DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
KEY ACTORS: Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Rose McGowan
IMDB SCORE: 7.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 65%
SEX SCORE: 2/5
✔️ Easily passes the Bechdel test – it’s a Tarantino script so there is a lot of talking about, well, everything and there are eight key female characters so it definitely passes.
❌ I’m going to say not rewatchable – I bought it when it came out but the DVD was deep in the cellar so I clearly didn’t watch it that often!
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast – they’re hot but no. They’re not real enough!
❌ And no, not sex positive. The women may chat easily and freely about sex and appear to enjoy full and consensual sex lives…but they’re either brutally murdered or have to kill to avoid brutal murder. It doesn’t take much psychoanalysis to see a problem here!
✔️ BUT, this film did inspire sexual fantasies. Unexpectedly so. It’s the lap dance scene. It’s just so hot!
As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…
STREAMING: Not available on usual streaming services, but can be rented from Microsoft for £2.49 or £7.49. For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com
[Content warning: violence towards women]
Without really meaning to (although you can be pretty certain that I’ll carry on the trend now that I’ve spotted it!), I’ve ended up doing 3 good films for every bad one. It’s become a pattern – 3 films that score more than 2.5 followed by one that scores less, and so on, which means we were due a rant! And as the recent release of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood means that Quentin Tarantino and his views of women have flooded my timeline, I thought I’d write about one of his films.
I’m generally a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s movies – I’m actually writing this while watching Pulp Fiction – but I think it’s not possible to deny that they’re problematic. They may be clever and groundbreaking and inspiring to future generations of movie makers and they may have become part of our popular culture, but they undoubtedly glamorise crime and violence. And, honestly, Tarantino does have a problem with women. Don’t @ me – this is a statement, not a question.
But. But. I chose Death Proof as the host for my upcoming Tarantino rant for more reasons that simply because it has a majority female cast. This is mainly a blog series about sex and the impact that different movies had on me and my sexuality, and I cannot deny that the lap dance in the middle of Death Proof is hot. It’s fucking hot. It made me look at myself differently. It made me look at many things differently.
I’m definitely straight. I’d say I’m a Kinsey 1 – I can appreciate how beautiful and sexy women can be, but I’m not interested in fucking them. I’m rarely even curious, although there are notable exceptions. And this lap dance is one of those exceptions.
It’s slow and lazy and indulgent, and I wanted to be Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) receiving the lap dance and Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) giving it. I wanted so much to be that cool and sexy and to be that free and confident with my body. She’s wearing flip flops, for fucks sake! 22 year old me who saw Death Proof when it was released only knew how to be sexy in heels and tight dresses. The women in this film, particularly Arlene, were hot in a way that soaked all the way through them, and I was so jealous.
I thought about that lap dance for a long, long time after I saw it. Having seen a friend receive a lap dance at a private party, I’ve realised that my fascination with them is mostly because they’re just incredibly hot – performative, exhibitionist, sensual, and watching from a disconnected position as I did both at the party and in the film is also voyeuristic and I love that too!
But I also wondered if I could ever be like that; if I could be that sexy and that cool. I was envious and it was that envy almost more than any arousal that meant I could not take my eyes off Arlene as she danced, and why I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and perhaps why I bought the DVD at all. And then, years later, I read the cool girl monologue from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and I understood.
‘Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot…I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.’
I know this isn’t a huge revelation in the grand scheme of things, and I was probably quite slow to come to this realisation, but the clarity that came over me as soon as I realised that Tarantino is the archetypal socially awkward man was so freeing. He almost literally wrote the movie that spawned the cool girl phenomenon!
In 2007, I was still at university and had spent the entire time hopelessly in love with drum and bass DJs and stoners who, well, weren’t right for me! The contrast between who I am and who I was trying to be is almost laughable now but I wasted so much of my early twenties trying to be noticed and trying to be cool, and that lap dance was the perfect representation of everything I wanted to be.
But it’s actually kind of gross when you look at it more closely. Don’t get me wrong – Arlene is still fucking hot – but she’s performing this lap dance for a much older stranger who persuaded her to do it by calling her bluff in a way that would never work in reality. ‘There are few things as fetching as a bruised ego on a beautiful angel,’ he tells her before calling her chicken shit for not dancing for him. It just feels a bit icky after the cool girl revelation and after #MeToo.
Ah yes, #MeToo! I may have to start classifying film history as pre- and post-#MeToo in the same way that they’re divided by the Hayes Code or Technicolor. And when it comes to Tarantino, #MeToo and the necessary fallout surrounding it has been eye-opening. He’s Harvey Weinstein’s good friend after all. Not that we didn’t all suspect that there was something creepy about Tarantino anyway – for example, during the promotional tour for Death Proof he joked that his character was named ‘rapist no. 1’ and made him an action figure – but we were proved right. Worse for Tarantino, we were also shown just how little he cares.
This quote from a recent Buzzfeed article says it all: ‘The last few years have left Tarantino looking less like the usual bad boy of cinephilia and more like a crushingly familiar type of standard-issue shitty guy. Not a sexual harasser, but a man willing to disregard the well-being of women — or overlook violence inflicted on them — in order to pursue his professional goals.’
It’s why I said earlier in this post that the fact that Tarantino has a problem with women is a statement, not a question. He’s a shitty guy. He can and does make fabulous movies but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a shitty guy!
In early August, The Times posted an unexpectedly hilarious article debating the issue of Tarantino and women that couldn’t have been a more perfect example of everything women have been trying to say about him. The first (male) author argued that Tarantino isn’t a misogynist and wrote gushingly about how great his films are and how they changed Hollywood forever. He felt that the misogyny claim is ‘nonsense’ as Tarantino has centred women in his films, writing strong leads who fight back, describing Kill Bill as a ‘tale of feminist empowerment achieved through dogged determination and stylish ultra-violence.’
The second (female) author then responded by stealing Tarantino’s line, ‘I reject your hypothesis,’ before following up with a list of facts that prove how underdeveloped his female characters are and how little he gives them to do in his films, describing how ‘the only credited female characters in Reservoir Dogs, his 1992 directorial debut, are “Shot Woman” and “Shocked Woman”’ and how Pam Grier, who played Jackie Brown, was only given ‘25 minutes of screen time in her character’s 154-minute movie.’ And, of course, she undermined the entire argument supporting Tarantino’s claims to feminism by quoting Jessica Chastain who tweeted that ‘it is not empowering to be beaten and raped.’ Female characters should not be defined by the violence wrought against them. It is not empowering to need to seek revenge because of the horrors inflicted upon us, even if we are able to gain peace from that revenge.
And on that note, we return to Death Proof, a movie about grotesque violence against women and the revenge that they take from it…
It’s actually a movie that has been ruined for me by the clarity that has come with age, a greater understanding of feminism and the realisation that the cool girl trope is just as dangerous and false as the manic pixie dream girl or any other stereotype. I used to think Death Proof was cool. Deeply and unnecessarily violent, but still cool. Which is pretty worrying!
It’s almost like it’s Tarantino’s fantasy world made real; his wet dream shared with us all. There are so many shots of bare feet that I cannot shake the thought that he just spent however many millions of dollars making his own porn! Combine hot sexy cool women who talk like he talks, drink beer, drive muscle cars and wear cheerleader outfits for no discernible reason with a hot sexy cool psychopath who kills them in profoundly disturbing ways, sometimes pleading for their life, and, well, you have a Tarantino movie.
And these hot sexy cool women are not real, in any way! They are the figments of a teenage boy’s imagination; they’re how the kind of guy who writes a film like this thinks women should be. The male gaze is so strong that even Stuntman Mike, the villain of the piece, is slick and cool and fast talking. It almost obscures how creepy he is, depicting his homicidal tendencies like an inconvenient character trait in an otherwise stand up guy.
I wonder if the fact that Death Proof was made in the style of the classic Grindhouse exploitation movies gave Tarantino an excuse to just let go and make the film he always wanted to make, or whether he misjudged what really needed to be remade in 2007. Did we really need a movie playing homage to something described as exploitation? Maybe he enjoyed reviving the cinematic style, the gritty colours and poor quality, adding scratches and poor edits for realism, but did we really need the violence towards women and the blatant sexism too?
I’m going to steal someone else’s words to finish as this just sums it all up: ‘This male version of women’s empowerment is bullshit…Seeing (young, hot) women being able to kick ass in Tarantino’s films may seem, on the surface, empowering. But Death Proof is still predicated on the eroticisation of killing. It is impossible for Tarantino and his ilk to simultaneously feed from and perpetuate this highly sexualised threat and empower women. The women only get to kick ass when a sufficient number of women have already met their gory, eroticised end.’
Next week: Imagine you and me