Monday, April 09, 2007

Man, I Would Love This Poster on my Viewing Room Wall...

Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse was a high-octane blast, period; most fun I've had in a movie theater in ages. My stepson Mike (Bleier) and I caught the matinee yesterday, and we had a fantastic time, giddy and punchdrunk by the end, juiced on the energy of both films and having laughed more than either of us have at any comedy in recent memory.

I'll post a full review later on, but want to note a few things up front:

1. If you're an old sot (like me), avoid drinking soda or water until the end of the second feature. Man, did I ever have to piss by the end of Death Proof! But I didn't miss a frame of it, and did stay through the credits crawl. Unlike Joe Dante, Tarantino and Rodriguez do not reward we credit-crawl diehards for our loyalty; having to piss even more was my reward.

2. Death Proof's title music is borrowed from one of my all-time favorite exploitation/drive-in scores, Jack Nitzsche's title tune ("The Last Race") for Bert I. Gordon's Village of the Giants (1965), a film which also boasted a bit of the Beau Brummels. The Nitzsche tune always outstripped Gordon's entertaining but lameass flick; it plays beautifully here, and definitely got me in the groove (though the fake previews between the two features already had me there in spades). The Village of the Giants score was Nitzsche's first, followed by his mindbending Performance (1970) score --
  • which Tim Lucas most eloquently discussed in this Video Watchblog post --
  • -- and a truly lovely score for Robert Downey's Greaser's Palace (1972). Hollywood didn't note Nitzsche's skills until a full decade after his debut for Gordon's giant-teen opus: it took his haunting, mournful music for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) to wake the studios up. Nitzsche further cemented his place in my personal fave film composers pantheon by having Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart himself!) sing "Hard Work Driving Man", with Ry Cooder on the guitar -- the title tune for Paul Schrader's excellent Blue Collar (1978). A Nitzsche soundtrack compilation album is long overdue. "The Last Race" alone ensures my picking up Grindhouse's soundtrack CD.

    3. Favorite overheard dialogue going in to buy my ticket: "I swore after seeing Kill Bill I'd never, ever watch another damned Quentin Tarantino movie again!" (elderly woman to her friend, en route to Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others)

    4. For most horror fans, whether weaned on drive-in/nabe fare or the DVD renaissance of exploitation and import sf/horror titles, Rodriquez's Planet Terror wears its blood-drenched influences on its sleeve, fusing them into its own confection from the outset (its closest to Rodriguez's The Faculty in its marvelous conflation of genre staples into its own distinctive blend). But Tarantino plays a tighter, odder game. Death Proof's initial structure and pacing (slow, languid, leisurely, dialogue-heavy buildup to a jarring first-third climax) felt eerily, precisely like some of the Crown International films of the '70s, particularly Earl Barton's unforgettable Trip With the Teacher (1975). Tarantino finds and maintains his own groove, too, but Death Proof had me practically flashing-back to those Crown In't opuses, which I have to revisit ASAP.

    What made them work was the way the first third of their films seemed to just piss away screentime with chit-chat, bits of business, and inducing a sort of diversionary torpor -- it was shameless padding, in most of the Crown In't films, natch, but it worked to lull and set up the viewer for having the rug yanked out from under one's feet when the film finally kicked into gear. That's what Death Proof does -- and once it's in gear, it doesn't let up. Also like Crown In't fare, there's troublesome loose threads left blowing in the wind (just as one can't help but wonder what happens to the actress left with the Dodge Charger owner here), but that's part of the package, and kudos to Tarantino for having the chops to just end the film -- bam! -- when it's over. Most viewers with any grounding in '60s exploitation will likely invoke Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat, Kill, Kill! (1965) as Tarantino's model, which is fair (and accurate) enough for the film's third act, but the whole is a major Crown In't flashback for me. Listen, just go for the ride.

    5. The faux trailers are a gas. Rodriguez's Machete is perfection (and it precedes the first feature, so don't arrive late), and Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS is a hoot, too, but it was Edgar (Shaun of the Dead) Wright's Don't that had Mike and I absolutely doubled up with laughter. For Mike, it was just funny -- for me, it summed up the whole Don't school of cheapjack horror flicks with spot-on speed and style; along with Machete, it's the best of the lot. Eli Roth's Thanksgiving is funnier in concept than execution until that last, fleeting shot of -- I think -- the killer humping the turkey with a human head attached to it, which induced helpless laughter again. Roth accurately captures the horrible, washed-out maladroit nature of the worst of the post-Halloween slashers in and of themselves, but is perhaps too young to have experienced the trailers in a theater, which always successfully disguised the utterly drab essence of the films they were promoting. Funnier still, though, was the ad for the Tex-Mexican restaurant, with its vomitous color drainage and singularly unappetizing tableaus of 'food.' All that was missing was the beloved ad for Pic -- but that was unique to drive-ins, not grindhouses, hence its absence.

    6. There's an "original" title card fleetingly in view -- I think it read Thunderbolt -- before the "retitle" title card Death Proof is cut into the print. A brilliant touch, that, and one drive-in and grindhouse mavens recognize as an all-too-familiar trope from the '70s and '80s; as a diehard Mario Bava fan, this was a staple of my diet; I saw my all-time favorite Bava films on drive-in screens and 42nd St. theaters under multiple titles. For instance, Twitch of the Death Nerve and Last House Part II were the same film -- which was test-marketed in Boston as Carnage! -- as were Kill, Baby...Kill! and Curse of the Living Dead. The kind of 'spliced in' title card Death Proof uses was more typical of the '80s retitles: Horror on Snape Island becoming Beyond the Fog, Italian gangster films being repromoted as faux-horror films (Almost Human, etc.). Anyhoot, back to Death Proof and that first title visible for a couple of frames -- anyone catch that first onscreen title?

    7. In all my years of drive-in and nabe viewing, I never saw a "Reel Missing" insert title. And I had at least two decades of viewing experience, from the New England drive-ins to the last gasp years of 42nd Street and New Jersey grindhouses (during my Kubert School and initial XQB years), and baby, those were grindhouses. I savored a number of reel-out-of-order projection fuckups, primarily at drive-ins, but never reels missing. Still, Rodriguez and Tarantino use the device cleverly and with perverse, calculated intent.

    OK, more later! Just see the movie, if it sounds like your cup of tea. It sure was mine!
    _____________________

    Following up on yesterday's Easter Sunday post, the ever-thoughtful Luke Przybylski (not) emails, "It's come to my attention that the link I provided in my last email is not working. The video can be seen by searchin [sic] on Google Video for THE GREAT GLOBAL WARMING SWINDLE." Which you can, like, do or not do. Up to you. I post this info here only for the sake of completion; the video Luke references is bunk, IMHO, but fascinating in and of itself.

    Also following up on yesterday's post comes the following from the Stamford Advocate, compliments of my sister-in-law and artist/photographer extraordinaire Patricia Lambert and from Cathie Kovacs, President/Founding Director of The Wildlife Orphanage, Inc. in Stamford, CT. We're seeing these accelerated birthing cycles in VT, too -- further localized evidence of the climate change's impact on regional flora and fauna:

    Local warning on warming
    By Tim Stelloh
    Staff Writer


    April 8, 2007

    The impact of climate change on wildlife may seem like a distant issue for this area - affecting polar bears in the Arctic shelf, for instance. But the increasingly mild weather may be changing the mating cycles and migration patterns of animals in the region.

    Squirrels and raccoons are being born far earlier than usual, said Heather Bernatchez, director of development for the Stamford-based Wildlife Orphanage, which rescues and rehabilitates animals in
    Fairfield County.

    Newborn gray squirrels arrived almost two months earlier this spring than they did a decade ago, she said. "They used to be born in May," Bernatchez said. "Now they're coming in at the beginning of March."

    Raccoons are being born about a month earlier and nursing mother raccoons are turning up in daylight near homes and searching for food, she said.

    "We had a fox rescue last Friday, and this guy was 4 weeks old, which means they are also a month early," Bernatchez said.

    The influx of calls about newborn squirrels discovered in felled trees and foraging raccoons has increased the workload and strained the Wildlife Orphanage, she said.

    "We can't get ready early enough in the season. It's a much longer season than it used to be," she said.

    The orphanage does not care for deer because of space restrictions, Bernatchez said.

    But deer stay healthier during mild winters and in turn have higher reproduction rates, state Department of Environmental Protection biologist Howard Kilpatrick said.

    That means Fairfield County - which has one of the most dense deer populations in the state - could see a spike in deer-vehicle accidents and deer-related homeowner complaints.

    But Kilpatrick could not say how deer fared last winter.

    A report released on Friday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, composed of hundreds of scientists from around the world, says the mating changes the Wildlife Orphanage has seen are becoming more common.

    "There is very high confidence, based on more evidence from a wider range of species, that recent warming is strongly affecting earlier timing of spring events." Egg-laying is listed as one of those events.

    Bird migration is another. Milan Bull, the senior director of science and conservation with the Connecticut Audubon Society, said that warming affects species differently.

    "Usually, we have diving ducks in the Long Island Sound," he said. "This winter was so mild all across the East that they weren't forced to come down and winter here."

    Farther north, the lack of ice forced far fewer bald eagles out of Maine and northern Massachusetts and onto the banks of the Connecticut River in this state, Bull said.

    While 50 to 100 eagles usually winter near the river, about 25 did this year, he said.

    Birds such as the wood thrush that migrate north from Central America are also changing migration patterns, arriving a week earlier than a decade ago, Bull said.

    The number of seals following fish south from Canada and Maine into the Sound was also down this year, according to Tim Gagne, spokesman for the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. which is completing its annual seal census.

    While all the data from the count has not been analyzed - and a warm winter does not necessarily correlate with a low seal count - "it stands to reason that milder conditions in all of New England made the annual winter migration south less necessary for many seals," he said.

    It's not a matter of 'choose your reality' -- it's a matter of 'choose to ignore reality' or 'choose to engage.' As I said yesterday, the duality argument is a false one. 'Nuff said.
    _________________

    Oh, shit, I misplaced my Criswell book yesterday while cleaning up.

    I'm still amid chaos with my books and such as the post-move transition continues. There's hope, as David Gabriel (and his coworker Josh) started work in earnest last week on the basement renovations, which will result in shelving for all my library. But that's still at least a month away from completion, the unpacking and shelving of the collection even further off, and I'm daily tripping up on my inability to lay my hands on books I need (for CCS class, primarily).

    Anyhoot --

    I predict -- as soon as I find the Criswell book, I'll post today's prediction.


    Have a Great Monday, one and all!

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    9 Comments:

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I also really enjoyed Grindhouse.

    And while I never saw full reels missing, I have played prints that:

    1) Had all the nudity chopped out (which fits in well with the projectionist story of projectionists keeping personal inventory of nude scenes)

    and

    2) Prints that came from another country that had strange edits in them.

    Did you have any experience with the same kinds of things?

    4/09/2007  
    Blogger SRBissette said...

    Prints in rough shape was a standard; these kinds of films usually had a few prints in circulation that took a lot of wear and tear out of normal projection use. I recall seeing films their initial week or so once I was in the NJ/NYC region (1976-79), and was blown away with how sharp they were -- it was rare to see anything that WASN'T scratched, spliced or worn at the VT drive-ins I grew up with (pretty much only the Hallmark films looked good in New England, since Hallmark was based in Boston -- Hallmark as in MARK OF THE DEVIL, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, etc., not the family movies!).

    It was in the 16mm marketplace -- I ran 16mm film programs from my junior high school days at Harwood Union High School to my first two years in college at Johnson State College -- that I most often saw the kinds of problems you're talking about.

    In fact, at JSC, a planned double-bill of Russ Meyer's BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (from 20th Century Fox) and the just-in-circulation-on-16mm TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was changed literally within two days of the showing -- the 16mm print of BTVOTD was missing EVERY bit of sex and onscreen violence! They'd been neatly snipped out of the print, either by a prudish exhibitor or (more likely) a collector saving the 'best bits' for his/her collection. The distributor came through with a sterling, uncut 16 print of DEATH RACE 2000 instead -- a disappointment, but an acceptable substitute, especially at a lower rental fee (to make up for the loss of the Meyer film).

    I saw plenty of rough 'R' films cut and hacked after 1978; as is now legendary, every print of Cinemation's I DRINK YOUR BLOOD I ever saw featured DIFFERENT cuts (due to 11th hour, on the fly trimming of uncut prints when the MPAA caught Cinemation letting out the complete film with the 'R' rating, sans the agreed-upon cuts), and the Hallmark staples -- MARK OF THE DEVIL, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE aka LAST HOUSE PART II, DON'T OPEN THE WINDOW, etc. -- were never as pristine or complete as when I first saw them in VT. The 42nd St. versions of LAST HOUSE PART II were painful to watch: every foot of gore was abbreviated or gone completely.

    The worst atrocity I ever paid full fare for were the double-bill reissues of ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN (flat prints, non-3D) and ANDY WARHOL'S DRACULA -- though no rating was listed on the ads or prints, they were severely cut for an 'R'. We (Jack Venooker and I) demanded our money back, and got it! Sigh -- I loved the 3D FRANKENSTEIN. Though it's great having the restored Criterion edition releases on DVD, I miss the headache-inducing, guts-in-your-lap 3D that film boasted.

    4/09/2007  
    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    I loathed GRINDHOUSE. My son wanted to see it, and we often go to monster/action flicks together. And I was hoping it would be a fun film. Alas. It was three hours of totally wasted time.

    I've had it with Tarantino's supposedly witty snappy conversations which basically are displays of his obsessions with bad films. (Admittedly, "bad" being a subjective term, but applied here to the schlock he obviously enjoyed consuming as a youth.)

    I thought both films were the same ultra-violent sensationalist crap that has streamed across our movie screens for the past few years. As far as comedy, the only time I really laughed was the sudden end credit at the finale: "The End". That was funny, but I was sorely tempted to let out with a Rebel yell that the three hours of torture were over.

    I definitely won't visit a GRINDHOUSE II. Feh.

    4/09/2007  
    Anonymous sam kujava said...

    Son Jake was home for Easter so we took in the Friday matinee of GRINDHOUSE and laughed and hooted
    throughout. We avoided the pre-opening hype and so saw this double
    feature in one totally fresh.
    Several times during the movie I
    thought to myself, "Bissette will
    LOVE this!" An easy prediction.
    One local complaint...our local
    Marcus theatre CUT OFF the end credits (on purpose, not in the style of the movie) in order to
    clear the crowd out, clean the floors, and get the evening ticket
    holders inside faster. I complained
    to an employee, who, since he was
    wearing a tie, was probably an
    assistant manager. He went off for
    five minutes and returned to say
    that the end credits were running!
    I was too tired, and used to the
    shenanigans at this theatre, to call him a liar to his face, and
    left in disgust. Oh, well, there's
    always the inevitable DVD release,
    with "missing reels" restored, no
    doubt.
    It was great to see this film IN
    the theater WITH a crowd, nonetheless. AND with my son. We
    both had a blast!

    4/09/2007  
    Blogger SRBissette said...

    Well, that's how the ol' cookie crumbles! Two father-and-son experiences with the same movie -- THREE, counting mine with Mike -- and no consensus.

    To quote the ol' Holy Modal Rounders album title, "Bad Taste is Timeless" -- and just like my high school friend Alan Finn, Bob, you'd likely have forced me to leave the double-bill of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD/I EAT YOUR SKIN before the second feature started, too. GRINDHOUSE celebrates crap, no two ways about it -- but what can I say? I'm a craphound from birth, and this was an abundant shitheap of joy.

    4/10/2007  
    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    One of my best friends loves bad movies. When I go to visit him, we often watch some truly awful low-budget films while he points out why they're so much fun. (Sometimes they are.)

    "I have a taste for shit," he likes to say.

    4/10/2007  
    Anonymous sp said...

    It has been many years since I saw you like a movie so much. I might just go see it.

    4/10/2007  
    Blogger HemlockMan said...

    My son finally spoke up about GRINDHOUSE today. If I hate a movie he wanted me to go see with him, I never tell him at the time--so that I don't ruin the fun for him in case he liked it. So when we left GRINDHOUSE we were both uncharacteristically quiet about the film. Today, he wanted to talk about the movie, and the short of it is that he thought it sucked. It wasn't just me...he hated it, too. Andy's generally a lot easier to please than I am when it comes to movies. But he felt it was a waste of his time. I was glad to hear that he agreed with me.

    4/12/2007  
    Anonymous christian said...

    the title is indeed QUENTIN TARANTINO'S THUNDERBOLT before the DEATH PROOF card pops on.

    i adored GRINDHOUSE, the best time i've had in a theater in years too, but DP was a misfire. i thought the women were a geek fantasy and tarantino liked them more than me. terrible dialogue. but kurt russell owns the film. he alone is reason enough to sit through DP.

    5/23/2007  

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