Friday, October 19, 2007

Cheveux Sans Visage

The following is a contribution to the Close-Up Blog-a-Thon.

When we first see Pam (Rose McGowan), it is from behind as the other characters that populate the first half of Death Proof speak cattily about her. Pam remains in the backgroud, out of focus, or in distant two-shots for most of her screentime, her marginalized position in the frame mirroring her status in the film. While the Final Girl archetype of slasher film has been frequently discussed (and is an important part of Death Proof, less talked-about is the First Girl, the generic, interchangable character who departs before we ever really know her. Think of Judith Myers, or Annie in Friday the 13th, or the dude who gets whacked with a mallot in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. We're denied any emotional investment with these characters; they exist only as fodder.

The above two-shot (which reminds of both Magritte and Ringu) literalizes the oft-criticized facelessness of slasher characters. Tarantino is making reference to the often awkward visual compositions of grindhouse cinema, but it's more than the kind of tongue-in-cheek smartassery that comprises most of Death Proof's sister film Planet Terror. It's one of several times that Pam literally upstages herself, her ghostly hair concealing her features.

Indeed, Pam practically volunteers for her First Girl role (that McGowan plays such a low-status role after her Planet Terror supervixen is a great meta-joke). Stuntman Mike seems mostly annoyed and mildly amused by Pam - she's a momentary distraction from his real targets. But Pam begs for Stuntman Mike's attention and gets into his car even after this becomes an obviously bad idea. She's looking for trouble, and is absent even in her own shot.

When we finally view Pam in close-up as she pleads for her life, it is only because she has fulfilled her narrative purpose. Tarantino frames her through the smeared glass dividing Mike's front seat and the celluloid detritus that is a major part of Grindhouse. She is a prisoner not only of her killer but of the frame, conceived for a horrible fate she is doomed to repeat over and over again. She has no mouth with which to protest, because if she does not die, then we haven't gotten our money's worth. While Tarantino's talent with cinematic violence is famous, less talked about is the underlying empathy he grants even his most marginal characters. IAnd in McGowan's eyes, we can glimpse the sad story of the girl who never had a chance.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I read in Fangoria that Rose McGowan had to beg Tarantino for the part. He didn't think that she was right for it.