Kill Bill and the Erosion of the Set

The set of a film, even at its most despicable, is pristine. They convey a mood and a setting more expositional than the multiple locations that they are based; a single space can read as the epitome of a Midwest mother’s house, while someone else may register it is as a crack den. The set of a film is up on the screen with the stars, on display for a wide and scrutinous audience.

These sets may anticipate their own demise, often in an entropic relationship between the characters of the film and the film set itself. The destruction of a set at the hands of a film’s character is by no means a new notion -- Charles “Citizen” Kane reducing a room of opulence into nothing more than splinters, a group of anxious Frenchmen pulling apart the geometry of The Royal Garden Restaurant under Jacques Tati’s direction, or even Matt Foley ending a scene with an effective belly flop onto any given piece of furniture -- Kill Bill: Volume 2’s mobile home fight scene stands out as a particularly discordant relationship between person and architecture in film history.

The location, isolated at the bottom of a Texas desert and in driving distance to the very seedy strip club in which he is occasionally a bouncer, this home describes the character with a single panning image. The audience sees that he has no time for thoughtful decoration, but has plenty of stuff on the plywood walls and marble countertops (or, at least, they look like plywood and marble countertops). The single open space appears to be recovering from the presence of a small tornado; over all, his home is the picture of feigned luxury treated with abandon.

Elle Driver collects her money from the fatally bitten Budd after his deal with her goes sour. Elle opens the side door to the sight of Beatrix Kiddo on the verge of kicking her across the living space. The plywood bounces in recuperation. Elle attempts to unsheathe her sword only to have her reach foreshortened by the now apparently narrow dimensions of the room. This happens several times while Beatrix counteracts with several short-range hits and is pummeled to the floor.

Elle goes for an air kick from across the room, but rather than retaliate, Beatrix guides her again to the nearest wall. The plywood does not recuperate; it caves in. Elle goes straight through it and into the bathroom made of equally pliable materials. Beatrix hops through the newly opened wound and they continue their tussle in the now expanded living room. The hole in the wall becomes the expanding shield for both as their health deteriorates with the set.

Bernard Tschumi often recalls the discrepancy between symmetrical, harmoniously proportioned villas and the clumsy masses that stumble through them as the historical position of architecture in event-space, and perhaps in Kill Bill: Volume 2, we see a reversal of this principle. The two skilled assassins compete against an obstinately fragile background; a flimsy vinyl concoction eaten away by the two warriors that nearly go down with the ship.