This is what I wrote about Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, the co-directors of Grindhouse: “Tarantino and Rodriguez are kindred spirits, Generation X film brats who view lurid B-movies of the past three decades with the same reverence that their immediate predecessors once reserved for the likes of Citizen Kane and The 400 Blows. It will be interesting to see if these determinedly hip but undeniably talented young filmmakers ever move beyond recycling the cheap thrills of yesteryear. (In movies as much as in fashion and pop music, hipness has a very short shelf life.) Right now, the sheer gusto that Rodriguez and Tarantino take in hot-wiring tired clichés and overly familiar archetypes is highly entertaining, if not downright addictive. But even while [their current collaboration] is most exciting, most deliriously kinetic, it is hard to shake the impression that, sooner or later, these filmmakers really should seek inspiration in something other than other people's films.”
When did I write this? Well, would you believe eleven years ago? When I reviewed From Dusk to Dawn, which Rodriguez directed from Tarantino’s script?
Please don’t misunderstand: I’m reluctant to join the blame game that has ensued ever since Grindhouse opened to mostly appreciative reviews but disappointingly low grosses last weekend. Because, truth to tell, I rather liked both halves of this faux double bill, each for different reasons. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is an exuberant mash-up of dozens of sci-fi cheapie-creepies from the ‘60s and ‘70s; Tarantino’s Death Proof takes too long to get started, but gradually revs up to become the best damn car-chase flick this side of Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry – ‘70s guilty-pleasure cult-faves that, of course, Tarantino lovingly acknowledges.
But, then again, maybe part of my pleasure stems from the shock of recognition: At 54, I’m old enough to remember actually paying to see –- in first-run theaters as well as drive-ins – many, if not most, of the B-movies, action films and exploitation quickies that are referenced throughout the three-hour-plus magnum opus that Tarantino and Rodriguez concocted. If audiences did indeed stay away in droves this weekend -– well, could it be that they just didn’t get the references? That schlocky ‘70s cinema holds no allure for the overwhelming majority of contemporary ticketbuyers (i.e., people considerably younger than 54)?
I’ll go a few steps further: I doubt that even the most rabid B-movie fans in my demographic have seen some of the more obscure items that Tarantino and Rodriguez riff on in Grindhouse. (Exhibit A: The Crazies, a 1973 George Romero opus that clearly inspired bits and pieces of Planet Terror.) And while this may seem like a niggling point, some so-called B-movies actually are fondly remembered by Baby Boomers as respectably entertaining mainstream features. (It’s worth remembering: Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry were released by 20th Century Fox, not New World or American-International.) And some of my fellow geezers likely have no desire to see those movies mocked (even if the “mockery” is more like an affectionate homage).
What it all boils down to, I think, is this: The appetite for ‘70s recycling has greatly diminished during the past decade. (Unless, of course, you’re doing a straightforward rock-the-house action flick with a ‘70s flavor, ala Four Brothers or last year's Assault on Presinct 13 remake.) Audiences have moved on to other things. Maybe it’s time for Tarantino and Rodriguez to do likewise. Maybe long past time.
BTW: Maybe the intention was to evoke a newspaper ad for a '70s era grindhouse, but I'll be damned if that poster art doesn't look more like something for a mid-'60s drive-in double bill. Indeed, as I have posted elsewhere: Maybe the movie might have fared better if it had been called Drive-In instead of Grindhouse?