As the spectre of sexual misdemeanours by those who were, at one-time revered rumbles on, Semtex breaks down Uma Thurman's recent vitriol against Weinstein et al. Using (to an extent) the successful Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill (volumes 1 and 2) as a vessel for exploring female dis-empowerment disguised as empowerment, she ultimately leaves us wondering if we should still love the film and indeed Quentin Tarantino's creative talents.
Over the weekend of February 3rd, a New York Times article permitted Uma Thurman to vent the anger she had threatened to unleash in late November 2017 via an Instagram post. It featured the “rampage of revenge” dialogue that set the tone for Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004). It was a missive that also wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving “except you Harvey, and all your wicked conspirators. I'm glad it's going slowly–you don't deserve a bullet.” And so for her to repurpose the notorious monologue from that rife-with-new-implications driving scene at the beginning of the film only adds further weight to the question: can you watch Kill Bill the same way, knowing the multi-pronged backstory to its creation?
What's more, on the heels of Thurman's expansive, damning New York Times exposé, written by Maureen Dowd, the stunt coordinator of the film, Keith Adams, soon after corroborated the dangerous method Tarantino opted for in getting the “best performance” out of his actress. As Adams stated to The hollywood Reporter, “At no point was I notified or consulted about Ms. Thurman driving a car on camera that day.” This absence of any personnel to ensure the safety of Thurman heightens the feeling of ickiness one now gets when viewing the second installment of a once thoroughly revered series. But it isn't just this Tarantino film that's become problematic. The grindhouse (2007) double feature also offers plenty of wallops with its references to stunt driving in Deathproof (2007) and rape in Planet Terror (2007) (you know, where Tarantino himself is playing the rapist).
In their day, the films of Quentin Tarantino felt “edgy,” these movies perhaps a product of years of pent up rage contained under the conservative regime of Bush/Reagan. In Dowd's article “This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry,” which has been furiously dissected, the backdrop of Tarantino's not so alternate movie universe is merely a mirror of a society “just as cutthroat, amoral, vindictive and misogynistic as any [of the auteur's] hellscape(s).” The verity of that statement seems to be proven with each new day, and each new accusation of longstanding sexually predatory behavior from those in positions of power–movie mogul or otherwise.
Kill Bill volumes are intended to promote the concept of female empowerment, even if it is through a distorted male lens
The pinnacle of abuse, of course, remains harvey weinstein. He was able to hide behind the shroud of his many handlers, lackeys and agencies determined to keep the dream of Hollywood alive, never unveiling the monstrous nature of the “wizard” behind the curtain. The partnership of Harvey Weinstein and Tarantino on a great many of his projects, including Pulp Fiction (1994) and Grindhouse (in addition to Kill Bill), perpetuated the Hollywood Svengali ability to buttress “the lissome goddess in the creation myth” on the screen for all the drooling male mouths to behold. The irony of it all, of course, is that both Kill Bill volumes are intended to promote the concept of female empowerment, even if it is through a distorted male lens that can't help but lashingly reiterate, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
As Thurman gets to her own rendition of the Weinstein assault portion of the program, scenes of Pepé Le Pew come to mind as she describes, “He tried to shove himself on me. He tried to expose himself. He did all kinds of unpleasant things. But he didn't put his back into it and force me. You're like an animal wriggling away… I was doing anything I could to get the train back on the track. My track. Not his track.”
Years later, in the wake of filming Kill Bill: Vol. 2, it would be another track she would need to right: the cover-up that her long-time collaborator and friend, Tarantino was involved in. Not just in his overall tolerance of Weinstein's behavior (it's apparent he knew, at least to some degree, what was going on, even to his ex-girlfriend, Mira Sorvino), but also in the harrowing filming process behind one of the director's great masterpieces.
Beatrix Kiddo herself, now a symbol of all the women who were beaten and spat upon in the industry by Weinstein and the collective
As Thurman retells it, the car she was supposed to drive had been reconverted from a stick shift to an automatic. She didn't feel comfortable driving it and would have preferred a stunt professional to do it (which, as mentioned earlier, was not an option since no one on the stunt crew was informed). Tarantino was eventually able to cajole her to comply. Undeniably, Thurman should have gone with her gut–yet so many women are conditioned to go against this form of intuition, lest they be deemed “difficult” or “too emotional.” The result?
“The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me… I felt this searing pain and thought, ‘Oh my God, I'm never going to walk again.' When I came back from the hospital in a neck brace with my knees damaged and a large massive egg on my head and a concussion. I wanted to see the car. I was very upset. Quentin and I had an enormous fight, and I accused him of trying to kill me.”
Thurman then looked to Miramax, the Weinstein helmed distribution company, pushing the project to seek some form of recompense for the accident, warning them of her right to take legal action if necessary. The problem was, she needed them to release the footage of the incident to her. They wouldn't. Not without her promise of “releasing them of any consequences of [her] future pain and suffering.” Consequently, it has taken approximately fifteen years for her to feel the satisfaction of vindication. Tarantino finally handing over the tape.
Somewhat balkingly, Thurman remarked, “Quentin finally atoned by giving it to me after fifteen years, right?… Not that it matters now, with my permanently damaged neck and my screwed-up knees.” But it does matter, because Thurman has shed so much light on the torturous fanfare behind the making of Kill Bill that we wonder if her suffering is comparable only to Beatrix Kiddo herself, now a symbol of all the women who were beaten and spat upon in the industry by Weinstein and the collective abetters of his misdeeds. And, speaking of being spat upon, Dowd summarizes,
“Tarantino had done the honors [in the film] with some sadistic flourishes himself, spitting in her face in the scene where Michael Madsen is seen on screen doing it and choking her with a chain in the scene where a teenager named Gogo is onscreen doing it.”
Tarantino has since responded as amicably as one can to Thurman's tell-all article, addressing the methods behind his filming as, in effect, something that any good actress should be willing to endure for the sake of the craft, commenting of his spitting,
“Naturally, I did it. Who else should do it? A grip? So, I asked Uma. I said, I think I need to do it. I'll only do it twice, at the most, three times. But I can't have you laying here, getting spat on, again and again and again, because somebody else is messing it up by missing. It is hard to spit on people, as it turns out.”
Regarding the matter of the choking: “It was Uma's suggestion.” Wasn't it also Uma's suggestion to stop tolerating Weinstein's deviance long ago? Why didn't Quentin take that to heart as well?
When you view Kill Bill now, with the revelation that Tarantino was the very person who spat on Thurman's The Bride character–that he was the very person that got her hair to blow in the wind of the car just right before she crashed and fucked up her body for the privilege of being a “muse”–is it possible to separate the overt metaphor for these scenes?
Women have been spat upon since time immemorial not just in the work they do, but in the very patriarchal “rules” they defy. Subsequently, they take it upon themselves to simply let the wind catch their hair as they hang their head high, like nothing horrendous has happened to them. And men, to the very end, will maintain just what Bill did to Beatrix:
“Do you find me sadistic? You know, Kiddo, I'd like to believe that you're aware enough, even now, to know that there's nothing sadistic in my actions. This moment, this is me at my most…masochistic.”