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Friday, April 20, 2018

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Tarantino's New "Femanism"

If You Love Them Set Them Free.

You can see, or rather hear, its nuanced existence in his very first film. Despite the fact that not one woman is featured in Reservoir Dogs, and that it’s a movie made for guys who like movies, in that first and famous dialogue scene with the gangsters sitting around the diner table, there is the tangible indication that Quentin Tarantino is a feminist at heart. He creates an explicit moral divide between the gangsters who refuse to tip the waitress, and those who openly demand it. It’s about fair play, not pity, and is the kind of feminism that, while easily overlooked, is as subversive and fresh as his genre mash-ups. If the simplest objective of feminism is to forward the equality of women, then his constant construction of films with women as central characters is a rare and purposeful act, especially within an industry that is largely recognized as a big boys club. Of course, it’s not the man bashing, bra burning liberation kind of feminism, or even the politically correct kind. Instead, it’s one where women can wear dresses or suits, look their best, take a beating and still kick some ass. It’s the new Femanism.

Much has been written about the objectification of women in cinema and the existence of the male gaze as it pertains to the power relation between filmmaker and audience identification. And while some will argue that his casting of women still plays to stereotypes and conventional perceptions of beauty (they may kick ass but they are still gorgeous), in Tarantino’s films there is much more at work than exploitation. Simply because a film is about a woman does not make it feminist, nor does the substitution of female characters in roles traditionally occupied by men. But this is not what Tarantino does. His characters are consistently empowered women who manage to maintain their femininity despite the threats of violence and actual violence facing them. They operate in a conventionally male world where rules have already been established, but they constantly break with convention as they are forced to take matters into their own hands and minds. They are not defenseless, but constantly act in response to the situations presented to them by the men (and other women) who want to do them harm. They are women in a man’s world — one that would have them disappear or die with little indifference. It is explicitly this idea that provides the argument for Tarantino as feminist. His ability to develop backgrounds and personal motivation guides his characters through the often dangerous world governed by masculine over-confidence.

For the most part Death Proof is devoid of action. His female characters spend most of their time driving in cars, talking about cars and boys, having breakfast and sharing funny stories. They do what regular girls do when they are alone — talk. Only when provoked do they transcend from a chatty bunch of chicks to a serious set of fast and furious women. What lends credibility to this transformation is that by the time it happens, we have an understanding of the relationships between the characters. We know what interests them and how they interact, and especially after having seen real life stunt woman come actor Zoe Bell actually dangle herself of the hood of a speeding Dodge Charger just for kicks, do we understand immediately that they are prepared to go the distance and are also fully capable.

At it’s most basic, Jackie Brown is about an older woman struggling to find a way out of a go-nowhere-situation. She is surrounded by men, both cops and criminals, who want to bring her down and throw her away. She is a fully realized woman, concerned with getting older and with losing her job. She is not dependent on men, nor looking for one to fulfill her, and at the end of the film drives away alone, but with the money. While ready to use a gun, it is her brain and her smarts that help her devise a plan to come out a winner. In Kill Bill, Tarantino, along with co-creator Uma Thurman, crafts the ultimate action epic, and delivers a violently moral tale of justified revenge. The Bride suffers all forms of personal horror, from the murder of her unborn child and husband to the comatose rape she experiences in the hospital. As viewers, there is no way we cannot identify with her desire for revenge. And while it plays to the classic exploitation strategy, it is the scope of the story that secures our sympathy and our compassion. It is this kind of identification that is a rare experience for films about crime capers, samurais and car crashes.

Tarantino has consistently liberated the female protagonist form being at the mercy of men’s hands, and from the conventional, limited roles of the Hollywood machine. His characters are comfortable being women, but aren’t afraid to get a little dirty (or bloody). As if offering a singular defining image, the last freeze frame in Death Proof says it all as psycho driver Stuntman Mike is dragged out of his car of death and beaten by the very women he was trying to terrorize. In that one last moment Tarantino gives us the relief we hope for, the catharsis we want and the justice we expect. And so what if they show some skin? Nothing says “fuck you” like a little flash of panty right before you get your head kicked in by a bunch of liberated chicks.

  1. thoughtz

    Although your article is convincing I totally disagree with the idea that Death Proof is feminist. It is a male fantasy that females are just like men underneath. And while the revenge scene is satisfying, giving a female lines like “I’m gonna tap that ass, get right up in there” or whatever she says is simply a reversal of the a violent, aggressive view of sex, one that any self loving female does not have readily available at hand. She’s “feminized” the bad guy before she takes out her big bad phallic gun and kills him. How is that feminist? Maybe teenage boy, comic book fantasy style feminist.

    - Sep 22, 12:52 AM

  2. tony tone

    Did you see when that bitches leg popped right off? I’d hit it.

    - Sep 22, 01:13 AM

  3. pennythought

    Charlie Kaufmann’s female characters are the most self-absorbed, ego-driven assholes in film. Neil Labute has nothing on Charlie for the most thoroughly unlikeable females in movies.
    PS: I don’t know what movie you think you’ve been watching “Thoughtz”, but there is NO scene in Deathproof where “she takes out her big bad phallic gun and kills him”. Maybe you’re dreaming…

    - Sep 22, 07:15 AM

  4. ColinS

    Totally agree with Thomas on Tarantino and feminism.

    Thoughtz, if Stuntman Mike was a hapless innocent I could agree with you, but Kim co-opted the car as phallic extension because Mike himself violently taunted the women to “suck on this for a while.” Kim just used his implication of males’ domination because they have penises, by directly letting him know that she “ain’t playing” as the tables are turned. Now how does it feel when the female has the power to dominate? Not so good is it? Well, that’s exactly how women feel to be dominated and be second class. And that’s the point. Women can and should fight back when gravely wronged. Baring any instances of being wronged, they are quite happy to go on with their sex kittens Pretty in Pink lives, and or gear head officionadas, or whatever.

    - Sep 22, 07:15 PM

  5. Leslie Bien

    Whatever, dude.
    you stole my argument.

    - Sep 22, 10:17 PM

  6. emma

    What? Feminism is about eliminating discrimination and social disadvantage based on gender. It is not about hot chicks pursuing vigilante justice while performing lap dances and dressed in hot pants. That’s just Tarantino’s weird fetish. Lest we forget Mr Tarantino promoted this film with his tasteful ‘rapist no 1 doll’ when it was half of Grindhouse. This is about as feminist as naked mud wrestling.

    - Sep 23, 03:42 PM

  7. pennythought

    No – Feminism is about whatever people think it’s about. So if feminism is the considered approach of a woman who values her family over her career, her “feminist” choice might be to be a house mom for the rest of her days. If that doesn’t work for you because you want to be out there buying shit you dont need or producing shit the world doesn’t need or listening to shit spewed forth about “career goals” – well, that’s fine – for you. But don’t presume you have the be-all and end all definition of feminism missee or you’ll end up as closed minded and ignorant as those you despise. It’s a bigger word than you.

    - Sep 24, 01:12 AM

  8. hurt gert

    i bet 5 dollars that if me and quentin compared vaginas his would be way bigger and even more impecable. perfect even. the perfect vagina.

    - Sep 24, 02:45 AM

  9. thoughtz

    Um, the “feminists” who prove their feminism through act of physical prowess and then by throwing punches, leave their cheerleader-outfit clad sister to the weird shack dude after telling him she’s the star of a porn movie. I’ll buy “strong women” (except wait, are the ones who get killed in the scene previous “weak”?) but feminist, no.

    Also, just to step up this little discussion (which seems annoyingly to me to fit better in like 1995 than 2007), let’s consider the overall visual pleasure Tarintino creates for his viewer. Earlier in the scene, we get to see the other group of girlfriends violently dismembered and mauled, in what was it? Slow mo? And they each get their little freeze frame shot for the audience to enjoy as they are being murdered. Tarintino then resolves our outrage and disgust (and visual pleasure and titilation) by having the male antagonist killed by another, butcher group of females. Dudes and ladies, it is softcore porn violence. Aint nothing wrong with that (except the whole dead heart of American culture), but it’s not feminist.

    It does not benefit women. It benefits the viewer’s thrill-centers by manipulating very contemporary cultural tropes.

    For me, the idea that women as “just as good” or “just as strong” as men is not feminist. Women are not deficient by nature. That’s just male anxieties about us. As a shrink would say, “own your feelings,” dudes. And please keep them away from me.

    - Sep 25, 02:11 AM

  10. BONA FIDE

    Thoughtz, you’re completely delusional. Today’s FEMANIST does whatever the fuck she wants. Stop living in the past and grow up. Judging contemporary women and contemporary women in film based on anachronistic feminist beliefs is so god damned old. And so god damned wrong.
    Do yourself a favor and get it right next time.

    - Sep 25, 04:52 AM

  11. Brian S

    Tarantino’s latest films have just been feminist cartoons portrayed using real life actresses, stunts, and special effects. Too much reality has to be suspended in order to make them work and the genre is getting pretty tired. I’ll take Reservoir Dogs over Deathproof any day of the week.

    - Sep 25, 06:25 PM

  12. thoughtz

    Bona Fide, I am not judging women whatsoever. I am not even judging Tarintino. I’m not really “judging” the author of this article. I am simply offering that his claim that Deathproof is a celebration of feminism or whatever is a starry-eyed, naive claim and very flawed.

    - Sep 25, 09:07 PM

  13. pennythought

    Thoughtz – I haven’t the inclination to presuppose what somebody like a “shrink“would say – but thanks for proving your ability to PROJECT just the same.

    Case closed.

    - Sep 26, 04:09 AM

  14. BONA FIDE

    “…“strong women” but feminist, no.”
    Says who?!
    To reiterate, Tarantino’s (spelled with an ‘a’ by the way) female characters do whatever they want. Are you sure you’re qualified to determine their feminist eligibility?
    Didn’t think so.

    - Sep 26, 05:54 AM

  15. flounder

    bona fide, you have not asserted your point in any way. leaving your cheerleader friend at a potential sex offender’s house after telling him your friend is a porn star is not in any way a feminist move. allowing women to be the dominant violent figures in a revenge tale is not a feminist move. saying that the female characters can “do whatever they want” is not necessarily a feminist move. is it so outside your realm of comprehension that this is a complex issue and one that begs further discussion as opposed to a firm shutdown of thoughtz’ proposals that feminism can encompass a variety of definitions – not necessarily the one presented in this article?

    - Sep 27, 05:20 AM

  16. Gölök

    Well actually sociopaths and psychopathic brats are more in the vain of the danger of the appearance of delecate beauty. Women who abuse their asthetics to get an advantage are taking a power for constructive design for destructive ones and this is not strong or empowered and it happens. Big cute eyes saying, “I’m just a girl,” he’s saying, “I’m so sorry,” jab! Chivalry is back in traction. Abuse of trust and beauty is a sick thing, it’s like being attacked by art, but unlike Republicrat BS this is true, Human beings are capable of horrible things like a guy doing a nice guy routine of course, this gets celebrated in romantic comedies; what is more dangerous? Some Nice Guy Ken Doll as a Hero, or a beautiful threat. Remember and beware the poison arrow frog.
    It isn’t powerful, evil and hate is weakness; vengance, usually the woman in this Tarantino reference (not the only ones) is just that. Last but not the least of sin.
    Evil is not a given with the X cromasome or at least the temptation to utilize it, so having two can be twice as tempting. A Y doesn’t change, maybe that’s why the Devil can only appear in the one that can.

    Best

    Gölök Zoltán Leenderdt Franco Buday
    “Some people want an X Box, but why? I rather have a damn double X box to play with.” – The Black Jester comedic alter ego of Gölök Zoltán Leenderdt Franco Buday

    - Sep 28, 04:15 PM

  17. sexy times

    At age 8, I cheered on the ultra-hot Jane Fonda seeking hostile revenge, seducing her victims, and organising a gang of train robbers in the western spoof, Cat Balou. Please show me something new. Now there are gender debates about sex work, porn for women, polyamoury, and adventurous sex. If I’m going to watch scenes marketed toward men, I’d rather watch something Belladonna-directed — those women perform some really amazing feats that take major skill and courage! That’s great if women want to be tough and still be feminine — but what if they want to be butch? Tarantino’s portrayals of what it means to be tough, and what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be feminine, are also limited and traditional. This idea of justified revenge eliminates reparations and maintains the status quo of us versus them, the old standard of outcasting offenders, and perpetual violence. Yikes. Bourne Ulimatum was way more subversive.

    The only notable Tarantino moment I can recall is when Thurman spanks the asian fighter with a sword and sends him scampering on his way. I don’t like how images of asian men being feminised/weak are so over-represented, but I do like that the scene could appeal to women whose sexualities are so under-represented in movies. But that moment was a rare blip, and she barely had any fun with him. Oh yeah, and then there’s that reactionary-paranoid-nightmarish scene with the ball gag & bondage — those are supposed to be for sexy fun times, if you’re into that (in Vancouver, you buy that at Womyn’s Ware, not the weapons store). Such a sex-negative image doesn’t really do anything for those curious to change things up in the bedroom, or simply face their fear of sex. Feminism is about choice, change, and orgasms, and Tarantino just doesn’t do it for me.

    - Sep 30, 12:48 AM

  18. Liane

    Deathproof is a movie.

    Tarantino tries many times to remind us that Deathproof is a movie at the very beginning with messed up edits and scratched film stock.

    Movies present us with images of human beings (we hope). We know that human beings are in real life both human beings and also large pieces of meat. We know this because we are all human beings who have at one point been treated as large pieces of meat. We also know that it’s difficult to view another human being as both a human being AND a piece of meat at the same time, either in real life or in the movies.

    Most of us will never know the actors/characters in this film as real life human beings, but that is why this thing is a movie, it is moving, changing colored lights that make us think we can.

    In Deathproof, Tarantino wants us to bang our heads up against one side and then the other. There’s not much ambiguity, it’s either meat or human. Meat, human, meat, human.

    Deathproof just exposes us for what we are: real human beings who occasionally view other real human beings as big pieces of meat. Which we also are.

    - Sep 30, 11:58 AM

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