The Essence of ‘Death Proof:’ Style Over Substance

The techniques and tricks of recreating the grindhouse era.

The techniques and tricks of recreating the grindhouse era.

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof typically falls into one of two categories for fans of the director: it’s either the worst film he’s ever made, or the most underrated film he’s ever made. I for one happen to fall into the latter camp, because I believe that for Tarantino, the undisputed master of cinematic homage, Death Proof is his ultimate tribute to movies and the closest he’s come to mimicking the genre that inspired him, namely the car-chase crime flicks of the 1960s and 70s like Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Black Top, Hot Rods From Hell, and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.

Unlike films such as Kill Bill or The Hateful Eight, in which genre has been appropriated to fit Tarantino’s particular narrative style, Death Proof remains at all times firmly rooted in the grindhouse tradition, thanks not just to the narrative but to the various techniques QT employs – multiple lenses and filters, practical stunts and VFX, film stock et cetera – to instill a sense of temporal verisimilitude, the feeling we’ve stepped back in time not just to another era of film but another era of filmmaking.

I could sit here all day touting the virtues of Death Proof, but that’s not what you came for and anyway my FSR colleague William Dass has already done a great job of that,  so instead I’ll leave you with this video from Manuel Pochesci that examines the “unconventional stylistic techniques” Tarantino used to give Death Proof that sweet 70s cine-trash feel. What it reveals is an appreciation for grindhouse that goes beyond story or character, where QT usually ends his homage, and veers into the aesthetic, creating a more jarring but, ultimately I believe, a more successful mimicry.

 

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist