RIC MEYERS: Seven Proof
Here’s the story – apocryphal, unsubstantiated, and questionable as it is.
Quentin Tarantino announces he’s going to make the ultimate exploitation flick – a quintessential slasher movie (i.e., with a gruesome death every seven minutes), only with cars instead of knives. Not only that, but he’s going to return Kurt Russell to the pantheon of screen badasses in the process.
However, somewhere along the way, someone supposedly turned down the vaunted director/writer’s advances with a statement along the lines of: “No way. I can see by your movies that you have no sensitivity towards, nor understand, women.”
Tarantino’s rumored reaction is the new, “improved” vision of his loving exploitation “homage” – Death Proof, which was his anchor of Grindhouse – the anthology film buoyed by Robert Rodriquez’s far more spirited contribution, Planet of Terror. But the woeful box office receipts necessitated a rethink, so only Death Proof came out this week as an “Extended and Unrated” DVD Special Edition.
Having been shocked and amazed by the original butt-numbing theatrical version, I approached this DVD with extreme caution – hoping that I would be pleasantly surprised, but fairly certain that my worst fears would be realized. For you see, Death Proof was, and, it turns out, still is, two films in one. A half hour kick-ass revenge thriller, and, in its original theatrical form, a one hour off-Broadway play which could’ve been called Four Chicks Sitting ‘Round Yakkin’ ‘Bout Nothin’.
Now, you’ll be relieved to note, the DVD is still two films in one – a half hour kick-ass revenge thriller, an integral, ten minute lap dance sequence inexplicably omitted from the original film, and, an off-Broadway play called Four Chicks Sitting ‘Round Yakkin’ ‘Bout Nothin’ for a Full 80 Minutes!
Yes, rather than be true to his pre-release publicity, Tarantino has added not more slasher car scenes, not more badass Russell sequences, but more talking … about nothing … that has no relation to the stated purposes of a film called Grindhouse other than showing the rumored rejector that boy, Tarantino sure understands and appreciates women in spades!
As author of the book For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, I was a bit, shall we say, miffed by the writer/director’s cavalier treatment of the genre, although I certainly appreciated his half-hour of valid homage, despite the labored way he set up the situations. It was all the more annoying since he had the makings of a sweet stuntman vs. stuntman thriller in there, but it, like almost anything else legitimately entertaining, was swept away in his desire to show anyone who’d deny him that he adores every word he can put in any woman’s mouth.
The extras, which are supposed to be this column’s raison d’etre, are fine. I especially appreciated the docs on stunt drivers and film editor Sally Menke (yeah, whoever it was who may or may not have rejected him … look, look! His editor is a woman too! How’s that for understanding ‘em?). But all of it was tooth-aching frosting on a pretty confused, sour cake. Adding insult to affront, not a single “fake exploitation film coming attraction trailer” – which were the high points of the original – is included.
It’s a shame that Tarantino didn’t save the off-Broadway play for off-Broadway and actually made a real exploitation film (or, at least the film he promised) for Grindhouse. His bait and switch tactic all but doomed the pic (besides the central problem of making an homage to a film genre that was pretty unwatchable in the first place).
So, from the ridiculous to the sublime. The Criterion Collection has been trying to producer the ultimate DVD edition of Akira Kurosawa’s seminal, vastly influential, epic, Seven Samurai, for a while now, but this time I think they may have done it. Following their fine single disc release of a few years back comes a new three-disc remastering with as many a fine special feature as can be wedged in there.
The film itself (all 207 minutes of it) is spread across two discs, after creating a restored, high-def transfer, complete with a Dolby surround soundtrack. For those, like myself, who’ve already seen it a few times, they’ve collected an all-star troupe of Japanese/Kurosawa film experts and spread ‘em across two audio commentaries (I prefer the balanced wisdom of pioneer Donald Richie and the dulcet tones of Tony Rayns, but everyone involved is a welcome addition). They’ve also stilled my heart with a new, more accurate and reasoned subtitled translation.
Then comes the documentaries. First there’s the Seven Samurai episode of the Nippon TV series Toho Masterworks – Akira Kurosawa: It’s Wonderful to Create. Then there’s the fascinating two hour Kurosawa interview produced by the Directors Guild of Japan. Finally there a new, Criterion produced featurette, Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences, using rare behind the scenes photos, even rarer film footage, and the all star talking heads to trace the history of samurai, Japanese cinema, Kurosawa and the film in question itself.
But wait, there’s more. As if that’s not enough, Criterion includes a nice booklet in the handsome package which features short, punchy, insightful, reverent essays from tastemakers, experts, filmmakers, and even star Toshiro Mifune. All in all, it’s a spectacular palate cleanser and a brilliant way to get the taste of cinematic pretense and hubris out of your eyes. It’s assuredly Death Proof proof.
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.