So let's talk about Zoë Bell instead.
|She's the really attractive one with the attitude|
In one of my rare spare evenings recently, I finally got around to seeing Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (without the Rodriguez half of the double feature, Planet Terror – sorry, Robert, Quentin). And while I can see why cinephiles regard it as Tarantino's worst movie (removing that stigma from Jackie Brown, which I'm glad because Jackie Brown is amazing and deserves so much better), I enjoyed it all the same, in a dumb, completely-zonked-and-need-chewing-gum-for-the-eyes sort of way. It has babes and violence and violent babes and plenty of that slow-burning Tarantino-esque circumlocution (it made me wonder what would happen if Tarantino walked into a bar and had a conversation with David Mamet, which attracted the reply: "It's not a conversation – it's a tribute to a conversation. It's a conversation about a conversation. With Harvey Keitel"). And of course, it has more of that Tarantino meta-fuckery, with a first half centred on Kurt Russell's retired stuntie, musing about the old days when car crashes were filmed, "...with real cars, with real, dumb people drivin' 'em," and a second half centred on Zoë Bell, a stuntie taking a day off from a film shoot in Tennessee with her actor friends.
You've probably seen a lot more of Zoë than you realise. If you don't mind showing your age, then you saw her as Lucy Lawless's stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess, aka the training wheels for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. After that she became absolutely unique as the only New Zealand stuntie not to be involved in Helm's Deep, because she was in Hollywood instead, doubling Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. After that she was a part of Tarantino's production posse, and it was in Death Proof that he promoted her from stuntie to actor.
Not that it would've been hugely difficult, because she was effectively playing herself, right down to getting offended when Mary Elizabeth Winstead assumes she's Australian.
Fair enough, she cops that as often as I get accused of Britishness, it must get old pretty fast. But if the accent hadn't given her away, those with a little knowledge already would've twigged she was Kiwi from a clue immediately before, when outlining her plans for R&R in America.
"To me there's no point being in America, unless you drive a Detroit muscle car."Okay, fair enough, which one?
"I wanna drive a Dodge Challenger – fuck-me-swingin', balls out!"Awesome! More information?
"Not only that, it has to be a 1970 Dodge Challenger with a 440 engine."Ah, so a typical piece of American pre-Oil Crisis silliness, a 7.2-litre big-block V8 with (claimed, at the time) 280 kW, viable for the drag strip but over the 426ci limit for NASCAR (you know shit's crazy when your engine is too big for NASCAR). And of course, because this is a movie, they find a white one – a rolling tribute to the 1971 classic Vanishing Point (given the disdain for "that Angelina shit" when Gone in Sixty Seconds is mentioned, I don't think they meant the 1997 remake with Viggo Mortensen. Yes, really). So they borrow it and do some crazy stuff that blurs the lines between fiction and reality, since as a professional stuntie Zoë of course does her own stunts, so we have Zoë Bell playing Zoë Bell, showing off the sorts of things she does for a living in movies, for fun... in a movie.
Then they meet Kurt Russell and from there it's all very messy (the Challenger doesn't have spoilers so neither does this post). But to me, the real moment of the movie was when she asks to drive a "Nineteen-Sivunty Dodge Chellenger with a 440 unjun."
That had me actually laughing out loud, because y'see, while Chrysler might've been third out of three here in Australia, they were top dog over in New Zealand. This was largely thanks to one dealership, Todd Motors, owned by Sir John Todd. Australian-designed and built Valiants were assembled over there but emerged with woeful panel gaps and generally shitty build quality, so Todd had taken it upon himself to re-align the panels and apply some proper rustproofing (better than the factory's), and later even beefed up the suspension for NZ roads and added his own interior trim and fabrics. The results were simply the best cars New Zealand dollars could buy at the time – even then-Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake had one.
Capping it off was success in the New Zealand equivalent of Bathurst, the Benson & Hedges 500, held at the longest permanent circuit in the country, Pukekohe Park. In 1969, Todd's VF Valiant V8s were clearly faster, but were outfoxed by South Island rivals Leo Leonard and Ernie Sprague, who took a brilliant tactical win in a Vauxhall Victor 3.3 – but Todd's publicity was overwhelmingly positive nevertheless. Valiant Regal V8s won the race in 1970 and '71, and then the Valiant Charger came along in 1972. This wasn't quite the hardcore track-monster the Bathurst-bred R/T versions were, being based on the mid-range 770 instead, but they still had that awesome race-tuned 265ci Hemi (which wasn't a Hemi) straight-six, with 210 kW – in effect, all the power of its American cousin from half the cubes. Small wonder then that Chargers won the race for the next seven years straight, and became a Kiwi sales sensation. After that first win in 1972, every Charger in dealer showrooms was snapped up, with one dealer selling seventeen Chargers immediately after the race.
In effect, where Australia became the land of Ford vs Holden, New Zealand was all about the Pentastar. So yes, I had a good laugh – a green Zoë Bell arrives in the U.S., and what does she want to drive? A Chrysler product! I have no trouble imagining this sequence came out of a conversation between Bell and Tarantino during some downtime on Kill Bill – Bell wants to drive the car from Vanishing Point, and Tarantino tells her if they put it in a movie they can get the studio to pay for it...
Or maybe it was just another example of Tarantino's excruciating attention to detail? Either seems plausible to me. So Quentin, Zoë? Tell us – whose idea was that sequence really??