I Stand Alone: A Collokino Conversation hosted by Jim Wilson

I Stand Alone

Directed by Gaspar Noe, 1998

Jim Wilson: Taylor, it’s good to have you back on Collokino. How have you been?

Taylor Baker: Thanks for having me back, Jim, and to talk about my only feature film blind spot from Gaspar, no less. I’ve been keeping well up here in Washington, trying to carve out some time for all these new award season releases. How about you?

Jim: Good, good. First day of snow here in the Boulder area today, though it’s barely more than groppel, or frozen rain. Before we dive in to the deep end here, I want to congratulate you on your recent induction to the Seattle Film Critics Society. That sounds pretty exciting.

Taylor: Thanks, Jim! It’s been a pretty neat development for both Michael and I to start from scratch and become formally recognized in our little corner of the world. And a hearty congratulations to you (if a little late) for passing the one-year mark back in July of leading and publishing these high-quality conversations on film.

Jim: Well, thanks. All this film talk really is a lot of fun, so let’s do some more of it!

I brought I Stand Alone to you to discuss, since I knew you’re a big Gaspar Noé fan, and it seemed to be the one feature you hadn’t seen yet. It’s a tough film, one I wouldn’t expect most film watchers to warm up to. I suspected, though, that since you’re a Noé fan, you’d at least give it a fair shake, and understand where he’s coming from with it. I’m dying to hear your thoughts on it, but do you want to say a little bit first about how you came to Gaspar Noé’s films, and what his work means to you?

Taylor: Absolutely. I first discovered Gaspar through Irreversible and became enamored, though it depicts actions that are abhorrent it is precisely how they contrast against the rest of the film that elevates the piece. His voice and style is the type of provocation I love in art. To my ear and eye, it is sincere and unjudgmental, focused on craft over message. You might say Gaspar dwells on and in the facets of humanity that others skirt away from. He often almost exclusively embraces the taboo pieces of life in each of his currently released pieces. A short list of those taboos would be rape, incest, murder, mass murder, psychedelia, torture, love and the loss of it, and loss of mental control/faculty. This coupled with his frequent Godardian direct conversation via text/title cards keeps me engaged in a more contemplative way than I would otherwise be. Putting some of the weight of the stakes of the film onto me directly. More specifically on what his work means to me though, I would say the corpus of his work and him as a man is a demonstration of courage to follow and lay bare the uncouth, illegal, and banal commonalities of human existence. And his formal talents make it all pretty damn cool to watch.

Fun, unfun fact: Gaspar and his family actually emigrated to France to flee the Dirty War in Argentina in 1976, just to tie this back together with our previous conversation regarding The Secret in Their Eyes.

You can rest assured I gave it a very fair shake. What about your personal history and/or affinity for Noé? Do you have a favorite or least favorite perhaps?

Jim: Right, I knew about his family’s flight from Argentina, but hadn’t considered the correlation with our last conversation. Cool coincidence.

I’ve seen all of his feature films, and a couple of his shorts. I agree that his embrace of taboo subjects is tantalizing, and what he distills from that in the way of deeply personal experiences makes it relevant beyond the simply shocking. It’s the interior terrain in Noé’s films that most interests me – the lay of the land inside his protagonists’ heads – which is sharpened by his obsessively charted fixation on the physical and bodily passage of his characters through the material world around them. It’s a pretty stunning balance he manages to maintain in all of his films, between the outside and the in, between the body and the mind. I have to second your enthusiasm for Irreversible, though Climax is as close to perfection as anything I’ve seen from him yet.

I Stand Alone is Noé’s first feature, from 1998. What happens to the central character of the Butcher, played by Philippe Nahon, actually begins in a short film Noé did seven years prior in 1991, called Carne. That introductory film details, in short bursts of imagery and narration, the life of the Butcher, from his birth in 1939 to his release from prison 40 years later. We learn that his mother abandoned him two years after his birth, that his father was a French Communist who died in a German camp during the war. When a boy, he was raped by a priest. The primary focus of the story is on his efforts to raise his daughter alone, after her mother departs (extending an important theme about absent mothers). His daughter Cynthia seems to suffer from some cognitive and/or physiological malady, perhaps autism; she never speaks. He dotes on her in a way that’s borderline creepy, while operating his horse meat shop, until his fears and insecurities confuse Cynthia’s first period with sexual assault, and he ends up maiming an innocent man. While he is sent to prison, Cynthia is committed to a care facility. After his release, the Butcher gets a new lease on life when he connects with a woman who operates a café. Leaving his daughter behind, the Butcher moves with his mistress from Paris to Lille. And that’s when I Stand Alone begins.

Of course, that’s just a simple plot summary, and the images and themes Noé uses to illustrate it add other dimensions. The key difference between Carne and I Stand Alone is one of perspective. Though they’re both parts of the same story about the same characters played by the same actors, Carne observes the Butcher primarily from the outside, while I Stand Alone observes him from within.

If you would, pick up the story moving forward into I Stand Alone. What were your first impressions? How do you distinguish between the biographical content and the social content presented, or do you?

Taylor: On Climax we agree. It is his best feature.

Oh boy, that is a picture-perfect elucidation of what occurred before we meet up with the Butcher at the outset of I Stand Alone. The first moments of I Stand Alone occur in a bar where nameless patrons are debating morality and justice, where the principal speaker claims that, “Morality is made for those who own it. The rich.” before he proceeds to pull out a pistol and declare that it is his justice. Setting the backdrop of philosophical understanding for us as viewers.

The Butcher is poor and jobless; and morality as presented within the film is something he is a victim of. It’s a clever trapping to start with to keep us engaged with a social dilemma undercurrent to a mentally unwell man’s descent into madness. The Butcher imagines himself as an everyman, a victim of the failings of his country to recognize and embrace his greatness during the oral introduction of the film recounting much of what you described above. We then spend time with the woman, who operated the cafe which Gaspar has credited as Mistress, and the Butcher in their marital bed, roaming around looking at meat market real estate, and eventually erupting into violence wherein the Butcher heavily beats the Mistresses pregnant belly and we, or at least I, assume the child was lost (though that may not be the case). This series of events causes him to leave Lille and head back to Paris with a stolen pistol (or as framed in the film, stolen justice), 300 francs in his pocket, and only the clothes on his back.

He checks into the same hotel he conceived Cynthia in all those years ago, and proceeds to squander his money on prostitutes and alcohol, all the while with a self-pitying narration, as he tries and fails to find work. After being denied a work opportunity by an old boss, he becomes murderously enraged, spouting anti-gay slurs while walking down the street fantasizing of murdering his old boss before he pops into a bar to blow his last 11 francs. Upon not being able to pay his 12 francs bill he lashes out, calling the owner’s son a similar slur to those he was uttering minutes earlier. He returns to his hotel room to gather his gun and go murder the barkeep and his son, but he arrives too late, they’ve closed.

The following day he collects his daughter Cynthia and takes her around the city before bringing her back to his hotel room and sleeping with her. The camera moves entirely out of the room of the hotel that the Butcher has had perhaps the most meaningful moments of his life in, and peels away, peering along the street below as some young children run along the street playing and the film ends looking at them running along the street with the Butcher telling his daughter, “I love you. That’s all there is to it.”. Though the story of our Butcher actually ends in the beginning/ending of Irreversible where we learn he went to prison for sleeping with his daughter. Which reinforces that the finale’s second sequence is what actually took place. Not the first in which he was shown to have murdered her. Additionally, this indicates that, A) he either didn’t beat the Mistress to the point of the child passing away or B) she didn’t press charges, which adds a wrinkle. There are a bunch of moments I didn’t include, but I thought these were some of the more intriguing moments within the film.

As for my first impression I was and am floored. I have a soft spot for Love which is perhaps his most deservedly criticized piece and I assumed this would be more in league with that. A bit floundering but sincerely intentioned, instead I was met with a brick and pavement walk and talk that feels substantially real and engrossing. I’m pretty confident that it is my second favorite from him now, behind Climax.

I do distinguish between the biographical and the societal, but only so far as to then marry them together more cohesively. I find it useful to observe the same events from multiple philosophical vantages. My read on it in this and other films from him broadly speaking is that Noé has an intrinsic understanding of Julian Jaynes’ bicameral mind hypothesis, also known as metaphorical language. He often presents two things to be true at once, before showing both as false by adjusting your viewing angle slightly. Is the Butcher a victim? Perhaps. Is he an abuser? Yes. Should society have an assistance for him and/or mental health facilities for him? I would assert a yes here as well. Is he this way because of society, though? I don’t think so. There’s so much wrapped up in here, that I think the discussion is really dependent on the boundary conditions of what exactly we’re talking about. What I will say is that I don’t think you can get to the heart or marrow of I Stand Alone by trying to separate biographical from social, but by grappling the two venues separately and together I think you can come close to grokking it.

Did I miss anything you’d like to call out? And what about you, do distinguish between the biographical content and the social content presented? Did the narration lend itself to your engrossment in the film as it did me?

Jim: I don’t position the social-biographical binary as anything other than an initial way to observe the Butcher, in the earliest stages of the film, within the world we see him. Personally, I dismiss it beyond that initial view. I don’t find the societal context useful to understanding the Butcher or his situation. It’s too interior of a story to carry a significant social dimension, though it can’t be entirely rejected. The opening scene in the bar, which you reference, involves characters who have nothing to do with the rest of the film, one of whom makes assertions about Morality and Justice. It’s clearly a prologue intended to establish a thematic foundation, and with a strong societal component, though I think all that becomes internalized within the Butcher’s tale, and the social element is diminished. I’m sure we’ll come back around to this when we cover the ending of the film.

I’m interested to hear you talk more about Julian Jaynes and the bicameral mind. What little I’ve gathered about it from a brief Google search intrigues me. Tell me more about how that theory can be applied to the Butcher, this film, or Noé’s films in general.

Taylor: We undoubtedly will come back to it as I think how the individuals of Noé’s films are exhibited, brought to life, and expressed nearly always have an undercurrent of societal conversation that Noé as the provocateur is attempting to bring to life.

Regarding the Bicameral Mind I can’t give it full justice but I can give a brief breakdown of the premise and how I see it within the work. Essentially the Bicameral Mind theory was postulated by Jaynes in a book entitled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind in 1976. The theory is predicated on the idea of two separate chambers operating within the brains of pre-modern humans, one that speaks and another that listens and obeys. The breakdown of this separation of chambers is postulated by Jaynes to have resulted in introspection and thus consciousness. Consciousness he asserts is a learned behavior based on growing in culture and amongst language rather than an innate direct biological evolution or a spiritual/metaphysical event. This amalgamation of culture and language is expressed by him as metaphorical understanding. This, like all of the “hard problem of consciousness” theories, is pushed back on heavily and not proven at this time. I personally don’t find myself convinced that his body of claims is accurate, but I do find the spirit of it useful and thought provoking.

In so far as I see it, there is an innate utility to this idea that our minds have leveled up or evolved from separate chambers to a cohesive metaphorical intellect collaborating toward understanding. We can make points about justice through nihilism or heroism. Examine romanticism through amorous physical encounters or lovelorn letters of a couple straddling two continents. Celebrate dance through an exalting group death. Understand love through the loss of it. These juxtaposed points and metaphorical pieces of symbolism, if you’d accept them as such, seem much more true to me than something restricted to non-comparative expression.

Gaspar, in my reading, has a knack for analogy and comparative metaphors as a storyteller. Inviting us to examine these deep ideas that we as a species always seem to be seeking an answer to, but allowing us a higher resolution of comprehension than many others within and outside the film medium have. He doesn’t proffer any answers but rather focuses on laying bare in an enthralling or affecting way, often both.

Jim: Alright then, let’s apply some of that to a specific instance in the film. While the Butcher is still in Lille, with the Mistress, who is pregnant with his child, they initially pursue the idea of buying a shop, with her money, so that he can revive his profession as a butcher (which I read as intimately connected to his dignity and virility), but she ultimately decides it’s a bad deal. She then pressures him to work in a deli, which doesn’t work out. Eventually, an associate of hers finds a job for him as a nightwatchman at a senior care facility. After assisting a nurse with a resident, who ultimately dies, he comforts the distraught nurse and walks her home. As he’s doing so, he’s spotted by a friend of the Mistress. This friend reports back to the Mistress what she mistakenly believed was the Butcher escorting a secret lover, or prostitute. When the Mistress confronts the Butcher about this, it results in one of the film’s most brutal scenes, which you described somewhat above, where he kicks the Mistress repeatedly in the abdomen, presumably killing her, and his, unborn child.

It’s pretty clearly a series of circumstances that erode, if not directly assault, the Butcher’s dignity and, from his perspective, his masculinity. One end result of this episode is the theft of a pistol, or, as you pointed out earlier, stealing justice itself. I’d like to hear you talk more about that. I’m personally interested in how that sequence of events, that assault on the Butcher’s masculinity, concludes with an assault on maternity. Motherhood is a recurring theme in Carne and I Stand Alone, particularly its absence, and destruction, and how that shapes the character of the Butcher. It might be useful to add that the Butcher and the Mistress live in her mother’s home in Lille, thus contributing another layer of maternity the Butcher can abuse, and be abused by. How do these metaphors, involving justice and the dueling annihilation of masculinity and maternity, allow us “a higher resolution of comprehension”, as you put it, regarding the Butcher and his struggles?

Taylor: That’s wonderfully put. I think firstly I would say that I don’t genuinely believe that the Mistress was going to buy the shop. Rather she was telling the Butcher what he needed to hear for her to build out the life that she wanted for herself. This perspective if you think is apt then indicates perhaps that his virility and dignity may indeed have been lost in the very act of impregnating this woman. Secondly, I don’t know that we can actually get a higher resolution of comprehension on the Butcher, as I think he demonstrates enough behaviors that I would deem him mentally ill. Instead, I think there is a subsurface or archetypal playground to observe, a metaphorical field of play in which we can grasp something that he is but a player in.

I don’t consider it quite as clean cut as the assault on his masculinity that led to the action, but rather the repetition that preceded that scene of him feeling short changed and lied to, gaslit if you will, that led to his fit of outrage. You’re dead on pointing out the duel of masculinity and maternity. It’s a duel between what one might call the worst traits of masculinity and the worst traits of maternity. She seems conniving, manipulative, and insincere, and he is a walking talking textbook example of toxic masculinity. On its face the metaphors seem pretty simple, do not act like these shitty people lest you end up like these shitty people. But I think there are accurate depictions of psychological behavior and its effects to observe. The gluttony and selfishness of both the Butcher and Mistress leading to unhappiness. The Mistress being better off in life because she had a mother in her life, and a family while growing up in general, and the Butcher’s raw disdain of that. Due to the narration being delivered by the Butcher we can get into his headspace more and comprehend not just the descent into madness that he experiences but the negative self-talk and constant self-measuring and self-aggrandizing that ultimately leads to the corruption of his “self”.

As for the pistol, in conjunction with the statement I mentioned earlier, “Morality is made for those who own it. The rich.” The Butcher in reality and in his pseudo-reality seems entirely aware that he cannot change his fortune as who he is. Life and the world will not bend or bow to him, and he refuses to bend or bow to it. The world will not fold open the way that it will for his Mistress and her pocketbook. Instead, he can only hurt people. When he acquires the pistol it seems like Chekhov’s gun, set up as the crucial last plot mechanic and perhaps his last act of defiance. Notably, justice isn’t something he could afford. He had to steal it from a woman pregnant with his child whom he’d beaten. Ostensibly indicating to us the audience that any justice he delivers will be corrupt.

What’s interesting is trying to make sense of how that through-line develops into the finale, and the implications of that statement in Irreversible regarding him going to prison for sleeping with his daughter. One wonders how he was caught, since his daughter as you mentioned is mute. Did she become pregnant? And if so, that adds a whole layer of complexity to this maternity and masculinity competition. The idea of him corrupting himself, with himself and so on.

Jim: I like the observation that the Butcher is aware of his own futility, or the constant stalemate he finds himself in. Though I emphasize the subjective within this film, I don’t think enough about self-awareness.

It’s clear to me now that you and I come at the film from two very different perspectives. That’s intriguing, and makes for a lively discussion. For instance, I don’t perceive the Butcher as mentally ill, but even if I do, I don’t know why it matters, since there are no metrics, or relative observations about other characters, to define what is mentally healthy and what’s not. Since everything we see, everything we hear, feel and smell, is entirely within the Butcher’s point-of-view, there is only one judge. It is an exclusively subjective perspective, shaped by nothing other than his own mental, emotional, and sensory observations. For that reason, whether or not he’s mentally ill is immaterial, since there’s nothing to compare it to that the Butcher hasn’t already colored, or discolored, with his own gaze, which fills up every frame of this film.

My emphasis on the masculinity-maternity duel, or duality, comes from what I think is a default mode of experience and expression for the Butcher, which is fixated on what he sees as the male-female conflict. He’s absolutely obsessed with describing the world in conflicting sexual, or gendered, terms, and is always reinforcing it, with his language and his exchanges with everyone. This is what is important to him, how he orders things. As someone deeply traumatized by the mothers in his life, whether his own, the mother of his daughter, the mother of his unborn child, or the unbearable evaluation of the mother of the mother of his unborn child, he wears those wounds with a big grudge. All these mothers effectively constitute, in his mind, everything he suffers from. “It’s all those fucking mothers,” I can easily imagine him saying.

And it’s not that he ultimately weaponizes masculinity against maternity, but that it’s all the same thing, of the same origins, and weighs evenly within the scrambled domain of his bottomless self-loathing. They’re two immovable forces he can’t escape or defeat, though he certainly tries. Maternity and masculinity are two giant rocks he keeps smashing into one another.

Maternity and masculinity traumatize and destroy him, and that enrages him. Both are failing to improve his circumstances. He may subconsciously understand that, but it’s negligible, and his only possible response is rage. This is a good example of why I emphasize the primacy of interiority and the subjective point-of-view in I Stand Alone. From an outside perspective, one can chin-stroke and psychoanalyze the interplay of maternal and masculine forces, or any other dynamics, in the Butcher’s life, and be entirely accurate in doing so, but to the Butcher it’s all a giant fuckfest he constantly fantasizes about destroying, and that, within the strict context of the film itself, is all that matters. It’s all well and good to analyze him from the outside, but that has nothing to do with what is ultimately revealed in this film, which is entirely concerned with the Butcher’s singular, and very subjective concept of “morality” and its relationship to power.

But before going there, let’s return to your outlook concerning what you call the “archetypal playground,” or the “metaphorical field of play” the Butcher operates in. I’m interested to hear exactly how you would describe that place.

Taylor: Sure, admittedly we do have to engage with some chin-stroking to get more into the “theory”. I’ve been touching on part of that archetypal playground when I’ve asked about what you make of that Irreversible information. As the message of maternity crippling him if he did indeed impregnate his daughter would seemingly be cemented. Before I can illustrate what the Butcher is operating in or around, I’d like to reiterate the taboo subjects that Noé has a predilection for, murder, revenge, incest, rape, drug use, dominance, control, psychedelic/hallucinogenic experience, death, and physical abuse. Through these taboo subjects, he explores subjects, ideas, and beliefs in his films that especially in American Cinema we do not see engaged with. In I Stand Alone he is predominantly focused on the carnalities of man, whereas in a film like Love he seems to be more interested in exploring the complexity of amorous feelings between multiple individuals.

I think we disagree regarding the subjectivity you outline in, “It is an exclusively subjective perspective, shaped by nothing other than his own mental, emotional, and sensory observations.” There are multiple visual moments where I felt I saw how pitiably he is viewed by others, when his back is turned or when he’s looking down. And sure these could be stylisms built around how he thinks they’re behaving but I read it more as a naturalistic depiction of the world around him.

I also want to highlight how apt I find your point, “And it’s not that he ultimately weaponizes masculinity against maternity, but that it’s all the same thing, of the same origins, and weighs evenly within the scrambled domain of his bottomless self-loathing. They’re two immovable forces he can’t escape or defeat, though he certainly tries. Maternity and masculinity are two giant rocks he keeps smashing into one another.” This is seemingly the crux of everything I’ve mentioned and likely will mention. I see it more as him smashing himself against the rocks or in between them, but either way the point is apt.

I don’t know that I’m able to describe the field of play so much as what it’s populated with. Through the Butcher, Noé seems to be investigating questions, themes, and ideas like, “impurities of love”, “how regular meat working may numb a man toward his species”, “social debts and responsibilities”, “ownership by the state”, “the frivolity and undeniable power of nostalgia”, “observation of reality, meaning something like: if you’re always looking in and never looking out you’ll lose yourself”, “which is more powerful justice or morality?”, and “are singular experiences more important and memorable than a content life?”seems to be investigating questions, themes, and ideas like, “impurities of love”, “how regular meat working may numb a man toward his species”, “social debts and responsibilities”, “ownership by the state”, “the frivolity and undeniable power of nostalgia”, “observation of reality, meaning something like: if you’re always looking in and never looking out you’ll lose yourself”, “which is more powerful justice or morality?”, and “are singular experiences more important and memorable than a content life?”seems to be investigating questions, themes, and ideas like, “impurities of love”, “how regular meat working may numb a man toward his species”, “social debts and responsibilities”, “ownership by the state”, “the frivolity and undeniable power of nostalgia”, “observation of reality, meaning something like: if you’re always looking in and never looking out you’ll lose yourself”, “which is more powerful justice or morality?”, and “are singular experiences more important and memorable than a content life?”

The merit of what I’ve detailed above is of course variable and contextual. I think that in order to clearly observe or process my own reaction to these and other ideas I’m quite dependent on engaging with whether or not the main character is insane/becoming mad. But it is entirely possible that this is just my framework of observing desirable vs undesirable behavior and mapping it and nothing more.

I think it’s worth noting that the dichotomy in play is masculine vs. feminine and when femininity becomes pregnant and therefore maternal his suffering seems to be directly associated. As you mentioned, “It’s all those fucking mothers,” which I too can imagine him saying. Something I find interesting from this is that his sexual engagement unassociated with pregnancy seems to have no effect. Which I haven’t unlocked entirely, it’s just something I’ve noticed and don’t want to overlook.

Do you see it differently? And perhaps more importantly does what I said make any sense?

Jim: Sure, it makes perfect sense. I think I know entirely where you’re coming from. I just see it differently.

I’ve avoided mentioning the Butcher’s role in Irreversible for two reasons. One, it’s been so long since I saw that, I don’t remember the Butcher in it, so can’t honestly say anything about it, but mostly, two, it’s a film that was released four years after I Stand Alone, so is outside the past and present of this film’s events. I mean, if we were to conduct a conversation entitled something like “The History and Psychology of the Butcher in the Films of Gaspar Noé” it would fit very nicely. The treatment of the Butcher here, for the sake of this conversation, shouldn’t go beyond the scope of the film we’re discussing. Carne is included because it’s part of the development of the character up to this point. I apologize for not being more explicit about this earlier.

It may well be Noé’s intention that the film has a strong socio-economic foundation to it. I just don’t see it. When I first watched it, I kept trying to force that interpretative template over it, without satisfaction, and it wasn’t until the second, and particularly third, watches that I saw it as a severely personal film that only makes sense, and can only be truly felt, or experienced, from within the strict confines of the Butcher’s tortured inner self. Now, that isn’t to say the society the Butcher lives in doesn’t have any bearing on him or doesn’t provide meaningful context for understanding him. Of course it does. But it’s just that, a tool, and not the thing itself.

I am curious why Noé set the film in 1980, with Carne starting in 1965, when the Butcher’s daughter is born. Was it a rough patch in France economically? Were the social safety nets in France at the time weak and/or ineffective? Because I can understand one reading of the film that posits the Butcher as someone who’s fallen through the cracks of an indifferent society, whose malice and disdain is a direct reflection of the cruelty of the social structures he operates in. But then there’s the ending, or the final sequence in the hotel room with his daughter, that renders all that immaterial, and is why I ultimately dismiss the psycho-socio-economic reading, in favor of the purely first-person-singular experiential one.

I think we risk losing sight of the details of the film by circling around these analytics too much, which is entirely my fault, since I have a penchant for that approach, and end up overlooking the film’s more concrete elements. So lets zoom in and look at what’s actually happening. There are, as you spelled out somewhat above, the exchanges the Butcher has with prospective employers, and people he encounters in bars, and the rage-fueled interior monologue that narrates it all, and we can talk about all that, though I think it would serve of us best, at this point, to focus on the final act. There we can touch on some things you just mentioned, around the sexual act and “the impurities of love”, which I think are crucial to fully embracing the film. Would you like to set it up a little?

Taylor: My understanding from the little I know of French politics is that since 1981 the political left and right of France have alternated power in most elections. 1981 saw the election of Mitterrand, a socialist candidate who from what I gather is hand wrung about fairly frequently. Shortly after he assumed office the French economy suffered great losses and central banks were required to stabilize markets. As this is a year preceding these events it may be a demonstration of the day-to-day lives that voters lead. I don’t know much about Gaspar’s politics nor how he feels about Mitterrand. I suspect that the social safety nets were much leaner at the time, though I’m entirely unaware of their policy and am scarcely brushed up on the policy of our own continental cohabitors (Mexico and Canada) so I’m ill-suited to make further remarks there.

I think neither perspectives are exclusive, both the first-person-singular and socio-economic seem apt to me and inseparably intertwined. Regarding the first-person perspective, I think of those sound effect transitions especially early on in Lille, and the feeling it gives me as an audience member that I along with the Butcher am excrement being pushed through as Gaspar put it “the bowels” of France. But just as present to me is the socio-economic condition making that intestinal squeeze occur on our Butcher.

Regarding analytics, I would love to pivot entirely to a discussion of Gaspar’s obsession and motif of tunnels and hallways in coordination with madness, ecstasy, and death. But alas let us return to the concrete rectum that surrounds our Butcher. 

I’d be happy to set it up. “DANGER” strobes on screen, we arrive back at the hotel, the Butcher is alongside his daughter. He begins as our narrator to reminisce on his father before beginning to have sexual inquisitions about his daughter and what if anything they may have done to her at the institution. These questions bleed into observations of her beauty alongside his pride toward her, we’re continuing the thread started in Carne that he has sexual thoughts toward his daughter but we don’t yet know the depth of them. He then gathers his gun (which only has three bullets, one for him, one for her, and one for his old boss) claiming that life is a machine and that they both must leave it with some dignity, there’s some room here for armchair chin-stroking about justice but I don’t think it’s a particularly deep well in this instance.

He then proceeds to sleep with his daughter and he shoots her in the neck as she looks out at the factory her mother was employed at while she was with the Butcher. Only the neck wound doesn’t bleed her out quickly and now he must choose between saving the remaining two bullets one for himself and one for the bastard he used to work for. He ultimately pulls the trigger on his daughter again after watching her slowly bleed, and subsequently places the barrel against his chin and pulls the trigger.

Only it was all a vision in his head, none of it had occurred. He’s standing with his back to Cynthia holding the gun still deciding what to do, and he puts it away. He then proceeds to sleep with Cynthia after holding her close and having what might be best described as a breakdown. They then both stand in the window and embrace one another as the camera pans down to the boys playing in the street.

Jim: Whoa! Eleventh-hour landmine! Tunnels, hallways, rectums, and excrement. I can’t pass this over. Please, Taylor, do tell. But let’s just keep it to the film at hand.

Taylor: Well, admittedly, it’s quite difficult to broach the subject as it’s a motif in his body of work. But the beginnings of the theme of tunnels and hallways as transitional representations are certainly present. Focusing back on how they directly tie to excrement and rectums in this film though, we see the Butcher passing through hallways, along unremarkable street sides, train tracks, and tunnels. The destinations stay but he passes through them and they seem to take something from him along every inch of his grind. Like nutrients being absorbed through an intestine. The fact that he’s a shitty person makes it an overly easy and perhaps simplistic metaphor but I think there is something notable to the presentation and grating drag of the Butcher against the surfaces of the city as he walks on toward his fate.

And lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the undercurrent of homosexuality to the film and the Butcher’s insecurity with it. In Carne and Irreversible it seems he may be having intercourse with his cellmates. Notably, he becomes violent with his wife directly after she calls him a slur for being gay, and his violent narration within the film always seems to become heightened whenever he is uttering words about anything vaguely or overtly homosexual. There is some sort of repression and or long-lasting trauma from his rape as a child at the crux of his character which is interesting to observe, though I don’t have much more I can say about it other than that it is present.

Jim: As I said before, the Butcher is full to the brim with self-loathing, and his raging homophobia is certainly a part of that. It’s something about which he’s more the rule than the exception, I think, regarding lots of men, and certainly men of his generation and older. Like so much about the Butcher, his insecure masculinity, misogyny and homophobia make him an entirely unexceptional bore of a man.

I guess we’ll leave the excrement tunnel talk for another time. It’s a curious thesis, not one I’ve encountered about Noé’s range of metaphors, though I can’t say it’s out of character for him. By the “sound-effect transitions” you note in the early part of the film, I assume you mean the “bang” cuts. They are both unique and distressing, though I can’t assign them any particular meaning. They feel like the camera zooming, or tracking forward, to a close-up, but the motion is intensely accelerated, so that the transition from middle-distance to close-up occurs in an instant, accompanied by the gunshot-like bang sound. The overall impression is more of a cut than a zoom, though it contains a sickening sense of motion. You’re right, it does have a swift tunneling effect, like a bullet through a twisted gun barrel. I don’t think I would ever equate it with excretion, but what do I know? There is a very dirty, shitty feeling to the whole film, to be sure.

To the ending. You bring up the WARNING title card, with the numerical countdown and the message “You have thirty seconds to leave the screening of this film”. It’s somewhat Godardian, and wholly Noé. By doing so, he’s placing a marker, but to what end? Since what follows is graphic and disturbing – and it really is, horribly – I suppose it’s easy enough to interpret it as a simple warning to viewers than they may want to brace themselves for what’s coming, or walk away, but is he signaling something else?

In the first version of what follows, in “The Hotel of the Future” (it’s another thing we could go on about – the names of places – but alas), the Butcher fucks his daughter, shoots her, then kills himself. In the second version, they share an extended embrace, after which he feels her up, though there isn’t an explicit sign that he fucks her. Forgive me the rough language, but that’s what it is – it fits. What lies at the heart of the film, for me, is the differences between the two versions of what happens after the countdown, in the danger zone. It’s hardly the only thing that matters, but it is the single crux of the entire film.

Taylor: Yes, precisely, those “bang” cuts. I feel confident that Gaspar would be pleased with that formal title for them. As to whether he’s signaling something in the danger zone, which I love as a title for that portion, I actually do think the text here is both fourth-wall breaking and relevant to the film’s presentation. The sequence occurs directly before he takes his daughter to a hotel room. Sure, we can analyze the weight of the name of the hotel and the history of the very room they’re sharing as well. But I think the very act of this character, our Butcher bringing his daughter into a hotel, and then his hotel room is the last step toward his looming immoral action. Like a door slamming closed behind him. Whether depicted in this film or not it seems absolutely true to me that in the course of his life this character after arriving at the hotel with Cynthia did have an incestual relationship with his daughter.

It’s interesting that you think he didn’t sleep with her, I suppose that argument can be made especially with the English subtitles at the end when he says “Maybe I’ll never shoot myself. Maybe I’ll make love to you. And tomorrow I’ll be locked up.” as if he hasn’t already. However, the explicitness of his hand creeping up between her closed legs and into her skirt after watching how the sexual encounter had just previously occurred with nearly identical physical symbolism in the false ending conveyed it to me differently. And there’s also the way they proceed to lean into each other like lovers in the window as he continues to fondle her breasts and body.

I think you’re correct to pinpoint the two events and their contrasting elements as the crux of the film, as it seems to also be the crux of our Butcher. Can he be happy while behaving immorally, as suggested at the very end of the film? Would jealousy and shame cause this man to murder his own daughter at the cost of further retribution/justice, as he does in the false sequence? The film has set up a man that I believe could end up doing either of these two things. His own gluttony as an answer to the first, and second. It’s almost a matter of which side of the bed this character woke up on. And I can’t believe I’m just now noticing this, but it is curious that he says he’s the happiest he’s ever been with a woman who doesn’t speak. Forgetting how fucked up the rest of the situation with that “relationship” is, and just looking at that as a representation of the character is pretty damn fascinating.

Jim: Since Noé never explicitly shows the Butcher fornicating with Cynthia, it’s all up for interpretation, leaving it up to you to determine what little detail you assume signals they’ve had sex. But I also don’t think it matters much, since it’s all variations of the same basic act, whether he implicitly fucks her, or explicitly feels her up. It just doesn’t matter, and I think Noé’s visual ambiguity says everything about his views on the subject.

There are two quotes from the Butcher that speak directly to how I read the final scene in the hotel room. Earlier, as part of his ceaseless interior monologuing, he thinks “To each his own life, to each his own morality.” At another time, considering his daughter, he thinks “Few can claim to know what love is.” I’ll argue that in the final scene of the film, the Butcher forms his own morality. As the opening scene of the film declares, and as we see is true with the Butcher, morality is an external set of proscriptions and virtues enforced by those with wealth and power onto those without. In other words, what’s moral is what the powers-that-be say it is, whether that’s from societal, political or religious elites. Morality is entirely man-made, for the protection and benefit of established orders. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s arbitrary, since it does have to advance existing interests, though morality is entirely subjective, or can be.

In the first version of what happens in the hotel room, the Butcher rapes his daughter, murders her, then commits suicide. It is a grisly and horrific scene that emerges naturally from everything we’ve seen up to that point. Shocking as it is, it follows directly from the motives, thinking and emotions we’ve just witnessed the Butcher stewing in for ninety minutes. The film could end right there, and although it would be a miserable and deeply disturbing thing to end on, it would, nevertheless, be a complete and credible arc. It would make complete sense. But it doesn’t end that way. The Butcher changes the course of his life, which we see in the second version of events, ending with the camera, or perhaps the Butcher’s morally renewed self, returning to the street, hence the world, below.

And he does so through love, or with love, which brings me to the second quote above. It’s not your idea of love, nor mine, but it is his answer to the “unknowability” of love. Of course, most any viewer will squirm at that expression of love, and refuse it for themselves, but for the Butcher it is transformative, if not redemptive, and helps to define a moral landscape that he can live in. It’s a remarkable moment, a narrative turn as courageous as any I’ve seen in cinema.

But then there’s the question of justice. Since the film begins with the twin concerns of morality and justice, with morality enforced from above, and justice enforced from the nether regions, where, and how, is justice served, and for whom? Or is it?

Taylor: I don’t think I can quite follow you down the rabbit hole of him developing a morality. Perhaps adopting a version of it for the time being, but the state of mind he’s presented as being in and his addictive repressed personality give me pause from thinking of him as a rational actor. Rather I see any “decision” he makes as reactionary to bodily input of pleasure or the lack of it – pain. It either satiates him or doesn’t. It either hurts him or it doesn’t. A more localized bread and circus philosophy. However, I do think that may be something Noe is getting at. Not just morality’s breadth of meaning but the problem of moral convenience that comes from greed and gluttony. Once again this is building out from the perspective of his ultimate eventual carnal relations with his daughter occurring.

It is an interesting turn, I don’t know that I actually believe it’s love and not sex, or even sex and nostalgia. But I’ll go with you down the road and play at it being love. Do you think this love has brought about a change to his identity to keep him from killing or perhaps like me do you find it a temporary distraction that has moved his attention away from revenge?

Justice. That’s a great smorgasbord of questions. I ultimately think that the lady justice’s scales in this film are empty, even broken. As an external observer, I wish for justice for the Mistress and get none. I wish for justice at very conflicting points for the Butcher and by the end get none. Then there are instances where my morality seems to be more overtly coloring what I am mentally as a viewer wishing to call for justice. Smaller things like, wishing to see the hotel clerk collect what he is owed from the Butcher. Justice as you mention though does seem in this world of the street to be a bottom-up preposition. But just as present is ill-conceived justice or perhaps a more apt term would be self-righteousness. The aloofness of the Butcher toward the young grocer when he asks him to smile at the deli job, the idea that his old colleagues, friends, and customers owe him anything, there is a falsity at every layer to the justice he seeks. And then there is Cynthia who seems to be embracing him back at the end, something I have no idea what to do with. My inner morality finds it deplorable and yet it’s presented as if she’s never been happier within the film. Is her happiness something like justice? I don’t know. I know I desire for Cynthia to be happy, but not like this. In trying to characterize and express my views on justice as it is in the film I feel I’ve become nearly as soiled as our Butcher. What do you make of it all by the end? Was there justice or just the whimsy of men?

Jim: If reason were ever a prerequisite for morality, I daresay we’d all inhabit a moral desert. Do I think love has changed him? No, because I don’t see that the love he has for his daughter is something he hasn’t possessed all along. I’m less inclined than you to psychoanalyze the Butcher. I’m more interested in merely observing what he shows me, and if he’s changed at all, it’s only towards some greater clarity.  As for justice, it seems like an inert property, something never delivered. Justice, within the feverish confines of this film, is an illusion, a fantasy as specious as the male bravado that craves it.

You insert your own wishes into your reading of the film, which leads me to wonder just what that reading is. If you wish for justice for the Mistress, and happiness for the daughter, neither of which is served, then what do you want, or not want, to believe is true about the Butcher? Put a neat bow on our discussion of I Stand Alone, Taylor, and tell me what this film means to you.

Taylor: I certainly don’t wish to believe or not believe anything that isn’t useful or true about the Butcher. What I wish was true is a different matter.

I Stand Alone is special. It’s the first salvo of one of contemporary cinema’s enigmatic provocateurs and a film I couldn’t look away from. It’s bestial, boisterous, and brash. Built on a fully formed character, rattling off exposition rivetingly, he (the Butcher) and it is equally as engrossing as it is engaging. One of the finest character pieces of the myopically and murderously obsessive. Despite longing for a change for the happiness of characters, there’s not actually anything I would change about the film itself. Which is always a sign of my pleasure with a piece. It notably gave Lucile Hadžihalilović her first (and last) work on a feature film as editor before she would go on to direct her own feature-length stories. I can’t help but imagine some of the deftness of editing that her hand brought, which also builds up the real-world meaning of the film for me. I Stand Alone is a nearly perfect marriage of form and narrative.

It’s Art, and it’s vulgar. I love it.

Jim: Taylor, thanks for talking through this great film with me. It’s always good to get an alternative perspective.

Taylor: Thanks for having me Jim, it’s nice to have such a fun excuse to complete Gaspar’s filmography. Looking forward to your thoughts on Vortex.

I Stand Alone Trailer

I Stand Alone is currently available to physically purchase from limited storefronts.

You can connect with Jim Wilson on Letterboxd, as well as review his entire list of Film Conversations.

The Seventh Continent: A Collokino Conversation hosted by Jim Wilson

The Seventh Continent

Directed by Michael Haneke, 1989

Jim Wilson: Michael, you’re back.

Michael Clawson: Hey there, Jim, I am indeed back and ready for action. How are you doing?

Jim: Well enough. Anything exciting to report?

Michael: Let’s see, since we last spoke, the weather in Seattle has turned rainy and grey, I’ve watched a lot of movies – oh, and I got married! Yeah, that’s definitely the most exciting piece of personal news I have to share. My now-wife Gabi and I got hitched in early September, then went to Maui for a honeymoon. It was a great trip with lots of good food, sunshine, and relaxing on the beach. Now we’re settled back into our routine at home and doing well.

Anything new on your end?

Jim: Not particularly. Congrats on getting married. I know you’ve been attending the cineplex a bit these days. What are your favorite new releases? I haven’t seen nearly as many as you, though I did go see No Time to Die. What did you think of that?

Michael: Among the new releases I’ve seen recently, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy is among my favorites. A suspense drama set in Japan on the brink of World War 2, it’s not one of Kurosawa’s better films, but it’s still plenty engrossing.

I liked No Time Die. In fact, I think I liked it a little better than almost everyone I know! Sure, it might not have any more depth than a martini glass, the story is overly connected to the other Craig movies, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t quite enjoy it moment-to-moment. Its pleasures are simple ones for me: cars, clothes, beautiful people, bad guys with a flair for the theatrical. I think I unconsciously keep the bar lower to the ground for this franchise. I hold out hope for the Bond and Mission Impossible movies as ones that still value a more terrestrial kind of spectacle, one that involves flesh-and-blood human beings in action, versus the synthetic, plasticky nature of superhero movie spectacle.

What’d you think of No Time to Die?

Jim: I’m a lousy person to ask, since I don’t care much for the spy genre. I remember watching Bond when I was a kid, because my Dad and my brother loved it, though it left me mostly cold. I remember when Live and Let Die came out because of the title track from Wings, which was hugely popular, but I don’t remember anything about the movie. I like the Sean Connery ones, because I like Sean Connery. The only other Daniel Craig one I’ve seen is Spectre, for the same reason I went to see No Time to Die, because of Seydoux. I’ve heard a lot of criticism about her lack of chemistry with Craig, and I agree, they’re not a convincing couple, and her character, Madeleine Swann, is kind of ridiculous. But my god, she is so beautiful in the new one. No matter what the hell else was going on, I was thrilled just to be in her company.

I guess I’m too removed from the whole franchise to give any of it a fair shake. But there are two things that really troubled me. One, the body count is atrocious. And two, Rami Malek, who is fucking awful, both his character and his one-note performance. From listening to knowledgeable Bond fans talk about it, I know there are a number of things going on around how the franchise is changing, with regards to gender and politics and so on, but I’m too detached to care. That said, I have to praise the spectacular cinematography, which I would only expect from a Bond film.

Michael: I actually do have fond memories of going to Bond movies as a kid. I think Tomorrow Never Dies was the first one I saw, so Pierce Brosnan will always be the actor I instinctively associate with James Bond. Sean Connery is pretty hard to beat. Of all the actors who’ve put on the suit, the character’s charisma seemed to flow most effortlessly from him. 

Craig and Seydoux don’t have much chemistry, that’s true, but I enjoy them both individually. Rami Malek, on the other hand, is entirely no bueno, I’m with you there. Bond villains are always a little silly; the more seriously they take themselves, the less enjoyable they are. Malek going for humorlessness was ill-judged. 

Shall we pivot towards the main topic of this Collokino, and a decidedly darker film?

Jim: Absolument. But I want to stop you, hold you here, and wait for you to explain fucking Rami Malek to me, but it doesn’t sound like you can, either. Please, someone, explain this actor to me.

We agreed to talk about a film I suggested. I’ve been trying to pry Collokino loose from the persistent grip of favorite films chosen by my guests and me, and move to crunchier ground, but without necessarily losing focus on the directors and performers we love. The b-list stuff, perhaps, including the earlier material, from some great filmographies.

I had just watched Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent again, and it spooked me as much the second time as the first, in a way I really wanted to talk about, so I threw the idea of it first to another guest. They passed it over, so I extended it to you.

There is, I imagine, a ton of stuff that can be said about this film, Haneke’s debut from 1989, about how it’s constructed, its color palette, its narrative beats, all of it. I hope we can touch on a good handful of it, anyway. But before brass tacks, what were your first impressions of this?

Michael: I was shaken by this movie. Amour is the only Haneke film I’d seen before watching The Seventh Continent, so I wasn’t very familiar with his work firsthand, but I’d heard and read plenty about his movies and how they’re typically quite grim. The Seventh Continent lives up to his reputation. I’ve seen it twice now, and I wasn’t any less disturbed by it on second viewing. But on both viewings, I was also absorbed by and admiring of how methodically the film is constructed. The formal rigor on display is striking, and the critical distance it affords us from the content essential to how well the movie works. I’m amazed that this was Haneke’s first film; it unfolds with the assurance of an artist who already knows exactly how to use the medium to articulate ideas. It’s a cold, upsetting, clinically detached movie, but one that I’m thinking is pretty great.

What’s your 30,000 foot view of this movie? Has it held up over consecutive viewings?

Jim: It’s extraordinary. It’s hardly Haneke’s best, and I think the rigor you point out is maybe a bit too rigorous overall, but its allure, at least for me, is its nagging elusiveness. I think some viewers can place The Seventh Continent neatly into a box called “modern middle-class malaise” and there you go, it all makes sense, but it refuses to fit that easily into anything categorical, from my perspective. Haneke is always adamant about not climbing into his characters’ heads. In fact, we barely even see their heads, or at least their faces, until some minutes into the story. And as we’re introduced to this small family – Georg, Anna and their young daughter Eva – we get to know very little about them, just superficial stuff, though Eva has some fascinating quirks. Most of what we learn about them is by way of letters Anna is writing to Georg’s mother, which she reads as voiceover at the start of parts one and two. I suppose it’s notable that they’re an Austrian family (as Haneke is an Austrian director), and the film takes place in the late ‘80s as Communist Europe is collapsing, which lends the film a certain backdrop. Austria had a unique position of neutrality during the Cold War, though I don’t know how this plays out in the film, if at all.

Since you brought up Haneke’s formalism, would you like to detail some instances of it setting the scene early in the film?

Michael: I’d be glad to. What better place to start than the hypnotic opening scene, which shows Georg, Anna, and Eva sitting in their car as they go through a car wash. It establishes the clipped visual rhythm that Haneke employs throughout the rest of the film. A series of close-ups directs our focus to the distinct components of the vehicle as soap and water wash over each part: the license plate, a headlight, a tire, the windshield. Eventually, the camera lands in the middle of the backseat, looking out through the windshield from Eva’s point of view for an extended take. Notably, no one in the car says a word to each other; in fact, they hardly seem to even register the presence of one another. On my first viewing, I was less attentive to the absence of conversation and more absorbed by the car wash itself, the vigorous whipping of its brushes against the car’s exterior. The intensity of the sounds make the shot a disquieting one.

More than just an entryway into the movie, I think the scene functions as an opening statement, one that not only lays out the formal principle the movie abides by, but that also suggests the idea the film goes on to study. We go on to see the family as they carry out their daily routines, and Haneke’s fragmentation of the family’s life into discrete and repeated actions – turning off the alarm clock in the morning, putting on slippers, turning the door handle to leave the bedroom and start their day – suggests theirs is a passive existence. They live as if they were on some kind of looping conveyor belt, each of their distinct behaviors just another step in a machine-like process. It’s troubling. What happens if people living like this come to believe the sum of their actions isn’t something meaningful, or is purposeless? One step at a time, the movie follows that possibility to a disturbing conclusion.

Jim: But don’t we all live that way? Can’t all of our lives be edited down to those discrete repetitions. On one hand, the Schobers can be viewed as a somewhat robotic family, doing the same things with impassive remove day after day, but on the other hand we know this isn’t the whole story. We get glimpses of emotional distress from both Eva and Anna’s brother Alexander, who had undergone severe psychiatric treatment following the death of his and Anna’s mother, and there’s a strong suggestion that Georg is involved in some cutthroat work politics at his job. My point is that Haneke is leaving out a lot, except for these rare glimpses, to focus mostly on the routines. But isn’t that a diversionary tactic?

I want to bring up something I encountered in the Wikipedia entry for the film that caught my eye, because it didn’t coincide with the way I read the film. About the Schobers, it asserts that the film “conveys their discomfort with the sterile routines of modern society.” Does it? Do the Schobers seem uncomfortable? The flatness with which Haneke directs Birgit Doll and Dieter Berner (Anna and Georg, respectively) is part of his formalist toolbox. They express little to no emotion whatsoever, whether it’s discomfort or contentment. And is it really “modern society” that‘s the problem here, or is just life? People have washed things, opened doors and fixed breakfast for thousands of years. There’s something a lot more interesting going on here, in my estimation, than disenchantment with the modern world.

There are some fascinating scenes and little moments that seem to offer a peek into the inner selves of these characters. I’m curious what meaning you ascribe to them. Whether Alexander’s breakdown at the dinner table, Eva’s pretend blindness, or the curious tale the woman patient tells Anna and Alexander at their optical shop, there’s a vibrancy, as sad as it might sometimes be, that thrums beneath all the formal rigor of how Haneke directs us to “see” these people. Sight, optics, vision, all are central themes, but hardly exclusive. Which of those episodes that look inside stood out to you?

Michael: To answer your first question, yes, I think Haneke would agree that the Schobers aren’t unique, that many of us do live as they do. I think that’s partly the reason for his frequent avoidance of their faces; it’s a strategy to depersonalize the content, at least to a degree, to make the film not so specifically about the Schobers. And you’re right, we do have evidence of the Schobers having interior, emotional lives, we just don’t see them expressing that interiority spontaneously or in any ordinarily readable way, not often anyway. So I wouldn’t say this is about the emotionallydeadening effect of living in the modern world, but I do sense it having to do with the consequences of losing purpose. I don’t hear the movie saying that only in the modern world could a couple wake up one day and conclude they have no good reason to not kill themselves (spoiler!) and hope to find something better on the other side, but I think it cautions us against the idea that career success, financial security, and access to technological luxuries are necessarily conducive to finding meaning in life.

I love the more enigmatic moments in the film that you bring up. Eva feigning to her teacher that she’s blind made a particularly strong impression on me, though I’m still not exactly sure what to make of that scene. It reminds me of a story my parents love to reminisce about: one time, when I was little, I came home from school, and for no obvious reason, told my mom that a friend of mine had broken his arm. I totally made it up! My mom was embarrassed when she asked my friend’s mom how her son’s arm was doing, and my lie was exposed. I don’t remember why I did that, and it’s not clear to me why Eva does it in The Seventh Continent. I guess kids fabricate things just to see how others respond, but I’m not sure what that has to do with Haneke’s broader themes. Maybe it has something to do with how we understand, or don’t understand, each other’s inner experience. Unlike a broken arm, blindness isn’t something that’s readily visible. She’s exploring the impact of how she expresses, or misreports, her interiority.

I do love how we segue from Eva lying to her teacher into Anna doing her optometry work, in a kind of conceptual match cut that establishes the clarity of vision versus blindness idea that you mentioned. What’d you make of this scene and the story that Anna’s patient tells? That story really flew over my head, to be honest. Both times I watched it, I was a little too distracted by the images, the quick cuts and close-ups on the equipment and eye balls, to really follow the dialogue. 

Jim: I take it as an anecdote about childhood cruelty, and how that’s a kind of blindness. Lack of empathy is blindness. A little girl is bullied for her glasses. She curses her tormentors with a future manifestation of the blindness, or poor vision, they already exhibit, and sure enough, they all end up eventually wearing glasses. It’s hard to say why Anna and Alexander react so strongly to the story, but the point is they do.

The reason for Eva’s pretending to be blind is explained by a newspaper article Anna discovers in her daughter’s room about affliction assuring affection. For some reason, she doubts her parents’ love, so reasons that being blind would gather them more tightly around her. My guess is she feels neglected by their careerisms. It’s part of my argument that the film isn’t about becoming dulled or deadened, but precisely the opposite. The Schobers, much like most of us, live too much, they feel too much, for the world of impossible striving they’re a part of. Modern striving may deaden their external selves, but their interior lives, wholly unseen, are vibrant. Your mention of “purpose” is a fascinating one, since I strongly suspect Haneke would hold purpose up as one of the most destructive drives that define Anna and Georg, and through them (because she always seems a direct extension of them), Eva as well.

There’s an especially illustrative scene that points straight in this direction. Together watching television after dinner, Alexander recounts his and Anna’s mother once wondering what would happen if, instead of opaque heads, people had monitors that their thoughts appeared on. I suspect Anna’s, Georg’s, and Eva’s monitor-heads would be bursting with all kinds of images.

At some point I do want to talk about the recurring image of the “Australian” coastline, which we first see as a poster the Schobers drive past after the first car wash scene, since I’ll argue it’s a cornerstone of the film’s meaning, as it were. But for now tell me your other impressions. I know how much you’re always attuned to color. I thought Eva’s bedroom striking in that respect.

Michael: You’re right, I do often find myself attentive to light and color, but in the case of this movie, I was actually much more responsive to sounds. But first, I can’t help but follow up on your reading, because I’m intrigued by it. You think the Schobers live too much, feel too much. Suicide then is a means of ending the pain in feeling overwhelmed, is that what you’re getting at? They want a permanent vacation? I think I agree with you about that, but it is counterintuitive. You would expect a person flooded with sensation and feeling to emote as a means of release, rather than conceal. What I think they come to be overwhelmed by is a feeling that their lives are meaningless, that the mundane routines they carry out every day serve no purpose. Add to that that they are, in a way, eternally unknowable to each other, theycan’t see inside each other’s heads, and existence thus feels like it’s not just pointless, but horribly lonely too. Is it something different that you think they’re feeling too much of?

Jim: Haneke is careful not to offer any explanations. And I want to be careful, too, not to assert anything more than subjective interpretation. But having seen most of his films, I can tell you Haneke is not interested in pat, formulaic plot structures and character motivations. The idea that the Schobers destroy all their personal belongings and commit suicide because modern materialistic society has deadened their souls is absurd to me. That’s a film from a far less interesting filmmaker than Haneke, even if it was his debut.

In many of his films, Haneke is playing directly with audience reaction and audience expectation. Funny Games is the penultimate example of this. There is no clear-cut exposition in The Seventh Continent, of course, but I can pretty much assure you that Haneke wants the film to be about your reaction to what happens. The Schobers express themselves, their inner selves, with the only things they have, which are the trappings of a materialistic society. How does what they do, with what they have, make you feel? Think of the fairly long take of them throwing money down the toilet. There were strong reactions to that scene at the time, with viewers horrified by such a waste of money. That scene was made explicitly to incite that very reaction.

But back to theories about the Schobers’ motivations. It’s actually not counterintuitive that strong emotional feelings would lead to suicide. I know a little about this subject, and more often than not people who attempt suicide are completely overwhelmed by emotion. They can’t process it, they can’t cope with it, they can’t control it, they can’t express it, while it’s constantly assaulting them. I keep thinking of Anna breaking down crying in the car during the second car wash scene at the end of part two. Why, we don’t know, she probably doesn’t even know, but there’s a great depth of feeling there, and it’s buried, repressed by the demands of her life and expectations of the society she lives in. There’s no functional outlet for her to express the emotions she feels, so they burrow deeper and deeper into her, where they turn destructive.

That’s one way of reading it. Think, too, of her brother Alexander, whose deep well of grief was managed by draconian psychiatric practices, probably ECT. This is what I mean about feeling too much, meaning too much for a functioning member of western civilization. The Seventh Continent isn’t a film about people being robbed of their humanity by a soulless society, but instead about people whose humanity is bursting the seams of a society that doesn’t know what to do with pain and grief and depression and sadness, that wants to cover it up, paper over it, hide it, like the victims of the car crash the Schrobers drive past. That’s a moment of raw, visceral human tragedy that is viewed through a slowly passing car window, like an exhibition in a zoo or museum, a horrible trauma that’s being cleaned up and wiped away in the most efficient, sterile and un-traumatizing way possible. We shrink in horror from the tragedies that occur around us all the time. We hide it behind tarps and closed doors, and demand the cameras are turned off, which only distances us further and further from experiencing those tragedies and understanding the elemental reasons why many of them happen in the first place. Contrast that with how you the viewer observe the trauma of the Schrobers. There are no tarps or averted cameras. And I think this is very much the place from which Haneke conceived this idea.

That said, I acknowledge there are inconsistencies, especially regarding Georg, who is really a bit of an unknown throughout, though I could advance a theory about thoroughly ineffective and emotionally muted men, but I won’t go there for now.

I do want to address your idea about the permanent vacation (and that shoreline image), since I think it’s an astute perspective, but please, Michael, talk to me about film craft for a while.

Michael: Just to be clear, I completely agree that anyone with suicidal thoughts is almost definitely overwhelmed with emotion. I use the word “counterintuitive” only to describe how Haneke paints the Schober’s, who we agree are emotion-filled people, as atypically unemotional, impassive, blank, in how they behave. Hopefully that’s not controversial. And I think you persuasively refute Wikipedia’s suggestion that the movie is about the Schober’s being “deadened” by materialism, if that’s what it says, but that’s not the case I’m making. I certainly don’t mean to suggest it’s a pat or formulaic movie. If that’s how any of my comments or very subjective interpretations read, I’m not doing it justice. 

Regarding the craft, there’s no shortage of sonic texture in The Seventh Continent. We don’t just see the Schober’s going throughout their day, we hear their routines (and their self-destruction). We hear the slight crunch of leather shoes as Georg puts his feet up on the bathtub to tie his laces in the morning, the plops of little splashes as fish swim to the surface of the family fish tank for their food, the humming of machines and equipment in the plant where Georg works, the squish of a butcher knife slicing through a hunk of meat at the grocery store. The avoidance of faces heightens my hearing; even when we do see the Schober’s faces, say, when they’re eating dinner, they aren’t talking and their expressions are often empty, so my eyes relax, my ears perk up, and the chewing sounds become a misophoniac’s nightmare. The final third especially is an auditory feast (no pun intended). 

My favorite scene in the movie has a lot to do with sound, or more specifically, music. It’s when Eva accompanies her dad to sell their car at a junkyard. There are a few scenes where we hear buoyant diegetic ’80s tunes, but otherwise, the movie is mostly without music. This scene is an exception: we hear classical music as Eva looks out at a boat sailing by, and the music stops the second a car door is shut. The abrupt stop suggests the music was coming from the car, but it just doesn’t sound like it was, it’s too clear, too audibly foregrounded. Did that stand out to you at all? And then, do tell what you responded to in terms of the color, compositions, or any other aspect of the craft.

Jim: Michael, please forgive me. Maybe as my most frequent guest you’ve become accustomed to me holding forth about various vagaries, with which you’re always so tolerant, though I deserve none of it.

I’m not responding to anything you’ve said, or even the Wikipedia sentence, but rather what seems to be the general consensus about The Seventh Continent, among fans and critics alike, some of whom have been guests here. Mind, the film seems to generally get very favorable responses, and though I certainly agree with that assessment, I think a lot of what really makes this film work the way it does is never recognized. It’s not that I think these reactions are incorrect, so much as I think they’re incomplete. The general consensus is that the film is about a family whose pursuit of modern material success deadens their humanity and leaves them despairing and suicidal. As I’ve already made abundantly clear, I reject this. They are certainly a family, or a husband and wife, who are securely on the modern materialist treadmill, but it doesn’t deaden them, or dehumanize them. What it does is create an unbridgeable gulf between the world and the norms they’re compelled to live in and their irrepressible humanity, for which the terrifying conclusion is an answer. I hope that makes sense.

Color? I always think of robust primary colors in often brightly lit spaces with this film, though that may not be entirely accurate. As I said above, I’m always particularly struck by the colors of Eva’s bedroom. There’s a deep, blood red wall beside her bed, with a bold blue wall adjacent, and a general sense of heaviness about the space, all of which is the last thing you’d expect in a little girl’s bedroom. I’m especially fascinated by Eva. She says her prayers every night before bed, though there’s no sign of religious faith anywhere else in the family, so where does that come from? She’s deeply insecure about her parents’ affection, though there’s no clear reason why. And ultimately, she plays along with her parents’ ominous resolution. I guess it all makes perfect sense, when I spell it out that way, but there’s something key about her in this whole narrative. As you pointed out, it’s from her backseat perspective that we first enter the world of the film, during the first car wash scene. The backseat perspective. In a film that’s all about vision, seeing, and frame-of-reference (another thing that isn’t discussed nearly enough), her part seems crucial to me.

Michael: No apology necessary my friend! That makes perfect sense. “Their irrepressible humanity,” I love that phrase. It inspires empathy for the Schobers.

Eva does seem crucial, I agree. I imagine that high among the reasons why someone might struggle to empathize with the Schobers is the fact that they take Eva down with them. In his letter to his parents, Georg writes about this decision, recounting an experience in church that helped lead him and Anna to conclude that “death holds no terror for Evi.” Do you think that’s true? I believe that Georg believes that, but I don’t think Eva actually grasps what she’s supposedly agreed to. I was more unsure initially, but as I’ve heard you talk about Eva longing for her parent’s affection, the more obvious it seems to me that she’d be inclined to go along with anything her parents invite her to partake in. And how captivating is little Leni Tanzer in the role of Eva? Her expressions, or lack thereof, are so sweetly, beautifully illegible.

Jim: Tanzer’s great. But you just blew a hole in one of my assertions, about Eva’s praying coming out of nowhere. You’re right, Georg does reference church in his letter to his mother.

Well, I think you could hold the premise that death holds no terror for Eva and the probable truth that she has no idea what she’s signed up for in the same hand. Death is an abstract concept to privileged children like Eva, who are constantly insulated from it, so what does she really know of death? Reflecting, though, on Eva’s somewhat melancholy qualities, I’m not going to say that it’s entirely out of the question that she would say “sure, let’s do it.” But I think you’ve got it right that she ‘s going to sign up for anything that wins her the approval of Georg and Anna. It’s a difficult part of the story, to be sure, but I can’t see them sparing her. Like I said before, she’s inextricably bound up with her parents; I think of the three of them as a single entity, really, instead of distinct individuals. Both representationally and realistically, thinking of the three as a combined entity feels right. As a family, they experience everything together.

I want to focus on the third part of the film, as the Schobers prepare for and carry out their plan. The first time we get wind of it is when we hear (but don’t see) Georg say to Anna that they need to cancel the newspaper subscription. It’s curious how their preparations do mimic the way a family would behave if they were emigrating to another country, or continent (that shoreline image we have to get to eventually). They cancel the newspaper, they sell the car, they withdraw all their money from the bank. None of those things, of course, are necessary if one plans to commit suicide, but the Schobers are very responsible about closing up shop neatly, so to speak. They’re admirably civil about it, right? Even when it comes down to the final acts of destruction, they don protective clothing, and we hear Georg tell Eva that she doesn’t want to get hurt. The irony of that statement is blacker than black. And with one of my favorite lines from the film, as Georg and Eva begin smashing things up, and Anna, for whatever reason, seems somewhat alarmed by it, Georg turns to Anna and says “the only way to go about it is systematically”. Indeed! No need to be disorderly about it.

Michael: That’s a good point, Eva can’t really be afraid of something that she doesn’t understand, and she does indeed have a melancholic disposition.

I suppose it speaks to your point about the Schober’s being entirely capable of feeling things that they’re mindful of getting hurt as they methodologically demolish the house. If they had become desensitized robots, I don’t know that they’d care about getting nicked or bruised in the process of smashing all their possessions to bits and pieces. Apparently, adding physical pain to their interior distress doesn’t appeal to them. They don’t want to suffer, they just want their lights snuffed out (but not before a lavish last meal).  

The destruction of the house comes to a brief halt after Georg swings a hammer into the fish tank, sending the fishes, to Eva’s dismay, across the debris-filled floor to die. It’s striking that Eva is distraught about the fish’s death, but still goes along with her parent’s plan. Is this just further evidence that Eva really doesn’t know what she’s participating in, because if she did, she’d be panicking? Or, is it just an empathic release on her part; after all, the fish never agreed to any suicide pact. Or do you take something else away from this scene? And then, no more delaying it, give me your thoughts on the recurring shot of the Australian beach, the one that brings the tourist ad seen outside the car wash to life. Earlier, you mentioned the importance of “frame-of-reference” with this movie. That seems relevant to the shoreline image, since it fills the frame, and appears to be seen from the perspective of no one character in particular.

Jim: The orderliness is a huge part of it. I guess I haven’t framed it as such yet, but I see the Schrobers’ plan as the necessary and organic outcome of their lives. It’s their leap of faith, their personal and spiritual commitment to another level of being, or non-being. It’s not natural at all, and barely realistic, but it smacks of spiritual devotion, and personal sacrifice. It’s their ideal outcome.

But an impossible ideal all along, as are all ideal outcomes. The idea of the Australian getaway is first presented as a poster the Schrobers pass while exiting the opening car wash sequence. It appears several more times throughout the film, during transitional phases, as a moving image, meaning the ocean actively laps against the still shore. It’s a weird, fakely animated tableau of mountain and seaside terrain that is physically impossible. Mountains and oceans don’t work together that way, ever, anywhere. It resembles the kind of mash-up holiday getaway poster typical in any airport or travel agency, though it seems to be promoting a grim land of madness and bruised purple skies, where reptile-shaped igneous boulders embellish the animatronic shoreline. It’s hideous, and it’s the ideal future. I don’t know how more explicitly Haneke could put it.

Frame-of-reference is something I think every bit of this film addresses. The moving “Australia” poster is easily the central image of the entire film, the ideal of the permanent vacation, or paradise, around which ideas about striving and accumulation and hopeful outcomes circulate. The moving shoreline image annihilates individuality, since no one of our characters is visualizing that nightmare. Something that deranged can only be hallucinated, and sustained, by committee. And maybe that collectiveness, that melting and blending together of the family’s individuals, adds a lot to the film’s overall unease.

Michael: You’ve very nicely captured the image’s strangeness. Earlier, you said there was a “heaviness” about Eva’s room; I’d say the same thing about the beach scene. The tourist ad wants to sell relief, relaxation, tranquility, but Haneke’s animated version has this gloomy, portentous weight to it. It’s compelling because it seems to contradict itself. When we see the image is mysterious too. The first time we see it, Anna has just put Eva to bed. Anna tucks her in, turns out the light, and leaves the room, then Haneke cuts to the beach. He cuts from the beach to Georg’s bedside table, and we see Georg turn on his bedside lamp. Anna asks, “What’s wrong?”, to which Georg replies, “Nothing.” It’s as if Georg was startled awake by a dream of the beach, but the sequencing suggests the image just as well could have been in Eva’s mind after she drifted off to sleep. That it could be a shared mental image supports your theory of a kind of unified, familial consciousness. The second time we see the shoreline, if I’m not mistaken, is right after Georg and Anna return home from the junkyard, ready to seal themselves inside. The shots on either side of the beach image are less instructive in this case. Lastly, we see it as a whole series of images race through Georg’s mind as he stares blankly at their TV and passes away. Does that bring us to the film’s final few moments, or are there things you’d like to touch on before going there?

Jim: No, let’s do it. As for the timing or placement of the beach image, it seems to work as a kind of transition marker, but I’d have to analyze every instant it appears to arrive at a confident theory, and my memory of them is fading, so… It’s a haunting and unsettling image that works as a visual representation of the physical and psychological destination the Schober’s are headed for.

Which is death, collectively. After destroying their belongings, Georg, Anna and Eva overdose on a drug prescribed to Anna. Earlier in the film, we see her sitting in a waiting room, though we don’t know for what or why, since the scene doesn’t complete itself. Later, we see her in the same waiting room, and then get to go through the door with her and into the doctor’s office, where a physician or psychiatrist tells her he’s giving her one more refill, but no more since she’s “okay now”. I presume it’s an antidepressant prescribed to her in the wake of her mother’s death, but it’s not explicitly stated, so who knows. Can you overdose to death on an anti-depressant? Whatever the case, they crush the pills in water and drink it. Eva is the first to go, for logical enough reasons, I suppose. She complains about the bitterness. What follows are some pretty harrowing scenes of Georg’s and Anna’s slow demise. You wanna describe how it struck you to witness those moments?

Michael: I found them viscerally upsetting. It’s a nauseatingly sick joke that as the three of them, Georg, Eva, and Anna, sit in the dark, their house a complete and utter disaster, they stare blankly at the TV, watching Celine Dion perform “The Power of Love.” Dion sings about finding solace in a lover’s arms “when the world outside is too much to take.” It’s a slap in the face, since the world is too much for Georg and Anna, and evidently, they don’t see each other, or their daughter, as something worth living for. Or, what solace they do find in each other isn’t enough to relieve their distress. I find that breathtakingly sad. Anna’s passing is the most excruciating, since she not only tearfully fumbles with the concoction in the bathroom, but then also audibly suffers off-screen. What were these scenes like for you?

Jim: Actually, I find the pop tunes in the film hilarious. They’re so vapid, and underscore the impossibility of expressing genuine emotion in the mechanical and affectless world of the film. At least the material objects and the food and the currency have some nominal value, but the Meatloaf tune, the Gunter Mokesch tune, and the Celine Dion tune, all speak to sentiments that are impossible to attain, and are given phony emotional heft precisely because they’re belted out into a world that just stares at them impassively. They punctuate the film brilliantly.

I don’t find the climax of the film to be particularly sad. To feel sad about something is to pity it, and I do not pity the Schobers. They’re doing what they feel compelled to do, pursuing their impossible utopia, as they’ve been doing since before the start of the film, to its a logical conclusion. It’s macabre, it’s ghoulish. Anna’s rasping, labored breathing makes my hair stand up on end just thinking about it. It reminds me of Pialat’s The Mouth Agape a bit in that regard, where end-of-life is perceived from an entirely disaffected perspective. Death is present everywhere in The Seventh Continent – the death of expression, the death of empathy, the death of influence and transformation – so that the physical, bodily death at the end simply feels complete. I know that may make me sound cold-hearted, but I’m confident that’s entirely what Haneke intended. It’s all kind of a joke.

I’ll add that I don’t like the title card at the end, explaining the aftermath, as if this were a documentary. I know it’s very, very loosely based on a real-life story Haneke read about, but the conceit of framing it as one at the very end bothered me, and contributed nothing. Just let it end as coldly and unexplained as it began.

I would like to summarize my thoughts on the film, but want to give you the opportunity to add more or do the same first.

Michael: I fear I’ll resort to repeating too much of what I’ve already said if I attempt to summarize my thoughts overall, but I did want to circle back to a reservation you expressed towards the beginning of our conversation. You mentioned that the filmmaking was maybe “a bit too rigorous overall.” I think you’re right about that.  As much as I admire Haneke’s highly methodical approach, there is a way in which it makes the film feel overly insulated, or a little too neat. As a point of comparison, Code Unknown also showcases uniquely disciplined filmmaking, but I find that there’s more room for air in that movie. It makes me curious to see how Haneke’s style developed in the years between the two movies. Has his direction gradually loosened up? Just drawing a line between the two movies leads me to think so, but I realize that’s not a lot of information to make any conclusions with.

Back to you, for your overarching thoughts on The Seventh Continent. 

Jim: This has all made me want to immediately rewatch every Haneke film, lol. I think it’s safe to call this Haneke’s most rigorous, yes, and in this case rigorous equates with academic, and that’s why I can’t respond to it sympathetically. Emotionally yes, sympathetically no. It’s too intellectually detached for sympathy, much less empathy. Haneke’s vocabulary certainly grew in the films to come. Its immediate follow-up, Benny’s Video, is very much in the same camp as The Seventh Continent, and even grimmer, and truly horrifying, in my opinion. Whatever the case, just watch The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon. Those are pure genius.

My thoughts on The Seventh Continent have developed, or expanded, in the time we’ve been discussing it, Michael. You come at it in ways that are very different from how I see the film, which has compelled me to reconsider my basic assumptions about it. I can understand how some can view it as a tragedy, or a movie about a family in despair that makes a sad decision, since that’s an entirely normal and healthy way to observe it. I give more room to that reading than I did previously, though I still consider it false, or incomplete. What’s truly changed about my reaction to The Seventh Continent is that I can now identify what is the central idea, or concept, that the film is built on, when before it was more a feeling than something I could spell out.

The Seventh Continent is about the impossible, in the most intimate context possible: the life of a family. That includes things that should be entirely possible rendered impossible because of unreconcilable disparities, all having to do with how people construct worlds, from the family level to the societal, that become more and more wishful, because we keep striving for greater complexity, and accepting greater abstraction. It also includes the simply impossible, which humans are infatuated with. 

After impossible is the word striving, which is key to both the Schobers and their world. I kind of hate the term modern society, because I have no idea what it means, and what it means to others is an illusion. Materialistic, meritorious, virtue-driven, describe it better, and striving is the muscle that propels it. I find no point in ascribing relative value to those things, since they’re arbitrary – we could have chosen from a million other things to build our worlds upon – and I love modern artists who can examine them with the cold-eye they deserve. And that’s why I love Haneke, and this movie.

Thanks for digging into The Seventh Continent with me, Michael, and for putting up with my little tempests. It’s been fun as always.

Michael: Thanks for suggesting this very interesting movie! As always, it’s been an enlightening chat, and you’ve deepened my appreciation for the movie considerably. Already looking forward to our next Collokino.

The Seventh Continent Trailer

The Seventh Continent is currently available to rent and own digitally from most major providers and currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.

You can connect with Jim Wilson on Letterboxd, as well as review his entire list of Film Conversations.

Death Proof: A Collokino Conversation hosted by Jim Wilson

Death Proof

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, 2007

Jim Wilson: Michael, welcome. I hope you’re as excited about this one as I am.

Michael Clawson: Oh, I am stoked about this one, Jim. After having discussed mostly arthouse dramas, for lack of a better phrase, in our previous Collokinos, I’m excited to talk about a film that delivers some first-rate genre thrills.

Tell me, how into cars are you? Would you call yourself a gearhead? Might such an interest have contributed at all to your enthusiasm for Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the film we’re going to talk about?

Jim: No, I’m no gearhead, but I did grow up in the ‘70s, so Death Proof is a great shot of nostalgia for me, as I’m sure it is for Jeff, who will be joining the conversation in a while. I guess like most American boys at the time, I loved muscle cars, though I never drove one, just admired them from afar. In fact, some friends of mine and I, when we were fifteen or so, decided that we were a gang and called ourselves “The Challengers” because we were all in love with the Dodge Challenger. That’s an incredibly embarrassing thing to admit, but it was a long time ago, so…

This being the 20th edition of Collokino, it’s sort of an event. It’s great then to have both you and Jeff together to talk about such a fun movie.

Hey, aren’t you getting married soon?

Michael: That’s right, my fiancée Gabi and I are getting hitched on September 5th, here in Seattle, Washington (side note: Gabi and I watched Death Proof together, and she loved it too). For a while, we were very nervous about possibly having to push our date because of Covid, but now it’s looking like the timing will be kind of perfect, with all of our guests vaccinated and hopefully very ready to party after a long social hibernation. Planning can be a little stressful, but we’re through the worst of it, and have some fun parts coming up, like cake and menu tasting. 

You have any special plans for this summer? 

Jim: No, and that’s kinda the way I like it. I’m really excited for you and Gabi. You guys seem to be perfect for each other. That’s a rare thing, dude. Count your lucky stars. Both you and Jeff.

I just finished watching the new Criterion restoration of Irma Vep. Beautiful. Every time I watch that, it opens up a little more. It’s such an utterly unique film. There’s no plot, no linear direction. It’s really just one continuous digression, and completely engrossing. I’d forgotten that Bulle Ogier’s in it, or maybe it’s just that I’ve become more aware of her, since recently re-watching Celine and Julie, and watching interviews with and about Rivette, in whose films she’s pretty ubiquitous. I love her role in Irma Vep as the obnoxious interloper into Zoé’s affection for Maggie.

What have you been watching lately?

Michael: That’s very kind of you to say. Gabi and I are both pretty thrilled about the big day approaching, to say the least.

Irma Vep, such a great movie. It’s been a few weeks now since I watched it, but a film I saw recently that I loved and haven’t been able to stop thinking about is James Benning’s Ten Skies, an experimental film from 2004. There’s more to it than initially meets the eye, but on the surface, it’s a pretty easy one to describe: it’s ten shots of ten different skies, each shot lasting ten minutes, the camera remaining perfectly still in an upward-facing position for the entirety of the film’s runtime. It’s an exquisite study of light, gradations in color, cloud formations, and duration, and I’m fascinated by how boundless it felt even within its own self-imposed constraints. I’d heard of Benning before, but what prompted me to watch Ten Skies now is a book series that the publisher Fireflies Press is doing. It’s a ten book series about ten different movies, each from a different year of the 2000s, with ten different writers each picking the movie/year they want to write about. The book for Ten Skies is by Erika Balsom, and it’s an absolutely wonderful read.

You in the middle of any books at the moment?

Jim: Pretty much always. Yeah, I’ve heard Olivia Laing interviewed a couple times recently, while she’s touring her new book Everybody, and I knew it was something I had to read. It’s about bodies and their relative, and perceived, freedom. She examines the ideas of some great thinkers and artists, and how they placed the body in relation to the world – the world we create. I have an intuitive radar for writers who emphasize the sex-death theme in their work, and Laing is amazing. Wilhelm Reich is the central figure of the book, around whom Laing tells stories about Marquis de Sade, Susan Sontag, Agnes Martin, Andrea Dworkin, Angela Carter, Sigmund Freud, of course, and others. It’s too much to get into here, but it’s an incredible read. Laing’s intellect is impressive. And her politics are perfect.

Ten Skies sounds fascinating. You know, I’ve always wanted to ask you about your affinity for experimental films. I notice you watch a lot of them. And short films, too, which are often experiments themselves. Did you develop a taste for non-narrative films over time, or is it something you’ve always enjoyed?

Michael: I can’t say I’m familiar with Laing, but your description of Everybody intrigues me. I’ll keep that on my radar.

It was within just the last couple of years that I started really exploring experimental film, but my enthusiasm for it has grown exponentially since then. It’s funny, the interest came about, in part, because there was a period of time where I was consistently working really late hours. I’d come home late and crave just a little something that would excite me aesthetically, but I didn’t really want my brain to have to engage with plot or characters. I bought a collection of experimental shorts, Flicker Alley’s “Masterworks of American Avant-garde Experimental Film 1920-1970” (that’s a mouthful, huh?), and have been really into it ever since.

Does the avant-garde realm interest you at all, or not so much? 

Jim: Not directly, but it’s in the immediate background of everything I love, right? I guess I always do lean narratively, but you know how much of an Akerman devotee I am, and she has stuff like La chambre and Hotel Monterey, and Là-bas, that are as visually experimental as anything, then or now.

You seek out avant-garde stuff. I enjoy it whenever it passes by. I guess that’s the difference.

Which is as good a segue as any, I guess, since we’re not talking arthouse this time, though I think you can argue that what Tarantino does with Death Proof is pretty artful. You wanna start things off with your Death Proof origin story? You mentioned watching it with Gabi. When was that? What were your first impressions? How does it hold up for you next to Tarantino’s better-known films?

Michael: It was just a few days after I saw you give Death Proof high marks on Letterboxd, back in March of this year, that I came across a used copy of the Grindhouse Blu-ray at a record store here in Seattle. Between your endorsement and the fact that Death Proof was the last Tarantino feature I hadn’t seen, it was an easy purchase. I’d heard it was a polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it Tarantino movie; some say it’s his best, others, including Tarantino himself, deem it his worst. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my own ranking of Tarantino’s filmography; too much time passed between my first viewing of different Tarantino films. That said, I feel very confident saying that I loved Death Proof!The worn-and-battered texture of the images, the cast, the bifurcated narrative, the hangout movie vibe that gives way to brutal violence and breathtaking stunts; it’s thrilling stuff.

I’ll pause there, since it’s time to bring in our third Collokino participant, who’s been patiently waiting in the wings.

Jeff, how’s it going? Where and when did you first see Death Proof, and what’d you think of it?

Jeff Wilson: Oooooh, bust a nut…redneck fuck…tortellini, small bikini, I dream of Jeanie…BOWWOWOWOWHEEEE.

Oh, hey guys. Just trying out my new audio keyboard. I just talk into it like this: “LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER,” and it just tipes it al out fopr me, withnoo tipos. I looks kind of phallic and in france, where i am right now, they call it a Mike-eh-rafone-uh.  Amazoing where techno;ogy is at these days. (Gigantic cymbal crash from Digit).

So I know we’ve got this cool-ass movie to talk about, Death Proof, by QT, which I just finished re-watching last night. But I just gotta ask, have either of you seen Planet Terror, the sister film by Rodriguez? I was watching the extras and QT was talking about how he decided to cast Rose McGowan even though she was in PT, and I don’t know, it just made me want to watch it.

HEY, UPTIGHT POTATO FARMER!  MILK-FACE GAS PUMPER!  MURDERING SAVAGE!

Alright just give me back the mike-eh-rafone-uh, Apollo. aPPArently it translates da dirty-ape languageh aswellian. Don’t give me that look, Yoko. Ya know I’d hate to break up the band. Remember the zoo? Wanna go back? Yeah, I thought not.

Alrighty so where am I, was I, ah yes (quick look over my shoulder,) focus…hocus pocus, locusts (quick look over other shoulder).

OK, so, oh yeah, hi, Jim, we’re doing Collokino here, right? Not Wiping Up. Hard to keep it all straight, ya know. I’m doing so many different platforms and such these days.

And is it true we’re doing a threesome this time out? 

Right, Caesar! My toga please, and fetch the nipple clamps, the ball-gag, and some oils. Oh, with Michael, yeah belay that order, Caesar. Well, I’ll take the toga actually.

Hi, Michael. Welcome to Jeff’s World, party on. I first watched this film around when you did, after Jimthrone referenced it to me, one of his highest and most useful qualities. I absolutely loved it and we yakked about it like we’d found the one true ring. “Why have I never heard about this?”

Michael: Glad to hear we all responded to it enthusiastically. Relative to Tarantino’s other movies, it definitely seems to have flown somewhat under the radar. I think I remember reading that it had the worst box office showing of any of his films, but I gather that that was more a consequence of its Grindhouse packaging than a reflection of the movie itself. 

Want to set the table for us, so to speak, and give us a brief rundown on what this film is about?

Jeff: So this is a film, a nice abrupt film. We get right into meeting some rather lovely ladies wearing sparse clothing, so there’s lots of “things” to look at and such. They’re discussing at female length how to compile their day and evening entertainment. The acting (Sydney Poitier [not that one], Vanessa Ferlito and Jordan Ladd) has a very natural, city-feel, let’s-smoke-some-weed-and-drive-around-Austin kinda vibe to it. The look and the sound of the film is, to my mind, the most spot-on retro-est of the retro-est that is QTarantino. There’s vinyl-like crackling, old projector-like lost frames of film, the lighting very ‘70s-ish, and of course Quentin pulls out more gems from his archive of quirky, awesome old soul/blues/surfer music tunes.

“In a honky tonk down in  Mex- I- CO.” I mean, how does he pull that out of the file? Like that song that’s playing during final credit roll, I mean, it’s just perfect.

And you know, what really hits me as this film unfolds is just how deft QT is at writing women characters, doing it well back before it was en vogue, i.e., Alabama Whitman in True Romance, Uma’s iterations in Pulp Fiction and the Kill Bills, Amanda Plummer’s nutty “Honey-Bunny” in PF. And in this film, he manages to pull off not one or two or three, but eight completely self-sustaining, entertaining, female characters, in very short fashion, and is what really draws me into the film. I mean the cars are cool, all of it’s cool, but it’s the core of the believable female characters just trying to have a little fun and get through their day without being bothered, or hunted, by a lonely nutjob dude, that makes the film work for me.

So, first thing I noticed upon rewatch, which hit me as a QTism, was the girl’s bare feet on the dashboard thingee. As soon as the tres amigas get in the car you see bare feet on the dash, and Jungle Julia all stretched out in the back seat. Margot Robbie (in the theater, watching herself on screen) and Margaret Qualley are seen doing this in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Is it just one of his ways of showing how different the feel was back then, or is it a harbinger?

Second thing that hit me was how this film felt like distilled Tarantino, or Pulp Fiction Concentrate, if you will. You get all the great characters, dialogue and action, but with much-less convoluted storylines. This is most probably what causes the division amongst viewers loving it or hating it

Eventually the three ladies end up at Guero’s Taco bar for some drinks and music. And while you’re listening to their conversations you can’t help but notice the voluminous number of old film-posters plastered all over the walls of Guero’s. I believe it is here that Julia (Poitier) first tells Butterfly/Arlene (Ferlito) about how on her radio show today (she’s a well-known local DJ) she has offered that anyone who walks up to Butterfly and recites some poem, she’ll give them a lap dance, ha! So the rest of part one, to some degree, revolves around waiting for this moment to arrive. It’s while smoking alone outside Guero’s that Butterfly first notices a sinister-looking muscle car sitting across the road, which takes off loudly as she’s looking at it. This is the first bad feeling you sense in the film.

 Seeing that this is taking me forever, I’ll throw the ball to you, Jim. What are you loving/noticing most about this film at this point in it?

Jim: You didn’t tell me you were in France. Sticking around for Cannes? Could you get LS to sign something for me? Get a selfie with her and Dumont! Thanks. You’re the best.

So I guess it’s my fault you both watched this. Maybe that’s why I asked you here to talk about it with me. And no, Jeff, I haven’t watched Planet Terror, but I know Michael has, so I’ll leave that for him to pick up.

The ‘70s slasher vibe is perfectly established right away. Girls’ night out before heading up to Lake LBJ for a girls-only weekend. They’re talking about making out with guys, while figuring out how to score some weed. It’s so classic. The bit about Shanna’s Dad coming up to make sure the girls have everything they need is fucking hilarious. Like you said, Jeff, QT has an incredible touch with little details in his writing. These ladies all arrive fully formed. I agree that that’s perhaps the film’s greatest achievement. The languid hang-out feel, the long conversations, the great peripheral characters, the ‘70s-style butt shots, and the color grading that seems both muted and saturated, even the Thunderbolt title card that appears for a fraction of a second before being replaced by the generic white-on-black Death Proof. It’s just endlessly fun. Ferlito’s Arlene is the quintessential outsider character, the quirky, achingly sexy girl that supplies the first part of the film with its central gravitational pull, the character through whom we, the audience, experience the events. All the way from Brooklyn, she’s a rare gem in Austin, with her old-school “San Francisco” t-shirt. She hearkens back, too, to the sexy Italian-American girls that were so common in ‘70s American cinema and TV.

You may have seen this in the extras, Jeff, but I guess Eli Roth took a break from directing Hostel II to be in this. Like a lot of his regulars, I suspect Roth would do anything for his buddy QT. My favorite line in part one comes from his character Dov, when he remarks to Omar, after looking over at the facially scarred Stuntman Mike sitting at the bar: “Dude cut himself falling out of his time machine.” Which is almost literally true. Fucking golden.

Michael: Can’t say I’m a fan of Planet Terror. It has blood, guts, and gross-out humor to spare, but I find the cheesiness of it to be pretty lame and unsatisfying. I’d actually put Robert Rodriguez on a small list of directors whose work and style I actively dislike. So I’m glad we’re only talking about one half of the Grindhouse double-feature!

Jim, since you mention yours, I’ll come right back at you with my favorite line from the first half: “Now is that a tasty beverage or is that a tasty beverage?!” Courtesy of Tarantino himself, in the role of the bartender at the dive bar where Arlene, Shanna, and Julia eventually come face to face with Stuntman Mike. If he hadn’t become a filmmaker, Tarantino could have been a hilarious character actor. 

What really impresses me about Death Proof, especially the film’s first half, is how successfully it melds two genres that I would otherwise say might go as well together as oil and water. Horror is crossed with genres like comedy, action (see Death Proof‘s second half), and sci-fi all the time, but horror meets hangout movie? Horror and hangout movies generally have such diametrically opposed rhythms, the former being all about an accrual of tension, the latter involving a deliberate lack of tension. It’s not an intuitive combination, and I suspect that that has a lot to do with what detractors dislike about the movie. Personally, I love the variation in the film’s tempo, as it sounds like you guys do too.

How about all the great textural detail at the bar that the first group of girls finish their night at? The walls that are plastered with neon signage, posters, and stickers, the jukebox that allows for awesome needle drops (my ears perked up when T. Rex’s “Jeepster” came on), the cheesy nachos we watch Stuntman Mike devouring in close-up; the space really comes to life through all those lived-in details that the cinematography captures so vividly. Half the pleasure of the film’s first half, in my opinion, relates to texture, whether it’s the grunginess of the locations, the easy-going dialogue exchanged between the girls, or the images themselves, battered and scratched as they are.

How’d you guys respond to Stuntman Mike? I personally don’t think the character or Russell’s performance instill the movie with a particularly acute sense of dread – dread isn’t really the tone Tarantino is going for – but I find him to be a very entertaining menace all the same.

Jim: I think Stuntman Mike has to be a ridiculous character. I hope we spend some time talking about the middle transition act, when Michael Parks’ Sheriff McGraw sketches out for his deputy son (Parks’ actual son, of course) the correct motivations of Stuntman Mike. It’s there that Stuntman Mike is explained, an expositional scene that laughs-out-loud at its own on-the-nosedness, and which maybe, in its ironic shift, points out the true horror at the heart of all this fun.

Jeff: On Stuntman Mike, the second time around he mainly just hits me as comedic relief. From the ICY HOT jacket and the Snake Plissken scar to all the various names people refer to him, literally right behind his back, like “Hey, Canonball Run”, “I’m not gonna sleep with him”, “I can hear YOU”,”I can STILL hear you”. We get the one incredibly demonic scene with him loading poor Pam into the crash-box, then “The Crash”. Other than that, he’s just kind of this old timey nut-cake jack-wagon bangin’ around the place…laughing…Oh my god, his laugh is great. It’s almost like QT needed the evil protagonist character for the film, but really didn’t want it to evolve into an unnaturally powerful evil thing, which, when you think about it, is quite refreshing, and is what separates him so far from the likes of Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, ouch! Thanks for the heads-up on Planet Terror, Michael), as well as a lot of others who I’m sure were big influences on him. I think that’s a big kernel in what makes Quentin…Quentin, a singularity. His unique ability to graft pulp and horror with real, gritty characters within the confines of somewhat normal, day-to-day easy going situations, or normal-ish situations, with one big weird thing happening in the middle. It’s why when the over-the-top violence or mayhem finally does come in his films it’s funny while being absurdly well done, but the films themselves could very well stand on their own without it. To some extent, it just seems like his innate need to interject his childhood/fanboy love of that type of film into his own. I’m tangentially supporting Michael’s sharp take on his ability to genre meld.

I love that you bring up the “middle” of the film section with the Sheriff, Jim. I have to admit, I hadn’t really copied that part to my cranial hard drive. When I saw it the other night, it kind of hit me like bolt from on high, lights coming on and such. It’s a genius, self-film-effacing little moment where QT is pulling back the curtain, but the first time you watch it, you don’t catch it that way.

And Michael, awesome bring up of the nachos Mike is just freaking devouring, and the jukeboxes. I was trying to hold off naming the Continental 2 until we got to the Texas Chili Parlor and met its resident bartender, QT himself. I just love that he doesn’t hold back sticking himself right in the middle of his film here and there. I’ve always considered his scene in PF’s “The Bonnie Situation” my favorite part of that film, at least funniest, with all the gourmet coffee lines. And he pretty much pulls it off again here. “Chartreuse, the only drink so good they named a color after it!”  And the “tasty beverage” line is right from Samuel L in PF’s Big Kahuna Burger scene with Brad, “look at the brain on Brad!”…it’s like distilled Q concentrate.

Yeah we get it, Dingeldork.

Lap dance, anyone?

OK, Halotta, let’s work on that chorus, while Apollo and Digit get the rhythm section laid down.

And can someone give me a hand with this toga, how do…you wrap…this…sash thing… around… uuuggh… Oh my god!

Caesar!

Michael: Jeff, I’m actually right there with you in that on my first watch, the hospital scene, the bridge between the two halves, barely registered with me at all. My attention just drifted off, for whatever reason, and I didn’t really catch the Sheriff’s brief spiel about Stuntman Mike’s motivation and method of murder being a “sex thing.” Which it is, of course. Slamming his car into the girls is a kind of substitute, a jaw-droppingly violent one, for his fantasy of getting with girls who see him as the washed-up has-been that he is. And it’s for that reason that the movie is essentially a slasher, even though there’s no slashing per se: it keeps with that sub-genre’s tendency, some would say, to metaphorically represent sex, or more specifically, rape, with some other kind of physical, usually gory, violence. Tarantino has the Sheriff pretty clearly lay that out for us; the “on the nosedness” of that character’s dialogue, as you described it, Jim, is indeed sort of amusing.

So I think Stuntman Mike is serving some contradictory functions in the movie. On the one hand, he’s the heinous villain who commits jaw-dropping acts of violence towards innocent women. That makes him a pretty easy object of contempt. On the other hand, he is, as his name obviously tells us, a former stuntman! He represents a part of what Death Proof is paying tribute to: the art of practical stunts without any digital trickery, the kind you’d see in all the ’70s movies that Death Proof regularly name drops: Vanishing Point, Dirty Larry Crazy Mary, etc. Tarantino is having his cake and eating it too in making Stuntman Mike both abhorrent and someone whose craft he deeply admires and respects.

Jeff: Ah, France in springtime, so lovely, think I’ll stroll over to the Louvre.

It’s only a model, dumbass.

Shut-up, Yoko!

Yes, yes, Michael, I’ll agree with you that Stuntman Mike’s character seems to be filling two or three roles in the film, something I notice bothers me a little, but also allows the film to have its effortless ebb and flow. He’s kind of the red pill you either swallow or you don’t/can’t. While we’re in the bar with him chatting with the other patrons or being quietly harangued (Mr. Roth), Mike is just a very interesting, chiseled old character. We have fun with him, get some cool old knowledge and lore about real stuntmen doing real stunts back in the day.

He then surprises us by bending over close to Butterfly and reciting the poem, wonderfully, poetically, and then asks her if she’d give him the lap dance. She hesitates, seems set upon an edge, he asks her if she scares him. She slightly nods (I think). He asks “Is it my scar?” She replies “It’s your car.” He nods in acknowledgement and replies “Yeah, it is pretty scary, it’s my mom’s”. Fucking LOL. 

This exchange goes on, quite adorably. He wanders into doing a John Wayne impersonation: “Well, ya know, in my book” kinda stuff. Then admits “But ya know what? I actually do have a book. And Butterfly, I’m gonna have to put your name right here…under…Chicken Shit.”

At which point, of course, Butterfly tells him to go get ready for his lap dance.

I’ve waited up to this point to talk much about Vanessa Ferlito’s performance here. Her character grew on me the most of any in this film and really surprised me. Thankfully, Jim gave us all a perfect description/interpretation of her way/look/role here so I don’t have to bumblemuck through doing all that. You nailed it, brother…especially the whole NY-accented Italian-American ‘70s thing. She’s just that, but in a quirky way. But it isn’t until the lap dance she performs for Stuntman Mike to the awesome languid beat and lyrics of “Down in Mexico” that I completely fall in love with her…which is exactly what QT wants to do, and then does, to you. It’s what makes the final few frames of part one so gut- and heart-wrenching.  

There’s a great segment on QT’s thoughts and process behind casting Ferlito in the extras, and how he was ecstatic when she added her own choreography into the dance itself.

Jim: I made a special note (in my actual notes) the third time I watched it about the interplay between Arlene and Mike. There’s a kind of unspoken exchange going on between them from the very first moment she spots him outside Guero’s in his car. Or really, it’s just his car that she’s communicating with, or a car-human combination, about which she’s both clearly fearful and attracted to. Even in the parking lot of the Chili Parlor, it’s his car she’s drawn to. It’s a weird kind of melding, as if she senses the car as an animate object. When she finally experiences him in person, that blend of fear and fascination amplifies tenfold, and though she maintains her cool, aloof exterior, it’s pretty obvious he arouses something in her. I’ll go out on a limb and say I think she senses a bottomless darkness in him, the real darkness beneath the metaphorical darkness of his car and his impenetrably dark windows. Beneath his fun-loving and eloquent façade, Arlene recognizes Stuntman Mike as death, and it thrills her. The energy flowing between Arlene and Stuntman Mike really fascinates me, and is, again, another example of Tarantino’s underhandedly complex writing.

Did either of you guys notice, during the lap dance, the two young ladies standing in front of the mirror, dancing along? I swear they’re there to block the reflection of the camera, since the view is directly at them, not askew.

Now before getting on to the second part of Death Proof, we have to talk about the crash itself, which includes the bit with Pam in the crash-box beforehand. After securing Pam in the box, and before getting into the car himself, Stuntman Mike turns, looks directly into the camera, and winks at us. It’s an obvious, very self-conscious cue that things are about to get pretty heavy. As you both have pointed out, Tarantino has a remarkable way of dropping blood-curdling evil right into the middle of a fun-loving hang-out movie. I think my question for both of you is how he does that. We see it coming, via Arlene, as I’ve just described, but how exactly does Tarantino manifest it? Of course, Kurt Russell has a lot to do with it, in the way he portrays Stuntman Mike, but Tarantino is using a number of cinematic techniques, including stunts, effects, cuts and reaction shots, to name a few, and, of course, just his own unique filmic language; his special brand of ironic detachment. Talk a little about how you see what QT is doing with this explosive sequence at the very heart of the film.

Michael: I noticed the two girls you’re referring to, but I hadn’t thought about the fact that they’re probably there to block the camera’s reflection. I think you’re right about that. And your description of the chemistry between Arlene and Stuntman Mike is spot on. Their back-and-forth on the bar’s porch is one of, if not the most potent exchange in the whole movie. The sultry eye contact, the slow and seductive cadence of their dialogue, the mixture of a sense of dread and desire – it’s such a compelling moment.

The crash at the end of part one and the moments leading up to it are absolutely nuts. Pam’s horrific thrashing in Stuntman Mike’s passenger seat is striking not only for how it ends – with Mike slamming on the brakes and Pam smashing into the dashboard – but also for the effect of the sound, lighting, and camera angles. There’s the metallic rumble of the car and the roar of its engine as Mike accelerates, the glow of signage and traffic lights bleeding in through the car windows, the POV shots that put us in the driver’s seat, and show us, in close up, Pam banging up on the sturdy plastic wall dividing her seat from Mike’s. It’s an intense scene, but it’s not as shocking as what comes right after. After killing Pam, Mike hightails it after Arlene, Shanna, Julia, and another friend of theirs, who we find all blissfully caught up in a song of Julia’s choosing as they drive down a dark road. Before the actual collision, what stood out to me is how totally pitch black it is outside of the girl’s car. You literally can’t see anything on either side of the car in certain shots. It’s such an eerie thing, the contrast between the girls pleasurably moving to the music and the otherworldly darkness outside. When Mike finally plows into their car head-on, at full speed, we see the wreck not once but several times, thanks to some very sharp editing. Each time, we see Mike flipping on his headlights, the reaction of a different girl, and the gruesome bodily carnage dealt to them. It is insane. Would the scene be anywhere as effective if it were done with CGI? Not a chance. The tactility you get from the crash being done practically, as a physical stunt, is singular. 

Jeff: Is it just me, or does trying to give this scene justice with words give you anxiety!? I’ll try my best, but if I fail, suffice it to say that this whole sequence is up there with the chest-burster scene in Alien, right?

First, I’ll try to address Jim’s initial question about just how QT is doing what he’s doing here.

“HOG-FAT SANDWICH EATING LUNATIC EXTINCTION MACHINES!”

This is not the time, Apollo!

Sorry about that. I thought we’d come to a tentative agreement. Things are getting a bit dark down here. I think the band may turn on me before this is all over. I’m certainly not getting in their car. Oh yes, they have a… (just stop).

OK, so first off, I think QT has an incredible sense, or gift, for sudden, fluid juxtaposition. The slow, almost overly wordy contextualizing of the relationships between characters, the physical space you become accustomed to (hang-outs, cool tunes, posters, one-liners) and the almost plodding pace is charged and changed like the flip of a switch (wink at the camera). And then all hell breaks loose with precise choreography, shot-timing, framing, angles and light as well as…

ah, tactility! Yes, Michael, the perfect word – thank you. All his films have extremely loud violence, and this one is no exception, and it incorporates one of the very focuses of the film: real stunts with loud cars. from the second he jiggles in the creepy little metal seat into the steel pipe for Pam to sit on, the film becomes alive with horror, and much of it purely tactile.

Mike’s line to her about which way she’s heading, left or right? Then telling her it’s too bad she said right because if she’d said left, she wouldn’t have to get scared quite yet, but instead she’ll have to get scared Immediately! It’s the final weighing of the anchor and we sail into darkness.

The deep rumble of the engine, the clanking metal, Pam’s head banging off pretty much everything. The deep murk of the night, the cigar-smoking duck hood ornament, the constant reverberating throb of the gunning of the engine…the change in Mike. We see him blow past the other girls without them noticing. They’re deep into listening to yet another cool old tune. He gets way up ahead, turns around, and turns off the headlights. At this point QT has, in a matter of maybe a minute, taken all the fun out the film, flipped it over, and has us painfully worried for the lives of the three women he has spent so much energy getting us to know and like. And when others may flinch, he pours more gas on the fire and exposes to us a spectacularly brutal high-speed, head-on, triple-played headbanger’s ball of a real car wreck. We see our girls’ heads and chests smashed in, a leg torn-off and flopped on the road, and our favorite’s, Butterfly’s, face erased by Stuntman Mike’s smoking rear tire. And just like his car, we are left on our crumpled head slowly spinning amidst the smoke of rubber, oil and carnage.

To really get at Jim’s question, I’m gonna center on detachment, or rather deep attachment as the set-up for deep detachment. I think Quentin writes many of his characters from the get go with their deaths, or how best to kill them, in mind. From the outset, he isn’t writing some character who will amazingly survive, but will amazingly die. And it’s just a writing energy thing, I think, what makes him a great screenplay writer. He doesn’t go lazy on characters who aren’t going to make it, in fact he goes all-in on them so it will really hurt when they go. He then puts a ton of work and energy into the villain and adds non-villainesque traits to them so we wonder at their motivations, and not just see them as some random evil thing. He then casts impeccably, he casts “his character”…not a certain actor. He puts in the homework, hires the greatest still-living stunt people and has a special relationship with his editor. I think it takes all these things to transform what happens leading up to and in that sequence.

It’s a, what – 45 minutes? – of film I will always remember and have a certain unique fondness for, in a few different ways.

I think in a way I get and appreciate Tarantino in a whole new way since watching this film. Because of its stripped-down-ness, I was able to see more into how he operates and constructs things. Pretty fascinating, especially given the genres he supposedly inhabits. But that’s just it, I guess; he lies somewhere in between and amongst it all.

I gotta go, my mike-eh-rafone-ew is burnin’ up.

Jim: Well said. I hope you can keep your band of noisy primates together. It would be eerily quiet over there without them.

Of course, Tarantino has been doing it for three decades now, so it’s nothing new, but I’m always amazed by how he depicts extreme violence with the same casual, unflinching eye that he watches his characters carry on long conversations, with a comprehensive, even fetishistic, eye for every minute detail. It’s a self-conscious quality that de-mystifies the violence. The explicitness of it, the refusal to look away, the exhaustive detail, renders it so self-aware that it ushers it into a domain of body horror that is thoroughly mundane. It’s a view that insists on the banality of evil, an almost bored resignation to the horrors of which humans are incessantly capable, a jaded understanding of the world that is familiar to any post-modern sensibility. I think of other Gen X progenitors who handle violence with the same cool, winking detachment, like the writing of Bret Easton Ellis, and the films of Eli Roth, S. Craig Zahler and Ben Wheatley.

So let’s move on to the film’s second act, with a new crew of lovely ladies. They’re both very similar, and very different, from the women we’ve just seen collectively raped by Stuntman Mike. Who wants to set the scene?

Jeff: Yeah, I think Yoko and Apollo are sewing dissension through the ranks. I may have a labor movement on my hands soon enough.

I was thinking maybe I’ll just write them each a $1200 check and throw ’em a chunk of old bread and they’ll get distracted.


Certainly need to lock up my Blu-ray of Kubrick’s 2001…definitely…don’t want that being shown on movie night…no, no…..that would be bad…..yes…..then maybe get rid of the dissenters, get them transferred overseas, yes. But I’ve spent so much time developing their characters, ah, what would Quentin do?


Meanwhile…
 
Yes, Jim, very sharp point, I like your take that it’s how he manages the manifestation and carry-through of the violence with much the same meticulous detail as the dialogue and atmosphere in all other facets of the film. That he orates through the violence as well.
 
Part deux, scene one, take one (and they’re off!).


Well, again, we’re initially confronted with a gorgeous threesome (what is it with all the threesomes? Must be the toga) of ladies.


Tracie Thoms (Kim), Rosario Dawson (Abernathy), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Lee…oh my…).
I just want to thank Quentin right off the top here for seeing the obvious and outfitting Lee in a HS cheerleader’s outfit for the duration, I mean, come on. Pretty sure Jasper agrees, but we’ll get back to that.


We are now in Tennessee, in a convenience store parking lot in a bright yellow Mustang with black racing stripes and a BRAND X license plate. Kim is going into the store, asking what the others want, Lee is at the wheel with her iPod on and Abernathy is lazily stretched out across the backseat, ala Jungle Julia from part one, with her bare feet sticking through the window, resting on passenger-side door. Stuntman Mike is sitting across the road in his car and notices them, takes note of them, then drives over and parks next to them. Lee is pleasantly serenading us with her rendition of the song playing on her iPod.  Creepy fuckin’ machine rapist turd quietly gets out of his car and brushes by Abernathy’s bare feet, touching one with his thumb, WTF, then tosses his keys on the ground and loudly says to himself “Oh there they are!” to excuse himself from their proximity. He then gets in his car and does a wildly loud, screeching, smoking reverse exit from parking lot, with skidding turn-about in middle of the road, followed by loud, smoking, forward thrusting up and away down the straight-away. Lee looks back at Abernathy and raises her little finger in the universal sign for small-penis syndrome, and they both giggle. At the same time, you feel it’s a slightly nervous giggle. So, in this one little moment we get a pretty clear look at all the little things we’ve been wondering at/piecing together about Mike. We just don’t know how it’s gonna go. We also really want to get to know these girls a little better.
 
OK, Michael, help me out.

Michael: All right, a few other things to note as the second half kicks off. First, our new trio of women mirror the first group in some obvious ways: Abernathy, like Arlene, picks up on and is visibly unsettled by Stuntman Mike’s presence, conversation once again involves juicy anecdotes about hooking up with guys, and generally speaking, there’s the same sisterly banter and friendliness between Kim, Abernathy, and Lee that there was between Arlene, Shanna, and Julia. This time, however, Mike and his prey have something in common: we learn that these new girls are in Tennessee working on a movie. Especially once Kim, Abernathy, and Lee pick up Zoë Bell from the airport, there’s a sense that sociopathic Mike may have met his match this time around.

I’ll be curious to hear what you guys thought about this detail, but I love the fact that unlike the other girls, Zoë Bell plays herself. It’s like Tarantino sees who she is and the stunt work she does as way too ridiculously cool to be obscured by an extra layer of artifice. Once she arrives, it’s like some crucial piece of the film that you didn’t even know was missing until then was just put in its place. For me, with her arrival comes a degree of reassurance that this second group of women won’t meet the same fate as the first. Even when we get to the fantastic diner scene, where the camera encircles the girls and reveals, to the attentive observer, Mike sitting at the countertop, I can’t say I felt all that afraid for the girls. We know there’ll be an incendiary confrontation between them and Mike, for sure, but I was pretty confident at that point that we’d eventually see these girls inflict some form of vengeance against Mike, both for whatever he might do to them, and for the murder/metaphorical rape of Arlene, Shanna, and Julia.

Jim, before we get into the extended climax, you have thoughts about these first few scenes in part two? What’s your take on the part where the girls go to pick up the Challenger, and Lee gets thrown under the bus by the other three? That’s arguably the thorniest scene in the movie. I think I read that that was one scene Rosario Dawson was not thrilled about. Does Lee getting left behind with the creepy dude undo the great camaraderie we’ve seen between the girls up until then, or is it that part there for a reason?

Jim: The first thing I’ll point out about the start of part two, which I didn’t figure out until my third watch, is the switch from color to black-and-white when Mike pulls his Charger up to the convenience store, and then the switch back to color when Abernathy sits on the hood of the Mustang to put her boots on. Now I feel like an idiot for not noticing it right away, and maybe you guys did (but we’re even there, since I seized on the import of the Sheriff scene on my first watch). The film quality as Mike pulls into the parking lot, when it’s still color, is the same scratched, worn and muted style as the first part. When it switches to black-and-white, you can tell the picture quality instantly improves. When it finally switches back to color, the image quality pops so hard it’s breath-taking. The old-vinyl-record feel of part one is now replaced by pristine visual fidelity. The yellow of the Mustang’s paint job and the cherry red of its interior, the bright yellow-orange of Lee’s cheerleader outfit, the neon tones of the soda bottles inside the store, explode in visual splendor. And that, and that alone, is a glaring clue that this story is going to be very different. It’s an amazingly effective device that Tarantino quietly employs.

Some delicious details: We first learn that these are film people because Lee tells Abernathy she’s in the newest edition of Allure magazine, which we get to see. That’s some pretty deft exposition. And, as I’m sure you both noticed, when Abernathy walks down the row of magazines, there are at least two magazines featuring Kirsten Dunst on their covers, in her titular role in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, which came out right at the time they were making Death Proof in 2006. It’s a great little time capsule to mark the era of cinema this comes from. And I love the whole Italian Vogue thing because a) the clerk is actually hording a copy of it, and b) it’s something only the two “girly girls” of the three (ultimately four) would care about, a detail that works to identify them. So they buy it. And it’s never seen or talked about again, I don’t think, unless it comes up in the longer uncut version. There’s also a visceral midday hush to the scene. It’s sooo hang-out. I could watch that opening scene a hundred times and find something new to love about it each time. It really is my favorite part of the whole movie. What I don’t understand is why they pretended to set it in Tennessee, when it’s obviously California, which lends much to the lazy midday ambience that permeates that scene. Perhaps that’s another meta film point, about the artifice of setting films in various locations, while filming in southern California.

I’m with you on Winstead, Jeff. She is smokin’ hot. The decision to put her in a cheerleader’s outfit is hilarious, and, I think, speaks some to your question, Michael, about how she’s left behind with Jaspar later. I read Lee as a joke character, a send-up to every film that features cheerleaders in danger, distress, or some kind of high drama. She’s making a movie in which she’s a cheerleader! And she’s entirely left out of the drama! It’s too fucking rich. That she ends up the one to stand in as collateral for the Challenger seems to be working somewhere in that range. I think the whole second part is in conversation with the first, that these aren’t ‘70s-style femme fatales, but 21st century women, two of whom are in a traditionally male, physically demanding, career. Lee, however, is an icon that floats between the two eras, the embodiment of a stereotype that the “tough girls” decide ultimately to sideline. There’s no malice there, either from the characters or Tarantino. I think that can go without saying. I think it just works to serve the story and also works as a kind of meta film commentary, as much of part two does. It would be pretentious, and inaccurate, to say that Tarantino is “exploring traditional female gender roles”, but he’s certainly riffing on them. I think you can’t overlook the fact that Lee is an actress still wearing her costume while she’s not on set. We know nothing about her other than that.

I love it when, as Lee is absorbing the situation she’s been left in, she actually says “gulp” as the other three tear out of Jaspar’s place, like a word bubble from a character in a comic strip. I understand the nature of the complaints about her being left behind, but I also know what Tarantino would probably say in response. Is it something that troubles you, Michael?

Michael: It doesn’t trouble me in that I think it’s offensive, unacceptable, or anything like that, but I’m just not sure how well it works. It’s not that I want Tarantino to be precious with his characters – that’s the last thing I’d expect from him – or for him to have the girls treat each other all sweet and nicely. That’s not who these girls are at all, and that’s a great thing. But I do think Winstead maybe isn’t cartoonish enough for me to see her merely as a trope that Tarantino is discarding, and not as an actual member of the friend group that the others are leaving behind to get raped. The cheerleader outfit clearly positions Lee as the girliest, but she doesn’t play, for me, purely as some metaphorical piece that clearly doesn’t fit with the rest. Her chemistry with the other girls is terrific, and they all seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company! And the issue isn’t really that Lee is left behind, but that she’s left behind to get raped, or so it’s implied. Doesn’t that sour some of the satisfaction we might get later, when Kim, Abernathy, and Zoë go get revenge against Mike for not only what he did to them, but also, without them even knowing it, for what he did to the first group of girls, which was one big rape metaphor?

Jim: Do we know so well that she’s raped? If this film does anything, it upends expectations. The thing I most wanted to know after my first watch was what happens when Kim, Zoë, and Abbie return the battered Challenger to Jaspar, and what condition we discover he and Lee are in, since I suspect he won’t be doing well. Or they’ve become besties and are playing chess or something.

Jeff: I think Lee’s essentially the Pam character of part deux, but gets to hang with the group until Zoë shows up…pretty much. Then she gets tossed…to what end? Who knows? Hopefully not as bad as Pam’s. I would have loved to see her and Jasper’s scenes behind his shack run silently while credits rolled. Maybe a few high leg kicks in the cheerleader’s skirt, eh.

On the B&W to color shift…yes! I did notice it, even more so the second time around, and didn’t know what to make of it exactly, other than it was cool….and then I forgot all about it, crap! But you nailed it, Jim, it signals a shift in the type of prey he’s going after, that things are modernizing, that he’s in the big leagues now, that his game may be getting a little stale.

And the Italian Vogue thing…Now that’s funny! That a male Circle A clerk in Tennessee even knows what Italian Vogue is, let alone stashes his own copy of it behind the counter…with hopes that anyone in Tennessee would ever mention it, let alone pay for it…haha.

Jim: I love that. Lee is Pam. You’re on to something.

Michael: Fair points by both of you, about what might have actually transpired between Jasper and Lee. My mind leapt to one of the grimmer possibilities, if only because of how Abernathy acts as if she’s offering Lee up to him. But to Lee’s credit, I’m pretty sure she could outrun Jaspar, and perhaps Abernathy is plenty confident about that. And Jeff, I can’t say I had associated Lee with Pam before, but that’s so true. Great call.

Jim, care to dive into the final act, and tell us how it played for you?

Jim: I’m not a big car chase guy. They all tend to play the same notes over and over again, and this is no exception. What is an exception is what’s happening on top of this chase, namely the ship’s mast thing Zoë is doing, about which Kim and Zoë challenge each other before securing the…Challenger. The way I interpret it is she’s standing in for the masthead of an old sailing ship, which is both wicked cool and wicked stupid. It is a really priceless addition to an otherwise overplayed overture in action-adventure movies, and places Zoë Bell’s agility and prowess front and center in the top-fuel action of the film’s finale.

Michael, you seemed to suggest earlier that Bell’s casting might have been a challenge to Tarantino, in terms of how to place her in-character. I think you’re absolutely right, and it’s the most stand-out pretention of the film to me. But I love it, because after all, I think QT is doing his meta-film here and what better, in this scenario, than Zoë-fucking-Bell? She is the hottest, coolest and smartest of them all. Like Arlene in part one, she’s the outsider, the oddball, the one everyone’s looking at. Who else better then to vanquish Mike in Arlene’s honor? The super-fit Kiwi stuntwoman for the hard-bitten Brooklyn girl, each far outside her comfort zone? I know it works for me.

I’m gonna leave this part to you guys. Who wants to tap that ass?

Michael: I love the giant smile on Zoë’s face just before she climbs out the window and gets on the hood (“Hey Abernathy, check this out.”). Even before Mike pulls up and starts slamming his car into the girls, nearly driving them off the road and ending Zoë, seeing her out on the hood with nothing but a couple leather belts to hold on to and shouting at Kim to drive faster is so exhilarating. Where Mike does his work from within the protective confines of a matte black death-proof car, Zoë actively flirts death just for the sheer thrill of it. More than the punches that the girls throw at Mike at the very end, it’s Zoë’s giddy insistence that they do this ridiculously dangerous stunt that proves how infinitely cooler she is than Stuntman Mike. Even after Kim puts a bullet in Mike and he speeds off, Zoë pretty much brushes off the whole encounter as if it were no big deal! I love it. 

I thought the excitement of the finale would have worn off when I came back to watch the movie a second time, but it didn’t, not in the slightest. It’s such muscular, heart-pounding, dynamic filmmaking, and the humor woven in (“Did you just hit a boat!?”) is a blast.

Jim: That is – hands down, no contest – the funniest part of the whole movie, when Kim, at the helm of the Challenger, in pursuit of Mike’s Charger, blasts through that decrepit old wooden boat on the side of the road, and Abernathy says that, with a strong emphasis on boat, while half laughing. It’s the golden moment. “Did you just hit a boat?!”

Jeff: Yeah I’ll give the “boat?” line a third thumbs up.

“I ‘m gonna bust a nut!”

On the Zoë front, I really just think Tarantino probably kinda fell in love with her as Uma’s stunt double in the Kill Bills, and when thinking of making this film he knew he’d need an awesome stuntwoman and felt that if he could get Zoë comfortable enough with actually “acting” the part, then the repertoire of (face)shots he could garner from not having to double the lead girl would push the chase footage into unchartered territory cinematically. Think of all the mast shots, the clutching the front of hood, while having her beaming face in full view….it was a goldmine. 

On the chase itself, for me, it borders on overkill to some degree but I think because he had Zoë (and all the other best stunt drivers in the world) lined up and firing on all cylinders, he compiled such a tonnage of great footage he just lets it run on, and on. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stunts and the battered cars and the girls’ commentary throughout, I’m just saying it seems to run on a tad. I would have loved to see a few minutes of it replaced with the “Lee & Jasper Love Story”, for instance.

My favorite part of the whole chase is when Mike and them eventually kind of run off the road and it looks like Zoë may be gone, Mike pops up out of his Charger puts his sunglasses up on his head, does his insanely funny laugh, then points both index fingers at them and yells out “Now that was fun!” at which point Kim promptly pulls up her revolver and shoots him in the arm, and he reacts like an incredulous child and quickly clambers back into his Charger and takes off whining and whimpering. The timing within that shot is priceless; from him popping up, saying his hilarious line and Kim getting off the shot in that rapid succession is no small feat. If not shot and edited extraordinarily well, it would come off clumsy. But the main reason I love that scene is it’s the real turning point, the hinge. At that point, Mike, though he hasn’t entirely succeeded, may have gotten Zoë hurt to some degree (we don’t know yet), but given the fight this trio is putting up, he’ll take it as a win, say nice job, and then speed away, seeing that he may no longer indeed be “death-proof”. But when Kim refuses to back down from that redneck cracker ass and proceeds to get off her amazing shot you see the dawning of an unknown feeling in Mike…”I’m not Death Proof against these bitches”, at which moment all of his steel-supported security blanket is ripped off along with all his fake machismo.

And I think this is what Tarantino is really getting at with the title of the film, that it’s easy to be a bully with your chest pumped out (and hair waved back) when you’re unhittable, with overwhelming advantage, but when you look at a person without all that protection, like Zoë hanging on the hood, but who is still up for the fight/thrill, you see who the real bad-asses are.

And then, of course, we are humorously relieved when shiny, bright Zoë pops up out of the tall brush, like the Energizer Bunny, and proceeds to find a nice big rusty lead pipe, secure it in her right armpit, get her left leg up and into the open passenger side window, straddling the door, and Kim guns the Challenger doing an almost 180 in the dirt while Zoë hangs on with just one leg and arm… I don’t know, but that move impressed me the most. Like a stunt cowboy jumping on his horse and yee-hawing in an old western.

Jim: It is all, incontrovertibly, great stuff. There are few, if any other, actions films that thrill me as much as Death Proof. But none of the chase stuff would mean shit if it weren’t for everything else – the character building, the Mike history, Arlene and Julia and Shanna and their shocking demise, the endless easter eggs and brilliant visual aesthetics. I think maybe the joyfulness of the revenge is heightened by the fact that Zoe, Kim, and Abby (and Lee) don’t know that they’re exacting revenge. Is that maybe the source of the joy of it, that by merrily hunting down this maniac, they’re serving up a kind of universal justice? We know the details of it, so we invest in their actions more than they can comprehend. How much does that charge the film?

In the end, after Zoe, Kim and Abernathy punch the shit out of him, Abernathy delivers the fatal blow to Mike, by driving her boot heel into his face. This is the ultimate, grisly payoff for what he did to the ladies in part one, though, again, none of them know about that. As we wrap up this talk, how much do you guys think this is a rape revenge film, or something else?

Michael: Oh, I definitely see it as a rape revenge film, at least on a subtextual level, considering there isn’t any actual rape that’s being avenged. More immediately, and obviously, it’s a nostalgic ode to analog and grimy, disreputable genre fare, be it rape-revenge thrillers, slashers, or muscle car movies. It’s paying homage to ’70s grindhouse cinema specifically, but more than just a lament for bygone aesthetics, I also see Tarantino wanting to prove that movies today don’t have to use CGI and other digital techniques to create something viscerally exciting. So long as there are tremendously badass artists like Zoë Bell willing to climb onto the hood of a car going 80 miles per hour, filmmakers can still do things the old-fashioned way, if they love it and want it badly enough.

Jim: And not only that you don’t have to, but maybe it would be better if you don’t.

You said earlier that Tarantino dislikes this film. What reasons does he give for his disfavor? And more broadly, what do you think it is that some viewers, especially Tarantino fans, don’t like about it? I don’t ask just to be conversational, but because I genuinely can’t wrap my head around it.

Michael: In the little reading and interview-listening I did, I didn’t pick up on anything specific he dislikes about it. I should clarify, I don’t think he’s said that he thinks it’s a bad movie, but just that he thinks it’s his worst. I suspect his comments are more a reflection of his disappointment with how Grindhouse did theatrically, rather than an honest critical judgment. Distancing himself from the movie limits the sting of what was a lackluster commercial response to it. That’d explain the lack of detail he provides for why he ranks it last. 

As to why some Tarantino fans don’t care for Death Proof, I’d guess that what we’re calling the film’s pleasant hang-out vibe, they’d call slack storytelling. Those folks probably also don’t think so highly of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the film with which I think Death Proof has the most in common. Both are less about pressure cooker situations, like those you find in Inglorious Basterds and The Hateful Eight, than about paying tribute to cinematic days of yore at a relatively relaxed tempo (not that OUaTiH and Death Proof are without their own explosions of violence). What might be an even bigger issue for detractors is aesthetic: if, from the get-go, either the garishness of the colors or the timeworn texture of the images strike you as tasteless or gimmicky, you might have trouble ever really getting on the film’s wavelength. 

As is hopefully already plenty clear, these aren’t issues for me. I’d say detractors are missing out!

Jeff: I’ve asked the band to help me with some of the wording here, since my mind seems to be more fried than usual today.

My hope is to assuage some of the naysayers’ hostilities by getting them involved in the creative (how about here, Digit, give me a word…) processeses. (Good, big guy, now go hit the gong.)

To what the film is about, I have to say it never struck me as a rape/revenge film, certainly not in a traditional sense….in fact it didn’t quite hit me as “any” kind of film particularly; that’s what I loved the most about it. I find it incredibly unique, using off-kilter genre mixes, deeply awesome retro (help me out here, Halotta) cine-visualizations (wow, nice one), truly interesting characters, with very different personalities and persuasions, and all the incredible stunts.

And it’s not swimming (drowning) in a bunch of (what about this one, Caesar?) facade, over-convolution and timidity (look at the brain on Caesar!) over what most will think of it. It strikes me as a one-off type of film from a great writer/director just doing a film he’s always wanted to do and just going “fun” with it. Listen, this film Is entertaining! Were you not entertained? I know you guys were, I’m just kind of shouting at anyone who can’t just enjoy a freaking fun retro film with great performances, incredibly funny dialogue, some loud cars smashing through boats and a few people (you take this one, Apollo) getting their feces erased (Did you mean “faces”? …Definitely some anger there).

I’m sure Quentin’s lukewarm public reactions are in some way just covering for what he looks back at as a guilty pleasure of a film to make.

He certainly acts pretty giddy talking about it in the extras.

But yes, I’ll agree that its core origin was his want to build a film around real stunts and real stunt people, which he has an obvious reverence for, seeing that they pop up frequently in his films. I’m pretty sure this film was made right around the height of the newly improved CGI large-scale battle operatics film orgy…moment/thing, and that it really bothered Quentin to see all these hugely popular films literally being constructed on a computer. To watch all the grime and sweat and boots on the ground choreography, analog stunts, and team building, go right out the window had to be his motivation to bring the game back to the real. When it then flops commercially, he divests from it a bit…publicly, but as we know it’s making up ground, it was way ahead as well as behind it’s time, but soon it will rest where it should and people will be all like, wow, QT really knew what he was doing, man. Such a tasty beverage, dude. It’s like he cut himself falling out of his time machine. (OK, go for it, Yoko) Isn’t it true, Butterfly, that you’re a little bit hurt that no one’s approached you yet? (ah yes, there it is).

More damn fun than a fucking barrel of monkeys, eh!

And with that (both index fingers pointing right at ya), guys, I bid you a fond goodnight, and (Go for it, Digit) sweat dreams (that should be “sweet”, not “sw…”, no, no, that’s alright, no need to get angry, Digg, I’m just pointing out…yeah, I know you’re not stupid. Hey, stop it, stop pulling my arm, it’s gonna, it’s…aahh. WTF?  Where did you find all those femurs of your ancestors? Is that a boat? Oh my god! Oh, the horror! This is some real analog shit!)

HOUSTON, THIS IS APOLLO

WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTWOL…

WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTRAL…

WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL…

(As the camera pulls back, we see a giant, time-worn, vulgar-graffiti-covered black rectangular slab, sense it sighing heavily, then say, as if to another: “Well, let’s try that again.”  Suddenly it erupts from its ancient resting place and arrows up, into, through, and out of this atmosphere, dodging Russian, US, Chinese, Israeli, Pakistani, Indian, French and English warheads on its way. As it urgently presses its way past a com sat, we hear “North Korea! Really?” as it explodes into a kajillion fragments.)

Jim: Well, Michael, I think it’s safe to say that Jeff has completed his part of the conversation. Thanks to both of you for doing this with me. Death Proof is a film that’s hard to stop talking about, but we are, right now. It was really a lot of fun. Have a good summer!

Michael: Jim, Jeff, it’s been real. Thanks for doing this, it was indeed a great time. Until next time!

Death Proof Trailer

Death Proof is currently available to rent or purchase on most major VOD platforms.

You can connect with Jim Wilson on Letterboxd, as well as review his entire list of Film Conversations.
You can connect with Jeff Wilson on Letterboxd.