The View From Here

Grindhouse for September

Michael Bonner

OK, so the damage limitation process is well under way. I’ve just received this email: “The Weinstein Co. today announced that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s highly anticipated Grindhouse double bill will be released as two separate movies in the UK.

Tarantino’s Death Proof will be released via Momentum Pictures/Dimension Films on September 21 with Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror released at a later date to be confirmed shortly.”

So, the troublesome conjoined twins are separated. For the record, Death Proof is also to be premiered in a bright 'n' shiny new body at the Cannes Film Festival in May, no doubt to much fanfare on the Croisette, where QT is traditionally guaranteed a warm reception.

One poster, Paul, left a comment on my earlier Tarantino blog, saying how much he’d enjoyed Grindhouse, specifically citing “the homage to 70’s movies and pop culture [as] worth the price of admission alone.” But there’s different strands of 70s movies and many different levels to pop culture. I suspect the more arcane homages in Grindhouse are what switched off the casual cinemagoers in America. It’s one thing to reference, say, Taxi Driver – a film that’s transcended its cult origins to become part of the pop cultural fabric. But surely it’s something else to make the claim – as one character does in Grindhouse – that Vanishing Point is ''one of the greatest American movies ever made.'' It isn’t. It’s a nifty car chase movie that, frankly, hardly anyone has ever seen. When the casual cinemagoer reads interviews with QT and Rodriquez waxing lyrical about Cannibal Holocaust, or praising Lucio Fulci movies, they’re most likely to stay away. As they seem to have done in droves in the States.

In those early Tarantino movies, the pop culture digressions – the famous Madonna conversation in Reservoir Dogs, Clarence and Alabama discussing Sony Chiba’s Streetfighter series in True Romance, take your pick from a hundred more – were endearing parts of the whole package. They were texture and shade that defined the characters as successfully as any conventional back-story might. Those in the know might forgive QT for lifting scenes, chunks of dialogue or plot points from the films of Stanley Kubrick, Luc Besson, Robert Aldritch or Howard Hawks; those disinterested in such references let them go over their head, just enjoying the ride.

Tarantino is clearly a talented and frequently brilliant filmmaker – a 21st century spin on the movie brats of the 70s, who themselves were in thrall to and often referenced movies of a previous era. What seems to have happened with Grindhouse is that the references have now become the movie. And when the references are as largely obscure as Last House On The Left, or the canon of Richard Sarafian, should we be surprised when it fails to strike box office gold? Surely Tarantino and Rodriguez have made their grindhouse movie anyway with From Dusk Till Dawn? That was a fantastic Big Mac of a movie, full of psychos on the lam, vampires, bikers and hot chicks – among the staple ingredients of the grindhouse genre.

Another poster, Jim Lesses, took me to task for daring to knock Jackie Brown. QT told one of our writers recently he thought it was his “Junior Bonner” movie, a reference to Sam Peckinpah’s film that was a significant change of pace from the kind of hyper-violent films with which he was traditionally associated. Jim makes some good points – particularly about casting De Niro against type. He reminded he of a great scene in the film when, stoned as a bat, De Niro’s character Louis seems to spend about 5 minutes trying to replace a receiver back down properly on a telephone. Michael Keaton’s great, too. That’s the thing about Jackie Brown: there’s some great scenes, but as a whole it kinda… drifts.


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