Tag Archives: 2003

Rocks In The Attic #858: Various Artists – ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1 (O.S.T.)’ (2003)

RITA#858The 4th film from Quentin Tarantino, the opening credits tell us, with balls the size of watermelons. It’s here that Tarantino starts to recognise his own legacy. Not only is he numbering his films – surely the first sign of his subsequent plan of only directing ten films – but it’s with Kill Bill that he starts to litter the Tarantino-verse with references to his earlier works.

In the film’s first post-credits scene, Uma Thurman’s character (‘The Bride’ AKA Beatrix Kiddo) arrives at Vernita Green’s house, her first target for revenge. With their knife-fight interrupted by Green’s daughter returning from school, the two call a temporary truce and head to the kitchen for coffee. There, the Bride explains how she’ll first kill Green, then her daughter and then her husband. “That’ll be even Vernita…that’ll be about square.” As she says that last word, she traces the outline of a square in the air with her right hand. The gesture is surely a reference to Thurman’s earlier character in the Tarantinoverse, Mia Wallace from 1994’s Pulp Fiction. In that film, on her night out with John Travolta’s Vincent Vega, she tells him not to be a square, again tracing the outline of a square – which Tarantino sneakily overlays with a rectangle in post-production.

Even Thurman’s character in Kill Bill is described in dialogue by Pulp Fiction’s Mia Wallace nine years earlier. She explains to Vega how she once appeared in a failed TV pilot, whose characters almost perfectly describe the Bride and her former team of assassins:

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RITA#858aMIA: It was a show about a team of secret agents called Fox Force Five.

VINCENT: What?

MIA: Fox Force Five. Fox, as in we’re a bunch of foxy chicks. Force, as in we’re a force to be reckoned with. Five, as in there’s one…two…three…four…five of us. There was a blonde on, Sommerset O’Neal, from that show Baton Rouge, she was the leader. A Japanese one, a black one, a French one, and a brunette one, me. We all had special skills. Sommerset had a photographic memory, the Japanese fox was a kung-fu master, the black girl was a demolition expert, the French fox’s specialty was sex…

VINCENT: What was your specialty?

MIA: Knives. The character I played, Raven McCoy, her background was she was raised by circus performers. So she grew up doing a knife act. According to the show, she was the deadliest woman in the world with a knife. But because she grew up in a circus, she was also something of an acrobat. She could do illusions, she was a trapeze artist – when you’re keeping the world safe from evil, you never know when being a trapeze artist’s gonna come in handy.

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And the references to the Tarantinoverse don’t end there. Michael Parks’ world-weary sheriff is surely the same character he played in 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, we glimpse Michael Madsen in a black suit a la 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, and the boardroom rant by Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii echoes Pulp Fiction’s opening rant by Amanda Plummer’s Honey Bunny (“Any of you fucking pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you!”).

But the casting of Sonny Chiba as master swordsmith Hattori Hanzō is perhaps Tarantino’s greatest coup. In what must have been a dream come true for the director, the casting of Chiba refers back to one of Tarantino’s earliest scripts. In 1993’s True Romance, written by Tarantino but directed by Tony Scott, Christian Slater’s Clarence meets Patricia Arquette’s Alabama at an all-night theatre, watching a Sonny Chiba triple-feature (“The Streetfighter, Return Of The Streetfighter, and Sister Streetfighter”).

I remember seeing Kill Bill Vol.1 at the cinema and being blown away. But each time I’ve seen it since, I’ve always felt it to be a little bloated, not as much as it’s Vol. 2 companion piece, but there’s definitely some breathing space put into each scene.

That first segment with Vernita Green, post fight, is perhaps the slowest scene in the entire film. We’re finding out a little bit about what has happened to bring the Bride here, but it’s the one time I wish Tarantino had followed a linear storyline by putting the hospital scenes first. Strangely, the Vernita scene and the hospital scene played out of order is essentially the only non-linear aspect of the narrative, excluding the flashbacks to the wedding.

The split-screen over Bernard Herrmann’s Twisted Nerve as Darryl Hannah’s Elle Driver changes into her nurse’s uniform is fantastic, and goes hand in hand as the most cinematic moment of the film with the later scene scored with Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor Or Humanity as the Bride speeds off on her bike and O-Ren Ishii walks into the House Of Blue Leaves.

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One break-out star of Kill Bill is somebody who goes largely unnoticed in the film, but whose contributions are priceless: Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell. The nature of the fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping led Tarantino and his Western crew into a different way of working. Schedules were abandoned and sequences were added or deleted to better suit the narrative.  The change in mindset led to another important decision: the promotion of Bell from a low-tier ‘crash and smash’ stuntwoman to a full-on stunt double for Thurman. The shoot thrust her into the (face-covered) limelight, but left her with broken ribs and a dislocated wrist.

Tarantino stuck with her and she subsequently appeared as either an actress or stuntwoman in all of his subsequent films. I met her at the New Zealand premiere of The Hateful Eight in January 2016 where she was kind enough to sign my copies of Death Proof and The Hateful Eight. In hindsight, I should have asked her to autograph everything from Kill Bill onwards, given her impact on the Tarantinoverse.

The Kill Bill films mark Tarantino’s first musical collaboration with another artist, RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, who contributed score elements and also acted as co-producer of the soundtrack alongside Tarantino and Lawrence Bender. About a dozen or so tracks were left off the accompanying soundtrack, either used in the film or in its promotional material and so an expanded soundtrack one day is a definite possibility. My only gripe is that so much is left of the resulting soundtrack to fit in all ten and a half minutes of Santa Esmeralda’s nauseatingly camp cover of the Animals’ arrangement of Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (it’s the Animals version of the song, rather than the Nina Simone original, as the European disco group also recorded a version of House Of The Rising Sun).

Hit: Twisted Nerve – Bernard Herrmann

Hidden Gem: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

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Rocks In The Attic #821: Various Artists – ‘Lost In Translation (O.S.T.)’ (2003)

RITA#821I recently watched Sofia Coppola’s fourth feature Somewhere, from 2010. The film stars Stephen Dorff as a movie star bumming around the Chateau Marmont, where he lives between acting roles and promotional responsibilities.

It’s a film that’s as aimless as its central character, and as aimless as Coppola’s career so far. She was thrust into the limelight, unfairly, as the ill-fated daughter of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III, after Winona Ryder dropped out of the film. Nepotism is one thing but for her father, Francis Ford Coppolam to give her such a pivotal role was setting her up to fail.

She reinvented herself as an indie director, with the slow-burning The Virgin Suicides in 1999. It showed promise but I haven’t liked anything she’s done since. If she came from nowhere, I might not be so disappointed in her career, but her father’s status as the Oscar-winning director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now seems to have opened many, many doors to her. Even with this opportunity, her output can be best described with the shrug-emoji. I haven’t seen her recent remake of Don Siegel’s The Beguiled yet, but I’m not expecting to be blown away. Frankly, she lost me with Lost In Translation.

RITA#821aThere were a couple of films in the 2000s which served as lazy armchair tourism for uncultured Americans. First we had Coppola’s Lost In Translation (subtext: aren’t Japanese people funny?), followed by Wes Anderson four years later with The Darjeeling Limited (subtext: aren’t Indian people funny?). These films feel shallow and exploitative, with too much importance given to location and foreignness of the culture, rather than character. Danny Boyle’s Best Picture-winning Slumdog Millionaire from 2008 is a superb example of a film that does the opposite – it celebrates the Indian culture from within, not from the perspective of a patronising outsider.

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird from 2017 is the kind of character-piece that Coppola could be making. While Gerwig may have been heavily influenced by her partner, the director Noah Baumbach, Lady Bird still feels fresh, unique and personal. I haven’t seen Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women yet, but I’m looking forward to it after such an impressive debut.

But no matter what my reservations about Lost In Translation are as a film, I’ll always love the soundtrack. It feels like a perfectly put-together mood piece by Coppola and music-supervisor Brian Reitzell, and was accurately described by Consequence Of Sound as the third star of the picture.

Unfortunately, this vinyl edition of the soundtrack, finally released for last year’s Record Store Day, excludes Bill Murray’s karaoke version of Roxy Music’s More Than This. The rear cover of the record lists the credits for the song though, which feels like a disappointing oversight when they brought over the artwork from prior versions of the soundtrack, where it exists as a hidden track.

Hit: City Girl – Kevin Shields

Hidden Gem: Alone In Kyoto – Air

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Rocks In The Attic #438: Amy Winehouse – ‘Frank’ (2003)

RITA#438I finally watched the Amy documentary last night. Well, we watched everything but the last twenty minutes as we were both so tired. I’m holding out hope that when we watch the last twenty minutes tonight, that she’s going to be okay but I know full well how the story ends. Who in the world doesn’t?

When the documentary first came out, there seemed to be a lot of misplaced guilt around people feeling sorry that they joked and laughed about Winehouse when she was still alive and going through her various troubles with drugs and alcohol. That’s just human nature, isn’t it? We like to laugh at drunks. If Keith Richards died of a drug overdose tomorrow, would there be a similar response, collectively asking ourselves why we didn’t step in over those so many years? I blame Jagger; he’s clearly an enabler.

I first read about Winehouse in a magazine interview she gave to promote Frank. She was responding to criticism she had received around comments she made to the effect that she didn’t listen to Miles Davis because he was too intense. Shock horror! How could a musician in the public eye – a jazz singer of all things – have the audacity to say that she doesn’t like Miles Davis?

I like Frank more and more each time I hear it. It definitely isn’t Back To Black, it’s too meandering for a start, but there’s still something there – a hint of what would be possible with a better bunch of songs and a switched-on producer in Mark Ronson.

Hit: Stronger Than Me

Hidden Gem: You Sent Me Flying