14 April, 2007

GRINDHOUSE: MY TAKE...



The are many good things in GRINDHOUSE and just as many, maybe more, bad things. The worst thing of all are the appearances of Quentin Tarantino in both features. He's not an actor by any stretch, more of a highly distracting and annoying presence. His familiar visage threw me out of the High Concept, and to work GRINDHOUSE must fly high on that concept or crash and burn. He's there to wink at us and remind us that it's HIS show (I wonder how Rodriguez felt about his "acting"?). If he's not the world's worst actor, he's the same nuisance who shows up to mug and rant on those late night talk shows. You can only groan and want to bitch-slap him off the screen. He just seems like a lout who showed up on set and pushed his way on camera.


QT can be his own worst enemy. But he can also soar as a director, however briefly, before inevitably burning out. Case in point: The Accident. About halfway through DEATHPROOF motorpsycho Stuntman Mike snuffs four Texas hotties by crashing into their ride with his muscle car, taking off the top of the vehicle, their heads and other body parts. It's the bodies-in-pieces fantasy all over again, and, as the local sheriff explains, Stuntman Mike's way of getting off (the car crash as social/sexual metaphor was done first in Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 WEEKEND). The best car accident ever filmed may be the one at the climax of Argento's 1971 FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (Dario Argento is cited, along with Sam Peckinpah and Umberto Lenzi, in the end credits) where Mismy Farmer drives into the back of a truck, spectacularly decapitating herself (in slow motion) in the process. The Accident in DEATHPROOF is even more outrageously stylized, shown again and again from multiple viewpoints at varying speeds. It makes the remainder of the rather meandering feature worthwhile. As the hapless Stuntman Mike Kurt Russell has never been better and it seems as if he's been preparing for the role of Stuntman Mike his entire long, twisting career.

OK, so I've said some nice things about DEATHPROOF. The now infamous girltalk marathons didn't irritate me as much as other commenatators. It seems as if QT is staging a kind of tug of war between the aesthetics of the Parisian cafe talkfests of mid 1960s Godard (he named his production company after Godard's BAND OF OUTSIDERS) and the stunt epics of H.B. Halicki (Halicki's GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974), along with VANISHING POINT (1971), are the oft stated templates here). The girls are sexy and charming as they talk about sex, sex and more sex. The give away is that a REEL MISSING card pops up interrupting Rose McGowan's hot sex scene in PLANET TERROR and Butterfly's much anticipated lap dance in DEATHPROOF. Denial hurts! Cut back to more violence. Our hotshot directors would probably say 'hey, it's post-post modernist feminist genre deconstruction!' I say... well, I don't want to say. Check it out for yourself.

If QT is just a big Tease, Robert shows way too much puss for my taste (I know, it's a bad pun, but look at what were dealing with here). It exhults in the self knowledge that it's a post Osama bin Laden zombie film and that's part of the problem. Romero's LAND OF THE DEAD, conceptually much more daring but more stylistically conservative didn't push its allegory. I know, it's supposed to be way-over-the-top. But both features are way too self conscious, self congratulatory, smug, self referential and over produced. They just ain't "Grindhouse." Andy Milligan is Grindhouse; Al Adamson is Grindhouse; you really don't want a 100 million dollar GRINDHOUSE. The production values ultimately undermine the High Concept. All the elaborate CGI scratches, film breaks and print damage can't make it live up to it's title.

For my money, the only element which truly captures the classic Grindhouse aesthetic, in terms of tone and texture, is the RR trailer for the Mexi-revenge-slasher-thriller, MACHETE. As a whole GRINDHOUSE is a fun game while it lasts but I would have still rather spent three hours watching David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE, which flew under conventional exhibition. Why? Because Lynch is a true American Original and I'll always take Originality over clever synthesis. At its best GRINDHOUSE is the highly amusing work of canny synthesizers. It doesn't want to be Art, and maybe it shouldn't be, it wants to be wink and nod Trash. It's a gift to fans of George A. Romero, Roger Corman and European Trash Cinema. But I got the uncomfortable feeling that they were laughing AT those films more than WITH them for too much of the runtime. And possibly laughing at fans like us for being gullible enough to be there.

There aren't many non-fans who are going to get the jokes, which probably explains the sparse attendance and walkouts. The theater I saw it in last night (Friday night, Movie Night) numbered no more than 40 to 50 and about a dozen walkouts happened during the second all-girl restaurant ramble in DEATHPROOF.

Did any of our blog readers appreciate the extended hommage to Jess Franco screenwriter Santiago Moncada (JUEGO SUCIO EN CASABLANCA, L'ESCLAVA BLANCA)? Tarantino may be more of a gourmand than a gourmet of Le Bad Cinema, but sometimes he does score. Will they have the nerve to release stand alone features of PLANET TERROR and DEATHPROOF? I wouldn't doubt it. Will I be there? That's another question. Will I buy the DVD[s]? That's where I think they'll show a profit, along with International venues.

I'll do what I'm sometimes criticized for doing and say what I wished it would have been. I wish they would have set the films in the 1970s rather than our present era of instant messaging, cellphones and IPODs. Then I wish they would have shot the whole thing down and dirty with next to nothing budgets. But I'm not Quentin or Robert or Bob or Harvey. I'm just a guy with a blog...

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

8 comments:

Damian P said...

I'm with you on Tarantino's acting. He can suck a scene dry and his wink at you style of filmmaking that you mentioned is one of the reasons why I cannot muster up the desire to see this film, at least not in the theater. This one has DVD written all over it for me.
Plus the whole idea of faux-grindhouse bewilders me to no end. It's like Vegas in movie form only not as fun because there's no chance of you scoring a night with a showgirl or winning money.

Damian P

Robert Monell said...

Yes, and I didn't mention his use of music from other films> He uses Morricone and other Italian composer's cues from films by Lenzi, DePalma, etc. But they don't add anything or mean anything out of context. I would rather he had them playing on a radio, or TV or on a car CD or something like that than the soundtrack.

Anonymous said...

I've always been slightly irked by Tatantino's use of other director's film scores. It doesn't seem out of character for him to do it though.

Anthony Thorne said...

Hi Robert, I like the recent posts and will jump back in here shortly. Check the following link though - BU have four more Jess Franco titles forthcoming - CANNIBALS, WOMEN BEHIND BARS, CECILIA(?) and EUGENIE DE SADE, with new transfers and interviews for all.

http://www.cultfilmsenkutfilms.com/extras/bill_lustig.html

Robert Monell said...

Welcome back, Anthony. Thanks for the link. Maybe you can post something on these new BU's.

Anonymous said...

noone mentioned that rob zombie did a tribute to jess franco in his preview

Robert Monell said...

You mean the Nazi werewolves?

Anonymous said...

I don't see where werewolf women of the ss is a tribute to Franco,except maybe the inclusion of Fu Manchu...
I actually liked the trailer (except for that fiend Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu... man! he used to be ok a looong time ago but nowadays he just lost all credibility with me).I actually liked Rob's night of a 1000 corpses (didn't like reject's that much) and rumor has it this will become a full feature movie (werewolf women...)!
Bruno