I Was Wrong: Death Proof (2007)
I Was Wrong is a series in which our writers confess they've made mistakes in the past, and their opinions on a few films have changed with subsequent rewatches, from bad to good.
Look, I’m going to tell you straight off the bat, the first time I saw Death Proof, I fucking HATED it. Really and truly hated it. The experience was amazing, though. Opening night of Grindhouse at the Tiki Drive-In in Montclair, California was a blast. Tons of people, people I hadn’t seen in years, were there all to take in this Rodriquez/Tarantino movie. We treated it like an event. I liked Planet Terror just fine and then Death Proof started…
If you don’t know my background, I love exploitation movies. They are my meat and bones. But it wasn’t always like that. I was one of those sorta pretentious film people when I was younger. I only wanted to watch “good” stuff. I began to see the error of my ways in my mid-20s (bless you, Argento) but it wasn’t until I met my (now) husband when I finally shed that ever so constricting shell that only let me watch “quality” films. Bless Mike Vraney and all at Something Weird for helping my husband with the best education I ever had. We started watching everything we could get our hands on, but my education was just starting.
Back to Death Proof… that first time in the drive-in, yes, I really did not like it. At all. I hated the girls, hated the dialogue, hated that Tarantino was in it (again)… Let’s face it, I was not kind when speaking about it to others. I love Tarantino movies so for me not to like one, even a little, was odd. Hmm, what… what if I was wrong?
I’ve watched both the entire Grindhouse and Death Proof, separately, several times since that initial drive-in experience. I went from loving Planet Terror and hating Death Proof to thinking that Planet Terror is just okay and wanting to marry Death Proof. What was it that made me change my mind? I mean, clearly, the movies didn’t change. What changed was me. I think the main reason I flipped my opinion was the broadening of my exploitation knowledge. Sure, I had seen a lot of it prior to Death Proof but not enough to appreciate what Tarantino was doing. Films like Vanishing Point, the original Gone in 60 Seconds, and even Hal Needham movies, all contributed to my ever-expanding exploitation exposure. Tarantino hit every single exploitation trope in the movie and it was only after I knew what I was looking at did the film become special to me. Do I think people who haven’t watched an exploitation film will like Death Proof? Maybe, they might. There’s some good action going on and the women are hot, so who knows? I know a lot of people rank this as Tarantino “worst” film. Hell, even Tarantino doesn’t think highly of it. Like Paul Thomas Anderson, even the supposed worst film in his filmography is pretty damn great.
I watched Death Proof again last night. I got some guff for watching it solo instead of with Planet Terror but, whatever. I did watch all the trailers, which is just a fine lead into Death Proof as any (I still adore you, Robert Rodriguez!). I was loving on it so hard. Seeing all those Austin places (I’ll be back in you soon, ATX) gave me good feels along with just about everything else. The look of the film, the intentional continuity errors, the, at times, odd editing choices; this movie includes everything you see in a low budget exploitation gem. Some of the performances are pretty fucking amazing, too. I have to mention Kurt Russell’s “Stuntman Mike” role. When some people think about Russell, they just dismiss him as a solid genre actor but he’s more than that. In the scene with “Butterfly” (Vanessa Ferlito) out back of the Texas Chili Parlor, Russell takes it to another level. His recitation of the poem (Telefone anyone?) is both sexy and chilling. That caliber of acting isn’t something you usually get in an exploitation film, no matter the decade.
I’ll admit here that I like the second group of women more than I do the first. The first group felt like they were out of a Corman picture (nothing wrong with that, mind you) with their endless dialogue about nothing in particular. The second group had a Stephanie Rothman touch to it, in that the girls were both sexy, strong, and honest to a fault. Rosario Dawson (Abernathy) is my girl. When the camera is on her, it’s like she is the only thing on screen. The first girls are just all fodder and set up for the last half of the movie and that's fine with me. The three women at the end, Dawson, Zoe Bell (as herself), and Tracie Thoms (“Kim”) are all badass and their encounters with Stuntman Mike are glorious.
So, yeah, I was wrong about Death Proof. If you hate this movie, well, you might be wrong, too.