Monday, April 6, 2015

Tarantino: Vengeance & Women


By definition, vengeance is an actor attack from one actor to another, motivated by a previous
action. Vengeance is hence issued by a feeling of grudge holding from a person A to a person B. However, if the representation of vengeance has grown with the history of cinema, vengeance and women is a far more recent topic. Prior to the 50’s, women characters were always secondary. They were used as a “support” for a main male character. It is only after the 50’s that women start to become a principal part of the intrigue, of the narrative. In 1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot makes Les Diaboliques and gives a whole new vision for women: two female teachers ally to kill one of their husbands. While women’s characters were up until then defined in relation to men, in this film, Clouzot succeeds at giving women the major parts of the plot. The woman becomes more independent, reactive and cynical. The same way, Truffaut, in 1968, makes La Mariée Etait En Noir and presents the image of a vindictive woman who finds in a vengeance the very reason for life. That woman almost scares the audience because elf how cynical and fixed on her goal she is, because she is a woman that does not fear death or to end her life in prison for that matter, after she killed the last man on her “death wish list”. That list is also found in Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
Tarantino is the director who gave most of his leads to women characters. It is the case in Jackie Brown (1997), Kill Bill, Death Boulevard and Inglorious Basterds. The theme of vengeance is present in all four movies, although each time treated in a different way. The problem here is to wonder what these differences are. Who are the characters taking revenge on? How is revenge executed? What’s feminine about these acts of revenge? What vision of women comes out of it? It is thus a matter of analysing the ways in which Tarantino directs these feminine acts of vengeance and what impression of women that gives the audience.

In the four movies that we will analyse, revenge is undertaken in different ways, through different methods. In Kill Bill, Beatrix Kiddo is a woman who belonged to a secret team of murderers. The head of this team is Bill, with whom she used to have a relationship. However she decides to change life and flee to El Paso, TX, where she marries another man. During the ceremony, Bill and his team interrupt and slaughter everyone attending, including the bride’s husband. The latter, who was pregnant, miraculously survives and enters a coma. When she wakes up from it, she realises that she’s not pregnant anymore and believes that Bill murdered her baby: she then decides to get revenge. She writes a “death wish list” that involved the four members of the murder team, one man and three women, and Bill. Revenge becomes her only reason for living and analogies with Truffaut’s La Mariée Etait en Noir are obvious: the two women become “killing machines” and their only goal is to get revenge on the people on her lists. If in Truffaut’s movie, that list is only made of male names, there is sexual distinction in Tarantino’s piece. However, the bride’s vengeance is not the only one in the movie. A whole chapter is dedicated to O-Ren Ishii, member of Bill’s special team and dreaded murderer. At 9 years old, She witnesses the murder of her parents by the Japanese criminal Matsumoto. She then decides to get her revenge and eventually kills Matsumoto the same way that he killed her parents. In Jackie Brown, revenge is taken against two men. Jackie Brown is a stewardess who, to make a little extra money, decides to take money abroad, money that belongs to Ordell, an illegal arms dealer. One night, police officer Ray Nicolette surprises her and uses her to find and arrest Ordell. Jackie finds herself stuck between Ordell and Ray Nicolette, but smartly cheats them both by stealing $5,000 from Ordell and fleeing. It is the revenge of a woman over men, an answer to men violence. We see that vengeance from women against men in Death Boulevard as well. Stuntman Mike is a man who takes pleasure in killing women with the help oh his car. In the first part, we witness him slaughter a group of women whereas the second part is dedicated to women looking for the psychopath to murder him, relentlessly. However, Death Boulevard is a special case. At the end of the movie (Stuntman’s death), the audience gets their revenge. Indeed, women who end up killing him don’t commit real vengeance. They don’t really get it because they don’t know the other girls who died: they don’t really want that revenge; what they want is to hit him, to make him react. However, it still remains revenge for the audience, who had spent the whole movie witnessing Mike’s acts of slaughter and had built up despise toward the man. The audience almost feels relieved and they see the women beat Stuntman to death. Finally, Inglorious Basterds: here, the woman gets her revenge on many men. Shoshana Dreyfus is a young Jewish woman who saw her family slaughtered by the German colonel Hans Landa. She finds shelter in Paris, under a fake identity (Emmanuelle Mimieux), with her aunt and uncle. When the latter die, she inherits their movie theatre: the Gamaar., where she works there alone with her boyfriend Marcel. A private showing of a movie where all the German crème de la crème is gathered is organised there and Shoshana choses that moment to avenge her family.

In the four movies, women get their revenge using different methods. In Kill Bill, the bride creates a death list. Her revenge is hanse a physical act. Her husband and daughter were murdered, thus her mission is to kill everyone involved in these murders; which follows the talion law, which states that who killed should be killed. At the end of the first volume, this reciprocity is accentuated by a sentence said by Bull: “This woman has the right to get revenge. And we... deserve to die". Vengeance here is bloody, rough, merciless, just like O-ren Isii’s. Beatrix Kiddo is a woman who doesn’t see obstacles and lives only to get her revenge. Tarantino stresses that aspect in the beginning: after getting shot in the head, Beatrix enters a coma from which she ‘resuscitates’ only to avenge her family. She cannot die without having terminated her mission. Tarantino shows this when the com an est buried alive and resuscitates a second time, putting to life master Pai Mei’s lesson: she manages to dig a hole in the coffin and exit. Beatrix Kiddo has to give up all of her feelings during the mission. However, once her mission done, she can throw her weapons away, she can allow herself to cry in the bathroom. Because she has not lost her identity as a woman, as a mother; In Death Boulevard, vengeance is also a physical act although, like before, we can’t really talk about a real vengeance! The group of women is chased down by Stuntman Mike, risking to die. They survive and manage to shoot him in the head. In Jackie Brown, it is a very different type of revenge. It is the victory of ruse over violence, the victory of women over men, of intelligence over strength. Jackie is a forty-four years old woman who can’t do anything against violent men like Ordell or the police. However, if she seems like a fragile woman, she can unleash a stronger personality than her male partners. With the wit and will to change her life, she’ll succeed at deceiving Ordell and Ray Nicolette, and steal $500.000. In Inglorious Basterds, vengeance is once again a physical act. And just like Jackie, Shoshana, Dreyfus is defenceless against German officers, but still has a personality and a courage that many men would be jealous of. With her intelligence and Marcel’s help (as well as the Basterds’ help), she elaborates an evil plan as soon as she learns that the projection will happen in her theatre. knowing that she’ll have to die herself, she avenges the Jews and her family, all killed by the German army.

Now that we have seen the different types of vengeance, what differentiates the acts themselves, the moment in which they’re accomplished? The act is different in each four films. Through the analysis of three scenes, we’ll study these differences. In Kill Bill, vengeance is shown though the mantra “one against all”, in Jackie Brown through the face to face, in Death Boulevard through the mantra “all against one” and in Inglorious Basterds through ‘one against all”.
The scene is roughly halfway in the first volume of Kill Bill. The bride, whose name we still don’t know at that point of the movie, arrives in Japan to get revenge on O-ren Ishii. She goes to the night club where she finds O-ren. The latter sends her escort, muderers armed with katanas, the Japanese sword. Our analysis starts when the 88 crazies find themselves face to face with the bride. In the first scene, the camera focuses on Johnny Mo’s sword, the head of the gang. There is a panoramic movement: the camera focuses on a object and rotates, obliquely. The camera captures the tip of the sword and operates an oblique movement along the sword, from the bottom left to the top right, up until we see the character’s masked face, a movement that’s continued from the actor’s face to his chest. The fact that shot is reversed underlines a will to lay stress on that character. At the same time, an oriental sound effect starts. the second scene begins with a half thigh shot of the bride. We notice that the woman is holding her sword in her hands. In the background, a group of ennemies is ready to attack the heroin. We notice three grounds: first one is the heroine looking at the camera (she is almost provoking the audience), the second one is the group of ennemies and the third one is the room and its design, the scenario. The camera starts a panoramic movement once again, vertically this time. It gradually goes up and seems to be stitched to the ceiling, turning the shot into a bird’s eye view. This allows us to see the scene more fully. Indeed, we see the bride circled by way more soldiers than we could see before. The camera seems to be dancing, un aesthetic effect that drives us away from the fight. At that point, the “one against all” becomes obvious: only one yellow dot, Beatrix’ clothes, faces a ocean of black, the ennemies’ suits, who slowly come and go, making the fight seem like a ballet. 

In Jackie Brown, the extract we will study is in the first hour of the movie. Jackie is barely out of prison and goes back home. Ordell knocks on her door. He has a gun and will probably kill the woman should he find out that she gave him up to the cops. The face to face dialogue scene is entirely shot in darkness. We only see the faces of the two characters and this accentuates the tension in the living room. The shot is rather close and the actors are filmed chest up. All of a sudden, a split screen appears and interrupts the scene’s continuity. Through the left screen, we learn that Jackie stole the gun in Max Cherry’s car while we see on the right screen Ordell putting his hands around Jackie’s neck and asking her if she’s scared. She denies with her head and we hear the sound of gun being armed. The split screen disappears and we go back to the scene in normal dimensions. Ordell asks the woman if it is really a gun that he’s feeling being pointed at him and Jackie pushes him to the window and calls him ‘negro’, which lays stress on her strong and rough personality. The situation is reversed. Ordell doesn’t have the upper hand anymore: he is now submitted to the woman’s will, the latter who took advantage of the dark to to hide the gun. Indeed Ordell would’ve never though that a woman like her could own a gun, especially right pout of prison. She takes the gun and points it to his head. For some moment, we see an extreme close up of the gun pointed at the criminal’s head, to then go back to a wider shot. We remain in the darkness: it is a dialogue face to face, a way for jackie to impose her character and succeeding at overwhelming him. Suddenly Jackie turns on the light again and dictates her wills to Ordell, who sees himself forced to accept. This part of the dialogue is composed of shots and reverse shots, opposing Jackie and Ordell.

In Death Boulevard, the scene is at the end of the movie. The three women finally meet Stuntman Mike after the car chase. They pull him out of his car and start hitting him, one after the other. We notice an alternation between medium shots and close ups. There are many hits and shots are cut very rapidly, which demonstrates a real fury on the girls’ end. If the image sometimes slows down, it is only to get better idea of Mike’s suffering. These fast cuts create a sort of effect that’s both funny and ridiculous and may even have the audience smile. One of the three women then kicks him and Mike falls on the ground, dead. As the women literally jubilate and the words “the end” appear on the screen, a happy 1964 French song starts playing, which translates as “Let go of women, one day you’ll be the one crying”. The audience then gets their revenge, because Mike’s death was expected and Tarantino has him die in a funny way.

The scene that we’ll study from Inglorious Batserds is at the end of chapter 5. At the beginning of this chapter, we hear the David Bowie song Cat People, which perfecto sums up Shoshana’s intentions when she gets ready for the big finale. Once the projection has started, Marcel blocks all the exits in order for the Germans to be able to escape. Shoshanna pasted her filmed message to the actual film being projected for the Germans to all hear it and hence create an effect of
surprise. Indeed the germans are all surprised. Plus Shoshanna places her clips in the right place, right when the here Frederick Zoller says “who wants to address Germany”: we then see Shoshanna appear on screen and say “I have a message for Germany”. That moment is very well chosen since Shoshanna explains they are all oing to be killed by a Jew. Marcel then follows Shoshana’s orders to burn everything down and throws his cigarette on the film, which leads to Shoshana’s face appearing in flames on screen and makes her look like the devil. The theatre becomes a gigantic blaze and we see the Germans running to the exits, which are all blocked.

To conclude, in each of these four movies, Tarantino conveys a different image of the woman. In Kill Bill, she is a violent and cynical woman. The great pleasure of being a mother was taken away from her, which leads to transform into a killing machine trying to get her revenge on her daughter’s murderers. Vengeance becomes her reason for living. However, once her revenge fulfilled and reunited with her daughter, she breaks down in tears, proving that she still has feelings. The woman in Jackie Brown is manipulative and smart, and prefers to bamboozle her ennemies rather to be physically confronted with them. She is however a strong woman who isn’t afraid to of a face to face with a criminal capable of killing and even succeeds at overpowering him. The women of Death Boulevard refuse to be submitted to men: they may act as normal women but become harsher then men when in need, and answer violence with violence. In Inglorious Batserds, the woman is smart and also refuses to be submitted to men. Four years before she saw her family being killed by German soldiers. She also behaves as though a normal woman but doesn’t hesitate to use intelligence and violence to sacrifice herself and get what she wants, i.e., avenge the Jews and her family.

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