Sunday, December 30, 2007

Scott on Grindhouse Revisited

[Guest blogger Scott revises some of the comments on Death Proof around here in his slightly longer argument about Grindhouse, and makes an interesting conclusion.]

First of all, I maintain that Grindhouse is a single film or at least a singular entity, bottom line being that both films must be viewed in the context of the other to be fully appreciated. This is especially true of Death Proof, which I will explain shortly.

Planet Terror is the least complex of the two and, as a result, the one most capable of surviving on its own, however, without Death Proof as its companion it is merely a fun homage to grind house films of the past (It also makes sense for Rodriguez to do the straight-up homage because he's more of a chameleon whereas Tarantino is much more of an auteur).

Death Proof is the more complex of the two films. Not only is it stronger on a technical level in terms of the actual filmaking; it is far more subtle. This isn't a recreation of grind house films like Planet Terror it is a deconstruction/revision of them (specifically the slasher, revenge, and car chase genres). This is why it relies on Planet Terror. If I say to the average movie go-er "Death Proof" is a revisionary narrative of grind house films" Their response would, most likely, be "Great! What are grind house films?" Few people today would have any idea what I'm talking about. Pop Culture Junkie that I am, even I don't know first hand what grind house is.

This is why Planet Terror (and, in my opinion, the trailers) are necessary. It acclimates the un-ininducted into the experience. Then, with Death Proof, something strange happens: The film begins to evolve. It's no secret that both Tarantino and Rodriguez grew up and drew inspiration from this kind of movie. The thing is, they took what they learned from these movies which were, let's face it, fairly disposable pieces of cheap, exploitative entertainment, not good for much more than a few laughs, and , in their own work, transform it into art (arguably, Tarantino is much better at this than Rodriguez). So, as Death Proof begins we are introduced to typical stock grind house characters only with greater depth and better dialogue (something Tarantino is famous for) but, still they remain characters rather than being real people. Jungle Julia and her crew are the typical victims in slasher flicks: they are 'doing bad things'; drinking, smoking pot, hooking up with/teasing guys. In other words, they're just asking for it.

Then, the change over, the film loses the faux aging and we're introduced to the second group of girls (by the way, the black and white segment in the extended edition adds nothing to the film other than another opportunity for Tarantino to display his foot fetish). This group is a departure, they are completely 'real' characters. It has been pointed out that they're all movie people but, so what, to Tarantino movie people are the real people in his day to day life. In fact, these might be the most believable, realistic characters that Tarantino has created. So, in the second half, he takes these 'real' people and puts them in a grind house situation. Still, take out the false scratches and such, the film can function on its own. Most people would still see it and 'get it'

The point that the film again changes is after the first leg of the car chase (which, by the way totally kicks ass and the use of traditional stunting and Zoe Bell as the star add a tension rarely seen in modern film making). Specifically, things go awry when, after Zoe emerges from the bushes unscathed, the point where any normal, rational person would say "Oh, Shit... we gotta call the cops!" a perky Zoe says "Phew, that was a close one... Let's go get 'im"

At this point, these 'real' characters begin a regression into the revenge seeking women of grind house cinema. Still, I'm buying it... I even buy the one chick shooting him. That's a plausible reaction. Where it falls apart (at least without the context provided by Planet Terror). Is the final few seconds where they drag Stuntman Mike from his car, knock the shit out of him and, ultimately, crush his head in.

So, these 'real', 'normal' characters have suddenly become cold blooded killers? It is also worth noting that during this sequence Abernathy's skirt, worn at a respectable knee length for the most of the film, is now worn at an exploitative point high up on her thigh. It is an, admittedly, cheap ending but it is a grind house ending. Death Proof has now taken us full circle back to the cheap thrill of Planet Terror. When viewed on its own, this ending makes no sense. However, as part of the larger Grindhouse film... project... whatever you want to call it. It makes perfect sense. In fact, in order for it to be a true grind house film. That's how it has to end.

So, in short... Planet Terror is a fun recreation of the grind house experience whereas Death Proof really makes you think about the genre (and all its various subgenres). Both films are great but I still see it as one big movie.


scott91777 said...

Lol! actually, William McDarmont isn't new at all... he's me! Sorry for the confusion. William is my first name but I go by my middle name, Scott.

Streebo said...

I tried to stay out of the last set of comments on Death Proof. I really didn't want to get dragged into a long discussion about my feelings on the film's shortcomings – but as it has been brought up again – I have no choice but to reply. I loved seeing Grindhouse in the theater. It was easily the best movie-going experience of 2007 and given the improbability of seeing another two-for-one feature in a mainstream theatre, it is an experience that is not likely to be repeated any time soon. I enjoy watching Planet Terror and Death Proof and feel proud to add them both to my collection. I'll buy the interpretation of Death Proof as some kind of neo-Grindhouse flick with characters that seem like real people. I'll buy the idea that Death Proof is some kind of call back to the classic road movies of the Seventies, but what a lot of people - on here especially - seem to forget is that these movies were sold to us - you and I - by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino - as HORROR films. The headlines read - "Tarantino and Rodriguez team to make new horror film." The Dynamic Duo of Celluloid went so far as to attend the Comic Con in 2006 to tel everyone about their new horror films. Rodriguez proudly proclaimed that he was making a "zombie movie" while Tarantino went on to talk about his new "slasher movie." Rodriguez delivered his zombie movie in the finest splat-stick tradition filled with “sickos” and delighted us with every sort of gross-out gag to grace the silver screen during the sixty odd year history of horror films. Rodriguez made good on his promise. Tarantino is a different story altogether. We can twist and turn Death Proof and analyze it in any way we can – but when we look at it in terms of being a horror film it falls remarkably short of it's self-proclaimed mark. I'll boil down the essence of a horror film as simply as possible by paraphrasing Stephen King when he said that horror films should try to scare us at some point. Death Proof works quite well as a Grindhouse (genre free) road movie with fantastic characters – but it fails miserably in its attempts to create an effective fear film. Take the resolution of the third act for example – as soon as Stuntman Mike is shot – he becomes a simpering weakling. As much as this is no doubt a comment on the superficiality of most tough-guys' demeanors, it is a very non-threatening light in which to show one's antagonist. I don;t have a problem with Stuntman Mike behaving like a wimp – but he is supposed to be the heavy in a horror film and the moment his mask of fearfulness is torn away – he is no longer a threat to the characters in the film nor the audience. Death Proof does not work as a horror film. In this regard, Tarantino failed miserably. He sold me a slasher film and actually gave me a girl power road movie. The slasher tradition is rich with female empowerment – but the characters have to survive their ordeals and actualize their full potential. Death Proof gives us a rather minor ordeal for the final set of girls to survive. What was to stop Kim from just stopping the car at any given point during the final chase? The antagonist is non-threatening and outside of the one scene where he kills the first set of girls in the film – he fails to create any sort of atmosphere of dread. Ultimately I know that the author's original intent is unimportant with regards to how the work in interpreted – but when you sell me a “slasher film”, I want to see a “slasher film” not a road movie. Like the saying goes, don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.

Geoff Klock said...

As a guy not invested in the horror genre I did not even notice this. I see your point -- if you say you are going to do something you better do since in saying it you create the criteria by which you succeed or fail. I am not sure how much I want to stand by what I am going to say next but let me try this: But isn't the promise of a horror slasher thing the only way to make the left turn the film takes work? I mean you can't ADVERTISE that Tarantino is doing a screwball revision of horror film, right? It would be like explaining to someone "Look, I am going to put this woopie cushion on your chair when you get up -- all you have to do is sit down at a dramatic serious moment and it will be hilarious." Don't get me wrong -- I can see why someone would not find sitting on a whoopie cushion funny, especially if they were trying to do something else altogether, but I also understand that the lie is part of how the whole thing works. I guess I have an equal amount of sympathy for you and Tarantino, maybe.

Anonymous said...

Geoff wrote, "But isn't the promise of a horror slasher thing the only way to make the left turn the film takes work? I mean you can't ADVERTISE that Tarantino is doing a screwball revision of horror film, right?"

Thank you for the response, Geoff.

I've been thinking about this for the past day or so. The only answer I can come up with is "no." The primary challenge of the horror film is to make it scary at some point. I feel like Tarantino worked his way into the film and then realized that it wasn't working as a straightforward slasher film. Death Proof works as a road movie - but Tarantino failed to utilize the slasher aspects to create an atmosphere of dread.


Streebo said...

I just received Death Proof from Netflix today. I'm looking forward to watching the extended cut of Death Proof for the first time.


Geoff Klock said...

Streebo -- I do not think the extended version of Deathproof is an improvement. It is not a lot worse, but none of it seems necessary. It surely will not make you think Death Proof is a better movie.

Streebo said...

Geoff -- Please let me clarify that I never thought Death Proof was a bad movie. I think it's really good - but I can't help but find it somewhat lacking as a slasher/horror film. That said, I watched the extended cut of Death Proof a few days ago and I do think it is an improvement over the theatrical cut of the film. The first three quarters of the film work as a slasher film this time around. The restoration of the early scenes of Stuntman Mike stalking the women help add the much needed atmosphere to the film. Since the ending is basically the same, I still have a hard time seeing the film as a successful slasher. I liked the extended cut of the film a lot more. The early slasher elements are fairly well done - but the ending should have been darker. I can't go without mentioning Vannessa Fertito's dance scene as well. It adds the much needed sexual tension to fuel the slasher elements of the film. Plus, she dances quite well.