The fragility of adoration

in retrospect

“You can’t be friends with me until you’ve watched Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill.’”

It started out as a joke. I’d watched both volumes of “Kill Bill” when I was 11 years old — a rather ripe age for a film that deals with a sword-wielding assassin who’s seeking bloody revenge — but, perhaps because of my innocence, I was immediately enamored. I wasn’t yet knowledgeable of techniques like cinematography, direction, editing and screenwriting, but the way that Tarantino wove his story together, visually and sonically, was unmatched in any film I’d seen before. I was irrevocably moved.

Of course, my fascination would only grow from that point forward. Tarantino’s passion for genre-blending and homage sent me tumbling down a never-ending rabbit hole of cinema, wherein I obsessively watched films helmed by the likes of Scorsese, De Palma, Leone, Kurosawa, Kubrick and Hitchcock — a hole that I still find myself digging into. But I always came back to “Kill Bill.” Over the span of the last eight years, I’ve revisited the film, in some form or another, too many times to count. I rewatch it at least three or four times a year, I’ve memorized innumerable scenes in their entirety and I even purchased a samurai sword when the opportunity (strangely) arose. 

When I turned 18, I had a strip of film tattooed on my inner forearm, emblematic of my undying love of cinema — a love that began when I watched “Kill Bill” for the first time, which I’m reminded of whenever I catch of a glimpse of the tattoo’s ink. So it’s really not that much of a joke when I say that I require my closest friends to watch “Kill Bill” if they haven’t already. It is so deeply enmeshed in my understanding of myself, my passions and my day-to-day life that it’s almost impossible to know me completely without having watched the film. Of every single movie made in the world, across all decades of cinema, “Kill Bill” will forever be my favorite.

Last October, The New York Times published an exposé about Harvey Weinstein, a famous Hollywood producer who co-founded Miramax and The Weinstein Company alongside his brother, Bob. The article and its evidence were damning — more than a dozen women in the film industry came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and assault against Weinstein, claims that had circulated Hollywood for decades as a widely-known but well-kept secret. Quentin Tarantino, whose entire filmography has either been produced or distributed by Weinstein, was asked questions about the accusations soon afterward, to which he responded, “I knew enough to do more than I did.”

Then, last week, Uma Thurman — who played the protagonist in “Kill Bill” — finally broke her silence on her working relationship with Weinstein. In a piece entitled “This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry,” she detailed his inappropriate and often malicious interactions with her over the course of her career, which blossomed in 1994 after the release of the Weinstein-produced and Tarantino-directed “Pulp Fiction.” More shocking, though, was her description of an incident that occurred during the final days of filming “Kill Bill.” 

All that was left to shoot was the scene in which her character, The Bride, is driving a powder-blue convertible to the destination where she will finally kill Bill. Tarantino insisted that Thurman needed to do the driving herself; Thurman, however, had heard from a teamster that the refashioned car wasn’t working that well, and she was scared and hesitant to shoot the scene. But she was making Tarantino mad and he told her she was wasting everyone’s time, she recalled. He promised her everything would be okay and coaxed her into getting behind the wheel.

What resulted is as follows (corroborated by footage that Miramax withheld from Thurman for over 15 years): As Thurman was driving the convertible down a winding dirt road, the car began to drift erratically, and despite her efforts to regain control of the vehicle, the car smashed into a palm tree, pinning Thurman under the steering wheel as she heaved helplessly.

“The steering wheel was at my belly and my legs were jammed under me,” she told The New York Times. “I felt this searing pain and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to walk again.’”

And though she would recover from the concussion she received during the accident, Thurman’s neck and knees were irreparably damaged, along with her thriving career as an action star and her professional relationship with Tarantino.

Finally, a few days ago, a 2003 interview between Howard Stern and Quentin Tarantino resurfaced, in which Tarantino defended filmmaker Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to statutory rape in 1977. Tarantino claimed that the 13-year-old victim Samantha Gailey “wanted to have it” — “it” being sex with a 43-year-old, who had also drugged her with pills and alcohol beforehand.

“Look, she was down with it,” he told Stern.

Heartbreak and devastation are words usually reserved for break-ups and tragedies, not the slow realization that the filmmaker whose work you admire endlessly is actually a pretty horrible person.

I’ve never been good at separating the art from the artist. Like the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, I’m of the belief that “cinema is the most personal art, the most intimate” — a film is born out of its filmmaker, and he alone has the final say over its conception and resolution, regardless of whoever else may be involved. It’s why I feel overwhelmingly uncomfortable viewing films by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. And now, it’s why I feel downright hypocritical when I refer to “Kill Bill” as my favorite film and Tarantino as my tastemaker.

Maybe it’s my fault for placing so much adoration on another human being, who will always have the potential to do and say awful, reprehensible things, who is imperfect in spite of any celebrity status. Maybe the blame should just be on Tarantino himself, as it’s arguably not the viewer’s burden to bear — but can I ever watch “Kill Bill” again without thinking of Tarantino’s actions on set, his complacency with regard to Weinstein, his abhorrent comments about the rape of a minor? (Not to mention, these revelations are compounded by his already well-established issues, particularly the excessive use of a certain racial epithet in his films.)

I’m reminded that the good parts of “Kill Bill” — and the rest of Tarantino’s filmography, for that matter — are still there. And, in all honesty, my fixation with “Kill Bill” extends past its existence as a film at this point — it’s more of a time capsule, a work that is deeply sentimental to me, a relic of my adolescence that’s as familiar and meaningful as one of my oldest friends. 

I ask myself in earnest: Could I let it go? Perhaps it’s selfish and unbecoming, but I really don’t want to let go, even if I could.

There’s no simple solution when faced with these dilemmas of morality, and there never will be. It’s easy to suddenly find that our beliefs are in contradiction with our emotions — especially those that are sentimental and unyielding. There will never be a moment, though, in which I’m not reflecting on the context in which my most beloved works of art were made, whether it’s with respect to their makers or their problems, and I think that’s the least any of us can do.


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