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stephen_speicher

Movies: Kill Bill

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I don't like his sense of life, [...]

It might seem strange to anyone who did not see the movie - but every single frame of this movie is an artwork in itself. Nothing is left to chance.

This is EXACTLY what Ayn Rand said about Fritz Lang's "Sigfried" in a short talk she gave about it before a screening of the film in the 1960's.

Also, in appraising Dostoyevsky, she distinguished between her own sense of life reaction (the opposite of his), and her esthetic appraisal of Dostoyevsky as a master of integration of theme and plot structure. See The Romantic Manifesto.

Personal reactions, philosophical evaluation, and esthetic appraisals of a work of art are often very separate issues.

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I will agree that Kill Bill v1 has many very striking compositions, and its very stylized visually. But a director must do more than just present pretty pictures to an audience. Properly, a director is more than just a technical expert.

All Tarantino has done is provide very technically proficient version of a children's "Dick and Jane" book.

See Jane shot.

See Jane survive

See Jane get revenge.

See Jane get revenge.

See Dick teach Jane.

See Jane get revenge.

See Jane get revenge.

to be continued...

Providing well-lit and well-composed stick figures does NOT make a director 'great' by any stretch of the imagination. All we have in KBv1 is an excuse for QT to show off what he can do on film - that he is able to emulate numerous styles of other directors in the genre. With this film, I place QT in "average director" category identified by Ayn Rand. In KBv1, Tarantino is definitely guilty of "usurpation." He is guilty of proceeding from "...the inverted premise that the play is the means to the end of exhibiting his skill, thus placing himself in the category of circus acrobat, except that he is much less skillful and much less entertaining."

The "plot", the "theme", and the "plot-theme" are all mere contrivances - they are an excuse (as I believe he has readily admitted) for QT to show off to audiences. They are an excuse for him to induldge himself - to pay 'homage' to a genre and its many styles, all which he loves. (In fact, I believe the sub-minimalistic 'plot' was chosen specifically because it would distract the least from his visual fireworks.) The styles of each segment could have been swapped and not affected the film. The locations for each segment could have been swapped and not affected the film. The order of those segments could have been swapped and not affected the film. The characters in each segment could have been swapped and not affected the film.

All we have in KBv1 are a series of vingettes. We do not have an integrated story. We do not have an integrated film. We do not have art.

I do not see KBv1 as anything more or anything different from "character studies" (in lit or on stage or on screen). While they may be well-written and/or well acted - ie artistic - they are not art. As such, while its composition or its editing may be appreciated - ie it may have artistic elements - Kill Bill v1 is not art either. And that means it cannot be used as an example of 'great directing'.

Great directing requires much more integration than just its visual composition and flow. Here Quentin Tarentino is merely a "pretentious photographer."

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But what is the point of praising someone for using great artistic skill to portray irrational values?

"It has been said that if one stopped the projection of Siegfried and cut out a film frame at random, it would be as perfect in composition as a great painting. Every action, gesture and movement in this film is calculated to achieve that effect. Every inch of the film is stylized, i.e., condensed to those stark, bare essentials which convey the nature and spirit of the story, of its events, of its locale. The entire picture was filmed indoors, including the magnificent legendary forests whose every branch was man-made (but does not look so on the screen). While Lang was making Siegfried, it is reported, a sign hung on the wall of his office: 'Nothing in this film is accidental.' This is the motto of great art. Very few artists, in any field, have ever been able to live up to it. Fritz Lang did.

"There are certain flaws in Siegfried, particularly the nature of the story which is a tragic, "malevolent universe" legend—but this is a metaphysical, not an esthetic, issue. From the aspect of a director's creative task, this film is an example of the kind of visual stylization that makes the difference between a work of art and a glorified newsreel."

-- Ayn Rand, "Art and Cognition," The Objectivist, June 1971.

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First of all - in this specific (Kill Bill) case the values are not irrational. Uma Thurman is seeking revenge, and is ruthless in persuing justice.

And, she is incredibly capable, single-minded in purpose, and beautiful to watch.

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It might seem strange to anyone who did not see the movie - but every single frame of this movie is an artwork in itself. Nothing is left to chance.

The battles are choreographed more strictly, more esthetically, than any ballet I've ever seen.

Exactly!

Until I saw Vol. 1 I knew virtually nothing about Tarantino. I watched the "Making of ..." on the DVD, and sought out interviews with him about this film, and it is now perfectly clear that every aspect of that film was consciously chosen, completely puposeful. He himself is very single-minded about film -- film is his life -- and his awareness of the art and craft of filmmaking is simply astounding.

The battles are choreographed more strictly, more esthetically, than any ballet I've ever seen.

Yes! The battle with O-Ren Ishii in the snow was particularly exquisite. Literally every moment of that scene could be separately framed and hung on the wall as a work of art.

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I think Tarantino is a master at what he does. He takes simple and classic plots and stock characters and stylizes them in every way possible, cinematography, soundtrack, costume, dialogue, setting, etc. His glorification and, even sometimes it seems, celebration of violence is not one of my favourite things about him, it's more so his ability to borrow from a variety of distinct film genres (most notably in Kill Bill- samurai movies, kung fu movies and spaghetti westerns), merge them into something extremely entertaining and fresh, and yet still put a distinct signature on the work that marks it very obviously as a Tarantino film.

With Kill Bill, one thing I particularly enjoyed was something that was vaguely present in his other films too, particularly From Dusk Til Dawn and Pulp Fiction but never really capitilized on in the way it was here. The character of The Bride, although it is a creation of himself and Uma Thurman, becomes sort of a legend in the mind of the viewer. It is, granted a stock character, but when you walk out of Kill Bill, you feel like it's a sort of urban legend or a story that you've heard before. I've heard many people say this, and I felt it to some extent myself.

I have to say, I am a Tarantino fan, I find his films extremely entertaining and very visually pleasing.

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I think Tarantino is a master at what he does.  He takes simple and classic plots and stock characters and stylizes them in every way possible, cinematography, soundtrack, costume, dialogue, setting, etc.  His glorification and, even sometimes it seems, celebration of violence is not one of my favourite things about him, it's more so his ability to borrow from a variety of distinct film genres (most notably in Kill Bill- samurai movies, kung fu movies and spaghetti westerns), merge them into something extremely entertaining and fresh, and yet still put a distinct signature on the work that marks it very obviously as a Tarantino film. 

And Tarantino has made that exact point. Explicitly, in words. He likens his use and acknowledgement of the earlier genre to the even earlier genre acknowledged in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But, in a manner which surpasses what Speilberg and Lucas accomplished, Tarantino strips the genre down to its essence and recreates it in a far superior way than the original. (Note: my remarks are confined to Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

With Kill Bill, one thing I particularly enjoyed was something that was vaguely present in his other films too, particularly From Dusk Til Dawn and Pulp Fiction but never really capitilized on in the way it was here.  The character of The Bride, although it is a creation of himself and Uma Thurman, becomes sort of a legend in the mind of the viewer.  It is, granted a stock character, but when you walk out of Kill Bill, you feel like it's a sort of urban legend or a story that you've heard before.  I've heard many people say this, and I felt it to some extent myself.
Nice identification. "The Bride" is a larger-than-life character.

I have to say, I am a Tarantino fan, I find his films extremely entertaining and very visually pleasing.

Well, with Vol. 1 I have joined the club.

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I actually don't even notice who directs movies most of the time, so I don't have a lot to say about this... but I think Luc Besson is underrated. I haven't seen The Professional for a long time, but I loved it when I saw it. The Fifth Element is one of my favorites, and there were some truly great scenes in The Messenger.

I should add that most of Besson's early work is total crap, and that I don't consider him great -- but only because he's inconsistent. If only he always lived up to his best moments...

By the way, an amusing point of trivia: according to IMDb, Tarantino has used the Mexican Standoff (three or more characters all pointing guns at each other) in every single one of his movies. I guess it's kind of like characters peeing themselves in Steven King novels. ;-)

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I am curious - besides Tarantino, who else do you all consider to be or have been not just good, but "great" directors?

Peter Jackson, of course!

I just saw KB2, and have to say that I enjoyed it much more than the first. I left the theatre after part one with a massive head-ache, mostly for reasons already detailed here in spades. I didn't really care for Pulp Fiction either. But, I did love (not without certain issues) True Romance and Rez. Dogs. I think the QT sylizations are best realized in these two plot driven films. The world is tweeked subtably, but enough to remove the picture from dreary Emil Zola naturalism.

I have to say that while I still wouldn't say that I liked the whole Kill Bill thing, p2 was a much better experience than p1. It is more balanced and integrated in its stylistic wonderings, and the sense of humor is MUCH more effective. The scenes with the kung-foo master were, I thought, rather priceless. And Daryl Hannah, is something to see. She irritated the crap out of me in the first part, but she does quite well in part2. I actually thought she rivaled Uma as far as beauty and acting skill goes (Uma is also less wooden in this one). Consequently, I found her death

difficult to watch. David Carradine also makes P2 MUCH more interesting to

watch. He really fits the "bill" perfectly. The scene out on the chapel porch,

I thought, was excellent in its strange tension.

Thematically, I was a little surprised at the ending...and not so sure that I know how to take it, even in an archetypical context. But, I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it.

I also think it was a mistake to chop-saki the movie in two pieces...

I am also curious, would anyone here classify QT as a Romantic writer/director/artist? And heck, what about Peter Jackson? Romantic?

RCR

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Oddly, Peter Jackson's early movies were pure kitsch nihilism. I'm not a fan of LOTR, but I recognize that he did a spectacular job with the movies -- which, in fact, I like far better than the books. Considering just LOTR, yes, I think he could count as a Romantic director.

Now if only we could get him to direct The Sword of Truth series... :)

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I didn't feel that Jackson did a good enough job of getting into the lore of the books which it seemed to me was one of the main draws of being sucked into the tolkien universe. I don't know how much positive or negative to really attribute to him in any case, it seems he couldn't go that wrong with a story so detailed already.

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Oddly, Peter Jackson's early movies were pure kitsch nihilism.  I'm not a fan of LOTR, but I recognize that he did a spectacular job with the movies -- which, in fact, I like far better than the books.  Considering just LOTR, yes, I think he could count as a Romantic director.

Now if only we could get him to direct The Sword of Truth series...  :)

That is a very interesting point about Jackson. I actually haven't seen any of his early-early work, but my cine-geek (a term of endearment) pals tell me they are pretty outrageous.

I did see *Beautiful Creatures* and *The Frighteners*...and I wouldn't call them "pure kitsch nihilism", although, both certainly contain elements of this (as does LOTR).

It has always struck me as odd, that Jackson's earliest work would be of the quality that my pals describe (and there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for interpretation, here). The man that I sat and watched for countless hours of documentary footage, was so brilliant, bright, organized, critical, and happy, that I couldn't imagine a pure nihilist universe coming from his "pen"...

I am curious--do you consider the original novels as works of Romantic fiction? I was always fascinated at how Tolkien purposefully left the setting as familiar and earthly (unlike SO many of those who followed in his footsteps) but altered time such that he could "get away with" and embrace more wildly universal subject matter.

The whole thing (including The Silmarillion) is a fascinating creative curiosity to me to this day. There is a certain underscore of reverence for the best in humanity that, for me, puts his creative vision in mind with Rand's. In fact, I've always found it very interesting that both authors, ultimately, place music at the center of their earthly projections.

RCR

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Many people don't realize it - but Steven Spielberg is an amazing director. He constantly comes up with new shots, new ways to establish the tone, emotion, and meaning of a scene.

This is true from Jaws, and unto the latest films he directed - Catch Me If You Can, and AI, for example. Like Tarantino, he is also a master of all the cinematic arts - and utilize camera, editing, lighting, acting, soundtrack with great attention to the smallest details.

A lot of his earlier tricks, for example special shots he used in Jaws, were very soon after copied by other directors and became a part of the language - which is why when we watch them today they seem ordinary.

In a few years, kids won't understand what's so revolutionary about films like The Matix or Kill Bill, since all films by then will use the same techniques.

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I haven't seen either of the movies you mentioned.  I'm talking about Dead Alive and Meet The Feebles.  (Probably Bad Taste, too, but I don't remember enough from it.)  On the other hand, both movies were pretty funny at some points...

By the way, certain aspects of Peter Jackson's personal life are also suspect. ;-)

Yes, those were the early-early works that I was thinking of too, but couldn't recall what they were called.

His progression as an artistist has certainly interesting....

LOL at that link. Too funny.

RCR

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Many people don't realize it - but Steven Spielberg is an amazing director. He constantly comes up with new shots, new ways to establish the tone, emotion, and meaning of a scene.

This is true from Jaws, and unto the latest films he directed - Catch Me If You Can, and AI, for example. Like Tarantino, he is also a master of all the cinematic arts - and utilize camera, editing, lighting, acting, soundtrack with great attention to the smallest details.

Yes, in general I agree. I think Spielberg's AI is a particularly good example of his directing ability. E.T. is also a favorite of mine, and that earlier work shows all the seeds which either blossomed or were echoed in AI.

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Many people don't realize it - but Steven Spielberg is an amazing director. He constantly comes up with new shots, new ways to establish the tone, emotion, and meaning of a scene.

This is true from Jaws, and unto the latest films he directed - Catch Me If You Can, and AI, for example. Like Tarantino, he is also a master of all the cinematic arts - and utilize camera, editing, lighting, acting, soundtrack with great attention to the smallest details.

A lot of his earlier tricks, for example special shots he used in Jaws, were very soon after copied by other directors and became a part of the language - which is why when we watch them today they seem ordinary.

In a few years, kids won't understand what's so revolutionary about films like The Matix or Kill Bill, since all films by then will use the same techniques.

Ah yes, Senior Spielbergo. I've gone back and forth on what I consider to be the merits of his work. I really didn't like Schindler's List at all. I reacted poorly to it, and left thinking that there just isn't anything "artistic" about the holocaust, and using cheap emotional visual aids (a la the red dress) to "drive home" the point that Germany's organized slaughter of Jews and anyone else they didn't like was horrible--wasn't a something I needed or wanted to see.

There is a story somewhere, of a competition in Germany to create a memorial for one of the camps--but, at the end of the day, nothing was able to "memorialize" the horror of that place better than the place it self. So, no art-work was created. I wish Spielberg had followed the same path.

I did think that Minority Report was excellent...and a great "pop culture" defence of free-will.

But, I tend to think that people who glorify in such a realistic and believable ways, fear (Jaws), superstition (Close Encounter, Poltergiest) , and sacrifce (ET) are sending the wrong messages and promoting the wrong values, even they are wrapped in glossy innovative techniques.

Of course, this draws attention to the distinction Rand wisely made between a work of art's "sense-of-life" and its "aesthetic" (technical) merit.

This may not be the right thread for it, but I'd be really interested in an extended conversation debating the merits of Spielberg's body of work (in terms of thematic detail as well as technical expertise).

RCR

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Actually, it's hard for someone living today to name great directors of the past.

The reason is that the cinema is such a young art, that some of the best films made more than 50 years ago are artistically immature compared to today's average movie.

In the first few years the camera never moved. Then the camera moved, but there were no cut shots. Then there were cut shots, but only at the end of a scene. Then there were cuts inside a scene - but never between two scense happening simultaneously.

The Close-Up, the Extreme Close-Up, the fast cuts, the slow-motion - are all relatively new. Sound effects, different lightings, digital colouring - are all continuously better technically and artistically. Some of the newest additions to the cinematic toolbox are constantly moving cameras - whether carried by men, or by cranes.

The Matrix introduced a few new techniques - specifically the 360 degrees filming that seems to freez time, and other aspects of "virtual cinematography".

The best directors are constantly dreaming up new ways of expression, and sometimes invent their own technology to support them.

It was Spielberg, if I'm not mistaken, that had to invent his own kind of crane, for one shot he wanted to do, and then helped start a company that sold this crane to other directors.

I don't regard Peter Jackson as an innovator. He did a great job on LOTR - but in terms of the director's craft - I didn't see anything new worth noting. He simply did a very good job using the existing tools. Tarantino and Spielberg, on the other hand, are re-inventing cinema in every movie. That is what makes them great.

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So - no Fritz Lang, no Stanley Kubrick, no Terry Gilliam, no Ridley Scott, no Orson Welles, no Sergei Eisenstein, no Cecille B. DeMille, no Leni Riefenstahl, no David Lean, no Murnau, no Stroheim, no Kurosawa, not even Hitchcock, eh?

Just Tarantino, Speilberg, and maybe Jackson? Really??

(BTW - Siegfreid By Lang was a silent film from 1923. Yet AR identified Lang as a great director because of this film. I would therefore suggest a standard which discounts much of cinema history as underdeveloped and thus ineligble to be art or have great artists (great directors) is not a valid standard.)

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So - no Fritz Lang, no Stanley Kubrick, no Terry Gilliam, no Ridley Scott, no Orson Welles, no Sergei Eisenstein, no Cecille B. DeMille, no Leni Riefenstahl, no David Lean, no Murnau,  no Kurosawa, not even Hitchcock, eh?

Just Tarantino, Speilberg, and maybe Jackson?  Really??

Ah, you see - my point exactly. All of these were innovators (even though Eisenstein, for example, did it for all the wrong reasons). But most of what they did that was new when they did it - is to be found in almost every movie today.

And most of their movies that were made more than a decade ago are immature compared to todays films. (Note: I mean only in terms of cinematography - not content.)

Some of it can be attributed to the advances of technology. But I think most of it is due to the evolution of cinematography itself. Spielberg of the 80s was already taught for more than 20 years in film schools around the world. I even studied Tarantino's earlier movies. Whenever these guys find some new form of expression - it is immediately incorporated to course syllabi in film schools.

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Being the first one to do something does not make an artist great. Nor does the fact that others do something else or something more later diminish the greatness of earlier art or artists.

(I might add that technical innovation is not part of the requirement for great art or artists.)

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