Quentin Tarantino: a director famed for the violence, difficult themes and sex appeal of his films.
Quentin Tarantino: a director famed for the violence, difficult themes and sex appeal of his films. When it comes to the movies of this directorial titan, there has never been a shortage of controversy.
In a recent interview with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, in which the presenter challenged the representation of violence in Tarantino’s films, the director angrily refused to answer any questions on the subject, thus perpetuating what has become something of a negative aura around this Hollywood great, with Guru-Murthy later tweeting that Tarantino had “slightly lost it.”
But when the presenter of Channel 4’s news programme questioned the level of responsibility that Quentin Tarantino has in his portrayal of violence on the screen, attempting to draw parallels between his latest blood-splattered filmic offering Django Unchained and the recent tragic shooting in Connecticut, was the director right to lose his patience?
Tarantino said this in response to Guru-Murphy’s argument, in an interview on National Public Radio in the United States: “I think it’s disrespectful to the memory of the people who died to talk about movies.”
Certainly, in the works of this creative genius, the divide between reality and style is always clear, and yet he remains one of the most talked-of and controversial filmmakers of the last 20 years. In a bid to better understand the growing media storm surrounding Tarantino, I went back to my favourite of his films ‘Kill Bill,’ notorious for its violence against women, in order to clarify my reaction as a viewer and to defend one of the greatest film directors whose work spans both this century and the last.
The first time I watched Tarantino’s two-part martial arts epic I was 18. I came to Kill Bill relatively late on in my development, both as a film watcher and as a teenager. A few years earlier, when it was first released, it was the ‘in thing’ at school. Everyone was talking about it. They talked about the violence with the morbid and gory fascination that being a mid-teen breeds. At this age, my film collection still comprised mainly of Disney videos. I dreamed of the world of inappropriate filmic thrills categorised with certificate ratings above a ‘U’.
It was not until some years later when I found myself in a small Oxfam shop in my rural backwater town, gathering cheap books for my imminent move to university when I saw Kill Bill in the DVD section. The idea of intellectual independence at university must have gone to my head, because in a moment I found myself face to face to a wizened female volunteer shakily accepting a pricey £1.50 for the film. This was it—my introduction to Tarantino handed to me by an elderly Oxfam worker with an expression on her face that said “Wouldn’t you prefer a nice girly film?”
Whether the previous owner of my now well-loved copy of Kill Bill objected to the film and so got rid of it, or else yielded it up to the world of charity shops and moral do-gooding as a token of human love and kindness after a clear out, I don’t know. What I do know is that I took it home, inserted it tentatively into my laptop and that what happened changed my knowledge and understanding of film beyond recognition. It left me breathless and hungry for more.
But, once the adrenaline had gone and the sight of massacred limbs and heaps of dead Japanese warriors ingrained on my brain had faded, a complicated and serious question began to form. As an enthusiastic film viewer, there was no doubt that I had enjoyed this film. The question was, how did I feel watching this film as a woman?
Tarantino’s blend of spaghetti western, Kung Fu and crime thriller makes this film a rollercoaster of a revenge flick, for sure. However, he has been criticised in the past for the level of violence and abuse directed at the female characters in the film. It is undeniable that the scenes of rape, torture and mutilation of the female body are shocking and that they are conducted for the pleasure and gratification of the male characters. From the very opening scenes of Vol. 1, we see Bill standing back in a voyeuristic fashion as a pregnant Beatrice Kido, AKA the Bride, is beaten and tortured on her wedding day. Bill asks “Do you find me sadistic? Well, maybe towards those other jokers, but not you. No Kido, this moment; this is me at my most masochistic,” before shooting her in the head. Tarantino has been called a voyeur of female abuse. He has been accused of creating something just short of pornography.
To these critics, I would like to say this. Tarantino is famed for the violence in his films although even in Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, this is not exclusively directed at women. Kill Bill is perhaps more shocking because he chooses to use the abuse of females, the very violation and deformation of femininity as a springboard from which to tell his story.
The film is not the tale of defiled women, but is instead a portrayal of violence against women and one woman’s reaction to that. Uma Thurman’s portrayal of Beatrice Kido is one of passion, anger and grief. It is her delivery of punishment and the manner in which she deals with her pain that makes her one of the strongest feminist characters in film.
Tarantino makes a film about a warrior whose control and cool answering of her torture is immortalised in the proverb “revenge is a dish best served cold.” What Tarantino serves to us is a meal not garnished with female hysteria, but instead is a simple and strong response executed with dignity and honour. He has a story to tell and is not afraid to dirty his hands, be that with the blood of men or women, to tell it.
It was the best £1.50 I ever spent, as a Tarantino fan and as a woman.