Grindhouse reaction: with a side of tasty spoilers

April 28, 2008

Disclaimer: I considered WWVD when debating with myself whether to write about this, and concluded that she wrote reviews for newspapers to earn money in her youth so it must be ok. When I get comfortable with the name I don’t think this type of question will occur to me any more.

I’m guessing I’m one of about 200 British people who actually got to see the Rodreguez/Tarantino collaboration Grindhouse in its original double feature format. I cannot believe they tried to chop this up! That kind of censorial violence is far more offensive than anything contained in the movie. The project was designed from the start to be a single movie in two parts, a send-up and homage of the writer/directors’ favourite genre of exploitation movies. Actors and characters blurred the lines of reality by appearing in both films, as they would have done in the seventies when they were churned out in batches. In seperating the two parts you lose three quarters of the magic and charm lovingly instilled here.

I skirt the edges of the feminist blogosphere and I have read reviews going both ways about this movie (or the bits that were made available). Yes, on the one hand the star of Planet Terror is a go-go dancer who spends a third of the movie without a shirt on and Death Proof features the grizzly deaths of a group of young women. On the other hand, our dancer Cherry is an engaging character. She cries when she dances, the lacks the confidence to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. After being attacked, losing a leg, and almost being molested she comes in to her own, decides to take shit no more, saves the day, and becomes matriarch of a colony of survivors. She totally wins the movie! True, she also provides the T&A, but it’s an exploitation movie in a loving piss-take of the genre. She loses a leg but there is no grotesque lingering on her being brutalised in a torture-porn way – the scene is actually very brief and in keeping with the light comedic mood of the movie.

What seems to have been overlooked in the few reviews I’ve read is the relationship between female doctor Dakota and that Fergie from Black Eyed Peas. Fergie is on her way to pick up Dr D and her son when she is waylaidby the Infected. Dr D’s husband finds out and gets all nasty, creepy and threatening because his wife is cheating on him. Dakota and Fergie’s relationship is accepted as a complete, meaningful, real relationship. Our supporting actress, with substantial role, is playing a legitimate bisexual character and nobody seems to have noted how awesome this is. The two women were not sexualised (they don’t appear on screen together) or deridedand their relationship was in no way implied to be less meaningful because it was between two women, one of whom was also interested in men. How many bisexual characters do you ever see anywhere? (Apart from in Torchwood which doesn’t count because it’s crap. This opinion does not affect my chasmous love for the doctor.)

So there I was, already pretty pleased with Planet Terror (and the excellent cake served in the Electric Cinema) when we had some spoof trailors. There was one before Planet Terror for the hilarious looking ‘Machete’ but that’s actually going to be a film now so I’ll look out for that later.Most of the spoof trailors pleased me muchly. But then Eli Roth came and pooed in my partyhat. Eli Roth, in my humble opinion, is a bit of a tosser who has a facination with hurting vaginas. He’s just across the line when it comes to nasty, and given my enjoyment of the rest of the show that is by no means a puritanical line. He did a fake trailor called Thanksgiving, and the parts that left me uncomfortable were the shot of a cheerleader about to land in the splits onto a knife, and the body of a woman made up to look like a roast turkey with a trumpet coming out the crotch. Why, Eli, why? What did vaginas ever do to you? As the king of torture porn I should have expected nothing less but still, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I would question what sort of women would befriend or have relationships with a man like him but even Bernard Manning had a wife…

So after a distasteful piece of asshattery from Mr Roth the main feature continued. The benefit of seeing the Grindhouse version is that the ‘missing reel’ gag saves you the potential discomfort of having to see the lapdancing scene. What struck me most about Death Proof was how quickly Tarantino can make you care about a group of characters. Getting half an hour in to a 90 minute movie and killing off most of the cast is bold but Tarantino’s skill of writing and portraying friendships really pulls it off. The crux of the feminist argument against this movie is that so many women had to die before other women could get revenge but I believe it was necessary to show how far Stuntman Mike goes to get his kicks. He doesn’t just drive a foolish woman off into the woods and kill her quietly: he has the arrogance and faith in his death proof car to think that he can get away with killing five women at once without getting in trouble for it. We have to see that otherwise the revenge might look too extreme. The revenge, incidently, was fantastically enjoyable, and once again the women win the movie.

So thus concludes my reaction to Grindhouse. It’s a shame they didn’t release it properly in the cinema here – I think it would have done fantastically well and I can’t imagine why it didn’t in America considering it’s based on an American cultural icon. Perhaps it needed to fail in the cinema in order to achieve true cult status in years to come; after all, if everyone’s seen it it doesn’t really count, does it?