Dan Friedman
No Pulp, p.3

The climax of Kill Bill pt 1 is the prolonged fight between Thurman and the ludicrously inept Crazy 88 gang followed by the picture-perfect fight in the lightly falling snow of a Japanese garden between her and Lucy Liu. With the deft touch of a maestro Tarantino plays with the colour, the backlighting, the scenes, the weapons to prolong the maiming and killing without making it too ghastly on the one hand or too boring on the other. The fights are played with a sort of deliberately low wit that understands the spectacle, punctuates the action with occasional visual jokes but subdues any attempt at meaning. As well as bearing the impression of John Woo, westerns, and mangas, Kill Bill takes the entirely formulaic but deftly loveable Bollywood musical dances and translates them into Hollywood carnage. Indeed, as many critics have noted, every aspect of the climactic fight scene (victory is hugely unlikely, yet inevitable, as the genre and the sequel demand) is referential in nature, including Thurman's costume (from Bruce Lee's final film, Game of Death), the accompanying music (from the notably non-Lee Five Fingers of Death), and even some of the moves.

But to what end? Given the absolute dichotomy between the masterful handling of the direction and the absolute emotional and narrative vacuousness of the film, Kill Bill almost demands that we ask what Tarantino's playing at. Is he getting his own revenge on those critics who slated the violence in his earlier films? Is he somehow critiquing Hollywood filmmaking for being obsessed with spectacle and violence? Is he just taunting the audiences with their helplessness and addiction to visual splendour and gore, going to see not one but two films despite the fact they know exactly what is going to happen? Maybe Kill Bill is a performative critique of how film reduces all motivation to beautiful violence, or how the escapist impulses satisfied by our trips to the cinema are all sublimated acts of revenge on a society that uses and discards us. Or it might be a critique of the film industry that follows up its good films with dross in the way that an abusive lover follows up caresses with blows.

I don't think so. It is the surface alone that interests Tarantino. In a world now comfortable with psychobabble, here is the backlash: pure surface. Yet Tarantino is not the first to rebel against psychologization with surface. For example, in contrast to Freud, who probed ever deeper into the recesses of the psyche, Wyndham Lewis' novel Tarr, and collection of stories The Wild Body both present a hero whose skin is almost chitinous in its impenetrability. Kafka (the Cronenberg of his day) went one step further and wrote "Metamorphosis" about a person who actually became an "ungeziefer" - a verminous beetle. Joyce's Ulysses, while exploring character, does so in a Tarantino-esque romp of style, though his literary parodies, pastiches, and profound classical allusions were marginal to the popular and critically acclaimed literature of the time. The fact that a chapter (describing a neighbour hanging her washing on the line) was written in the prurient form of the contemporary equivalent of pulp fiction was vaguely scandalous but mainly proof that his was lowbrow work.

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Images: Miramax Films

November 2003

Niles Goldstein

France and Antisemitism
Michael Shurkin

Jay Michaelson

No Pulp
Dan Friedman

Raphael Cohen

Koby Israelite
Matthue Roth

Josh's Jewish Reminders
Josh Ring

Our 390 Back Pages

David Stromberg

Zeek in Print
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From previous issues:

Tom Slattery

Red Dragon: Light but no Heat
Matt Huntington

Fast Track from Ridgemont High
Dan Friedman