Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ, provides us with a fan-fiction post exploring what might have been if Arlene had survived in Tarantino’s Death Proof.
Two Inches Down – Saving Arlene in Tarantino’s Death Proof
by Dale Sherman
When writing about Death Proof (2007) in the manuscript for the Quentin Tarantino FAQ, I started writing my own alternate version of the film. Oh, sure, that’s a neat thing to do as a fan; but for the author of a book discussing Tarantino? Here I am telling readers about the history of and ramifications facing a movie and suddenly I go all fanboy on everyone. Fortunately, I saw that I was heading down a … well, not a dangerous road, but a rather useless one for the book – who wants to pay to read fan-fiction, after all – and edited the material out soon after finishing the chapter.
Still, the things that bugged me a bit as a viewer kept rolling around in my head, as I know it does for a certain number of Tarantino fans who never have taken to the film as they have to most of his others. We spend half the film with extremely irritating characters who get bumped off, only to spend even more time with a new group of characters re-enacting the first part of the film. Could there have been a better way of handling it? Why bring our old friend Sheriff McGraw in for exposition that doesn’t really mean much to the rest of the film? Why are we introduced to other movie people, including two stunt-women, who are making a movie in essentially the middle of nowhere but don’t know about Stuntman Mike? What is he doing there anyway? Is he working on the film with everyone else? If so, wouldn’t everyone be creeped out that the stuntman who killed several women with his “death proof” car is working on the picture? The community of stunt people is rather tightly knit, wouldn’t Stuntman Mike be like the John Wayne Gacy of stunt-people? Known, hated, and avoided at all costs by everyone else in the profession? The stunt Zoe performs is neat and nail-biting, but could there have been a better way to get her on the hood of the car rather than “this will be cool”? And after all that, the film’s final image may be satisfying, but it seems almost too quick as well.
As I state in the book, the setup of the women partying in the bar and then being wiped out is obviously a type of Psycho influence on the storyline. In Hitchcock’s film, we’re supposed to side with Marion and even come to identify in some ways with Norman Bates as they have dinner and discuss their problems nearly a third of the way into the film. Then Marion dies and the character the audience identified with is gone, leaving us to take on new characters and go into a new direction with the film.
Same here with Stuntman Mike. We’re supposed to like him a bit in the first half of the film and we’re supposed to feel a connection between him and Arlene (Tarantino has stated he purposefully filmed scenes in such a way to make the audience see Arlene as the girl who survives to the end of the slasher film). Then he kills her off and – boom – the audience has to readjust to new character (Zoe Bell and the gang), while knowing Mike deserves to have something nasty happen to him for what he did. Yet we see that his new car isn’t exactly “death proof” and then there’s the odd way he pranks the women and then heads off as if that would be it, instead of the stalking deaths he caused in the first half of the film. And while we know that he’s a killer, why would the new group of women suddenly be out to kill him? Sure, he’s a jerk as far as they know, and dangerous perhaps, but they have no way of knowing that they need to get him. Because of that, their “roaring rampage” seems to make them out to be crazier than Mike.
Yet what if things had been different?
In the scene midway through the film, where Stuntman Mike kills the women in the other car, we see Arlene lower her head right before impact. The wheel of the car then comes flying through and gets her at the tip of her head, snapping her head back and does a lot more damage as it kills her.
Now suppose that Arlene had lowered her head just an inch or two further down? What if that tire had gone through and missed her by “that much”? Furthermore, with it missing her, there’s not only a possibility that she would have survived, but let’s go one step further – what if she emerged alive and without major injuries?
Here’s Stuntman Mike living, as McGraw states in more provocative terms, his sex life through his “death proof” car. He gets injured, but he’s still the survivor. But now there’s Arlene, the woman who he talks into dancing for him and being her own person, walking away from the wreck. She’s “death proof” without the need of a car. How would that affect Mike? More so, how would Arlene be affected in knowing that Mike intentionally killed everyone with his stunt car?
McGraw can’t be involved, but he can certainly put the thoughts into Arlene’s head that Mike is a deviate who killed her friends “for fun” and will likely do so again. Meanwhile, as in the film, Mike is all banged up and needs to stay in the hospital for several months. Arlene can’t do anything to him there, but she can plot her revenge for when the time comes. With this, you can still bring in Zoe Bell and the other stunt people. Have Arlene train with them to get a better understanding of stunt work, how Mike would build such a car, and how to counteract him when she (or they) get a chance. Sure, in reality there’s no way she’d become an expert at any of that within the six months or so Mike is recuperating, but this is the movies after all. You can even throw in Sheriff McGraw with his own thoughts and actions to help catch Mike (little knowing that Arlene has more in mind than simply catching him “in the act”).
In order words, the movie no longer is simply a twist on the slasher film, but one on the revenge thriller. You avoid the odd chase at the end of the film where Mike puts a scare into everyone and then seems to be happy to drive off into the sunset. Instead, we have a cat-and-mouse game between the obsessed killer, Stuntman Mike, and the obsessed avenger, Arlene. Will she push too far and endanger everyone or will he get his chance to claim his “death proof” girl? Will the others try to get her to do the right thing instead of simply get her revenge? Eventually it would all wind up in the car chase as seen in the film, but you could then add in the extra ‘70s spice of a sheriff in pursuit along with them, just like in so many Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit) type films of the period, along with the uncertainty of who is actually out to get who. Imagine them working on a film with that stunt on the hood of the car, but with Mike as the other stunt person who has now been pushed too far and wants to see them dead. They go “off-script” by continuing the chase past the filming point and into the main roads, while McGraw is in on the chase, trying to bring them all to justice.
I’m not going to kid anyone. I’m sure that many reading this may think that it’s a bad idea, and certainly that what we got is better than what I’m suggesting. After all, there’s no way anyone is going to say, “let’s remake the film your way, Dale!” Still, it’s hard to not look at all the brilliant work put into that film and wonder what “could have been.” That shows that there was certainly something there worth watching in the first place and therefore not the failure that some make it out to be.
And as for the above fanboy rantings? Well, it is a blog, and it is for free. Simply an added bonus for the fans who want to read more about the film and others done by Tarantino in the Quentin Tarantino FAQ. Just be reassured that you won’t find me going off-track like this in the pages of the book, no matter how fun it is to do so here.
Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Original Reservoir Dog, was recently interviewed on MrMedia.com! Watch the interview here:
Quentin Tarantino is a man who came to Hollywood and didn’t break the rules so much as make plain that he didn’t even notice them. Making the films he wanted to see, Tarantino broke through with Reservoir Dogs in 1992 and then cemented his reputation in 1994 with the release of Pulp Fiction. As his fame grew, he spread his love for movies that are far from commonplace through his promotion of older films and theaters and by reviving the stalled careers of actors such as John Travolta, Pam Grier, and David Carradine.
Quentin Tarantino FAQ examines the movies directed by Tarantino, the influences on his work, and the inspiration he gave to others. There are also chapters on certain recurring elements in his films, from fake “product placement” to the music, actors, and even cinematic moments used. The book also reviews his work in television, the articles written about him or by him over the years, his acting career, his public battles, and some of the projects he abandoned along the way. It all comes together to tell the story of a man who forged his own unique path and helped shape the way movies are made today.
Today is Quentin Tarantino’s 52nd birthday! Dale Sherman, author of Quentin Tarantino FAQ, has contributed a blog in honor of the famous director’s birthday!
A Generation on the QT
by Dale Sherman
So, here we are – Quentin Tarantino, the iconic movie director, is turning 52. I can’t say anything about getting older – certainly not any slams about being able to get into movie at half-price now – I’ll be turning 51 myself within the next month. We’re all getting older, and while I’m fine with that, I’m not exactly jumping up and down about it.
Speaking of which, when writing my book about the director, Quentin Tarantino FAQ, I do admit to some kinship to Tarantino for the close approximation of our ages. Perhaps that misguided; after all, I’m not a movie director, an Academy Award winner, and I’ve never written a script that has been made into a film. But I felt that closeness none the less. And in a way that I think is one of the reasons his films are popular with a certain audience that I am apart.
No, I’m not talking about being a geek here. Sure, Tarantino has been obvious, even stubbornly proud of his background as a movie and comic book fan. As discussed in the book, he even at one time considered attempting to turn the Marvel superhero character Power-Man into a film, and most fans (if not general readers) know of his love for old martial art films and bloody, whacked-out action films. But that isn’t quite what I mean here.
You see, Tarantino and I – and many others around the same age – came to our understanding of the world, and in particular the world of entertainment, at the same time. The 1970s. Like it or hate it; having lived through it or only heard about it; it was an incredible period for kids to grow up. There was this in retrospect an inexplicable freedom in what we got to see and do, just in the movies alone. Tarantino has the drop on me by a year, but I too was a kid that looked at those newspaper ads in the paper and saw all types of twisted films playing at the drive-ins that filled my imagination with plots far more frightening than what I eventually saw on the screen when seeing the films later on video. Television ads in local programming would be pretty loose as well, and it was not unusual to see an ad for horror films like It’s Alive! or Ghetto Freaks while watching Gilligan’s Island in the afternoon.
Plus television itself was much freer, with PBS showing no objection to profanity or nudity (who didn’t remember seeing Valerie Perrine in the all-together in their 1973 production of Steambath, or in the later run of I, Claudius?) and even controversial language would pop up once in a while on network programming as well. Things were discussed that were never brought up on television or in the movies before, and there was even an attempt in society to legitimize pornography as something people could see in good health (that didn’t last very long, but it was there). All type of oddball things were being recognized in the media and we as young teenagers were the first to see it all.
And, bizarrely, we saw it all in the most innocent way possible. Most things seemed to have a gloss of “brand new” products, spiffy and weirdly wholesome in a way that disappeared as the 1980s moved in and we started seeing the ugly side of things that looked so good the decade before. Suddenly, drugs killed. Porn stars died in suicide or OD, Words hurt and could not be examined, but buried. Freedom was dangerous and needed to be restricted to upper-class white people at best. Even mixing music genres – a staple of early 1970s radio stations – became strictly regulated through the corporate take-over of the airwaves in the 1970s. Innocent was not so much gone, but bought out because it allowed people to do things for fun instead of for a price.
And we lost that. The kids that came later didn’t have anything to lose, because they never got to experience the power of freedom that was the 1970s. But those of us a few years older still remembered those moments. Which is why I feel a kinship with Tarantino. We may not have gone down the same paths, but the emotional elements of his body of work speaks to those kids from the 1970s. When we see Travolta as a dancing hitman in Pulp Fiction, we’re reminded of his work in Saturday Night Fever; a zoom on Uma Thurman while the theme from Ironside plays reminds us of the kung-fu movies we grew up watching in theaters and on television; stars of our past returning to leading roles in his films, like Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, merely remind us of how cool they were and still are. Words are used that were okay to dissect, even laugh at, in the 1970s that we’re supposed to feel shame in even discussing today.
You can see it in those films of the 1970s – things appear there from major studios that say to us today, “they’d never get away with it now.” We lost that, but we can still see it through the prism of Tarantino’s films – that reflection, that memory of what made the 1970s so cool.
As I said, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m trying to see a bit of myself in Tarantino due to having dug so deep into his history when writing Quentin Tarantino FAQ. But I can’t help thinking that I’m as close to the truth as I am in age to Mr. Tarantino. He’s of my generation, and I think that is one reason why his films reach so many like me today.
I can only hope he still has some more stories to tell us before he hangs it up.
Quentin Tarantino FAQ has arrived! In honor of the book’s recent release, Dale Sherman has released a blog post exploring Samuel L. Jackson’s involvement in Quentin Tarantino films.
Samuel L. Jackson and his Journey through the Quentin Tarantino Universe
It is not uncommon for certain directors to gather a group of actors around him or herself to be used again and again in their films. Some of Hitchcock’s best films star either Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant, for example. Martin Scorsese used Robert DeNiro in several films before switching over to Leonardo DiCaprio in more recent years. An Ingmar Bergman movie is bound to have either Max von Sydow or Liv Ullmann, or both, turn up in it. It’s certainly no different with Quentin Tarantino, who has kept a number of people working with him over the years both in front of and behind the camera.
It’s understandable, especially in cases where directors such as Quentin Tarantino guide the entire production and steer the scripting themselves. They have a vision of how the film should look, and with that comes how they want the actors to perform and sound. Anyone that can’t do that certainly would have little chance of returning, while those that do will have already established a working relationship with the director. As for Tarantino, he and others have made clear over the years that he likes an actor who understands the rhythm of his writing, and who can propel that dialogue to another level with their performance. Some can at least fake it well enough to pass his judgment, while a small handful seem to be in sync with what Tarantino has in his head.
There have been performers that have been used here and there – in fact, the cast for The Hateful Eight has enough returning actors to Tarantino’s movie universe (Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell, James Parks, a handful of actors that appeared in his previous movie, Django Unchained) that it’s almost a class reunion. Yet one of the most prolific of these actors has been Samuel L. Jackson, with seven appearances in Tarantino-related movies. Nearly eight, in fact. And even a couple of times where the parts originally written for Jackson ended up not being the parts he ultimately played.
The Quentin Tarantino FAQ book goes into more details about the various movies with which the writer/director has been involved over the years, as well as other aspects of Tarantino’s career. Such as exactly how Samuel Jackson has continued to thread his acting career through Tarantino’s films over the years.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs does not feature Jackson, although he did try out for the film. The assumption for years by way too many people was that he must have tried out for the part of Holdaway, Mr. Orange’s police contact and played by Randy Brooks in the film. Rumors also flew around that Jackson had tried out for the part of Mr. White – a part pretty much a done-deal for Harvey Keitel long before auditions began, as explained in the book.
However, in 2013, Jackson stated at a special screening of Pulp Fiction that he had actually auditioned for the role of Mr. Orange (played by Tim Roth in the film), only to leave the audition not sure if he even wanted to be in the resulting film if he had won the part. As he told Deadline: Hollywood after auditioning with Tarantino himself (“Samuel L. Jackson Lets Loose on Django, Tarantino, Slavery, Oscars and Gold Globes,” by Pete Hammon), “I thought he was just a really bad actor. I was like ‘Damn, these dudes are horrible.’ I look like I was overacting or hey have no judgment of what’s good and what’s not.”
After the film was released, Jackson congratulated Tarantino on the film’s success, which began the ball rolling for Tarantino to write a part in his next film specifically for the actor. But one film connected to Tarantino would introduce Jackson to Tarantino’s realm before that could happen.
True Romance (1993)
To make a long story short (but covered in more details in the Quentin Tarantino FAQ book), in the very early 1990s Tarantino had two scripts floating around Hollywood that he spent quite some time to sell – one was Natural Born Killers (1994) and the other was True Romance. It would be the money Tarantino made on the sale of the True Romance script that would help lead to the making of Reservoir Dogs, and the success of that film led straight to Pulp Fiction (1994). In the meantime, however, Tony Scott took over the reins on True Romance and hired Samuel Jackson for the short, but memorable, role of Big Don. Big Don is one of the criminals seen near the beginning of the film with Drexl (played by Gary Oldman) who argues in favor of a certain sex act before Drexl decides to end the party early by blowing Big Don and his associate away with a gun.
Jackson was already making a name for himself in Hollywood, thanks to roles in films by Spike Lee (a main reason why Jackson almost always gets interviewed by reporters when the feud between Lee and Tarantino is discussed), as well as co-star and smaller roles in movies like Jurassic Park and Patriot Games, so it’s no surprise he would turn up in a film like True Romance. Ironically, his first Tarantino-related film is the one not directed by the man, but that would soon change.
Check out the rest of Dale Sherman’s blog post here!
With the upcoming release of Dale Sherman’s latest FAQ book (Coming in March!), Quentin Tarantino FAQ, Dale is celebrating by going back to his previous books in the series to pull up some new details for readers! This week, he has provided additional information on KISS!
In KISS FAQ I cover the making and ramifications of the notorious television movie, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. The chapter of the book certainly held no surprises to readers in the acknowledgement that the movie contains wooden acting, a bizarre musical soundtrack (namely in the televised version; not as much in the later theatrical one), bad special effects, and a clunky script, but one myth that was put to rest was of KISS Meets the Phantom being one of the highest rated television programs of 1978. NBC certainly wished that had been the case, as they pre-empted a showing of their popular cop series, CHiPs for the movie in hopes of gaining a good chunk of young viewers.
It was a gamble that NBC needed, as they were floundering; the network had only two programs with ratings high enough to place in the top twenty-five programs of the 1978-1979 television season: the family-oriented drama about frontier life, Little House on the Prairie, and the police series CHiPs. Even so, a gamble on using the CHiPs timeslot earlier that October for a two-part showing of Rescue from Gilligan’s Island had earned a 40 share for NBC, making Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park in the same time the last Saturday of October a seemingly good risk.
However, when the ratings came out, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was nowhere near the Number One slot. It wasn’t even in the top 25 for the week. It finished at #45, leading to Variety , to proclaim “NBC had its worst Saturday of the year,” with the KISS movie being the reason. Its failure in drawing interest as a television movie was only the starting point of concern for those connected to the film, as it was about to be released as this type of filmic albatross in theaters overseas. But that story and other details about the movie can be found in the pages of KISS FAQ.
Check out the rest here!
Released in 1974, The Taking of Pelham 123 is also one of the best heist movies ever made. Like The Killing, it’s wound tighter than Jim Cramer after four espressos, and it doesn’t waste a moment of its economical but highly suspenseful plot, helped along by smart writing and great editing. (Editing is absolutely essential to a good action movie. If you’ve ever sat through a scene where cars are exploding, bad guys are shooting, and our hero just jumped a semi on a motorcycle, but you’re still bored senseless, that’s at least partially the editor’s fault.)
Anyway, The Taking of Pelham 123 is caked with the gritty realism that was so popular in the ’70s, shot on location in New York City. And my god, the New Yorkiness of it all . . . it’s not every day you get a room full of overweight, loudmouthed MTA employees screaming at each other to “wait a coupla two tree minutes” in a movie. (The overwhelming ’70s-ness of it all is similarly fantastic—just check out some of the fashions on the passengers of Pelham 123!)
Three men dressed in matching tweed coats, hats, glasses, and mustaches get onto a subway train (the 6, if you’re interested) with large matching packages (that contain guns, duh). They are Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), the leader and hardened professional mercenary whose last gig was leading militias in Africa; his loyal comrade-in-arms, Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman); Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), a disgraced former subway driver; and Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), a wild card who got kicked out of the Mob for being too sadistic. There is no Mr. Pink though. Tarantino added that one.
Our color-coded criminals hijack the train, Pelham 123, and demand a ransom for the passengers on board: “We are going to kill one passenger a minute until New York City pays us one million dollars,” Mr. Blue tells the hapless employee on the other end of the radio. That hapless employee is Lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau), head subway cop, who must figure out a way to cut through the red tape of city bureaucracy and save the passengers of Pelham 123 without letting the killers escape. Opposing him are not only the kidnappers but also his fellow transit employees, who are more concerned with making sure the trains run on time than saving the hostages. But have you ever been on a subway platform when the train is running thirty minutes late? It’s not a pretty sight.
Read more from this chapter on Bookgasm.
If You Like Quentin Tarantino… draws on over 60 years of cinema history to crack the Tarantino code and teach readers to be confidently conversant in the language of the grindhouse and the drive-in. What fans love about director Quentin Tarantino is the infectious enthusiasm that’s infused into every frame of his films. And Tarantino films lend themselves exceptionally well to reference and recommendation, because each, itself, is a dense collage of references and recommendations.