Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Kill Bill Vol.1 - Quentin Tarantino

In an attempt to get better aquainted with the subject I have decided to do a film review of each screening and try to relate it to the content of the weeks lecture.  This is slightly outside my comfort zone as I prefer to analyse and mull content over before forming my own opinions (an inbuilt defense mechanism perfected to stop me looking like an idiot) however as I am a product of a postmodern age my views should, in theory, be my own reality and therefore as valid as my tutors!

I lifted the following quote directly from the lecture and in picking its content apart I hope to gain a greater understanding of how Kill Bill sits within the term postmodern.

Postmodernism - a disputed term that has occupied much recent debate about contemporary culture since the early 1980s. In its simplest and least satisfactory sense it refers generally to the phase of 20th
century Western culture that succeeded the reign of high modernism, thus indicating the products of the age of mass television since the mid 1950s. More often, though, it is applied to a cultural condition prevailing in the advanced capitalist societies since the 1960s, characterized by a superabundance of disconnected images and styles, most noticeably in television, advertising, commercial design, and pop video. In this sense…postmodernity is said to be a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality, and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals… the term is notoriously ambiguous, implying either that modernism has been superseded or that it has continued into a new phase. Postmodernism may be seen as a continuation of modernism's alienated mood and disorienting techniques and at the same time as an abandonment of its determined quest for artistic coherence in a fragmented world: in very crude terms, where a modernist artist or writer would try to wrest a meaning from the world… the postmodernist greets the absurd or meaningless confusion of contemporary existence with a certain numbed or flippant indifference, favouring selfconsciously ‘depthless’ works of fabulation, pastiche, bricolage, or aleatory disconnection.

Superabundance of disconnected images and styles - Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino's fourth film preceded by Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997).  His films are now instantly recognisable for their distinct format and flavour, they are also known for their depiction of extreme violence.  Tarantino's unconventional storytelling has the film shown out of sequence (in retrospect or in chapters) so you are never completely comfortable where in the story you are.   Add to this his tendency to flit from black and white (the opening scene of the bride) to animation (the origin of O-Ren Ishii) to silhoutte (fight scene at the club) and this film definately has an abundance of disconnected styles and images.

Eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra and promiscuous superficiality - Tarantino borrows from film genres in either a deliberate homage to previous directors or to create mood, his genius is in how he mashes them together.  In Kill Bill he pays homage to the martial arts film, action films, Star Trek and japanese anime.  The soundtrack continues this eclectic mix with 60's pop tracks mixed with spanish guitar evocative of the mexican standoff in western films.  This review from the website Jumpcut - A Review of Contemporary Media shows just how intricate and layered this is:
Nearly everything in Kill Bill operates in part as homage to other films. For instance, the opening credit sequence and music evoke memories of Hong Kong’s legendary Shaw Brother’s films of the 1970s. Several actors were chosen in part because of their links to famous martial arts stories. In particular, Bill is played by David Carradine of Kung Fu television series fame—even Bill’s flute in Kill Bill is the same instrument Caradine played as Caine in that series. Hatori Hanzo is played by Sonny Chiba—who played several incarnations of that same character in the 1970s series Shadow Warriors / Kage No Gundan; in fact it was Tarantino’s intention that Kill Bill’s Hanzo would essentially be the “100th incarnation” of that same character. And the characters Jonny Mo and Pai Mei are both played by Gordon Liu—of The 36 Chambers of Shaolin fame; there is also an additional significance that some film fans might note in that some of Liu’s early films with Shaw Brothers involved his fighting against the same character Pai Mei that he plays in Kill Bill. There is thus a certain connoisseurship at work even in the casting. In this way, Kill Bill is strikingly postmodern in the sense that it deliberately plays with the audience’s knowledge of its source material. For certain audience members, a large part of the pleasure of watching the films is therefore the sheer frission of recognizing the references. As one review of Kill Bill: Volume 1 noted:

“While you don't have to recognize a single reference to enjoy the movie, the very nature of the film also makes it a parlor game for hardcore film geeks. Ooo, is that strikingly designed shot from Hideo Gosha or Seijun Suzuki?... There’s an element from Once upon a time in the West... that fight concept is from King Hu... Wait a minute, what is an early Brian De Palma scene doing here???” (Klein)
http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc47.2005/KillBill/2.html   (accessed 27/9/11)

I was not certain what disposable simulacra might be let alone how it might fit!  So I looked up the meaning.

Simulacra or simulacrum - a copy of a real person/place/object often altered or distorted to make it appear more real or true than the original.  Examples of this could include trompe l'oeil, virtual reality, reinactments, caricatures, disney theme parks and robots.   Modern French social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real but becomes truth in its own right, the hyperreal.  Certainly in its use of copying genres and exaggerating their traits, such as the fountains of blood in the fight scenes building on the already bloody genre of martial arts films, the impossible numbers of foes the bride has to face building on the action film and indeed in its one dimensional caricature like characters Kill Bill can be said to use simlacrum.

All of Tarantinos films certainly have an abundance of superficiality, the story lines are basic; in Kill Bill the Bride seeks revenge against her attackers, she recovers from a coma makes a list and kills them all, simple non cerebral stuff, the magic happens in the mixing of the story, the soundtrack and the referencing.  Tarantino's films make it cool to be a geek.     

Fabulation, pastiche, bricolage, or aleatory disconnection - The very definition of these words make it clear how they label Kill Bill as a postmodern film so I have not elaborated further.

Fabulation - To engage in the composition of fables, especially those in which the element of fantasy comes into heavy play.  Fiction that delights in self-concious verbal artifice, thus departing from realism.

Pastiche - an artistic work consisting of a medley of pieces taken from various sources.

Bricolage - something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.

Aleatory - relating to or denoting music or other forms of art involving elements of random choice or chance (sometimes using statistical or computer techniques) during their composition, production, or performance.

Kill Bill also superficially embraces the Postmodernism empowerment of women, previously marginalised in both life and action movie/martial arts genres as the 'love interest', his female characters are strong, independant and sexy.  Gogo Yubari, O-Ren Ishii's personal bodyguard, dresses as a Japanese schoolgirl (also the costume of a popular sexual fetish). She is also one of Kill Bill’s most psychopathic characters, her slaying of the man at the bar is disgusting, liberating and very darkly amusing. 

This trend of showing women as empowered and powerful only through their ability to do violence is a recurrent theme in not only Tarantino films but other postmodern films such as The Matrix.  In its recognising of different truths and realities postmodernism supposedly empowers previously marginalised cultures and people such as Afro-Carribeans, Indians and women.  While the former have an ever increasing role both in government and film depiction it seems that women are only emancipated if they can get their weapons off.