Lisa Kennedy on Tarantino, Revenge and Kick-Ass Women Protagonists
Quentin Tarantino's movies have incurred the wrath of many. In Newsweek, Daniel Mendelsohn accused Inglorious Basterds of turning Jews into Nazis, arguing that the film was cashing in on the fragile nature of historical memory. Spike Lee has criticized Tarantino for nearly two decades. He went so far as to make Bamboozled, a thinly veiled satire of his arch nemesis. Prior to the release of Django Unchained, Lee said to Vibe that he would boycott it for being "disrespectful to my ancestors." His comments unleashed a fury on both sides of the debate. Amidst all of the accusations and praise Tarantino has received for his use of violence, the "n-word" and his marriage of the revenge film and self-conscious historical revisionism, where do the filmmaker's women protagonists fit within the debate?
Denver Post film and theater critic and unabashed Tarantino fan Lisa Kennedy will be jumping into the fray with Quentin Tarantino's Bad-Ass Broads, a four-part series of screenings and discussions that begins tonight. In advance of the class, we reached out to learn more about her take on Tarantino, the revenge film and his portrayal of women protagonists.
Westword: Talk about your infatuation with Tarantino?
Lisa Kennedy: I don't know if it's infatuation, but I have a deep appreciation and fondness for the filmmaker. The genres that he often borrows from are not my taste, entirely. I signed on to Quentin with Reservoir Dogs, and it never stopped. I think he's an awesome, beautiful writer. Besides his gift for composition and actual filmmaking, there is something about the writing and the language. I don't just mean how he constructs things, though I like that as well. I mean the whole thing. I like the whole package. It's challenging. It can be violent. For reasons that have to do with his intelligence and that I trust him as a filmmaker, I will follow him. I will follow him into slavery and the Holocaust and give him my attention.
For you, that's in the writing?
This is a guy that's so talented, and the better he gets the more entwined all this stuff is. There is a way, for me, in which the writing mitigates and gives a kind of distance and intelligence to his uses of violence.
Got it. For me, one of the things with a Tarantino film is that I go in with this nervousness or worry about how he's going to handle any of these subjects like slavery or the holocaust.
(Laughs) Yeah. I'm not worried. I really do trust him. But I think that's a legitimate thing. Part of it is the places that he borrows from; you just don't trust him to take on serious topics in a way that's illuminating. I think it can be. When I saw Inglorious Basterds and kind of loved it, my friend, a film critic, said, "You have a problem." I maybe do. He is a filmmaker that works for me. And I did like Django.
I did too. Speaking of slavery and the Holocaust and various filmmakers' takes on those subjects, Spielberg often worries me when I go into one of those films. When you look at those two filmmakers together, what do you make of them?
That's interesting. I would have not said that, because it doesn't occur to me to say that. I think it's a really interesting pairing. I think I'm probably a lot more anxious about sentimentality and Spielberg's sentimentality. There is a certain level of filmmaker that when they are making movies, you grade them against themselves and their own work more than you're grading them against other people. I think those two filmmakers are, in part, that.
But I remember having tremendous problems, initially, with Schindler's List, which I've grown to admire tremendously. I remember having taken Holocaust in the Cinema. Sentiment was what you didn't go for with a holocaust film. I came around to thinking it's an extraordinary film in a lot of ways. I do worry more about sentimentality than I do about Quentin. And this is very particular to Quentin. I wouldn't say, if Robert Rodriguez was making a film about the Holocaust that I'd be all happy. There are a bunch of filmmakers that are similar to Quentin or trying to take a page out of his book.
I don't know how he pulls it off, but he has a deeply original voice and therefore, I think that the distance he brings sometimes illuminates issues that we need to talk about. We know the Holocaust was all tragic -- at least, we should know the Holocaust was all tragic -- and a deep moral wound in humanity. That's what he's trying to do.
When we're talking about Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds, we're talking about revenge films. Revenge is a big thing for him. It's in Kill Bill. It's, in a weird way, in Death Proof. The revenge narrative and the revenge film is that 70s thing that he loves. And I think he's managed that in some interesting ways and kind of fills a need and has managed to say interesting things.
I hope this is the conversation we'll get into in the class, to some degree, is the notion that these fantasies fill a need. And what is that need? We could do a class about Quentin's originality, but that is not as interesting as talking about why he works for the people he works for and why he alienates the people he alienates. I think that's a more interesting thing. And yes, I probably get much more nervous about Spielberg making The Color Purple than I do about Quentin making Django Unchained.
Read on for more from Lisa Kennedy.