The Demise of Quentin Tarantino, Part 1: Kill Bill Vol. 1

It’s true- Movie Club usually avoids such mainstream fare as this, one of the biggest blockbusters from one of Cinemadom’s biggest stars: Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1. So why is it here? First of all, believe it or not, Kill Bill is “out-of-print” in the interwebs- that’s right, you can’t stream it, can’t buy it, can’t rent it. Who wouldathunk this could happen? But there’s another good reason for diving into QT’s earlier films- he’s the poster child for what’s gone wrong in American Cinema since the 90’s wave of independent films crashed, leaving nothing but mediocre, second-rate debris everywhere. It’s time we examined the wreckage.

For those who weren’t old enough to experience the 90’s, here’s a quick recap: Reservoir Dogs causes seismic reactions at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival, blowing everyone away with the freshest, grittiest, most exciting indie film in eons by this unknown kid who talks a mile a minute. To say it was a watershed moment in independent cinema is an understatement- it ushered in a generation of wannabe filmmakers flooding film schools all over America, while leaving critics dumbfounded, with jaws dropped. By the time Pulp Fiction hit the theaters two years later, America was overhyped and ready for the boy. QT did not disappoint, the film was a smash, and you know the rest. But it’s important to note: between those two films, a lot went into the QT hype machine that made him a household name. First was 1993’s True Romance– a flashy, overly-slick heist movie that QT wrote but did not direct- that honor went to Hollywood Hack Tony Scott, who directed it the way he directed TV commercials, and it shows.

True Romance wasn’t that great, though it had its moments- enough of them to excite all the fanboys who had been intoxicated by Reservoir Dogs (and yes, I was one of them.) Much better was the other Tarantino-penned film that came out in between Pulp Fiction’s Cannes debut and its wide theatrical release: Natural Born Killers, which Oliver Stone converted into a genre-bending, gut kicking critique on our celebrity-obsessed, mass-media culture. QT apparently hated it, but one has to give Stone credit for taking something so seemingly deranged and making it work- it’s as sharp a satire as anything on the subject, and one of Stone’s best films.

Four films within the span of 2 years… that’s a lot of Quentin, and it built the myth of this mad genius who spat out amazing dialogue, kept the best mixtape playlists on the West Coast, and had such an encyclopedic knowledge of A and B list cinema, he could resuscitate dead careers with a single page. If he could accomplish this much in two years, just think of where this guy could be in ten… twenty years hence. Running Hollywood? Running the country? Stranger things had happened.

Of course, it was too good to be true. Not because QT was a fraud- he’s not. The kid’s got skills, that much is clear, but what he lacked was… well, we’ll get into that next time. For now, here’s Kill Bill Vol. 1, Quentin’s last hurrah- it’s a film where QT threw every unused idea he had, plus the kitchen sink, into an epic kung-fu / samurai / Americanized Oriental B-Movie, mixing genres, tropes, everything into what’s basically Revenge Porn raised to eleven. He had done gangsters, then 50’s pulps; clearly he was regurgitating all the crap he grew up on, and sprinkling in his hipster chit-chat along the way. Swords and kung-fu was obviously next. Volume One works surprisingly well, even though it’s 95% fight scenes, because Quentin does an incredible job making each blow of the sword interesting, each death significant, each slo-mo spin unique. If nothing else, he’s always been passionate about cinema, and that passion quite literally powers the entire film- you can feel his giddy, boyhood glee in every scene. 20 years after its release, movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once continue to owe it a gigantic stylistic debt, all the more impressive when you compare them- Kill Bill Vol. 1 remains edgier and more gorgeously crafted than all of the ilk it ushered in.


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