Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'Grindhouse' post mortem

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?


Anonymous said...

I've talked to a couple of people who have stayed away from Grindhouse so far. The first thought (mostly from the titles) that it was strictly a horror picture and doesn't like horror.
The second was put off by the three-hour-plus running time.

I'd be willing to bet that those two factors kept a lot of folks away.

Maybe word-of-mouth will over come them.

- Movie Gal

Anonymous said...

It should be pointed out that Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was produced by former AIP co-founder Jim Nicholson in addition to starring AIP vets Peter Fonda and Adam Rourke. Basically Fox was hoping to make AIP style films at about the same price, with the same kind of profits.

Joe Leydon said...


True enough. Throughout the early and mid-1970s, the lines between exploitation and mainstream became increasingly blurred. (As more than one critic has noted: What is Jaws, after all, but an AIP monster movie with a really big budget?) I remember another Fox movie of the '70s with Peter Fonda called Fighting Mad, part of the redneck revenge subgenre. It was directd by a graduate of Roger Corman's House of Schlock: Johnathan Demme. My (largely favorable) review of it ran in The Clarion-Ledger (in Jackson, MS, where I was working at the time) on the same day, on the same page, that my review of Taxi Driver appeared. What a time it was.

Sheila West said...

My generation thinks the beginning of the horror film movement began with "Halloween" and was brought to its fullness with "Friday the 13th" and that anything prior to those two movies is some kind of stone age primitiveness. We're aware of the original "Night of the Living Dead" but also aware that it was a Z-grade indie film the some total nobody (what's his name again? George Zombie? Rob Zombie? Rob Romero? --I kid!) shot in his back yard. So it doesn't "count" as a "real" movie.

The great horror satire film "Scream" made reference to THIS generation's films (the post-Halloween and post-F13 films) but to virtually nothing prior to them. So very popular "Scream" film series only validated and reinforced that very limited historical view of the entire horror genre.

I personally enjoyed Grindhouse. And I was shocked that it did so poorly at the box office. But then, considering its 3-hour running time, it makes sense that it tanked. People today just don;t have the time to commit to an almost 4-hour film outing.

As for calling it "Drive-In" um ... I think there already is a movie of that name. And "Grindhouse" just sounds more appetizingly nasty.

Adam A Second Understanding said...

Maybe the fact that this type of release is only going to appeal to a certain group of people. The whole idea of this, was two trash feature films stuck together to give added value because neither film would be able to last on it's own at the cinema. I live in Australia and I was already telling everybody to go see this double feature with me, but now they are splitting it up and I doubt I will go to see either of these films at all out of protest. I will just wait until it comes out on DVD and pray they at least put it together on one DVD. I read reports that even this wont happen. This is a fucking mess only because they are taking an expensive work of art and trying to treat like Peter Jackson's King Kong, they called that a flop and it took at least half a billion dollars. Grindhouse is a tribute to low budget film making being fucked in the arse by accountants. It goes against the whole spirit of the thing. Maybe if the budget had been smaller and the expectation lower, on par with the whole trash esthetic, then maybe in a few weeks I could have gone to the cinema, sat back and watched three hours of extreme cinema by two of the best action directors in the world. Now I get to be pissed on by a guy with a pony tail. I hope somehow this thing ends up being seen as it was intended, or fuck the devil trying. Adam.