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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Grindhouse (2007, ***)

THE NOTION OF SECRETING SOME CHEETOS PUFFS AND AN OIL CAN OF FOSTER’S INTO MY SHOULDER BAG into last week’s past-my-deadline all-media Grindhouse screening at Chicago’s AMC River East 21 held momentary allure, or perhaps packing a flask, in honor of the mid-adolescent shake-‘n’-bake tradition of drive-ins and dollar houses in decades past, but I resisted, yet still experienced the exchange of deliciously bitchy talk-out-louds from nearby audience members and the grindmouse.jpgapposite spectacle of a late-coming, morbidly obese woman clumsily tramping on my feet and blocking the screen in the oversold auditorium and loudly dubbing me a “motherf–ing little white c—sucker.” (Free shit makes me stupid, too.) I could almost smell the scorched, foul carpets and seats of the Loop’s late and lamentable UA, McVickers, Woods and pre-civic-ized Chicago Theater venues. Other rancid things comprise the 191-minute spectacle, thrilling and dismaying in equal, vivid measure. Also of interest is writing about the film after its cataclysmic opening weekend, with mooted plans by distributor The Weinstein Company to perhaps pull the $90 million-plus investment from theaters and to release Robert Rodriguez’s twangy, frenetic Tex-Mex-neck zombie Planet Terror separately from Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, a sadistic, even nihilist, limb-scattering car-crash demolition derby opus and girl-gawking trash-talk epic (aka “Gone in 60 Footrubs”).

It was also a fresh turn to hear moviegoers over the weekend who didn’t want to see the film explain why: the title was meaningless to them; their friends said it was two overlong shitty movies aping shitty movies they had no interest in; and women almost universally said they weren’t in for an evening of unrelenting misogyny. (Not everyone has nostalgia for the years-past perhaps-deranged company of snoring, stinking drunks, either, can you feature that?)
You could read Grindhouse politically, as voices on both sides of the aisle have, considering the portions as two responses to totalitarian fervor, shambolic and anarchic in the face of dread and drear and language loosed from moorings to rove the underbrush of political, careerist, go-along-to-get-along, cliquey, insidery, acquiescence. There’s incendiary contempt throughout—Bruce Willis’ speech about how he wasn’t supposed to be the one to kill Osama Bin Laden is pretty spectacular—amusingly, for those in the know, spending Weinsteinco investor cash to crayon upon and beyond the lines of taste, form, decorum.
Rodriguez goes full-bore in digitally simulating the wrecked quality of the sub-par prints of bad 1970s exploitation pictures, relentlessly jiggling frame and soundtrack, a gesture that almost qualifies Planet Terror as an experimental film that ought be taught in post-grad classes. Roger Ebert’s described a fondness for sentences that have never before been spoken, and there are moments, such as the almost-too-late trashy spectacle of the things that come to pass before the arc of MacGowan’s character’s prosthetic leg, a promiscuously hair-trigger machinegun. This eyeball kick has never been seen before, and Rodriguez deploys it inventively. If you think about it, though, you’ll feel awfully guilty: there are nasty undertones and overtones galore. (More successful is Rodriguez’s trailer that opens the film, for the apocryphal Machete, in which Danny Trejo wreaks havoc—“You fucked with the wrong Mexican” is practically the first line of dialogue you hear after the lights go down.)
Tarantino’s slasher/stoner film, Death Proof, has its own peculiar pace, functioning as four discrete shorts, not flagged with title cards—“The Quentin Problem”—but not unlike the chapterization of Pulp Fiction. The writer-director-piss-poor-actor also goes hog-wild with his foot fetishism, packing his picture with innumerable shots of feet, toe-splay and arched sole, from tic to trope and back again, fetish, fixation, totem, swoon and bore. The racial politics of his dialogue for women are best described by Tarantino himself, from an interview in the April GQ: “[B]lack-male things and me tend to go hand in hand… I just walk in step with… There’s a lot of things that me and black males walk in step with. In our masculinity.” Better to comment on the look of his film, in which he takes his first credit as cinematographer, which draws upon the plein-air parch of director of photography John Alonzo’s work on Vanishing Point and John Deerson’s work on Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop. (Fortuitously, both of these pictures about the horizon we always approach but never overtake were written by litterateurs just as eccentric as Tarantino; the first by Cuban-born novelist G. Cabrera Infante and the second by Rudolph Wurlitzer. Rudy Wurlitzer’s dramaturgy in in Blacktop is a tetch terser than Tarantino’s.) He also pulls a neat trick like something Elmore Leonard does on the page with patois: after twenty minutes or so, the put-on “damaged print” idea goes away and we’re simply in a Tarantino movie.
He’s not a consistent cameraman. Where Robert Rodriguez makes Rose McGowan a voluptuous screen sired to blast away Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth, director and cinematographer Tarantino puts her pale face in a thumb-oval blotch of white, less angel than affectless specter. Tarantino admires darker and stronger features in his actresses, and I mean that admiringly, approvingly. These are beautiful women most casting directors wouldn’t let in the room, and bless Tarantino for that, even if he puts several of them through explicit humiliations and dismemberments. [Eli Roth’s cheaply deadly deadpan Thanksgiving trailer is here.

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