Friday Hoyden: Zoe Bell

Guest post from Helen – thanks!

Uma Thurman chats with Zoe Bell on the set of Kill Bill

What hoyden wouldn’t thrill to the scene in Kill Bill 1 where Beatrix Kiddo, fighting off a hundred or so gangsters, flies through the air with impossible-looking jumps and flips. But the body in the yellow leathers in that scene isn’t Uma Thurman, but a New Zealand stuntwoman called Zoe Bell. And for hoydens who love Xena, she’s the body in the leather lingerie.

I’m not an action movie person. In general, I find fight scenes a yawn. It’s not as if there’s ever much doubt who’s going to win. The good guys are going to bloody well win, aren’t they. How, then, to explain my love for the movies of Quentin Tarantino? Well, I’m won over by action movies that send themselves up mercilessly and where the actors are allowed to have a sense of humour. (See also John Woo.) Also, really weird shit, and no, Sword and Sorcery weird shit doesn’t count in my book. Too easy to fake with special effects. I mean, weird like a murderous little Japanese schoolgirl assassin swinging a kind of medieval flail. So, I loved Kill Bill 1 & 2, and pounced on the DVD of Death Proof as soon as it appeared in my local emporium. (what do you mean, cinema? what are you, mad?)

I’m not going to drop any spoilers, but the film is divided roughly into two sections – two related stories – and so halfway through we are introduced to some new characters. They’re chatting. And being somewhat slow on the uptake, it took me a minute or two to really believe that there was an actual kiwi woman, just talking naturally in her kiwi accent, not attempting to talk like an american… My head asplode. This never happens. Really, it never happens. I know this is really a post about Zoe Bell, but can I just reiterate that I love Quentin Tarantino? Apart from the Crocodile Dundee shite, what American director lets an Australian or a New Zealander speak in their natural voice and assume that the audience will be adult enough to allow for this strange, non-Californian diction? Like, among a cosmopolitan band of movie employees, which is what the fictional group are supposed to be, there might just be an antipodean? Wow.

So that made me sit up and ask just who this wonderful Kiwi was – especially once I’d finished watching the movie.

Zoe Bell is not, primarily, an actor, but plays herself in the movie. (As advertised – not a spoiler.) Somehow, the fact that she speaks with her own voice and plays herself made me identify with her more and set me more on the edge of my seat with the things that happen to her in the movie. Which are scary, naturally. Note that Tarantino’s trying to replicate the old-school stunts of the 1970s in Death Proof – so reliance on effects is minimal.

My curiosity was piqued, so I went to the interviews on the bonus disc. Zoe Bell does the serious physical work in Kill Bill 1 and 2 – and she’s also an earthy, hilarious petrol-head who loves a risque joke and a fast car. Tarantino was so impressed by Zoe herself, as well as her stunts, he wrote a part for her into his latest movie, as herself. Here’s the interview: it shows the huge respect Tarantino has for Bell and the story of their collaboration is fascinating. (Don’t you love the yeeha moment of Zoe, hanging out of the white Dodge Challenger, waving her shotgun as another fabulous hoyden, Tracie Thoms (Kim) spins the vehicle around to give chase?)

As a flabby, cowardly bookworm, I am truly in awe of Bell and what she does – and her terrific persona. I look forward to seeing what she does next, especially if Tarantino’s involved.

Categories: arts & entertainment

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4 replies

  1. That was great! Loved the shot of her as Xena giving some worshipful guards a taste of her shoe leather (looked like an off screen jokey thing maybe?). What a kickass hoyden she is.

  2. I only just watched the video clips – she really is awesome.

  3. I also don’t primarily like action movies, and am turned off by the misogyny in most standard movies, and really cannot handle brutal violence on film generally, and yet, I love Tarantino movies. Also, I find I can handle the violence in Tarantino movies. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and have finally found the reason:
    Tarantino treats all of his characters with respect, without regard for class, color, creed or sexuality. I know this sounds ludicrous on the face of it, there’s rapes, there’s homophobic insults, there’s all the detritus of modern culture in there. But what I’m saying is, each character is treated by the other characters as fundamentally equal adversaries, even if there is an imbalance of power, even if they are attempting to humiliate them with their actions.
    I just think that in a Tarantino movie, you’re in a whole different world to any other movie. Other movies don’t even give women the ability to fight, or if they do, they pinkify them and take pains to reduce the danger of them impacting male norms, even if they can kick ass. But it seems to me that even when Tarantino’s characters are feminine, the danger they represent, as measured by the attitudes of the other characters, is equal to, the masculine characters. Every character is taken seriously, as a serious adversary.
    You could argue that most of the assasins in Kill Bill are controlled just like the Charlie’s Angels by an anonymous male power center, but the main story is about a woman who has decided she’s not going to be told what to do, and has become a free agent.
    This is not a theory I’ve aired in public often, because it has usually resulted in my [against-violence feminist] friends giving my the cocked eyebrow, but since you mentioned your love for Kill Bill, I thought, “Here’s someone who might like to discuss this!”
    Also Zoe Bell really kicks ass, and I was really happy to find out about Deathproof!

  4. Well I know I have been far more revolted by romantic comedies than I was by Kill Bill. The scene where O-Ren Ishii beheads a man, but you don’t see very much of her, you just hear the whisper of silk and an impression of tiny rapid steps just about made my head asplode. The whole western male view of “oriental femininity” seemed to get a huge kick in the pants in just those few seconds of film. I don’t know if it is really possible to do irony while swishing a kimono and walking daintily but I swear Lucy Liu came damn close.

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