Wednesday, April 11, 2007

living at the grindhouse

losing my review a couple of nights ago really made my blood boil. my fault, should've saved the mofo as i noticed that my wireless connection was being a bit batty. it's just as well. ce'st la vie, and all that tripe.

as i was saying. i'll be 40 in june, which means i was a wee tyke in the 1970s, sac at the time had close to a dozen drive-in theaters and several matinee movies houses. a few of those houses were beat-up old beauties that were notorious for the films they featured and the audience who watched them. e.g. i had written a poem about the old star theater. when i knew it in the late 70s to early 80s, just before videotapes made the whole matinee theater system go bust, the star theater specialized in cheap-ass kung fu flicks. my brothers and i saw hundred of them nestled among the whacked-out and the homeless.

we lived at these theaters because they provided hrs upon hrs of cheap entertainment. we went to the drive-ins cuz those in turn cost less than a handful of dirt for admission and with 3 boys in tow our parents didn't have to worry about us breaking apart theater seats, or annoying the other patrons by being too loud. if we needed to pee mom would open the car door and we would let stream thru the crack of the car frame and the open air. man was it a satisfying sound to hear it hit the gravel.

that our parents allowed us to see the crazy films shown in those theaters and drive-ins were maybe a symptom of a mild form of psychosis on their part. but rather than question my parents' sanity, i am grateful that we were allowed to see these movies. i know they shaped my life, and my writing today. and i know that these kinds of films helped form my belief in the nearly absolute necessity of free, unencumbered, speech. sort of hippiesh of me, but i believe speech whether noble or foul must be protected.

which leads me to the grindhouse. tarantino and rodriguez obviously love exploitation movies. they know these genres like a grad student in classics know latin and greek. and they remember a nearly extinct form of movie-going. tarantino/rodriguez didn't make a couple of films but tried their best to replicate that experience of the double-feature. they succeeded immensely. from the 1st 'prevue' for a fictive trailer, a film called machete starring hatchet-faced vato loco danny trejo [a line from the trailer goes: they fucked with the wrong mexican!], to the final reel i was laughing like a freaking monkey. when it was over i had the biggest shit-eating grin i've possessed from watching a film in a long, long time.

the films are almost incidental to the experience of sitting thru 2 full-length features, much like how it was sitting in a drive-in. sometimes it was all about ambience, a gritty kind of atmosphere, produced in those old theaters and drive-ins. for the intermission there are 3 more fictive trailers, each 1 spoofing a specific exploitation genre. the 1st trailer titled thanksgiving dir. by eli roth had the tone of the slasher flick down pat. the 2nd trailer titled don't dir. by edgar wright was a pitch-perfect shill for a british gothic horror, a style of film commonly made in the 1970s. the 3rd was called werewolf women of the ss dir. by rob zombie and was again dead-on recreation of an old naziploitation [yes; there is such a sub-genre of exploitation film] and featuring a slumming nicholas cage, and 2 exploitation veterans: sybil danning and udo keir.

but lucky for us tarantino and rodriguez made a couple of rollicking flicks with rodriguez's contribution being the most entertaining. it is fast-paced and so gooey it would make the maestro lucio fulci turn over in his grave. my only complaint is the unnecessary use of title cards that confessed to missing reels. okay, films often were shown cut to pieces with reels missing, but the management never told the audience. couldn't risk it. the patrons would know they were had, and might burn the theater down. or so i surmise. at any rate, i don't recall 1 title card ever declaring a scene was missing. the films would simply jump around without regard to linear narratives. in a way watching an exploitation movie is how i read poems now: with pleasure and no hunting for any sort of traditional sense-making. just let the mind go and the senses, if the work is good, will follow.

planet terror is a loving tribute to zombie films rodriguez never lets the pace go sack. un-p.c. and hyperviolent the movie reminds me of david durston's 1970s drive-in anti-classic i drink your blood, a film so violent at the time it was released it received an x rating. freddy rodriguez and rose mcgowan don't have to act, this is a bad film afterall, but man is there fire between them. much has been made of mcgowan's prosthetic gun for a leg. it's worth the price of admission alone to see her use that weapon. rodriguez destroys his film stock, scenes burn up, and appear to be spliced together with playdough. the movie is scratch, badly-lit and the editing is off just a bit. exactly like a bad print of say, i drink your blood.

rodriguez keeps the dialogue to a minimum and amps the gore and violence in its stead. what is spoken is genuinely funny lines. the same can';t be said of tarantino's death proof. the first half of the movie is sluggish, almost boring. it is very talky, much like his earlier, brilliant films pulp fiction and resevoir dogs. but here the language never rises above the banal, and certainly doesn't hit the hilarious hyper-surreal brutality of tarantino's earlier work. that sounds like a condemnation: it is not. again, tarantino knows his genre so well that we forget that movies, even action films, of the 1970s often lagged until they got to the action. a classic car-chase movie such as the original gone in 60 seconds is deathly boring until the we witness about a half-hrs worth of destruction. even kung-fu flicks had dialogue so dull you would get up from yr seat looking for a bag of weed to kill the pain.

it does lag, until we meet kurt russell as stuntman mike. an inspired choice of casting russell is a veteran of action starring in movies like escape from new york, the thing and big trouble in little china. in other words, this is 1 of russell's best roles of his career. instead of the goofiness found in rodriguez's movie, tarantino suffuses his film with sinister menace. so much so that when rose mcgowan is killed as the first victim it is a stomach-churning scene. and it goes on until he meets his match with 3 stuntwomen. it is fantastic to watch the role reversal and the spectacular chase scenes. i was sad that the film couldn't go on for another couple of reels.

tarantino should've trimmed the language. or got help sharpening it. he should read poetry more. he did a little in this movie, for stuntman mike quotes frost's 'stopping by woods on a snowy evening' an obvious choice of poem, i guess. but it's a poem just the same. now, i wonder how that scene would've played if tarantino would've used larkin's 'this be the verse' with the 1st line that runs this way:

they fuck you up, your mum and dad.

we'll just have to wait for his next film. at any rate, i loved death proof. it is wholly satisfying and a fitting conclusion to a cinematic achievement. allusions and outright comparisons to exploitation films are too numerous to cite here. grindhouse is so meta that even the fake ad for the mexican restaurant 'acuna boys' is fleshed out in the 1st scene of death proof where butterfly is drinking from a soda from that taco house. there are also references to pulp fiction in the brand of cigarettes smoked by freddy rodriguez's character el wray are the same as travolta's vince vega smoked. and kurt russell asks if there is a billboard advertisement for sydney poitier's jungle julia next to big kahuna burgers, which is the same joint brad and his friends patronized before getting iced by samuel l. jackson and john travolta.

i'll end this lengthy review by saying that grindhouse is the most fun i've had in a theater in a long time. it's a movie for movie nuts. i've read here and there that the movie has not done so well partly because potential viewers are wary of its length of over 3 hrs. i say, are you kidding me?! the fistfull of dollars theaters charge to see just 1 90 minute feature should have movie-goers up in arms and demand that theaters and production companies bring back the double-feature replete with intermission shorts and the like. no, it ain't regression i mean. i say make going out to the movies an event again. make it seem like we are on a long journey so that when we emerge from the darkened theater we are bleary-eyed, tired but satisfied that we might have just seen something.


At 9:00 AM, Blogger Steve Caratzas said...

This article takes the words right out of my mouth.


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