(Every month, we at The Spool select a Filmmaker of the Month, honoring the life and works of influential auteurs with a singular voice, for good or ill. Given that July sees the release of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, the ninth film from Quentin Tarantino, we’re exploring the filmography of one of 20th-century cinema’s most breathlessly referential directors. Read the rest of our Filmmaker of the Month coverage of Tarantino here.)
How we see films often informs how we feel about them. And sometimes, you run across that perfect storm of circumstances that turn what would have been an ordinary cinematic experience into something truly special. This was the case for me when I saw Kill Bill Vol. 2, which stands to this day as one of my most memorable experiences in a theater. Why? I saw it before I saw Vol. 1. It was quite possibly the most Quentin Tarantino way to watch a Quentin Tarantino movie.
During my Junior year of high school, I became obsessed with movie theaters, and often spent a lot of time at any cinema I could manage. This led me to meet my good friend Bryan, who worked at a theater and would often invite me to hang out while he worked and I could see basically whatever movie I wanted, which was a pretty sweet deal. That spring I lived at his theater on my weekends, and it was a glorious time for me as a burgeoning film lover.
What some people may not remember about the opening weekend of Kill Bill Vol. 2 is that another revenge movie was also being released. That’s right, I’m talking about The Punisher. You know, the one where he outwits the bad guy with a fire hydrant?
I was beyond excited, and Bryan knew that, so he invited me to a preview screening the night before release. There was one hitch. The print of the film had not shown up to the theater yet, and it soon became apparent it wouldn’t show up until the following morning.
The projectionist suggested we watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 instead, and originally I was not sure I was into that, considering my unfamiliarity with the first film and overall I wasn’t super familiar with Tarantino’s output at the time. They didn’t spoil anything directly but told me that the Bride (Uma Thurman) was out to kill Bill (David Carradine) (surprise!) and that she gets quite a bit bloody on her quest for vengeance. They were adamant that it would be worth my time. And boy, was it.
I was captivated from the moment Thurman took the screen in black and white to recap the previous story, and was enthralled through the finale scene with The Bride and her daughter, finally together and happy. I was on cinema Cloud Nine. Afterward, we spent the whole night talking about the movie, and when we came back the next day to actually screen The Punisher, I was no longer interested. I cared only about Kill Bill.
As soon as I could, I went to the store and bought the DVD for the first Kill Bill immediately and watched it the next night, and finally had the whole picture, and I have to say, viewing them the way I did changed the films for the better. Tarantino frequently tells his stories out of order for effect, and this felt like the grand realization of that method of storytelling, even though it was entirely unintentional.
How we see films often informs how we feel about them.
Certain moments in Vol. 1 are played as a big reveal, but having seen Vol. 2 first, these moments play more like a masterful twist of the narrative knife more than a shocking reveal. The biggest example of this is the moment that Bill asks if the Bride is aware that her daughter is alive. I can imagine in theaters when Vol. 1 was playing, this was a huge moment of shock and awe, especially as the credits rolled and they knew they had to wait several months to know what happened next.
I already knew that she was alive, well, and would be reunited with her mother, but it didn’t change how important the moment was. It shows how ruthless and tricky Bill is, and makes you realize that he deserves that Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique that The Bride delivers with such style.
It also changes how you watch the fights in the first volume. I knew (because she told me as such) that everyone on her list was dead (or dispatched) except for Bill. It becomes even more exciting to hear Budd talk about how she deserves to kill them, setting up the fates of all the characters in a much grander way than Vol. 1 would do alone.
Going into Vol. 1, I knew that Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and O-ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) were not long for this world, but it made their fates play out almost as Shakespearian, like a series of vignettes about doomed women forced head-on into their own destiny. Especially O-ren, because they set up her own story of revenge and contrast it with that of The Bride.
It changes how you view her time in the hospital, because you know that Elle Driver’s (Daryl Hannah) failed attempt at murder was not the only time Bill had meddled with the life and body of the Bride while she lay in a coma, you know that despite her massive amount of suffering, she would have every ounce of revenge she deserved. It’s fascinating how it changes the dynamics of each and every scene, but not in a way that upsets what Tarantino was doing, but rather, it enhanced it.
The way in which I experienced these films has cemented them in my mind forever, and they rank as my top Tarantino experiences. I think Jackie Brown is a better picture overall than Kill Bill, but I can’t beat the experience of sitting down and watching the end before the beginning, and not only having it make sense but be a richer experience in the long run. It cemented me as a fan of Quentin’s work, and as the cinephile I remain to this day.
If you’re looking to sit down and watch some of Tarantino’s work before his (supposedly) penultimate film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is released this week, I suggest giving this viewing order a try. It’s not normal and doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But, given the artist in question, it might be the perfect way to enjoy this “roaring rampage of revenge”.