For me — and, I’m sure, for countless other cult film fans — Grindhouse represented a sobering reminder that my interests are not shared by the majority. In my social bubble, the Quentin Tarantino–Robert Rodriguez experiment in loving genre homage was the film event of 2007; we organized a party, and bought our tickets in advance, because we knew that it would sell out opening night. This was important — proof that our passions were poised to break through to the mainstream, and a golden age of schlocky excess was imminent. And then we arrived… to a half empty theater.
It’s tantalizing to imagine what could have been, had Grindhouse not been a notorious commercial flop. Tarantino and Rodriguez intended it to be a start of a franchise, with each installment showcasing a pair of outrageous films by a new set of like-minded filmmakers. Beyond that, the format — a double feature of full-length original films — was something that had not been attempted by a major studio, and the possibilities of the concept are intriguing to say the least. Sadly, for whatever reason, the experiment failed to connect with audiences at large, and the studio beat a hasty retreat; it was years before you could even purchase the films in their original form.
Yet, despite Grindhouse’s financial failure, it would not be entirely accurate to describe it as a non-starter. For starters, it launched Rodriguez’ Danny Trejo-starring Machete franchise, which was expanded from one of the film’s fake trailers; similarly, Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun began life as a contest-winning trailer which played with the film’s Canadian run, and Eli Roth still occasionally talks about turning Thanksgiving into an actual film. Moreover, Grindhouse helped bring the particular aesthetic of sleazy narrators and damaged prints to everything from video games to car ads to children’s cartoons. This is to say nothing of the Brattle’s yearly Trailer Smackdown, which started in the summer of 2007, and will run its ninth installment tomorrow night.
Oh, and as for the movie itself: obviously, it’s tons of fun. Rodriguez’ Planet Terror is a joyously over the top melange of Romero, Carpenter, and early James Cameron; Tarantino’s Death Proof, while slower-paced and talkier, is a very clever mash-up of several exploitation genres, anchored by stand-out performances by Kurt Russell and Zoe Bell, and ending with one of the most dazzling car chases ever committed to film. The real star, however, is the aesthetic: Tarantino and Rodriguez (as well as Roth, Edgar Wright, and Rob Zombie, who all contribute hilarious fake trailers) are clearly in love with their source material, and everyone involved is clearly having a blast. And while it may have flopped at the megaplexes, it feels perfectly at home at the Brattle, where it fits nicely with the theater’s regular programming.
dir. Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino (w/ Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, & Eli Roth)