Tuesday, 18 September 2007
DEATH PROOF (EXTENDED & UNCUT)
Death Proof - Extended and Uncut (2007) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Zoe Bell
Out on DVD this week is the extended cut of Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof”. Following the tough act of Robert Rodriguez’ fun-filled “Planet Terror”, as the second half of “The Grindhouse” Quentin’s contribution was a let down. Since my first viewing in April, the film has grown on me, not because of the added scenes but because it works better as a stand-alone film – a Quentin Tarantino film, not a Grindhouse film. It’s still ego-stroking, esoteric and mostly boring with little joy in the dialogue, but the fresh face of Vanessa Ferlito, the fantastic car action and the attitude and performance of Kurt Russell make the film enjoyable if you’re in the right mood.
I was too young to know the real “Grindhouse” experience that Tarantino grew up with. My theatre-going youth was the shoebox-cinema experience of the 1980’s (which isn’t great nostalgia). But I still have fond memories of discovering these exploitation films on the bottom rows of the videoracks in strip-mall video stores. And instead of scratchy prints for me it was worn out VHS tapes with bad contrast, tracking problems and bleeding colours.
The opening credits of “Death Proof” fill the screen in front of a speeding car on an open highway. It’s like the opening “Mad Max” - grainy, scratchy, raw and dirty. We are then introduced to a foursome of supple young soon-to-be-victims. Tarantino directs their car ride conversation like his own “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”. Watch the framing on Jordan Ladd, which is the same shot as Samuel L. Jackson’s close-up in “Pulp Fiction” and look at Sydney Tamiia Poitier’s posture in the backseat, which resembles Tim Roth bleeding to death in the back of Harvey Keitel’s car in “Reservoir Dogs”. The girls spend the night partying with a bunch of horny guys in a seedy bar. There’s lot of banal dialogue about going to a cottage, and their decision to bring boys or not. Then Kurt Russell enters the picture playing Stuntman Mike, a sleazy former Hollywood stuntman. With his smooth talk and rugged good looks he charms Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) into a lap dance. The dark side of Stuntman Mike is that he’s actually a murderous psychotic who stalks and kills young women with his big fat black Chevy Nova muscle car. All the girls in the bar fall victim to Mike, and each die a horribly brutal death before the end of the night.
At the halfway mark the film cuts to 14 months later in another city. It’s a virtual carbon copy of the first half, except arguably with less attractive actors (sorry Rosario Dawson fans, it’s not her best look). Mike is stalking another set of girls - this time a more formidable bunch, four stuntwomen, who are joyriding in a vintage 1971 Dodge Challenger. Zoe (real stuntwoman Zoe Bell) performs a dangerous stunt called the “Ship’s Mast” by riding on the hood of the car using two belt straps to hold onto. In the middle of the ride Mike’s car crashes the party. And so begins a long 18 min car chase between Mike and the girls. When the girls get the upper hand and turn the tables it’s funny to watch Mike turn into a pathetic crying bitch. This ending caps off a great Kurt Russell performance, but a sub par Tarantino film.
Tarantino is known for his dialogue, but as a director he shoots the film with a terrific eye. His bold close-us, framing and lighting are a joy to look at. Each scene is crafted with one exciting composition after another and he always keeps the look fresh and energetic. His circular dolly around the table of girls in the second half is a neat recreation of his opening “Like a Virgin” shot in “Reservoir Dogs”.
The car action, which is fantastic, resembles the high energy 70’s car chases of George Miller and H.B. Halicki. Tarantino smashes his cars up real good and uses pure driving speed and force to create fear and suspense. Tarantino shoots Stuntman Mike’s Chevy Nova like a character. I specifically loved the sound of its deep guttural chest-pounding rumble. But aside from the look and action, the dialogue runs on and on, and stalls the film before it even gets going.
There seems to be a lot of cuts of the film around. The new extended DVD version runs 113 mins, the “Grindhouse” version ran 88mins and the Cannes version ran 127. The added value in the extended version is the Vanessa Ferlito lap dance. And although performed fully clothed and in flip-flops it’s still sexy as hell. In fact, every frame in which Ferlito is in is worth watching. Unfortunately, these interesting moments are too few and far between to make the film stand up to Tarantino’s other classics.
Buy it here: Grindhouse Presents, Death Proof - Extended and Unrated (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Here’s the lap dance scene, which was the ‘missing reel’ from the “Grindhouse” version: