I was a film student, and writing about films is fun for me. Plenty of you are going to say “Well, a film is just entertainment” and that may be true. But this is what I do for fun so I’m gonna do it anyway. I just watched Deathproof and want to get my rough thoughts about it out. None of this is polished and there is tons I never brought up, but let’s see what you guys think.
So QT has an obsession with exploitation films. They are a complicated genre. On one hand they give narrative power to groups that previously didn’t even appear in films. And often these are strong characters, willing to kick butt when needed. On they other hand exploitation films, well, exploit. And they portray these groups in broad ridiculous stereotypes, and characters often comply happily with the very power structures that exploit them.
But, exploitation films are fun. Some of us have fond memories of them. How do we make sense of our gut instinct to enjoy these films and admire their strong characters with our intellectual understanding of how regressive they can be? Well, if we are QT we make movies that use these long dead genre stereotypes to make new movies where the once exploited characters take charge of the narrative.
Deathproof tells two distinct stories. The first group of women who get killed, and the second group of women who do not. Let’s look at the first group. The first thing that struck me was these women talk a lot about sex, but they don’t seem to enjoy it. They seem to gain their pleasure from giving or withholding sex- hence the “we can make out for six minutes” thing, the “no boys at the cabin” thing and the “I’m just getting a ride home” thing from the girl who seems to be playing the “Good girl tease”. This is interesting considering that in so many films the women who do have sex are the first to die. I guess in this story the lap dance would be the critical transgression. And that lap dance happens because the girl is soooo concerned with what the guy will think of her, even if it’s directed like she is making a powerful choice of her own. A lot to think about there.
The women are friends, but they don’t seem to like each other much. They seem to betray each other easily and even the “good girl tease” lets loose a lot of nasty stuff. I also don’t know what to do with the name of “Jungle Julie” (or whatever her name was). So obviously racist. And so obviously using sexuality to get stuff (fame, free drinks) Hmmmm. Anyway, I think this half of the movie is about the old way of doing things. The films and genre conventions we knew in the past- where women were scheming vixens that used sex to tease men and get free stuff and were killed off in the end. This is really betrayed by the sheriff, who posits that “it’s some kind of sexual thing.” Heh- kind of like the whole genre!
The second story is the women who survive (and beat the crap out of the killer). The most striking thing is that Zoe isn’t beautiful. She is a normally attractive person- getting older, not perfectly proportionate and has a funny nose. In this movie full of beautiful women and plenty of T and A, she looks like she came from Mars. And Zoe is playing herself. This is really Zoe’s story. Stuntman (who kills pretty girls) versus reality- the stuntwoman. One thing I love is how Zoe hangs out with all these drop dead beautiful women and it never comes up. They act totally natural together. It’s an interesting contrast from the backbiting female relationships in the first story. I find it fascinating that not a single critic I read brought Zoe up when mentioning how much this film focused on beautiful women.
Zoe is a lot like the weird anachronism setting (half 70s, half modern- theoretically believable but still confusing.) I think the setting like that is to show that these old conventions and stereotypes are still with us in modern movies. Anyway, I love how her not-model-pretty looks don’t come up and don’t play an overt narrative role. It’s just there and we viewers are just supposed to accept it even when it doesn’t feel right.
Sex is a big theme here, too. These women seem more in touch with what they want from sex, though they still play games. Anyway, it seemed more real to me. Less of a game about getting men to want you, and more about having sex and enjoying it on your terms. Except the girl who got left behind with the car-owner. I feel like she is kind of a stereotype that is being abandon to another stereotype. The viewer doesn’t even wonder how she fares because none of these people ever really existed to begin with.
The final showdown is a pretty obvious metaphor. The stuntman symbolizes both the director and the part of us that enjoys carnage in grindcore films. The stuntwoman is reality- she’s a real person. She looks real, and she’s the one doing the real work in movies. This is the story of how she took over the film, and by extension the entire genre. Her killing the stuntman and reclaiming the film is also about reclaiming the genre, allowing us to enjoy grindcore films with an understanding that they have a new significance.
Anyway, just some toughts