It’s 21 years since Pulp Fiction hit the big-screen. Ultra-violence and pop culture-heavy dialogue doesn’t mean Quentin Tarantino is just for blokes. No siree, says Sooz Kempner.
Always controversial, often outspoken and occasionally brilliant, Quentin Tarantino is surely one of our best modern directors. His influences are deliberately clear, paying homage to everything from Scorsese to 70s Japanese TV series. Something commonly levelled at QT is that his mix of ultra-violence and pop culture-heavy dialogue makes his oeuvre strictly for men. I’ve never bought into that. Here is an ode to some of the great female characters from Tarantino’s movies.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Well, this is awkward… Reservoir Dogs features an all-male cast. Now, this doesn’t strictly make it a boy’s movie (after all, has 12 Angry Men ever been accused of being just for the fellas? Don’t answer that), but it doesn’t do much for this article’s thesis. I even contemplated excluding the movie, but that felt wrong. So I’m just going to say that this is a rad flick. What a debut. Possibly one of the best directorial debuts in history.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Mia Wallace rocks. This is quite a strange thing to say about a woman who we see having a needle full of adrenaline plunged straight into her heart after she accidentally snorts heroin, but she’s a seriously memorable character with epic lines (“That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence”). Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace ended up being the standout character from the film. It saw her nominated for an Oscar and she became the face of Pulp Fiction’s marketing.
Jackie Brown (1997)
Often overlooked, Jackie Brown is where I feel Tarantino came of age. It’s Samuel L Jackson’s “AK47” speech that people remember, but Jackie Brown’s theme of growing older and becoming trapped in an existence the eponymous Jackie would never have chosen makes this so much more than the exploitation flicks to which it pays homage. Our central character is played by Pam Grier and she is MAGNIFICENT. Despite being a low-paid air hostess who’s been smuggling cash to make ends meet, she is strong, sassy, elegant and sexy as hell.
Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2 (2003 and 2004)
Uma Thurman as The Bride is as iconic as Tarantino characters get. In her Game of Death yellow jumpsuit she (literally) kicks ass as she seeks revenge on the assassination squad that left her for dead.
The basic plot of Kill Bill is as old as the hills and it’s Thurman’s phenomenally emotive performance that makes the saga so involving. She’s not the only bad-ass broad in the story though: Lucy Liu, Vivica A Fox and Daryl Hannah all have beautifully defined characters with Tarantino’s trademark sharp dialogue. There’s no way the Kill Bill films are boys’ movies.
Death Proof (2007)
Probably the weakest of Tarantino’s movies, Death Proof is still an interesting flick with a cast that is notably predominantly female. This bizarre tribute to the 70s exploitation movement is ground he’s covered before but never with this much authenticity.
The story of a stuntman who has ‘death-proofed’ his car so that the driver can survive any collision and who loves to murder women is a little jarring and could be seen as misogynist. We are, after all, watching a movie where entertainment is derived from watching women suffer. But that’s the genre Death Proof is sending up and its tongue is firmly in its cheek with Kurt Russell giving us his best delightful maniac.
I’m not going to handpick any of the women in this film as standout as they’re all fantastic, but I particularly enjoyed the incredible stunt work from Zoë Bell (must be seen to be believed) and the fully clothed, stiletto-free lapdance from Vanessa Ferlito.
Inglorious Basterds (2009)
My favourite Tarantino movie! The story of Christoph Waltz rocketing from obscurity to multi-Oscar fame just because Tarantino was willing to take a chance fills me with so much joy, and his performance is masterful, but let’s give a big hand to the incredible female leads.
Diane Kruger plays a famous German actress who is a spy for the British army. She is stunning in the role. I want each and every one of her costumes (including the high-heeled leg cast). She is also intelligent, witty and her bravery in her mission makes the end of her story strangely emotional.
The same can be said of Mélanie Laurent as a young Jewish woman who escaped the Nazis and has big plans to kill Hitler in her own cinema. Her performance is powerful and emotionally captivating. These women are as strong and brave as any of the men in the film. I have taken to putting on my makeup to David Bowie’s Cat People on occasion solely because of Inglorious Basterds.
Django Unchained (2012)
Hmmm… an oddity. I didn’t love Django Unchained because, despite epic performances throughout, I found the enormous tonal shifts in the film meant I couldn’t get emotionally involved. Django’s wife Hildi is an interesting character, but we never get to know her well enough and there’s not an awful lot more to say on the film than that.
On January 8, QT’s next film, The Hateful Eight, gets its UK release (the US gets a limited 70mm release on Christmas Day). Jennifer Jason Leigh looks set to be the next iconic Tarantino female character and the tiny amount I’ve seen so far looks incredible. Films just for the boys? This girl says no.3910 Views
Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.