When we’ve talked about the various Pixar films on this list – and there will be plenty when all’s said and done – I’ve admitted that it’s hard not to think about them in terms of the larger framework of that studio’s output. A similar rule applies to my enjoyment of the work of Mssr. Quentin Tarantino, another figure who will be proliferating this list.
Kill Bill marks a kind of watershed moment in Tarantino’s work. This is how I see it, anyway. It drew a line, between the types of films he made then and now. Moving from crime, and into other genres that leant more towards action, wearing all his cinematic influence on those baggy sleeves, while adopting a novelistic structure and odd moments of unexplained experimentation. The QT House Style of the 21st Century, I guess.
Two films later, with Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino’s biggest hallmark was revealed for all the world to see. Not the bloodshed, not the pop-culture chatter that everyone had been doing in their impressions. It was simply long, building scenes of tension where violence simmers just under the surface, and is suddenly released. With, okay, maybe a little bit of blood, a smidgen of chatter.
Looking back, almost every Tarantino film is a collection of these build-and-release scenes, of varying lengths. So, it’s odd that in Kill Bill you pretty much know exactly who will be standing in the end: our singular heroine will survive. It’s just that kind of film. And Bill? Well, it seems unlikely he’s going to make it, somehow.
So how do you build that thick, syrupy tension?
Kill Bill’s answer finds its answer somewhere in that novelistic structure we talked about earlier (oh yes, the gun was very firmly above the fireplace). Kill Bill isn’t just in volumes: it’s in chapters. When the films were on the BBC recently, my lovely girlfriend – who has never seen the films before – and I only caught the middle three chapters of Vol. 2. To my surprise, each worked perfectly and satisfyingly as a self-contained story, and the three put together felt like a full, satisfying film.
The chapters phrase The Bride’s various capers in small, contained bursts that manage to feel dangerous, or else take the opportunity to dance across the other strains of the film’s mutant DNA. They build up individual characters – the supporting cast of Kill Bill’s insane world – with conflicts, threats and finally resolution (mostly, bloody resolution). It’s probably telling that Tarantino leans so much towards large ensembley casts.
Nevertheless, however it’s managed, and however you or I choose to intellectualise it, Kill Bill manages that rarest thing for a modern action film, looking back over its long lineage of jumps, thrills and stunts: it feels breathtakingly risky. Not always, and not always because of the danger to our heroine, but it’ll get to you at least once in that four hour running time.
….Phew. I got through that without a single mention of the word ‘iconic’. Not even the merest whiff, talking about the most riffed-on film of the last ten years, as the sword-reflected eyes of the Bruce-Lee-dressed Bride stare over me from a tattered poster in my bedroom back home and I’m starting to faintly hum the 5678s… Not a single mention. I must be getting better. Right?