Best For Film’s Favourite Flicks #1 – Death Proof
Can there be any such thing as a favourite film? Perhaps it’s not impossible, providing that you possess a magic clock with the power to suspend ‘right this moment’ so that your favourite film does not change before you can seize hold of it. So ask me my favourite film, which is exactly what I am being asked, and right now, following an intense period of introspection, I will tell you that it is Death Proof (2007). You know, that movie by Quentin Tarantino which was part of the whole mock 70s Grindhouse package, and sank like the Costa Concordia (too late? Too soon? Should I have stuck to the original plan and gone with Titanic?).
Death Proof is a film about which I had more reservations than I made for tickets to see The Avengers. This was largely due to the marketing; after all, the DVD case brands it “male fantasy made flesh”. Last time I checked, I was not a man.
Now, judging by the premise alone, this allegation does appear to be correct. Death Proof tells the tale of ‘Stuntman Mike’ (yes that is his name, ask anyone), portrayed by a scar-faced Kurt Russell. Rather than, say, indulging in a nice spot of Friday night bingo, Stuntman Mike’s hobby of choice is stalking posses of women, infecting them with a major case of the heebie jeebies and then mowing them into indistinct pieces of gore by way of his skull-emblazoned car. Oh yeah, and because Stuntman Mike is a stuntman, his car is to all intents and purposes death proof. Just so long as you are in the driving seat, as Pam (Rose McGowan) discovers to her detriment following a very memorable ride.
The film is split into two halves. The first follows Julia (Sydney Poitier), Shanna (Jordan Ladd) and Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) as they embark on a night out in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Unbeknownst to themselves, they have attracted the murderous attentions of Stuntman Mike. The latter half of the action goes down in Lebanon, Tennessee. The targets this time are Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Kim (Tracie Thoms) and Zoe Bell, played by Zoe Bell. And just as it happens, Kim and Zoe do stunts as well. They are more than capable of playing Stuntman Mike at his own game, and so the predator becomes the hunted as the genre switches from slasher to revenge. Oh, and there’s one hell of a car chase which had even my mother, a self-confessed hater of action and violence, glued to the screen and baying for the blood of the aggressor.
The overriding strength of Death Proof is that it does not adhere to the conventional template of female characterisation in slasher films. Tarantino writes women better than many women write women (I could cite Stephanie Meyer here, but that would be a very cheap shot), and Abernathy et al are no exception. They are unrestricted by the traditional labels accorded to their gender – labels with which I’m only too aware, unwilling as I am to donate part or all of my blonde head to an axe murderer. That might actually be my favourite aspect of this film, and the reason it has such an elevated position in my estimations. Over and above the myriad technical accomplishments that enhance any Tarantino film, it is the simple implication that victims suffer not because their actions in any way invite these unfortunate events, but because sometimes life puts even the best of people into the paths of the very worst.
So, despite big exhausts and beautiful women, this is not an exclusively male-orientated ride. On the contrary, Death Proof is acutely feminist fare. The women are strong, confident, positive figures. The men, at best, are wheedling, overgrown schoolboys and at worst get their rocks off by slaughtering attractive young females. That’s not exactly a positive personality trait.
Overall, if this flick can legitimately be accused of any gender bias, perhaps it is this; that it errs almost towards a men-are-surplus-to-requirements-and-may-as-well-be-abolished school of thought. Because Death Proof boasts girl-power like it’s motorized by the 612 bhp Ferrari 599 GTB (does that reference even work? Google says it’s the most powerful car engine), and I love it.