As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Watching a Movie with Mom & Dad

Posted by Hedwig on June 29, 2008

My mother joined us here yesterday, and since I’ve been introducing her to Tarantino (she’s going to teach a course on art history in September, and also has to teach a little about modern film), Death Proof, a movie I love and my dad really likes as well, was on the menu. We watched it in two segments: the Texas part yesterday, and the Tennessee part tonight.

The verdict? She pretty much hated it.

And don’t just chalk that up to her being a mom – she’d dislike that excuse as much as Abernathy. I watched scenes from True Romance (the opening and the infamous Walken/Hopper scene) and Reservoir Dogs (the opening diner scene and the scene in the car) with her, and Pulp Fiction in its entirety, and she really liked all of that.

But cars getting banged up? Such a waste, and what for. Such bad manners, to demolish a car that isn’t even yours (I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but that’s the gist). The car chase will probably figure in her dreams. And all in all, she thought the story was too thin, and she just “couldn’t do anything with it”. It didn’t speak to her, and she found it unpleasant to watch.

I kind of understand it. While Pulp Fiction is chock-full of references, it has a very clear, complex and very ingeniously structured story of its own. I personally find Death Proof fascinating on its own, and I think it has a rich text as well as a rich subtext, but it’s a much more elementary tale. Much sloppier, too: my dad had added, in memory, a scene in which they return the car and retrieve Lee, but in truth the film ends abruptly at the cathartic high point, leaving a few threads totally unresolved.

I’ve been thinking about why I like Death Proof a lot these past few days, because of how flat Vanishing Point fell. Kaj left an elaborate defense on my previous post, and he makes some valid points. Vanishing Point does, indeed, have an interesting existentialist subtext, but what I stand by is that the text is very dated, unsatisfying, and yes, boring.

The DJ, for example, is yet another annoying instance of the “magical black guy”-cliche. The driving was nicely grounded, true, but it got VERY monotonous and repetitive, and car noise Kaj loved so much grated on both my dad’s ears and mine. And on one point I will strongly, unrelentedly disagree with Kaj: he says “the dialogue, well, compared to Death Proof, it’s not that bad.”

Excuse me? I know Tarantino has been accused of diminishing returns, and I know many critics found the girltalk annoying and mindless in the extreme. But while the dialogue in Vanishing Point is excruciatingly on-the-nose and corny (want to show someone loved the main character? Have her say “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over again), there’s a rhythm to the girltalk in Death Proof, an ebb and flow and a melody that’s just amazing to listen to. And the actresses, especially Sydney Tamiia Poitier (who is totally believable as a radio DJ) and Tracie Toms, make it sing.

Is the subject matter bland? Yes, absolutely, and most probably on purpose. Is it naturalistic? Not even remotely, nor is it meant to be. But through the meaningless, sometimes maddeningly inane dialogue, we get to know not only these characters (who are all, except maybe for Zoë Bell, archetypes) but this world and its rules. Rules deliberately tweaked, slightly, from the standard slasher-movie tropes: girls who withhold sex aren’t automatically immune (but mommies, even unmarried, are, in an interesting contradiction), and we have here not just a reversal from victim to aggressor, but one almost explicitly from sexual victim to sexual predator (“Oh, you know I can’t let you go without tapping that ass… one…more….TIME!”).

I tend to go on about this movie, don’t I? Enough for tonight, in any case: I have a glass of rosé waiting for me, and I want to enjoy my last evening here in la Douce France.

4 Responses to “Watching a Movie with Mom & Dad”

  1. Kaj said

    Yes, the delivery of the dialogue in Death Proof is superb, much more so than the dialogue itself. Ok, maybe you’re right, maybe it is a little better in DP than in VP, as it should be, since it takes up about 3 quarters of the movie, whereas VP doesn’t really contain that much dialogue. I’ll admit that except for the DJ’s dialogue, most of it didn’t even register with me, good or bad. The rythm you claim the dialogue in DP to have, is in the driving in VP as far as I’m concerned. How that sound can grate, at least coming from a movie, is beyond me.

    As for the “magical black guy”-cliche: I can’t think of any before this movie, nor of anyone that partakes in the action the way Super Soul does: getting hit in the head and his station smashed up by (presumably racist) rednecks.

    You do tend to go on about DP, but that’s probably because you keep watching it over and over again. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Death Proof, but it’s an entirely different beast than Vanishing Point, no many how much references Tarantino throws in. They don’t compare in the same way that City on Fire and Reservoir Dogs do, or Lady Snowblood and Kill Bill.

  2. Sign me up for the club of people who weren’t bothered by the dialogue in Death Proof, but I’m also with Kaj on the charms of VP.

    Dontcha hate how I’m always staking out the middle ground?

  3. I really like Vanishing Point a great deal, though I admit that if you’re looking for a subtly deep screenplay you best look elsewhere. I think it makes a lot of fine points that are a little subtle, though, as well. I last saw it about fifteen months ago or so after seeing Death Proof a few days earlier, so my memory of it isn’t so strong right now but I think it has a lot of charms. It’s kind of like earnest cave drawings next to the postmodern tapestry of Death Proof, but to me without the former you really couldn’t have the latter.

  4. My mom doesn’t really like watching movies, so consider yourself lucky!!!

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