There's something terrible about watching a beautiful woman fall apart. But we can't look away. It's the essence of cinema. Sometimes the cinetrix suspects that filmmakers could do away with the second part of Godard's maxim about needing only a girl and a gun to make a movie. A girl about to go off is much scarier than gunplay any day. This week, the cinetrix has seen two blondes lose their respective shit on the silver screen in movies that on the surface couldn't be further apart: Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 2. At their core, though, both films celebrate and valorize a monstrous maternalness in an environment of violence. [Stick with me, here.] Le Tigre asked "What's Yr Take on Cassavetes?" on its eponymous 1999 album: "Misogynist? Genius? Alcoholic? Messiah?" Until Monday night, I was in no position to answer because somehow I had never gotten around to seeing any of Cassavetes' films. Sure, I loved hating him as devil-worshipping husband Guy in Rosemary's Baby, but that's where my firsthand knowledge began and ended [sue me]. Now that I've watched A Woman Under the Influence, my answer is "all of the above." That film reminded me, viscerally, that it's OK to admire performances and directorial skill and still hate hate hate a movie. It may seem like hyperrealism to some, but I found it as calculating and emotionally dishonest as any mainstream tearjerker. At the film's center is Rowland's Mabel Longhetti, a writhing mass of actorly tics that, say, Hoffman circa Rain Man or Pacino in Scent of a Woman would be ashamed of pulling out of the old kit bag. She's mesmerizing--don't get me wrong--with her elastic features mugging, now a sad clown face, now a parody of earnest attention. But you get the sense that a less attractive woman wouldn't have been able to slip so far, that beauty is an excuse for and then an indictment of a lot of behaviors for the character and the actress playing her. But, the film shows us, once it's no longer cute, yes, once it's dangerous, let's clap her in the loony bin and zap her with electricity to blunt those spiky edges! Then feel remorse when the hollow shell that comes back from the hospital isn't as exciting. Or, you know, you could just kill her outright, which is what all the cool kids try to do to Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo. She, we learn after a mere 247-minute, two-movie valentine to Tarantino's own single momma [one imagines], just wants to be a good mother. All the chop-socky sadism visited upon her is an extended futile attempt to contain her feral maternal drive, to keep the Bride from becoming the Mother. Really. [So I guess that coma and subsequent mayhem was just a bad bout of post-partum depression?] There are some nice stylistic nods on the road to the pivotal EPT flashback that explains it all. Here's one I haven't read about. The film opens with the same overloud, jagged panting on the soundtrack that you hear at the beginning of Kiss Me Deadly. You know, right before the gorgeous black and white shots of Uma driving a convertible against a rear-projected sky. Of course she's not really in the driver's seat, governed by instinct as she is. In his Globe review, Ty Burr singled out this line: "You're not a worker bee," Bill reminds the woman who left him to live a boring normal life and whom he tried to murder for it. "You're a renegade killer bee." Whatever. She's a prisoner of the hive mind either way. All the sturm und drang, all the revenge killings and live interments, turn out to be nothing more than pesky obstacles en route to a mother and child reunion of surprising schmaltzyness. Sure, being a feared lady assassin is good and all, but true fulfillment only comes through motherhood. For real? After all that, Quentin, that's the best you can do? So riddle me this: Does the Pussy Wagon signify a bitch on wheels or is it just another way of saying vagina dentata? Eh. Perhaps all you really need to make a movie is a boy wonder director who fears and admires his powerful leading lady. UPDATE: Mark T. Conard examines how a real dick turns into a big pussy over the course of Vols. 1 & 2 at Metaphilm [courtesy of the esoteric rabbit].