|Grindhouse All Nighter (04.07.07 - 04.08.07, 5 movies)|
|04.07.07||Wipeout||Fernando Di Leo||Welcome to the Grindhouse all night marathon extravaganza: four badass grindhouse classics preceeding a showing of Rodriguez/Tarantino's own Grindhouse feature, held at the historic Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin, TX. Some would say there's no better place to show this movie than right here and they'd be right. How right are they? The establishing shot of the city in Death Proof is a shot of this fucking theater. Home to five Tarantino film festivals, over five years of continued grindhouse screenings (every Wednesday at midnight), and ten years of overall excellence in obssessive film geekery, this is the midwest mecca of cinema. And what's better is that unlike NYC's 42nd street it's still around and unlike LA's most historic and prestigious movie houses it's not filled with assholes. So yeah, when I had the choice of paying 30 bucks to attend the star-studded Grindhouse Austin premiere at the historic Paraount, I opted to wait a week and a half and pay 18 bucks for a Saturday night filled with vintage classics, amazing trailers, and 200 like-minded people who want to stay up all night watching weird-ass movies. It can't really get much better.|
Well, actually it could for me personally... having seen 3 of the 4 non-RR/QT films tonight's largely about thee experience and the crowd and revisiting favorites than surprises or newfound gems. That's ok though. As it turns out I got my fair shair of surprises after all.
It's damn cold and wet and raining like crap on my drive down. I get downtown, get relatively lucky with parking, and three blocks of walking in the rain later I start to hear the rumors of snow farther north and global warming and whatever. There are relatively few familiar faces here tonight, I guess the people that show up every Wednesday have already seen these films or can't afford the 18 bucks or have appointments at the methadone clinic in the morning. The house is all but filled to capacity though with a new batch of people, some of which are clearly here just for the last movie (which doesn't make any sense because it opened yesterday), some have already seen it and want to see it again, and some, like me, are here for the whole thing of it all. See, the original Alamo location is closing in a few short months, moving a few blocks away to inhabit the Ritz theater on 6th. For those that have been coming here for ten years it's the end of an era, for those like me it's one of a dwindling number of chances to soak in as much as we can before it's gone (or changed) forever.
Lars, programmer for the Alamo and curator of the ongoing Weird Wednesday series, is here to host the evening, introducing the first film called The Boss AKA Wipeout! Directed by Italian maestro Fernando di Leo, this film was all but extinct before Quentin brought it much love and attention in one of his festivals (QT4, 70s Italian Crime night with a double feature of Shoot First Die Later and Wipeout (both directed by Di Leo) followed by a midnight showing of Hickey & Boggs). In fact, I think Di Leo's entire current interest is do to QT's repeated screenings of a series of his movies here in town, so it's only fitting that it kick off the marathon.
For the uninitiated, Italian Crime movies are, understandably, analogous to Spaghetti Westerns: compared to the American films that they're trying to capitalize on and emulate, they're much more brazen, more rough hewn, more overt. They're faster, cheaper, more brutal and ruthless and serpentine and stylized and that comes through on the story level, the design and direction level, and the acting level. I guess Antonioni and Fellini used up all the subtle in Italy because by the time the 60s were over they didn't have any left.
So with that in mind, The Boss is the story of a hitman (played with supreme stone-faced death-visaged glory by Henry Silva) caught up in a vendetta between Richard Conte and the guy who raised him like a father. Along the way, someone's daughter gets kidnapped and the mob guys double cross on double cross on double cross after double cross. A lot of the talking scenes spew forth so much exposition that's so intricate and convoluted that it's easy to get lost and not know who the hell's who and what's going on. But the thing that makes these movies great is that you don't really care. The tough guys have never acted tougher, the action is intense, the music amazing, and just moment after moment is filled with something worthy of appreciation.
I first saw this movie at the Best of QT Fest that Quentin held a year ago (playing in a double feature with Brotherhood of Death, followed by the Weird Wednesday presentation of Joy House). I asked Lars if this was QT's print they were showing tonight and he answered that he didn't know of anyone else who had a print. It's generally regarded as one of Di Leo's (many) best though and it's a treat to see again. This speaks to one aspect of these films: their unavailability. Perhaps movies like The Boss or The Dion Brothers wouldn't be quite as amazing as they are if they were readily available on DVD. The fact that you can't see them without a pretty hefty search or a really great theater nearby makes watching them more of an event. So yay for me to get to see it again and Yay for Austin for having it screened 3 times in the last 10 years and yay for the Alamo for making certain clips (recorded off a poor-quality VHS bootleg) no-talking spots to forever ingrain the film into the brains of all who see it.
Henry Silva's really great in this, as is the dude who plays the hand-gesturing cop. I really think it's a testament to whoever did the English translation that he could fit something close to sensible communication in the midst of all that hand motion, quick talking and odd cadence of speech. The net effect is a really bizarre vocal performance matching the mannerisms and gestures of what's on screen perfectly, but often sounding odd, not to mention hilarious.
I think the big surprise of the film however, and this was spoiled when Quentin introduced it because he couldn't help but comment on it, is the part of the daughter. When the daughter gets kidnapped (in a great scene driven by fantastic music, the score of this film is absolutely top-notch), the offending brutes threaten her with the expected male maneuvers. At first the actress plays really shy and humiliated, and then she has this great turn which becomes a really funny returning gag through the rest of the film. It's completely unexpected from an American viewpoint and serves as a great example of differences between American and Italian crime.
Preceeded perfectly with select vintage trailers, The Boss went over great and its somewhat deliberate pacing interspersed with really energizing action sequences tempered the audience for the night, but did nothing to prepare them for the craziness that is Revenge of the Cheerleaders.
|04.07.07||Revenge of the Cheerleaders||Richard Lerner||We all watch movies, some more than others, and as we see more and more we come to know certain similarities that films share; signifiers exist to clue us in on what kind of movie this is, what to expect from this movie, etc. And then every so often (and this happens very rarely), you watch a movie that you flat out can not believe exists. You soak it up through your eyeballs and take it in as best you can but when you start to think about what circumstances had to exist and what kind of people must've come together in some sort of cosmic alignment in order for something this crazy to actually manifest into the material world, your brain quickly starts to complain. Darktown Strutters was one such film for me, Fight for your Life and Drum are others. Revenge of the Cheerleaders is most definitely one of these films.|
It's the story of an unruly gang of aggressively nubile cheerleaders who rule their laid back school with tinges of Troma rancor mixed with highschool satire, teen sex romp, and way too much weed. Weird things happen in this film, things that don't make any sort of sense at all. The principle cooks a full turkey in his office, reprobates from the opposing vocational school can shatter soda glasses with their bare hands, fire extinguishers demand as much obedience as a handgun, and not only does the cheerleading directly affect the outcome of a basketball game but the final score of said game determines whether one school merges with another. Everyone's naked all the time and when they're not they're pissed off about it. David Hasslehoff plays a character named Boner and gets full frontal. At several points, someone puts on a random funky tune and everyone in the entire movie starts dancing in some loosely choreographed routine. School board members have secret underground lairs accessible via golf course sandtraps. This is not the world that I live in.
Watching Revenge of the Cheerleaders is a real experience. It's something I suspect doesn't translate too well to home video, without the crowd of people surrounding you, reacting to the multitude of crazy-ass spectacles flashing on the screen, and succumbing to a group-think orgy of the ludicrous and absurd. I first saw this film by sneaking into a QT cast screening when Grindhouse first started shooting. He held double features every Tuesday night starting at midnight for a few weeks to let the cast and crew get a taste of what he and Rodriguez were going for. Watching it with an intimate collection of famous people, obnoxious people, friendly people and Nicky Katt (who I put in a separate category alltogether) was a great and surreal experience. I had a hard time believing what I saw that night and I honestly still do. Revenge of the Cheerleaders is the kind of movie where you get the feeling that if you were to try and critique it in any way, the film itself would reach out and slap you across the face. I still don't understand how it can defy convention yet fit perfectly into its very specific genre but it does. Best seen at 2AM with 200 of your closest friends.
|04.07.07||The Losers||Jack Starrett||The Losers (AKA Nam's Angels) is a biker film fused with a Viet Name war film. The whisper-thin conceit of the film is that the army cannot officially cross the boarder to retrieve an imprisoned CIA operative so they hire a bunch of scooter trash to carry out the mission. Led by Link (William Smith as muscle-bound and seething as ever), the motorcycle club that calls themselved The Devil's Advocates (best biker gang name ever, by the way) also includes the biker-ubiquitous Adam Roarke as Duke, Paul Koslo (Whitey from Freebie and the Bean) as Limpy (because he has a limp), and other gang members named Speed and Dirty Denny. It's pretty much the ultimate badass biker gang, very similar to Arnie's crew in Predator except with less ammunition and more anti-authoritarian angst. Jack Starrett directs the film, which should ring a bell to any fans of Race with the Devil, Cleopatra Jones, Slaughter, or QTfest favorites Hollywood Man and the amazing Dion Brothers (AKA Gravy Train). According to Lars' intro, Starrett was like a king director in the exploitation world yet completely unheard of in mainstream cinema. His impeccable technique and unique style, while somewhat obscured by shoestring budgets and limiting schedule restrictions, nevertheless begins to shine through as you visit more of his films and compare them to others in the same genre. He was also a pretty decent actor, often appearing in his own films as well as others such as Richard Rush's seminal biker flick Hells Angels on Wheels and Tom Laughlin's Born Losers (the dramatic first screen appearance of Billy Jack!).|
Basically, these guys are there to kick ass, so they do it. But first they need to soup up their bikes with aror and guns and grenades in the saddlebags and a rocket launchere here or there. And along the way, why not enjoy some of the local entertainment. And get into bar brawls and backyard wrestling matches using uprooted trees as weapons. Like all good biker movies, The Losers gets the distinct feeling about a half hour in that it's completely off the rails. At one point, Link has to get physical on Dirty Denny in order to get him back on track. If you watch that scene and replace "fix up the bikes" with "get back to the script" and "go to Mama San's and get laid" with "fuck you," you get a real sense of chaos and freeform structure that all biker flicks seem to value.
The tonal transition from the anarchic Revenge of the Cheerleaders to the casualif not meandering vibe of The Losers took some time. Coupled with the time slowly drifting from late at night to early in the morning, the lengthy drinking and womanizing sequences officially required of any biker flick eased a lot of the crowd into the semi-hypnotic state of exhaustion spiked with caffeine jitters that makes up a large part of the all-nighter experience. It's not a real marathon if the last two films make complete sense, or you don't turn over to see the guy sitting next to you trying desperately to keep from nodding off. At 4AM, it doesn't take much to set this off. While The Losers is a good film, and really picks up in its third act with its unique fusion of men on a mission war movie with biker fetishism and ethic, the langurous pace as they put off their planning to get drunk and laid had a nice effect. It put us all in a somewhat dazed state ready to receive the next film, which Lars warned will not fuck around.
|04.08.07||Poor Pretty Eddie||Chris Robinson||AKA Black Vengeance AKA Heartbreak Motel AKA Redneck County, Poor Pretty Eddie is much more than your standard hicksploitation fare. On the surface, it's about an uppity African American singer whose car breaks down in a most decidedly backwoods redneck town, falling into the insane fancy of a bartender/motel manager named Eddie and the Lyme diseased attention of the townsfolk. Shelley WInters, in an incredibly brave performance (she seemed to revel in these parts around this time though, appearing in the lowest budget fare alongside with higher-profile gigs like The Poseidon Adventure, often going out of her way to deprecate herself with comments about her increasing weight, fading beauty, and reembered youth), plays Bertha, Eddie's sugar mama. Dub Taylor and Slim Pickens also give really great performances as well, padding out this town as the ultimate in down south slimy smiley good ol' boys. Plus they have some amazingly coloquial dialogue. Really great characteristic stuff.|
What really sets this film apart however is the editing. Lars mentioned it in his intro, and another fan of the film also brought it up as a huge determining factor in its greatness. Frank Mazzola, fresh off editing Don Cammell and Nic Roeg's Performance, infused this film with a high-brown artsy tone that completely transforms the subject matter and performances. There's something so unsettling about having this gritty messy story presented on such an arthouse level. All these slow fades and obtuse angles of scenery and intricate matting and beat-by-beat construction using different speeds and takes... it's really not what you'd expect with a redneck rape movie. As the film progresses and everybody escalates into frenzy, the film keeps a constant state of heaviness reminiscent of a more energetic ANtonioni or a less morose Bergman; this unconsciouss feeling that what you're watching is "important." Yet it's a slow-motion shot of a retard shooting his sling shot and yelling NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I can't even imagine seeing this in some random drive-in on a date some Saturday night. Talk about subverting expectations.
So maybe it was a happy accident or a devious plot or a misunderstood vision or an unheralded masterpiece. As it stands today, it's a perfect example of the fruit that exploring exploitation cinema bears. Still remaining remarkably unique after several decades of Hollywood catchup, I still can't imagine a movie like this getting made today. Great film.
|04.08.07||Grindhouse||Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino||After the film we broke for breakfast in the lightening gray of overcast dawn. A little kid approached Lars and said "so it's between that and Toys are Not for Children." After a few shocked seconds, he asked "where did you see Toys are Not for Children!?" That kid's either gonna end up a really cool guy or locked away for a long long time. Bellies full, a still-packed house sat down to see Grindhouse. Perhaps it's unfair to spend the night watching great movies authentic to the era and follow it up with a modern-day emulator, especially when that emulator starts off with a Robert Rodriquez film.|
Planet Terror feels like and exploitation of exploitation. Robert takes the most superficial aspects of the genre and roughly jams them together in an effort to create a pastiche of potent images and moments that will hopefully overwhelm certain parts of your brain into overlooking the absence of anything real. The usage of these techniques however, showcases Robert's fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. Planet Terror is not a grindhouse film at all, but a Robert Rodriguez film wearing a store-bought Grindhouse Halloween costume. For better or worse, Robert's trademark style drives every aspect of the film. Environmental hazards such as missing reels and print damage are utilized as dramatic tools, making absolutely no sense in realistic terms. Scratch lines don't change from shot to shot and color fade does not introduce in CG tendrils and fade back to pristine 30 seconds later. To an eye used to seeing the effects of time and many many projections on aged prints, the blatant manipulation of these effects were a constant distraction. Aside from the occasional spare piano melody meant to evoke John Carpenter andthe broad-stroke idea of a zombie movie (except they're not zombies), the films bears stronger resemblance to Desperado than anything else. Perhaps a strong argument toward the auteur theory, but thoroughly out of place from the vintage-esque trailers and drive-in concession ads that the film strives to present.
These, by the way, are excellent. Rodriguez's Machete trailer performs much better than Planet Terror, Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the S.S., on-screen credits aside, fits well into the mix, and Eli Roth's Thanksgiving ties with Edgar Wright's Don't as my favorite moments in the film. The Acuna Bros. concessions and various vintage ratings and "coming soon" animations all work very well to establish mood and give the films a more presentational "main event" introduction. It's a shame that people missed all of this with trips to the restroom after Planet Terror ends, hurrying back to their seats in time for Death Proof to begin.
Death Proof, while not without its problems, fits much better into the experience that Grindhouse presents to its audience. Quentin's occasionally Slasher-influenced tale of groups of women attracting the attention of a crazed stuntman and his Death-Proof car fits the mold of a film inspired by the title and poster and shot on a shoestring budget to accomodate that. Lots of slow dialogue fill the time between "money shot" scenes of automotive madness and mayhem. Until he gets flashy with an ambitious 8-minute steadicam shot, Tarantino's direction even mimics that of the time with simple set-ups and a general feel of cheapness and compromise with a limiting schedule. Of course, we know all of this is deliberately designed since he actually had plenty of time to shoot and plenty of money to spend. Nevertheless, Death Proof plays like a modern-day exploitation classic. Quentin also uses spare aging effects to dirty the heads and tails of his reels and introduce a splice here and there. His missing reel, as unfortunate as it seems to be, plays more like an actual missing reel than a story crutch.
And then there's Kurt Russell. With precious few moments, Russell delivers Stuntman Mike into his canon right along with Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, and R.J. MacReady. My biggest frustration with this film, followed in a close second by the overwhelming amount of meandering Quentin-aware dialogue, is the lack of Kurt Russell. Although he's very effective as the constant observer seen in the background and used more as a force rather than a character, every second Stuntman Mike's on screen is great and there should be more. Perhaps a sequel's in order, playing like Psycho II, where we follow along in the further adventures of Stuntman Mike as he targets other women to have fun with.
I do have problems with the film, but they're minor compared to Planet Terror. Choosing to see Death Proof as any other drive-in feature, I'd say it's very successfull. Sergio Martino's Torso gets much respect and that's pretty much just for one scene so I can forgive Tarantino his indulgences with dialogue and thinking he knows how to talk like a woman.
I also really liked Quentin's song choice and seeing the Alamo in the establishing shot of Austin.
And that's it. Grindhouse is over. It's almost noon, time for either lunch or sleep whichever urge takes hold first. All in all a very enjoyable night spent amongst friends in a great place. There's nothing quite like walking out of the Alamo to a dead silent wasteland of downtown Austin Sunday morning, eyes squinting from the light and completely disoriented trying to remember where you parked. I really cherish these times and hope everyone that was there had as good a time as I did. To those that weren't there, I hope you had a good time following along on here. Until the next one, cheers.