My favorite parts of the Kill Bill movies come in the time between Budd showing up in Vol. 2 to just after his death.
The Budd parts of Kill Bill show what I like about Quentin Tarantino and what he seems to specialize in: Being weirdly ambivalent about what tone he’s trying to strike, often even within a single scene. Tarantino movies will shift from highly stylized and theatrical one minute to undermining that theatricality the next, or they will celebrate excess but follow it with a heartfelt moment that’s almost sentimental, then throw in a streak of zany for good measure.
Take Budd’s death scene. He’s just collected a cheap little suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills from Elle Driver, his fellow assassin. (In case you can’t IMDB it: He’s played by Michael Madsen and she’s played by Daryl Hannah.) Budd starts pulling out the money and finds, buried there, one very angry black mamba.
When I wrote about Kill Bill a couple of weeks ago, there was another whole aspect of the House of Blue Leaves sequence I didn’t get around to. It was the way the movie creates an action sequence that feels like more than just a bunch of noise and fury — an action sequence that causes the viewer to sense the violence and the physical aspect of the fight on something more like a gut level.
What I’m trying to describe could be called an aesthetic of brutality. With “brutality,” I’m trying to put a label on the general idea of destruction and mayhem as depicted in movies. Across movies, some punches seem to land harder than others, and some explosions seem more propulsive than others. Some movies, for lack of a better word, are more artful in their brutality than others.
The House of Blue Leaves section of Kill Bill: Vol. 1, for instance, has a higher brutality quotient than a lot of battle scenes I’ve watched, and I’ve been thinking about why. Part of the effect, I think, is achieved just by the length of the battle, which takes place over 30 odd minutes. Another reason the action feels so visceral, though, is what Quentin Tarantino does not just in the night club but to the night club. That is, he lets the Bride and the Crazy 88 gradually destroy it and leave a heaping mess of blood and body parts every which place, until the place is nothing but a war zone, totally transformed from the hip dance joint it was only minutes before.
I was watching Kill Bill, Vol. 1 the other day, not thinking much about it. Then a question sort of popped into my head: What is up with the House of Blue Leaves, the Tokyo nightclub where the whole end third of the movie takes place?
Over the course of more than 30 minutes, the House of Blue Leaves becomes much more than a backdrop or a location. It takes on the properties of a palpable space that has volume and a kind of complex presence. We’re used to considering nuanced characters and relationships, but spaces, not so much. Watching Kill Bill, though, I have the sense that Tarantino’s treatment of the set creates a sense of space that is nuanced and specific.
Describing how, though, will take some doing.