One of the not-so-guilty pleasures of Death Proof, the Quentin Tarantino-directed second half of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse, is the performance of Sydney Tamiia Poitier (above) as Austin D.J., “Jungle Julia.”
The way Tarantino directs actors – in this film and generally – owes a lot to Howard Hawks. Like Hawks at his most Hawksien (To Have and Have Not, Hatari), Tarantino’s primary goal in directing actors seems to be to find and showcase the actors’ essential personalities, an approach that works particularly well with respect to Ms. Poitier, Rosario Dawson (never more adorable), and New Zealand-born stuntwoman Zoe Bell, playing herself. Until we get to the final car chase sequence that is the segment’s thrilling raison d’etre, Tarantino is plainly more interested in the dialogue and other business that foregrounds his actors’ personalities than he is in plot per se (note especially the 8-minute moving camera shot of the girls sitting around a table just chatting). Shots which fetishistically frame the leading ladies’ legs and feet are as important as any other element of the segment. Death Proof begins as a kind of Hawksien stalker film (a la John Carpenter’s Halloween or Christine) and concludes as a life-affirming celebration of grrrl power (a la Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!).
Ms. Poitier is billed here simply as Sydney Poitier – which leads to some amusing “Who’s On First?” style confusion:
I just saw a film starring Sidney Poitier’s daughter.
What’s her name?
No, I mean, what’s the name of the daughter?
And so on.