbol, the film presents us with a deadly quandary: the automobile as both toxic and supremely desirable.

The Chevy Malibu’s many meanings are symptomatic of a beautiful tendency in the film, which is its nonstop allusions to Cold War zeitgeists. Whereas The Breakfast Club‘s teenagers live in a self-contained bubble of angst and alienation, Repo Man is very politically aware (even if its responses to late-Cold War politics are rarely nuanced or coherent). Otto, Bud, and the rest exist in the shadow of the Communist Russia, American involvement in Central America (which would become the subject matter of Cox’s Walker), and the imminent possibility of nuclear annihilation. Wally Cleaver could have easily fit in with the students at John Hughes’ Shermer High School; in Cox’s dystopian Los Angeles, the Cleavers’ family values have been dismantled and found insufficient. To this end, Repo Man also follows a trio of Otto’s old punk friends as they steal cars, pick fights, and hold up convenience stores.

Duke, Debbi, and Archie are human repositories of cultural minutiae, constructing their identities out of what they think rebels are supposed to be. As they roam the city streets, Duke howls, “Let’s go do some crimes!”, and it’s emblematic of how vague their motivations are. Just before their last hold-up, Duke turns to Debbi and proposes that they settle down and have kids – the ultimate concession to bourgeois banality – because “it just seems like the thing to do.” No matter how hard the punk kids try to rebel, they’re too unguided to avoid falling back into these well-worn behavioral scripts. As he’s dying, Duke falls into another: “I blame society.” Otto corrects him: “You’re a white suburban punk, just like me.” None of them have better excuses sociological excuses than sheer boredom; they’re just borrowing from antiquated images of “juvenile delinquents.” At least Otto’s self-aware enough to realize it.

Ultimately, I see Repo Man as a reaction. Alex Cox surveys an ugly postmodern landscape – both in terms of geographical and media realities – and considers, through Otto, all the ways a teenager could try to find some glimmer of truth in such a world. This world is an amalgamation of recycled ideas and images, from John Ford westerns to film noir, from 1950s sci-fi movies to Weekly World News headlines and conspiracy theories, from the 1950s-’60s glamorization of car culture to Emiliano Zapata, from 1930s gangster movies to drugged-out ex-hippies. And of course, punk rock. For Cox, the streets of Los Angeles – and by extension, the whole southwest – is an appropriately desolate playing field where these icons can be smashed against one another.

“John Wayne was a fag,” states Miller to the disgust of the other repo men. The film deals in this kind of debunking, bringing legends down to size – the same goal as the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen.” Some Americans put their faith in the Scientology-like text of Dioretix, while others pay for bland white containers marked “FOOD” or “BEER.” Repo Man scoffs at them all. It’s a reaction, and largely a rejection of all the lies and stupidity that the youngest generation has had to put up with, manifested repeatedly through satire. It’s not always the most clear-headed of films, but that’s much of the point. It’s a melange of genres, offering many forking paths through a microcosmic naked city, and draped in a meandering adventure saga. Maybe you can see how Repo Man is a clear source of inspiration for Quentin Tarantino.

So I think that should suffice as an introduction to Repo Man‘s raucous critiques of western civilization. In many ways, the film resembles Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which plays similar tricks with the cultural baggage of 1950s America, though Repo Man holds together more successfully. I’m still not sure what its moral is, and it might not even have one – it ends with a flagrant deus ex machina wherein Miller’s craziness gives him the edge over everyone. However, it’s endlessly quotable, has a great punk rock soundtrack, and crams its little potshots full of wit, so – as Otto might say – who the fuck cares? Repo Man may be a quirky cult hit, but it’s also an explosive, clever little time bomb of a movie.

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