Overview: [Novelty Censorship] seeks revenge on the man who shot her and left her for dead. Miramax Films; 2001; Rated R; 111 Minutes.
An Empty Collage: A Klingon Proverb kickstarts the movie. The Bride (Uma Thurman) wears Bruce Lee’s famous jumpsuit. The Bride walks along a blurry horizon in a direct emulation of a famous shot from Once Upon a Time in the West. The sword fight in soft snowfall recalls Lady Snowblood. The vertical head-slice borrowed from Ichi: The Killer. This short list is a very fractional representation of Kill Bill‘s expression of its own awareness of other movies. For more, check here. And here. Homages, that’s what we’re told these are. But successful homages are distinct, quick nods in a peripheral direction while the central work moves forward in the direction of its own ambition. A work can not be meta-textual if it lacks its own substantive baseline text. An unbroken breathless series of homages stops being homage and veers into humorless satire, parody, immature directorial boasting through emulation. Imagine a cover band who doesn’t stick to one band, genre, or even era, with a set list so scattered that an enjoyable groove never develops to allow the audience to get lost in the music. Everyone in attendance can partake in the superficial game of shouting “Hey, I know that song!” but that’s not the ambition of pure music. So what lies in between and underneath Kill Bill‘s homages? Is there enough to qualify the film separate from its loud familiarity of its sources of inspiration?
The Dirty Fingerprints: In short, no. Not one scene passes without the movie reminding you that it is a movie. There is no chance to comfortably lose yourself in Kill Bill‘s intriguing plot line (intriguing on paper, not execution). At his worst (and this is it), Quentin Tarantino refuses to hide his presence. He is evident in every scene, shifting the tone of the film vocabulary from black-and-white to neon to animated. Tarantino seems hurried to prove his skill in application of every film technique and never settles into one individual style. All good movies eventually hold their notes. This one does not. The quick zoom-ins are generic and disruptive. He beeps out mention of The Bride’s real name in a stupid trick of pointless novelty censorship , just a wink to let us know that his position as storyteller is more important than his story. The dialogue between impending combatants (I think specifically of the first showdown of The Bride and Vivica A. Fox as Vernita Green) is so thoroughly informed by historical movie dialogue that it feels plastic and hollow, as if Walker, Texas Ranger wrote both performers’ lines. Google could develop a programmed algorithm built on every line in movie history and present reactionary output more human than this. Blood spurts from decapitation wounds with the veracity of a Vegas street fountain. Atop of that, the camera editing is clunky and ungraceful from start to finish. And all of this brings us back to the initial point. If you view this movie as an homage zoo, than these aforementioned inadequacies can be categorized as “intentional” and thus “successful.” But, again, if a film’s only intent is to express appreciation for previous movies without its own element of freshness and elevation, then the new film can never be as good as those previous movies. There’s a reason many of Kill Bill‘s influences are obscure. A lot of them are just “good.” Some of them are “bad.” With Kill Bill, the bar is set at mediocrity and the movie doesn’t have the lift to clear it.
Overall: If Leonardo Da Vinci had placed as many signatures on the Sistene Chapel as Quentin Tarantino places in his work, then everything about The Creation of Adam might have been covered except for a hand reaching for a finger– a masterpiece reduced to an implied vulgar fart joke. And so it is with Kill Bill.