Saturday 15 September 2007

Tarantino 'Death Proof' - London Q&A: Pt 2

This is the second part of my write up of the Death Proof Q&A with Quentin Tarantino and Zoe Bell that I was luckily enough to attend. (The first part can be read here.) I've tried to address the most commonly talked about aspects of the film at the moment. Apologies if it's a bit rambling and not immediately compelling.

Other parts: Part One - Part Three

Spoilers below!

Death Proof vs Grindhouse
At the moment, wherever Death Proof is being discussed by movie fans, there seems to be someone complaining that they're being forced to 'double dip' on DVD because Death Proof and Grindhouse are "obviously" going to be released separately on DVD, and that the only reason they're not able to buy Grindhouse right away is because it flopped in US cinemas, and they're trying to get everyone to buy it twice: First as a stand-alone movie, then in a Grindhouse boxset. Now while there is some truth that UK and Australian cinema-goers were deprived of a theatrical release of Grindhouse because of its lack-lustre US box-office, it's not the case when it comes to any DVD releases. Nobody, believe it or not, is being forced to 'double dip'. (Remember the rumours about 'six different versions of Kill Bill to be released in a year'? Yep, we're still waiting...)

Death Proof 'Extended' on DVD (a confusing title) is actually just Death Proof. You see, as Tarantino explained at the Q&A, he made Death Proof, Rodriguez made Planet Terror and together they made Grindhouse. Three separate entities.

Tarantino revealed that the only way he would ever have agreed to edit his film down to 90 minutes for use in Grindhouse was simply because he knew that his longer cut would be the one that was going to be seen in most of the cinemas of the world (Grindhouse, it seems, was never set for a worldwide theatrical release) and the one that was going to be released everywhere on DVD. Quite simply, without those stipulations, he never would have agreed to it. He also added that while he was editing for Grindhouse he had to make sure that he was serving the experience of Grindhouse, and not his film.

So, to try and make this absolutely clear, and in contrast to the many misinformed reviewers and film commentators out there: The release of the longer, separate cut of Death Proof was not a 'studio' decision. It was nothing to do with Grindhouse being a failure in the US (except in the one or two countries that were originally set to get Grindhouse at their cinemas). It was planned from day one.

Tarantino talked about how proud he is of the film he's made, and how he cares about it (and how, realistically, could he not? It's something he spent years of his life creating, and this is the version he wanted people to consider his). The longer version of Death Proof is his film. Grindhouse was a film he made with Rodriguez.

In my mind at least, Grindhouse is a truly cinema experience, not a home theatre one and I really don't see the point in trying to recreate it on your sofa on your own. (I could be wrong.)

(It's worth noting that while Tarantino admitted Kill Bill was separated into two films under pressure from the Weinsteins, he discussed how he refused to buckle under the same pressure for Grindhouse. He also said that the reason the merged cut of Kill Bill has been so long coming was because he actually felt rather happy about it being two films. Whatever resistance he might have originally had to the idea of splitting The Bride's escapades into two parts were clearly long gone, and he happily shrugged and said that he felt that it had worked great as two films and was actually very glad he'd done it. He also made it clear that if he hadn't been able to release his version of Death Proof that he would have been very upset indeed.)

Leading on from this, he also went on to explain why the Grindhouse fake trailers (shot by people like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie and originally shown between Planet Terror and Death Proof as 'upcoming attractions') were not being included with the separate releases of the films.

Quite simply, as I've already said, the directors are very happy with Grindhouse and they don't want to see it die. Tarantino explained that one way to definitely kill it (and to disrespect it, really) would be to sell off its parts wholesale. If the trailers had been split and included with the separate releases of Death Proof and Planet Terror then it would have been one less reason to watch Grindhouse, and therefore one less reason for it to exist.

Tarantino told a funny story about when they received a polite letter from the distributors asking them to include the trailers in the international cinema showings of Death Proof and Planet Terror. It went something like this:

"We'd really like to to include the Grindhouse trailers for our audiences. We fully understand and support the 'grindhouse' aesthetic of these films and we believe that putting two trailers on each of the films would enhance this 'grindhouse' feeling for the audience. Also, we know that a lot of people want to see the trailers, so we feel it would be giving the audience what they want..." etc., etc.

Apparently before Tarantino could even think about replying, he turned the page to read Rodriguez's reply:

"If you're so keen to give the audience the 'grindhouse' experience, and understand and fully support the 'grindhouse' aesthetic, and you want to give the audience what they want... THEN FUCKING RELEASE GRINDHOUSE!"

So apparently Death Proof is Death Proof. Grindhouse is Grindhouse. And you probably shouldn't listen to the people who try to convince you otherwise.

Why They Didn't Just Stop the Car
Moving on from all this controversy (but which unfortunately seems to be dominating online discussion about the film - there must be a term somewhere for this ignorance generated, internet hyped, mass confusion that's become all too common to surf across), into something else entirely. There was inevitably and unfortunately at least one idiot in the audience who felt it was their right to argue with Tarantino. It's something about London, I swear. I've had most of my experiences with these people in Greenwich (no idea why, I'm sure there's lots of lovely people there) and they look like nice normal, ordinary people, except when they talk, it's clear that their brains have been re-wired so that they're incapable of being anything other than totally obnoxious.

Excuse me while I try to explain the type of person I'm referring to: In one such experience I remember standing at a bar, when the person next to me started to aggressively tell a taken-aback bartender that the film he's just seen was actually 'very good'.

It doesn't matter that this person was in the bar a few hours earlier and, unsure of what to go and watch, had asked the bartender his opinion was of a film. This bartender, making friendly banter, had said the film in question wasn't as good as the book, but that it was still quite good. Apparently this bartender had been horrifically misinformed and, although this other person hadn't actually read the original book, he'd decided to come back into the peaceful bar to threateningly tell the bartender what an idiot he was. It wasn't 'quite' good, he said through gritted teeth with finger pointed, it was 'very' good, and he should get his facts straight.

I apologise on behalf of the nicer side of London for these idiots. I also apologise to you for digressing so much, but hopefully it might give you an idea of what this person was like, which I'd have probably been unable to convey otherwise.

So, this person asked the following question: "Why do you set your films up to get the audience worked up, make it tense, believable and engaging, and then suddenly ruin it?".

Confusion and shock to this obviously aggressive question. The interviewer tries to move on quickly but Tarantino, quite surprisingly, calmly says, "No, no, I want to understand his question", and turning to the guy, "What do you mean?".

Now we get to the actual point of his statement, which is really what this guy should have asked, in a nicer tone, from the beginning: "Why didn't they just stop the car while Zoe was on the hood?".

Now, to be fair, this is a question that had drifted through my mind and had taken me out of the moment during the film's climax on at least one viewing, but it was asked in such a rude and inappropriate way that I, and others in the audience, couldn't help but squirm.

Thankfully, and surprisingly to me, Tarantino took it all in his stride and kept his cool. "One or two few people have asked me that", he replied, "but really, apart from two seconds, when they're in the ditch, they don't have time". The likeable Zoe Bell jumped in at this point and explained more fully. As being the person who was actually on the hood of the car, she pointed out, she was really in a unique position to explain what the character's options actually were.

She explained that it had taken literally half a mile of extremely gradual slowing down after each filmed take in order to stop her from flying off the hood of the car. Any slight increase over this, even if it was only a second, and she would literally feel as though she was about to be thrown off. There was no way that they could have slowed down without her being tossed in front of a moving vehicle.

Tarantino piped back in to ask the guy, jokingly and with bonhomie, if he had been chased by a homicidal maniac while Zoe was on the hood of his car, and really, until anyone had been in that situation, they couldn't honestly say how they'd react under the stress.

Zoe added that, if you think about it, when you're being chased by someone who's trying to kill you, that slowing down isn't really going to throw them off, especially when the homicidal maniac is right there. He's still going to try and kill you by any means necessary!

Both Zoe and Tarantino agreed that the character's aim was to get far enough ahead of Stuntman Mike for them then to slow down and get Zoe off the hood.

Although I was upset by the rudeness of the audience member, I was actually very glad the question was asked. The answer, once explained, does make a lot of sense, and it will certainly increase my enjoyment of future viewings. I suppose it might have been nice if Tracie Thoms had had a line that reminded the audience that Zoe didn't have anything to restrain her, or maybe those two seconds in the ditch trimmed from the movie, but at least now I know!

This is, inevitably, where the idiot pipes up again: "But they could have just stopped", he yells, sans microphone. Groans across the cinema.

Moving on, someone else asked Tarantino to name any films he'd be embarrassed to admit he'd not seen. Perhaps he was too embarrassed to list any specifically but he went on to talk about Fellini and European directors that he'd had difficulty enjoying. He made rather a interesting observation that he felt it was a mistake to go straight for films that are considered "classics" or the auteur's best.

He said that to really appreciate such films you have to have watched the director's earlier ones to fully understand what they were trying to capture. If you actually followed their career it would put their films into a context that most modern viewers miss (going straight for the "classics" listed on best movie lists, as they often do). He said he'd felt that he'd made a mistake doing this himself and had missed out on enjoying them fully, or perhaps even understanding why they were so revered.

I found this quite an interesting idea, as my girlfriend and I have been working out way through the IMDb's top 250 films list, with an eye on concentrating on the more obscure, older or foreign titles, and now I'm wondering if we're going about it all the wrong way.

There's still a few things that Tarantino talked about that I've not mentioned, so I'll probably put these in a Part Three at some point. Things I've not mentioned are Tarantino's favourite characters (out of the ones he's created), the reason why he has mixed feelings about Jackie Brown, what he thinks of Rob Zombie's new Halloween and other minor things. If you've got any questions, I'll try and answer them for you in the meantime.


Anonymous said...

Excellent job, JW. Interesting read.

There are always self-satisfied pseudo-intellects in the audience that take a great deal of satisfaction in pointing out what they perceive to be goofs in the film. I never really had a problem with Kim not slowing down to let Zoe off the hood -- not so much because Stuntman Mike would've then driven into them but rather because it's, y'know, a grindhouse movie.

Looking for logic in this film is a fairly pointless endeavour, and it's a testament to Tarantino's filmmaking prowess that people get so involved in the on-screen action that supposed "goofs" get under their skin. But still, complaints about Zoe staying on the hood pale in comparison to what has to be one of the most singularly retarded criticisms of any film released this year: That the women in Death Proof don't speak or sound like actual women. (What I think their narrow-minded asses really want to say is that they don't sound like the women they know.) You don't say? This is a Tarantino movie that takes place in the Tarantino universe -- hell, it's just the sort of movie that Jules and Vincent would watch in-between jobs -- so finding the flowery dialogue to be "unrealistic" strikes me as profoundly wrongheaded. But, of course, many of those same people (who've loved Tarantino's movies in the past) are obviously labouring under the misapprehension that actual hit men drive around discussing the French equivalent of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. This hip rejection of all things Tarantino seems increasingly desperate with the release of each successive film.

Anyway, looking forward to part 3, JW, which I trust will be coming right along shortly? Hey? Yeah, I thought so. Good man.

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for your very kind comments, anon.

I agree with you regarding the weird complaints of a lack of 'realism' in the dialogue. Firstly, it's not supposed to be realistic, it's a trip into the Tarantinoverse. Secondly, for what it's worth, it also happens to be my girlfriend's favourite Tarantino movie... she didn't seem to be put off by how the women spoke!

Great point about Jules and Vincent, too!

Part three is up. I hope you enjoy it.