Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Death Proof At Cannes

I know this is kind of old news at this point, but it just occured to me that I never wrote about this and we seem a bit starved for content this week anyway.

Back when Grindhouse opened last spring, I wrote"both movies are too long." Which should automatically mean that the cut of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof that played sans Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror at Cannes was inferior to the one that played with it Stateside. This solo Death Proof was a full half-hour longer than American version. Ergo, it must be extra bad, right?

Wrong. Without the (un)dead weight of Planet Terror and without the butt fatigue of watching two full-length features back-to-back (next time guys, throw in an intermission that doesn't include stuff we want to see like cheeky trailers or vintage drive-in bumpers), Death Proof doesn't feel too long at all, even with an extra thirty minutes of footage sutured back into the running time.

Most cursory descriptions of the new Death Proof summed up the changes as, "Oh Quentin put back Vanessa Ferlito's lap dance," and, indeed, the scene that was previously excised from the film with one of Rodriguez and Tarantino's cheeky "Scene Missing" cards is now fully evident in all its stimulating glory. But beyond whatever prurient value has (and if you're interested in such things, well, you shan't be disappointed), the scene adds a previously absent piece to the Stuntman Mike puzzle.

As those who saw the film know, Stuntman Mike McKay (Kurt Russell) targets groups of attractive young women and then runs them over in his reinforced car. In the Grindhouse cut, McKay asks Ferlito's Butterfly for a dance, she demurs, he presses, she accepts. Then the scene is missing, and Tarantino cuts to the whole crew leaving the bar and Stuntman Mike hunting down his prey. He seemingly goes from eccentric charmer to full-on psychopath. Now we see Butterfly's dance and there's a much more direct and explicit correllation between the sexual act and Stuntman Mike's explosive release. The change reinforces Tarantino's critique of the classic slasher villain (who always has a disturbed relationship with sex and violence) and also enhances the punchline at the movie's wild demolition derby ending.

Remember, too, that Tarantino's added a half-hour of material; Butterfly's dance is maybe five minutes of that. There are other scenes that are added: an extra scene for Butterfly in the first half (that benefits her character tremendously and turns her into the true tragic figure of her portion) and an extra scene at the start of the second half that shows Mike stalking his new set of victims (in black and white for some reason). Beyond that, a lot of scenes had plenty more dialogue. If you thought there was too much talking before, you might not be pleased but from my vantage point the movie just flows better and more smoothly. Tarantino's dialogue is musical and cutting out a snippet here and there might not affect the overall intellectual impact, but it does change the way it sounds and moves so it's best appreciated in its uninterrupted form.

It's still not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but as an enhanced and elongated piece Death Proof works better than it did before. It's a fine addition to the director's cannon — and the soundtrack, which I now own and can't stop listening to, might just be Tarantino's best.


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