Friday, December 4, 2015

Top 36 Things I Love About Death Proof (that no one talks about)

Many dug it and many loathed it; such is the lasting fate of Quentin Tarantino’s most experimental film, Death Proof. The film, packaged with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, was a double-feature throwback to the exploitation films both filmmakers were raised on. Seeing both films (under the sole title, Grindhouse), in the theater remains one of the most memorable movie-going experiences I’ve ever had. That was just it, Grindhouse was an experience. And sure, while Death Proof may not carry as much weight as Tarantino’s other films, I still love it all the same.

Great call back opening to Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Though much grainier, shakier and desaturated now.

Definitely my favorite credit in the film. Can’t believe he shot this flick himself.

Love that in the alternative grindhouse world of the film, this movie was originally called Quentin Tarantino’s Thunder Bolt, then changed to Death Proof after the reels had already been sent to theaters (which was common for exploitation films back in the day).

This perfectly random jump cut.

I’ve always wondered if the portions of missing dialogue were written into Tarantino’s script, or if he and his longtime (since deceased) editor, Sally Menke, had a blast taking frames and lines out in post.

And, inversely, were the double-takes of dialogue written, or decided in editing?

Jungle Julia’s (Sydney Poitier) monologue repetition. Her delivery is so confident and smooth, twice.

Tarantino referencing one of his all-time favorite films, Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, by using Pino Donaggio’s track, “Sally and Jack” during Julia’s texting scenes.

The fact that Tarantino uses four shots at 20 whole seconds to establish Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) devouring nachos.

The only people in the film who actively screw with Stuntman Mike are these two jock douchebags, and Mike doesn’t even care. He’s only interested in the ladies, the sick bastard.

This is my favorite exchange in the film. Stuntman Mike’s confidence, Warren’s (Quentin Tarantino) off-camera delivery, Pam’s (Rose McGowan) curious amusement – priceless.

How hard Stuntman Mike slams the door once Pam is inside his car.

Yep, I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again, but few fourth wall breaks are better than this one.

The music cue after Stuntman Mike says, “Aww, that’s too bad.” Here we go.

Showing the accident four different times, once for each death that occurs. That ain’t something I’ve seen before or since.

Dr. Block (Marley Shelton) so pissed that her dad, Sherriff Earl McGraw (Michael Parks), asked her questions about Stuntman Mike’s prognosis.

So funny the way Sherriff Earl McGraw throws away the line, “… in my off hours” directly after the printed line below. The subtitles don’t even pick up on it.

Steven Soderbergh always says its best to answer a question with an editing cut. And while Sherriff Earl McGraw isn’t asking a question, he’s making a declaration. He’s promising that Stuntman Mike won’t commit a similar act in Texas, then BAM! smash cut to a title card of a new setting. That’s expert editing.

“Twisted Nerve” as Abernathy’s (Rosario Dawson) ringtone.

Love how this second chapter of the film is noticeably cleaner than the first. No scratches or dust.

Okay, yeah, so look. It’s no surprise that Death Proof is considered by many to be Tarantino’s worst film. Tarantino himself has called it his least successful movie. And I get it. It’s an experimental throwback to films that were once glorified but that most audiences don’t give a shit about now. Fair enough. I will, however, posit two counter arguments to any disdain toward the film. The first, and most obvious, is the 20 minute chase scene that closes the movie. The second is this diner conversation. The scene is 7 minutes 17 seconds long and takes place in one unbroken shot. Like the film or not, care about what the women are talking about or don’t, but that is a goddamn impressive feat. For any film.

The blocking of this scene. Love when Abernathy steps aside to reveal Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) when Lee is brought up in conversation.

The slow push-in on Abernathy shortly after Zoë (Zoë Bell) gets on the hood of the car.

My favorite shot in the film. Love that he’s so amused by this group.

My favorite line of the movie. Fucking hysterical.

My heart pounds every time I see Zoë get knocked face first on the hood of the car. I have no idea how they pulled that off.

The camera loosing Stuntman Mike as he blows out in the dirt.

Zoë’s blasé attitude about the whole chase.

There is no end to my amusement of this scene.

The cutaway shot to the oil well. Reminds me of the water-log thing during the final fight in Kill Bill: Vol. 1.

Love how purposefully fake this blood looks.

The excitable music cue that begins when the cars jump off the ramp.

Two very interesting things about these shots. In the motorcycle shot, it’s clear that the bike is attached to a rope, and when that rope pulls back hard, the biker flings off. In the second shot, you can clearly see the shadow of the camera. These two blunders are so obvious, I wonder if Tarantino included them intentionally.

Another flawless music cue as the ladies’ car creeps into frame.

Stuntman Mike hysterically wallowing in pain remains one of the funniest things I have ever seen in a movie.

In conclusion, while Death Proof may never be considered high-brow Tarantino, it is easily the Tarantino film I most enjoyed watching in the theater. The audience participation was priceless. People went insane when this shot appeared.

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  1. Great write up! I'm in the group that was not crazy about Death Proof at all, especially watching it back to back with Planet Terror, which I thought was much better. I do love how he showed the car accident four different times though. That was so brutal, especially the last shot.

    1. Well I'm glad you like something about it haha. But really, I get what you're saying. That scene is so brutal though right?

  2. Oh, there's so many things about the film that I love. I liked what it was doing and I thought Tarantino did a hell of a job with the film. I also noticed the cameo from the Pussy Wagon in the first half of the film. Yet, my favorite part was the climax. Hearing Kurt Russell scream like a bitch and then get his ass kicked. The editing helps it make it so much fun and when I saw it in the theaters. Even though there wasn't a lot of people, there were some cheers as I had a hell of a time and all of that fun made me hungry. What a fucking film that was.

    1. So glad you like this one as much as I do. Love that Pussy Wagon cameo as well. And a screaming, hysterical Kurt Russell is never a bad thing.

  3. I know Quentin has gone on to say this is his worst film, but damnit. I don't care. I think it's one of his best. In addition to your two arguments posited, I posit another one. People who had problems with the second part of Kill Bill often point out that there was too much talk and not enough action. These same people commonly complain about the talkiness of Death Proof. Which is quite baffling given how dialogue is a trait of the director.

    A couple friends even came up with a theory that you can view the entire first half as Stuntman Mike's fantasy exploitation film. The second half is when reality kicks in which is why it is much cleaner than the second half.

    Or could just be that the 2nd reel wasn't shown as much as the 1st. Regardless, it remains an immensely watchable flick.

    1. Yes! Totally agree. And yeah, it's a little strange that people take issue with the amount of dialogue in a QT film. I mean, the man has never pretended to be anything but a wordsman, so why expect anything else?

      I like that fan theory you posited. There's a lot of fun in that.

  4. I'm one that thinks this is his worse film by a sizable margin. However, I still think it's very good. For me, it just feels far more self indulgent than the rest of his films. That's saying something when all of his work has that as a noticeable trait. The other issue is that while there is some great dialogue, as always, it feels much more rambling, less purposeful, making the film drag. That said, his homages to 70s grindhouse cinema are all expertly done. For a fan of the era like me there were lots of little touches that I really enjoyed, many of which you touched on here. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that the obviousness of the motorcycle on a rope was intentional. Great write-up.

    1. Thanks Dell. What's interesting about this film is that I actually preferred the shorter, theatrical version to this extended one. But it's a little harder to find, so I covered the full version. I think his dialogue cuts in the shorter one worked really well. And the full chase scene was still in tact.

      So happy to hear you're a fan of films of that era. I too think the rope on the bike bit was intentional.

  5. Well, i'm just gonna have to come out and say it. I did not like this movie at all. I'm a huge Tarantino fan, but this is the one movie from him i have no desire to ever re-visit. Sure, it had some great stunts and a cool car chase, but that is really all it had i felt. The characters were all awful and i didn't think the performances were all that good either. Kurt Russell did a good job, but the rest of the cast did not impress me. I have only seen this movie twice. Once in theaters and once on blu-ray after i bought the Tarantino box set to give it a second chance. Sometimes i have to do that with movies. But this didn't stick with me either of the times. But i'm glad you liked it at least. It certainly made for an interesting list. Now i'm really looking forward to you write up for Inglourious Basterds. That one is probably my personal favorite Tarantino film.

    1. Hey man, fair enough. Like I said up front, I get the flak this movie has received. I'm excited to really scrutinize Basterds as well. It's such a great film.

  6. Omg, I haven't watched Death Proof in such a long time! Seeing it back-to-back with Planet Terror as a double feature is one of my all-time favorite theater experiences. I don't know - understanding that it's a throwback to the cheesy 70s grindhouse flicks, it's just an awesome, fun flick. All of that stuff about QT being self-indulgent, or low box office numbers, etc. don't even come into play for me. Even if I concede that the girl's performances aren't that great, the car chase and Kurt Russell (in general) are worth it. Great post!

    1. This comment ROCKS. Could not agree more. Context was important for this film, and I think QT's targeted demo lost sight of that (or was never aware of it to begin with). None of the negativity comes into play for me either on this one (great choice of words there). I just absolutely love it.

  7. It's another one that I should revisit, but I really like this film, too. It's a fascinating entry in Tarantino's filmography, even if it's not his most successful work.

    1. Yep, totally agree. I wish it was more respected.

  8. Anybody that don't dig it either is for damn sure not the right audience it was a throwback to Fulci and Carpenter and if you were young stick with dudes flying around In degrading tights