God Gets Cut
The title of the comment is from the ersatz master who makes a new sword for our avenger. This denotes what is wrong about this film, indeed why Tarantino is to film as Brittany Spears is to music.
Martial arts are about generational wisdom, about the rigidity of the masters all the way back empowering new freedom all the way forward. When a fight occurs, it is not the weapons that are in combat, not even the combatants: it is the respective masters who operate through time and space. Ang Lee understood this when he made his film, one that could reliably called an homage.
This is something else, wholly Americanized. Here we have a setup that is from cold war 60’s culture, a themed assassination squad. The focus is on the individual. When Uma’s character fights, it is in the Eastwood tradition.
For all this to work, we have to have a God. Can be the noir god of detached fate; can be the Hitchcock/dePalma god of the camera; can be the Lynch god of the filmmaker; can be the Leone god of irony. Our man Q wants them all, and has to cut each of them to make room for the others.
“Once Upon a Time in Mexico” has identical aspirations, but Rodriguez steeps us in something he actually knows, leverages an actor that actually understands irony (not some second rater; remember Mrs Peel and Poison Ivy?), clearly identifies his god/observer (Depp), and does it all himself: writing, directing, shooting, editing, composing. In comparison, Quentin is a novice and this is a dim conversation in a lonely corner of an effete party.
As in all of life, there are two kinds of people in film. I’ll call them engineers and scientists. Engineers work with known vocabularies and principles. They take insights of others and tinker about with different combinations to accomplish certain practical goals. There is an imagination of sorts, but it extends only so far as understanding the storehouse of components supplied by others.
The scientists go where no one else has ever gone, into the void and bring back new reality that they convince us to accept. Which of these you choose for your life in film could determine everything about you, because you live in your imagination. Compare “Ghost Dog” (or even “Pillow Book”) to “Kill Bill.” Both are about themselves, cast in terms of what went before. One is subtle, even elusive in its truths. Possibly, it is only one of many stories it is about as the little girl within it reads. The other, “Bill” is already chewed for you. Brittany Spears. They even use the same musician as composer. One is subtle and rich, the other a jukebox.
Kurosawa is a scientist; Tarantino a shopkeeper, and that brings me to my final point. Quentin does have terrific storytelling skills. But look at how they are used. All of his attention goes to explaining what happened before, including the trademarked timefolds. This is very well done and completely comprehendible. But good storytelling, the really good stuff, is about what happens NEXT. See any of that here?
Posted in 2003
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.