DIRECTED BY: QUENTIN TARANTINO
EDITED BY: SALLY MENKE
Sally Menke has been Quentin Tarantino’s go-to editor since the beginning. Resevoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and, of course, Kill Bill Vol 1&2. On a personal note, she also edited one of my favorite movies of all time: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Sadly, this brilliant editor passed away suddenly while hiking in September of 2010. The subject of many ‘Hi Sally’ montages on Tarantino’s DVDs has definitely left her mark on the film world as the editor of some of the most influential films we’ve ever seen. She was 56 years old.
I decided to kick off this new feature, Inside The Edit, with a look at the ins and outs of the Kill Bill: Volume 1. The idea came to me at work while I was editing a highlight package for a Blue Jays game to be aired on our nightly news shows. Why not create an “editing highlight pack” and really go in depth with the movies I love?
Kill Bill Volume 1 will be the first.
–The thing I love the most about Kill Bill is the varying styles in each chapter. Some sequences are black & white, some are animated while others scenes utilize split screens. The film is also full of varying editing styles and techniques. Yet the entire story is set up with a single and incredible shot. The Bride’s battered and furious face. It’s amazing how one shot can tell you so much about the story. (Love the black & white.) I wonder if they always meant to cut on the gun shot so quickly. It’s an entirely different effect if Bill shoots her and the shot lingers even an extra second. (Even a half second) It’s obviously better the way they did it but it’s a good example of how a few frames here and there can change a scene dramatically.
-Everything Tarantino does is cool. Even the opening credits in his films are overflowing with style.
-Before The Bride fights Vernita Green there is a great moment where Vernita’s reaction is frozen for (guessing) 10-15 frames. It’s subtle but it’s a nice touch to get across how shocked she is to see The Bride. That’s your first hint that these two hate each other. The second is a great montage that’s superimposed over a single shot of The Bride’s fuming eyes. After a total of 5 or 6 seconds you are completely up to date on their relationship. The magic of editing. Just in case you didn’t catch on, you get a vicious punch in the face and the fight begins.
-What I loved about the beginning of this fight is the jump cuts. Especially when The Bride gets ol’ Copperhead in a head lock. You get a various shots of the characters but also close ups of their struggle and The Bride’s arm tightening around Vernita’s neck. I’m a big fan of the jump cut style of editing.
–Split screens. Getting them to work takes a lot of planning and execution but what can be difficult is establishing them. It sounds easy but making the transition from full screen to split screen is an art form in itself. Here, the shot of Elle Driver animates in from the right. This is yet another amazing example of getting a lot of information across in a short amount of time. On the left, you establish The Bride in a coma and on the right you meet another assassin in a unique way.
-Menke and Tarantino use another freeze frame and add a font to officially introduce the character played by Darryl Hannah.
-Knowing how violent The Bride can be makes it all the more suspenseful as the camera pans away before she bites the bottom lip off the perverted Trucker. I think a lot of people would get the impression as the camera pans away that you won’t get to see what happens. It makes the shot of the lip being stretched so much more effective.
-Poor Buck… Such a heavy door. Sally cuts to a different shot on every impact. Invisible edits as we still feel the full force of the blows every time she slams the door on his head.
-Music on — cut to a shot inside the vehicle — music off… Nice.
-The showdown between The Bride and her big toe is great. Bride… Toe… Closer Bride… Closer toe… The shots get slightly longer… Bride… Toe…
-It’s hard enough to make the transition to split screens but achieving that transition while incorporating animated elements effectively is pure genius. I love how they used both real and illustrated still images together to accomplish the jump into the animated sequence. Another brilliant character introduction.
-The meeting between The Bride & Hattori Hanzo must have been a blast to cut. It’s essentially a straight forward scene involving 3 people. The script was written by Quentin Tarantino so you know the dialogue will be interesting but these types of scenes always fascinate me. There are millions of choices an editor can make depending on how much coverage was shot on the set. A couple shot changes here and there could have drastically changed the pacing of this scene. When faced with so many choices, instincts take over and this fantastic scene shows off Menke’s considerable talent and eye for editing.
-When we return to O-Ren Ishii, we are introduced to 3 more characters. Normally this is difficult so late in a movie but Tarantino does a fantastic job of using freeze frames and mini flashbacks to establish Sofie Fatale, Go-Go and Johnny Mo.
-One edit that stood out in this scene happens just after Boss Tanaka insults O-Ren’s American heritage. Before his statement, she is sitting. As soon as the words come out of his mouth Sally cuts to a shot of O-Ren’s feet running across the table towards him. There are many instances in my experience when I felt compelled to show everything. Where is the shot of her jumping up on the table. This is a perfect example of what you can get away with with clever editing. You don’t have to show every single action. Sometimes short cuts are more interesting.
-After O-Ren’s big ‘taboo’ speech, the meeting ends and there is a sweet transition shot that’s no more than 8-10 frames. Essentially, it’s a swish pan (or a pan that is sped up). These types of transitions are extremely useful but are always in danger of being overused. In this case, it’s a perfect way to transition to The Bride purchasing her plane ticket instead of merely cutting. I wonder how many other places they tried using this type of transition.
-There’s a great sequence where they inter cut between The Bride on a plane and O-Ren traveling to The House of Blue Leaves. This sequence must have been a blast to edit too. It’s cut to music and again you have unlimited choices to set up the film’s grand finale. It’s the calm before the storm you don’t even know is coming.
-The showdown between The Bride and Sofie is awesome. The Bride pulls up next to Sophie’s car and stares at her as she talks on her phone. The important element here is the phone and the disrespect Sofie showed the Bride years earlier. We are shown this moment in a flashback but what I loved was how the editing process was used to establish the phone. 3 shots cut quickly together. A medium shot of Sofie on the phone, then a close-up and finally and extreme close-up of her lips. Boom, boom, boom. Nice. Subtle. But nice.
–The Kill Bill theme by Wu Tang Clan is a great first and foremost. An editor’s dream to cut to. As O-Ren and her crew walk down a hallway towards the camera, we hear the most recognizable part of the song. (20 second mark) Three STRONG beats. At first glance, it would have been easy to cut to a closer shot on every beat but she chose only the first and third. I thought that was really interesting. As the song progresses, she cuts on all the main drum hits and it works perfectly. Another great sequence.
-Love the long shot of The Bride as she walks through the house of Blue Leaves. They must have gone crazy on set when they got a perfect take.
-There is another quick but impressive split screen that occurs just as the Bride challenges O-Ren to show herself. On one side, you get O-Ren’s reaction and on the other you get The Bride’s lips. It’s extremely effective even though it’s basically a second long.
-I’m a big fan of how the epic battle between The Bride and The Crazy 88 progresses. First she fights one, then 3, then 2 and then Go-Go. Each fight has a different pace and style. Some are edited using quick cuts while others, like Go-Go, are paced a lot slower.
-There is a brilliant moment between The Bride and O-Ren before the rest of the Crazy 88 show up. “Silly rabbit…” Inter cutting between the two and finishing on O-Ren’s lips was pretty sweet as they both speak the same line. It was a nice touch.
-Switching to black and white as The Bride plucks out one of their eyes was cool. Plain and simple. Cool.
-Transitioning in and out of slow motion was equally cool.
-I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like the morning they started editing this fight scene. Was it a daunting task? How did they attack it? I like to think they edited the enormous fight in chunks. If you really pay attention there are some pretty clear divisions as the fight continues. Sequences like The Bride making her way up to the second level or taking several limbs as she roll on the ground. Did they edit each of the main moments and then build around it? Regardless of how they approached it, it came together beautifully with tons of incredible shots that make me smile every time I see them. (The guy who gets sliced right across his mouth stands out for me.)
-I thought fading down the music so we can hear the moans and cries of all of The Bride’s victims was a particularly nice touch.
-Another color change. Blue this time and another editing style as well. Mostly wide shots.
-The final opponent The Bride faces before reaching O-Ren is Johnny Mo. What I loved about that fight was his reaction after she slices off one of his legs. We aren’t shown one shot of his reaction and the pain he feels. It’s a mix of 3 separate angles. Sweet.
-The final battle arrives. The editing style changes again. This isn’t a fast paced and fierce battle. It’s an intense and emotional confrontation. Slow things down. I think that’s why the wide shot showing the beautiful snow and that water contraption (Not sure what it’s called.) works so well.
-Right before the battle ends we are shown another sequence where they cut between close-ups of the two combatants. Only this time, it’s in slow motion. These are all decisions that have to be made. There aren’t many slow motion shots in this movie but the ones they did include HAD to be there. This sequence is no exception. It’s the final showdown.
-The movie ends with another brilliant sequence that cuts between The Bride on a plane, Hanzo in Japan, Sofie and Bill at a hospital, Sofie in the trunk as The Bride threatens her, Budd (a character we’ve never heard from), Elle Driver and a quiet meeting between Bill & The Bride at Two Pines. It’s not easy juggling so many different people and locations. Especially when you are mixing dialogue and voice over. That final sequence simultaneously sums up the first volume while setting up the second. It’s an unreal and amazing way to edit the final minutes of this amazing movie.
EDITORS NEVER STOP LEARNING
What I love about editing, is that you never stop learning. Every time you watch television show or a new movie, you see a new technique or a well cut sequence that inspires. Like millions around the world, I’ve always been a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films but this was the first time I ever sat down and truly appreciated Sally Menke’s editing skills. She was an incredibly gifted editor.