OK. So of all the filmmakers in all the world currently working, it took Quentin Tarantino to create the woman's picture I've been dying to see. Yes Sir (or Madam), Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the Robert Rodriguez/Tarantino ode to the glorious cinematic sleaze of the 1960s and 1970s, is the movie that makes me believe I do indeed, roar. Preferably in a 1970 white Dodge 440 Challenger (AKA the Vanishing Point car).
Now I state this as a surprise but, really, Tarantino got me once before. His ball busting blast of female empowerment, Kill Bill, an operatic homage to Spaghetti Westerns, yakuza pictures, Hong Kong action films, Brian De Palma, Kinji Fukusaku, Giallo and the "Twisted Nerve" of Bernard Hermann (among others genres and filmmakers and Tarantino obsessions) was also aggressively pro-female, albeit in a much more mythical manner. And that's fine. Women need their ass-kicking icons in alignment with big boys like Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood and (oh dear lord my favorite) Lee Van Cleef. Women can't live on Tura Satana and The Long Kiss Goodnight Geena Davis alone.
But the gorgeously shot, interestingly paced and dare I say arty Death Proof put Tarantino in yet another female realm. This is a movie in which women don't wield swords crafted by Sonny Chiba, but who hang out, drink, talk, eat, listen to music (good music, no silly singing-in-their-hair dryer moment here) and in the end, drive. Pursued by a rakish turned homicidal Kurt Russell in a psycho sexual act of vehicular rape, the film's second set of fiery femmes (played by the charmingly down to earth Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms), enact their revenge on not just Russell's Stuntman Mike, but all the creeps in the world who want to forcibly, well, ram you. It's inspiring--almost overwhelmingly so--when you see real life stunt woman Zoe Bell (playing herself) strapped to that Challenger (for real) at what looks to be about 80 miles per hour and then un-strapped, clinging and climbing to that car for dear life. And damn if I didn't get goosebumps when Tracie Thoms turns that car around, continuing both one of cinema's greatest car chase sequences ever filmed and revealing the coward that Stuntman Mike really is. Now, the moving aspects to this scenario could simply be my own bias since I'm a die-hard gearhead, a proud owner of 1971 Ford Torino and almost auto-erotic when it comes to cars in cinema (check out my top ten list of Car Power and my car) but I'm thinking plenty other women, regardless of their affinity for muscle mobiles, were invigorated by this sequence. And not merely for revenge, but to take in the awe inspiring stunts of Ms. Bell.
With Kill Bill and Death Proof, Tarantino is enjoying something of a women's stage in his filmmaking career. He's always been great with female characters, but, as I've said before, Death Proof further shows his merging of an almost formalistic Douglas Sirk sensibility with the raw outrageousness of Russ Meyer. And that is, in spite of what his detractors say, unique. Quentin loves his ladies, but he also honors them. And for a girl like me, a chick obsessed with movies and cars, I needed that. To this I say, thank you Mr. Tarantino. To quote the brilliant Two-Lane Blacktop, you can never go fast enough.