Sunday, April 29, 2007

Get Ready To Fly, Bitch -- Death Proof, Lonely Manifestos, and Killer Chick Flicks

Arlene: Yeah? Why don't you go get ready for your lapdance?
[Stuntman Mike gets up and walks back into the bar]
Arlene: Hey, Mike.
Stuntman Mike: Yeah?
Arlene: No touch.
Stuntman Mike: No.
Arlene: I touch you, you don't touch me.
Stuntman Mike: I know.
Arlene: Good.

“Young women now seem to want to behave like men and have sex without commitment. The signals they are giving are very confusing, and rage and humiliation build up in boys who are spurned again and again.”
-- Somewhat-Feminist Commentator Camille Paglia on the Virginia Tech shootings


I nearly walked out on Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" after the car accident scene. Actually , my boyfriend hid my eyes during most of it (after the brutal face-smashing of Rose McGowan's character), but I had already saw the gory photos in Fangoria.

Basically, a guy turns four young women into hamburger with his car after stalking them. His name is Stuntman Mike. It seems like such a random, inexplicable act, intentional vehicular homicide -- but really, it's not. Tarantino's loving, lingering shots of the women being sexy, flipping their hair or shaking their ass in slow motion, tell you everything you want to know. These girls are *teases*. They intentionally tease and unintentionally tease, but their message is clear -- they have the power, the power of pussy. And Mr. Middle-Aged StuntGuy in the Icy Hot jacket and the Baron Strucker scar just ain't gettin' any.

I almost walked out of "Death Proof." Several people did. I'm not sure if it was because of the extreme violence or the fact that they've been listening to several women yakking around a table "My Dinner With Andre" style for a half-an-hour.

I almost walked out of "Death Proof" and went home and wrote Quentin Tarantino a long e-mail telling him what a bloody misogynist he was. But I stayed. And Tarantino, as if reading my mind, "apologized." Because in the second half of the film, the women "win."

Stuntman Mike stalks and hunts down another set of girls. But, little does he know that these are badass stuntwomen who will turn the tables on him and rip him another asshole. I'm not sure if he dies by the end of the film, but he sure as hell takes a nasty beating.

So, is "Death Proof" a feminist film?


Here's my problem.

The way Stuntman Mike dispatches the first set of girls is brutal and realistic to the extreme.

The way "The Girls" dispatch Mike at the end of the film is comical.

Stuntman Mike literally tears his victims apart, obliterates them, wipes their "prettiness" off the map.

By the final credits, "The Girls" do a slapstick number on Mike, hitting him in slow-motion and jumping in glee when he falls defeated. It is not even clear whether he is dead, the way it is not clear if Wily E. Coyote is ever really killed.

Why are these deaths handled differently?

Does gender play a role?

Would realistic, brutal revenge against Mike at the hands of The Girls be too disturbing, would it ruin the "mood?"


In a Times Online article social commentator Camille Paglia placed the responsibility for the Virginia tech slayings partially at the feet of a society that, in her view, has "feminized" men and encourages women to be "teases." The author of the article itself goes a step further and seems almost to point the finger at the women on campus that reported the future killer for stalking them:

"Then there were the college girls who reported him to the police for stalking and got him carted off to mental hospital after he sent them shy love messages full of yearning."

Hey, maybe the "Death Proof" girls *were* teases. Maybe the girls at Virginia Tech's rejection of Cho's advances did send him over the edge. Maybe this culture *is* feminizing men.

Teases, rejectors, feminizers. Doesn't mean chicks gotta be ground into hamburger.


Is Quentin Tarantino anti-feminist or not? And hey, don't I get into a lot of trouble for these posts? A woman bringing up topics like: "is this misogynist or not?" I mean, I remember my "Black Snake Moan" post...

"But you didn't actually *see* Black Snake Moan," David G. says. "I didn't actually see the movie so you couldn't actually tell if it really was misogynist."

"Yeah, but I saw the marketing."

"But the marketing is just the marketing."

I sit and ruminate over this for a while. David adds,

"But you actually *saw* "Death Proof. So I think this is a good thing."

Is "Death Proof" pro-feminist or anti-feminist? Did Tarantino get off on the misogynist antics of Stuntman Mike or is this film ultimately a love-letter to the Tough Chick?

Tarantino's films, I think, are ultimately a reflection of society -- a reflection of the tough choices and messy, oft-amoral situations that keep making our species interesting.

But no, "Death Proof" isn't a feminist movie.


  1. "Does gender play a role?

    Would realistic, brutal revenge against Mike at the hands of The Girls be too disturbing, would it ruin the 'mood?'"

    I agree with a lot pf the things you're said, but I suspect (without having seen the movie) that it's more likely that the reason they wanted to keep it questionable whether Stuntman Mike was dead was either (1) They want him to be available for a sequel, or (2) They wanted to spoof the filma that make it obvious that they're saving a character for a sequel.

  2. Tarantino is a misogynist. He just doesn't know it, and he's not intentionally trying to be one.

    I think there may be some truth to that NY Times article, in the sense that we've moved beyond to point of feigning political-correctness and started to develop something new as a society. For some people, this can be very confusing. A lot of people here on the cusp don't really know how to deal with the change in technology and society.

    Is it better to have women as the heroes or as the victims? I mean, if they are the heroes, and they are truly badass, are they capable of not being overtly sexualized? Are they multi-dimensional characters? Do they represent what tough, badass, take-charge women really are like, or are they what we want them to be like?

    I know a lot of women who even have a tough time with these questions. Both men and women are at a point in their societal evolution that our identities have become a mish-mosh of ideas and concepts. Things like dealing with age-old double standards, and personal comfort levels.

    Interestingly enough, Asian-American men, specifically Chinese American men have historically been the "underrepresented" demographic most tied to spousal abuse in America, because since having been forced to build the railroads here have been continually emasculated and "feminized". That is why so many Chinese run business that have become staples (stereotypes) of American culture all involved "women's tasks" like cooking and laundry.

    As an Asian American male, born and raised in America, I can assure this woman that we remain "feminized" and culturally emasculated. Whether this is true of Cho, I have no idea.

  3. I haven't seen it but my brother said that Tarantino's was better than RRod's, and that people who didn't like it didn't understand it.

    I personally love Tarantino's stuff, and i'm not quite sure if he is misogynistic or not, i know that kill bill was amazing.

  4. I'd actually rather say that the girls were taking the moral high ground above the guy by not killing him but just beating the shit out of him.

    And I say we have a culture that's blaming the victims here. The Virginia Tech shootings were caused BY THE CRAZY GUY. This is a matter of personal responsibility - he did it, he chose to do it, he was disturbed, so villify him, not some vague cultural argument that we somehow bring it upon ourselves by supposedly destroying subjective gender roles. (It's amazing that I'm a conservative, isn't it?)

  5. I think it would definitely ruin "the mood," but I don't think that's a bad thing. A similar treatment -- a dismemberment, perhaps -- would probably be met with disgust and revulsion. Not because women were doing it to a man, but because it's a disgusting and revolting act. But to make the two acts of violence equivalent wasn't the point of the movie. Tarrantino wanted us to react positively to the women's attack on Stuntman Mike (and in the theater I saw it in, he succeeded). Morally, the women are far superior to Mike, and the movie invites us to be exhilarated at their revenge.

    I'd disagree that the end of the film is played for laughs, though. (Although the abrupt End Title certainly is.) From my recollection, it's meant to exhilarate, and any laughter it provokes is not the result of comedy so much as a welcome release of tension. (Or maybe that's the definition of comedy, but at any rate, in my nearly month-old memory of the scene it doesn't feel like slapstick violence to me.)

    I think Mike is definitely dead, by the way. I read that last stomp as snapping his neck. I think that Tarrantino keeps his death offscreen in order to not filmically implicate the women in murder (if that makes any sense). If his death is implied but not shown, the audience will feel better as they leave the theater, charged up from the kickassery without any complicated questions of guilt.

  6. There's another movie that comes to mind. Some old fart of a Senator is having sex with a scantily-clad young woman, and decides in the middle of the sex act to kill her.

    The scene is about ten minutes long, with a thousand different shots of the nubile woman's body writhing in agony. Clint Eastwood stars in the movie as a thief who witnesses the whole thing while attempting to get out of a house that he burglarizing at the time.

    When it comes time for the murderer to come to justice, his execution occurs off-camera. I was flummoxed by this movie; it was offensive for others reasons too.

  7. A more interesting question, is Kill Bill a feminist movie or not? But to answer either question you'd have to be ok with the use of violence in movies. And believe that a feminist movie can be a violent one.

  8. Clint Eastwood stars in the movie as a thief who witnesses the whole thing while attempting to get out of a house that he burglarizing at the time.

    The film is "Absolute Power" - I believe.

  9. "And I say we have a culture that's blaming the victims here. The Virginia Tech shootings were caused BY THE CRAZY GUY. This is a matter of personal responsibility - he did it, he chose to do it, he was disturbed, so villify him, not some vague cultural argument that we somehow bring it upon ourselves by supposedly destroying subjective gender roles."

    Exactly. If there's a symptom of our society's problems in this tragedy, it's that we aren't handling mental illness properly. Using a psycho killer as a barometer of the gender relations zeitgeist is indescribably idiotic. Well, actually not indescribably. "Idiotic enough that Camille Paglia advocates it" describes it pretty well.

  10. Watch out, comic geeks totally fit this kind of shit.

    Women Stalked

    As always a pleasure


  11. Well, with the usual I Have Not Actually Seen This Film proviso, I would ask whether the death for Stuntman Mike was humiliating to the character. A standard bloodbath death is not humiliating by pop culture male standards, and those standards say that humiliation is definitely worse than death.

    Tarrantin always operates through so many layers of irony that it's impossible to classify as straightforwardly misogynist or anything else, for that matter. He did good by Pan Grier and Daryl Hannah and he did no harm to Uma Thurmond's career. I'll save my ire for those I'm sure are bastards, but certainly no one should be praised as a feminist just because he directs a movie where some battle babes kick butt.

    Damn but I wish Whedon hadn't bounced from the Wonder Woman project.

  12. Wow, James -- are you SURE you haven't seen the movie?

    Because that's exactly what happens. After his first confrontation with our heroes, Mike flees. He's been shot and banged up a bit, and he needs to deal with the wound. And as he does so, he completely deflates in front of the audience. Instead of being this seemingly invincible, violent force, we suddenly see him as a whimpering little man who can't take pain -- who needs a 2,000-lb. machine to kill because he's just not up to it on his lonesome. All his power is the car, and he, personally, is a twisted, small, over-the-hill man. I have a feeling that it's all there in the beginning of the movie, but he masks it in charm and projected power, so we don't even really notice it when its right in front of our face.

    And then he steels himself and goes back for a rematch, and not only do they outfight him when the deal is done, but even worse, they outdrive him. It's not witnessed by anyone whose opinion he'd care about (unless he knows that two of the women he's attacking are stuntwomen, but possibly not even then), so I'm not sure if his humiliation is public, but in the eyes of the film, Oh, yes is he humiliated.

  13. Well, according to the script, that last kick was labelled as the "death blow." Tarantino went out of his way to make a flick that was exactly like the grindhouse classics of old. In fact, this was a combo of the sexplotation and female revenge sub-genres. So, I guess it's a matter of whether the flicks THEN were feminist or no. I think it's all a matter of perspective really. I see Stuntman's killings as framed in a stark and sinister way, whereas Zoe & Company's killing was framed as a victory; shot in a way that's a "release" for the audience. I saw the reason for the death of the first group of ladies as more about his impotence and less about their teasing.

    Just my mental two cents...

  14. I actually walked out after Rose McGowan's character was killed because her death as so jarring, violent and hateful to me. People were killed by the truckload in "Planet Terror" but it was so campy and over-the-top that it verged on the hilarious.

    But when Rose's character was killed I just got this awful feeling in my stomach and I had to bail - even though a friend had spoiled it for me and told me there was a Zoe Bell revenge ending. I feel like sometimes it's not enough to have a woman kicking ass in the end if her ass-kickery has to be prefaced by so many grisly, female deaths.

  15. Years ago, I watched Pulp Fiction, and today, I regret it. Because Tarantino was just wallowing in sensationalism. The last segment, where one of the thugs acidentally shoots another crook in the face while driving him in their car, was sick.

    If Grindhouse bombed, I really can't feel sorry for Tarantino. The movie didn't need to be as grisly as it must be in order to be entertaining, and by now, Tarantino is just a flash in the pan filmmaker.

  16. This is way after the fact, but one side note: On the commentary track for True Romance QT comments that Patricia Arquette's repeated shooting and clubbing of Gandolfini's character was too excessive - after Patricia Arquette's character is brutally beaten by Gandolfini. Apparently female on male violence is more disturbing. So, revenge-filled violence is much less palatable when perpetrated by a woman.

  17. Anonymous12:21 AM

    After watching this week's 24 (for the lulz), and then going online to my friend's film forum only to read a bunch of posts saying "omg she is the female jack. he should **** her", I have come to a conclusion.....

    Maybe it's a commonly known thing, I dunno....

    Somewhere along the way, possibly starting with Sex in the City, the idea of the empowered female became connected to the stereotype of a female as a sex object.